‘When everyone’s talking and no one is listening how can we decide?’

Image result for poppy lest we forget

This is the week that we wear poppies and take time to remember the sacrifices made by all those who have fought to institute and maintain freedoms that we value pretty highly. November 11th is Remembrance Day in Canada.

Our neighbours to the south call it by another name, and the messaging is also somewhat different. But we set aside the time to remember. Lest we forget.

That need for remembrance was brought home to me in a very real way on Tuesday – and again the following morning, when I realized that I hadn’t been imagining what was happening before I called it a night and shut off the tv at midnight. I didn’t sleep well – I’m not sure if it was my thoughts about what was happening or actual nightmares that were keeping me awake. Those two things became inextricable in the harsh light of day, and that awareness isn’t getting any easier to handle.

Back in March I wrote this: https://colemining.wordpress.com/2016/03/23/no/. Even though it was not my circus, so the behaviour of its clowns shouldn’t have concerned me all that much, after too many months of nativistic, misogynistic, xenophobic and racist rhetoric I HAD to say something.

See, we went through a similar thing – on a much smaller scale – in my hometown too recently for comfort.

8 months ago I said:

Supporters of the ideology that drives the inflammatory rhetoric of people like Trump (and most of the other GOP contenders, for that matter) are the both the products and symptoms of a system that discourages progressive development and critical thinking.

THIS is what happens when you cut funding to education programs (especially those in the Humanities), while advertising a faulty ‘dream’ predicated on the drive to acquire meaningless stuff, while squandering individual benefits, without thought to the larger community.

THIS is what happens when history is treated as little more than a footnote in a perspective that is, increasingly, deemed ‘academic’ and, therefore, unimportant.

Imagine my surprise when my warnings about that particular path went unheeded and the world ended up with the distressing reality that the demagogue in question will be the 45th President of the United States of America.

What little history that most of us are taught is quickly forgotten once the test is passed, or the class dropped. Its relevance is under-emphasized to an almost-pathological degree. The idea that ‘what’s done is done’ is insidious in its ubiquity.

That attitude pains the entirety of my being. I’m an historian. The irrational and irresponsible ignorance of history is a fundamental concern that I have tried to address many times over the years here in my little WordPress world.

That fundamental concern – driven by the colossal failure of education and critical thinking skills-training – when combined with the ‘get over it’ rhetoric that I’m hearing all over the place this week has turned into something of an existential crisis for me.

Again, I get that I’m not a US citizen. Despite what some might think, I had no real horse in this race. There was one horse’s ass about whom I spoke quite vociferously and at length, when given an opening to do so, sure. That said, I did not want to see HRC ascend to the Presidency because she is a woman. Someone I work with suggested that that is the case as he was baiting me yesterday. I did leap to defend her record of public service when that was called into question by those who get the totality of their political insights from places like Fox ‘News’, but that defence was, and remains, sourced in an examination of her public history – drawn from evidence from multiple and varied sources.

Would it have been historically of note had she become the first female POTUS? Of course. And it would have demonstrated a necessary evolution in a milieu that has already been shaken up with the impressive eight-year tenure of an outstanding statesman and leader, who happens to be a person of colour.

Fortunately, we live in times that have seen women achieve positions of power and responsibility the world over (check out Ms. Merkel’s wonderful first message to the new President-elect, if you need a recent example). That the US is ridiculously behind the curve in this, isn’t of foremost concern to me. Not when you look at all the other things that were at stake in this particular election cycle.

Although I did, I admit, come close to throwing something when my colleague offered that dismissive suggestion, the unfortunate reality is that I’m used to that sort of nonsense. I’ve learned to roll with the punches as they are dealt from a place of that sort of latent-yet-apparent sexism. I spent a pretty big chunk of my adult life as a female academic in a male-dominated discipline. Been there, bought that t-shirt.

I don’t like it, I rail against it, but it’s just one of my life’s intersections, and I can hold my own in that particular sphere. I can work toward pay equity. I can emphasize the importance of participation in a modern-day feminism that acknowledges and welcomes all sorts of intersectionality. I can shout into the wilderness where those who are privileged enough to be okay with the status quo choose to live.

I haven’t been doing enough of those things lately. I was complacent in my certainty that the population of the United States was reasonable and rational enough to see the GOP nominee for what he is.

I was wrong. I watched with horror and disbelief as the results rolled in.

Pretty much all I’ve done over the past couple of days is read stuff. The accusations and apologetics and ‘suck it ups’ are pretty indicative of how we got here.

There’s plenty of blame to go around and lots of people willing to stand up and shout J’accuse! Whether or not they’d bothered to stand up and shout at any time before Tuesday night.

Supporters of Bernie Sanders are screaming about the ‘DNC machine’ – you know, the one that promised HRC the candidacy post-Obama – as they justify their protest votes for ridiculous and unviable third-party candidates. Or the fact that they didn’t vote at all.

While we’re desperately searching for scapegoats and denying our own varied roles in this outcome, it has to be said that the media is going to have to seriously check itself in the aftermath of having wrecked itself. Trump is, in large part, a creature of their willingness to abandon journalistic integrity in favour of ratings and advertising dollars. But that blame needs to be shared with a general population that is more interested in infotainment than in critical news reporting and legitimate, even-handed political analysis (I’m not talking about the proliferate paid pundits. Real political analysts).

Then there are the voters who insist that they aren’t racists/bigots/misogynists/xenophobes/unconscionably ignorant. They were just trying to take down the establishment that wasn’t working for them. Because jobs. Or ‘disenfranchisement’. Cry me a river of relativity, white folks. (Interestingly, they didn’t seem as concerned about changing the make-up of the House – that institution that consistency stalled progress during the last Administration. Not sure what that’s about…). As much as such people may assert that they don’t subscribe to the hatred that has been role-modeled as of Tuesday, they have clearly communicated the reality that their concerns about their achievement of their interpretation of the American Dream are more important than the basic human rights of their neighbours and fellow-citizens. Material concerns have trumped (how weird is it to use that word, now? We’re going to have a to create a new term that isn’t caught up in the negative baggage of its new associations) those of decency, equality, fairness… the list goes on and on.

In addition to all the assignments of culpability for the outcome, we are being told how we should feel. A lot of people are invalidating feelings of fear and alienation with insipid and insulting cliches like ‘the people have spoken’.

Know what? Don’t tell me how to feel. My opinions about this whole debacle are coming from a place of knowledge and understanding of history and its disasters. They are not hysterical and womanish (words we should probably get used to hearing again in this new reality) rantings that over-exaggerate the danger we, as collective humanity, have exacerbated with this insanity.

And, most definitely, don’t go telling those who feel directly threatened with imminent violence and further displacement in society that they are wrong to feel significantly concerned about the future – or the present, for that matter. In this situation, fear is the most reasonable and rational reaction to the hatred espoused and disseminated by the President-elect.

Think the danger isn’t real? Have a look at any news feed out there right now. The anecdotal indicators are coming in fast and strong, sure to be supported by statistical analyses once the pollsters regroup and opt to make that sort of reporting their new raison d’être.

Apologists might try to tell you that they don’t think he really means those things he says and does. And you know what? Maybe he doesn’t. Sure, the hatred and pandering to the lowest of the low of the commonest of denominators may just be all about expedient rhetoric, designed to shake up a system that, to be sure, needs overhauling (I will never understand the unnecessary complexities and inequities of the US system of election. Super Pacs? Popular vote vs. Electoral College??? W.T.F?). I don’t, personally, buy any of that, but then I’m one of the leftist elite, so that’s hardly surprising.

But his sincerity or lack thereof is not the totality of the problem. This election has validated hatred in a manner that is historical in its infamy. Anachronistic idea(l)s, hidden by a thin semblance of civility have been exposed in all their hideous shame. A putative war on ‘political correctness’ has permitted free reign for those who ‘tell it like it is’ – as they advocate for blatant, sanctioned returns to that fictional period in history when ‘America was great’.

What do we do with all those people who either bought into his pandering propaganda whole cloth (those who maintain that ‘he says the things I’m thinking’), or those who continue to deny that he is likely to really do all those things he said he was going to do? Or that he has actually done all the things he is accused of having done?

I don’t know. I truly don’t. I have a few people in my life (although the number is decreasing. I don’t have the time/energy/heart to debate irrationality these days) who refuse to read or attempt to understand opposing views. Intellectual laziness encourages things like cognitive dissonance and an extremity of complacency that permits soundbites and unsubstantiated statistics to drive opinions and decision-making processes.

This US election has demonstrated the disturbing prevalence of confirmation bias – and its sub-species: the halo- and horns-effect. Haters of HRC were supported in this opinion by everyone from the alt-right media to the FBI. They were likewise presented with myriad opportunities to see Trump as the saviour they require – the halo-effect permitting them to disregard any less-than-savoury aspects of the hero’s character.

As I said earlier, this is symptomatic of that which is driving my personal crisis in all of this noise. In addition to my fear for my fellow humans (that fear extends to a whole lot of people, but I’ll call out PoC, the LGBTQ+ community, and women), I despair at the failure of education that has made this debacle possible. Lack of understanding of the importance of context and the inability to think critically – when presented with more than one source/perspective of information – creates a culture in which the perfect storm of cognitive biases are permitted to flourish.

In the scientific world (a world that the President-elect doesn’t seem to acknowledge. ‘No such thing as climate change’, my ass), bias represents a systemic error.

We have just seen the end result of a systemic error that has been developing for far too long. We have to change the paradigm of this dialogue. After months of debates (and can we even call those things ‘debates’? None of them looked like any of the debates – with their rules of conduct and fair play – that I attended or in which I participated in High School) we need to approach this new reality with a different type of dialectic.

We know what is wrong. Partisan divisiveness is not going to mend any fences (and, since I live too close for comfort to the US, I reallyreally hold to be true what some American poet had to say about fences and neighbours). We seem to be coming at our communication problems from frames of reference that are incompatible in every conceivable way.

Those of us who still believe that education and openness and critical examination of situations and circumstances, alongside a knowledge of the history that has brought us – for better or for worse (right now it’s leaning heavily to the ‘worse’ side of things) – to this place in time, need to lead the change. And we need to do it loudly.

A lot more people are more afraid than ever (certainly more afraid than they were on Monday) to raise voices of dissent against ignorance and newly-validated systems of racism and sexism. Trump is okay with that. He has no problem with the thought of ruling by fear. Bullies love the rush that accompanies intimidation and misuse of power imbalance.

I’m not about to lose my access to health care, or the ability to control my own body and its reproductive functions. I’m very fortunate in that. My country may struggle with some pendulum-shifts from time-to-time, but I’m pretty confident (although never again will I be complacent – keeping my eye on that Kellie Leitch idiot, the one who thinks we need some more Trump-like stuff hereabouts. She will NOT be leader of the Conservative Party, let alone anything more. Not on my watch), that our current trajectory is one of progressive development and momentum.

The disaster across the border does threaten my way – and view – of life in significant ways, even if the repercussions might be less-direct than those that will begin to feel the effects down south as soon as the President-elect becomes POTUS. My Twitter feed indicates that the repercussions are ramping up in real time already.

The perceived right to assault – physically, emotionally, verbally, or otherwise – other humans has been validated through the choices that an all-too-significant portion of the electorate made (don’t even get me started on the fact that so freakin’ many white women voted for him. I can’t start to address that salient point now- this post is unwieldy as it is).

Children – all over the world – are afraid. They have been told that they, or their friends, or their family, are ‘other’ – and that they will be dealt with in ways that run counter to the ideas that most people had about what the United States, historically, claims to stand for.

Entire communities of people have been told that they are less than – because of the colour of their skin, the place they left in search of a promised better life, their gender, their sexual identity or orientation, or the fairy tale deity in which they choose to believe (in a country that, supposedly, trumpets the separation of Church and State).

A significant part of the failure of education that has led us, as humans sharing a planet, to this place is the mis-remembrance of history. The whole ‘again’ word, as part of Trump’s sloganeering, permits the continuation of an illegitimate portrait of world events as they really happened. And the false narrative that he has presented throughout the election period diminishes the progress that we have made.

At times of crisis, it may seem as though we haven’t done so well with the whole progress-thing. As an historian – one who studies history going back significantly farther than the institution of a New World that includes both my home and native land and that of our southern neighbours – I know that we have come a long way. And I also know that there have been periods in which we have backslid. When it seemed as though civilization’s crash would be irrecoverable (they didn’t call them the ‘Dark Ages’ for nothing).

We humans are pretty adaptable – recent events and decisions notwithstanding. And we also tend to be hopeful. We are, none of us, perfect. Our friends in the UK demonstrated a comparable struggle with some of the same issues as they made their own colossally bad decision. And us Canadians are not immune, either. We have a likely-proportional number of citizens who stand behind the ugliness that won the day in the US this week (the posters, encouraging support of the alt-right, that went up in my neighbourhood the other day are a distressing example).

We can do better. Those of us who know, who remember the lessons of history, need to ensure that the messages of the sacrifices and hard-won enlightenment aren’t lost to intellectual indolence. I hope, among other things, that we’re about to see the return, in force, of protest songs (how timely that Mr. Zimmerman is the newly-minted Nobel Laureate in Literature).

As we take time to reflect on those we have lost, in the name of freedom and equality and shared values, those remembrances can help bring us together in our common experience of mourning and deep appreciation for those who did the work and paid heavy costs for the betterment of future generations. We need to recall the lessons of generations past – and hold our leaders to the promise of positive progression that our collective history demonstrates.

Disregarding, dismissing and downplaying the realities of history have led us into another dark place. On today, of all days, set aside some time to remember – or learn, if you’ve never taken the time to do so before – just what this day is all about. That is where we will find the light – and the strength to move into a period of recovery or rebuilding or even revolution – if that was is required to continue our progressive, human evolution.

Daylight again
Following me to bed
I think about a hundred years ago
How my fathers bled

I think I see a valley
Covered with bones in blue
All the brave soldiers that cannot get older
Been asking after you

Hear the past a’ calling
From Armageddon’s side
When everyone’s talking and no one is listening
How can we decide?

Do we find the cost of freedom
Buried in the ground
Mother Earth will swallow you
Lay your body down

(Stephen Stills)

Some of us haven’t forgotten the past and its messages, its glories, and its misfortunes.

I remember. Je me souviens. 

To all those who have served the good and won those freedoms we value, thank you.

Regarding mislaid hats and passing realisations

“ummm — I just checked and — wow — just — wow. The Monkees Good Times is Number One on Amazon — solid 5 stars — and I’d just like to say — wow — and ummm just — you know — thanks. no kiddin’. Played a song and someone’s listenin’. I gotta find my hat.”

Michael Nesmith, Facebook post (May 28, 2016)

For those of us who love music, 2016 has been, thus far, a rough year. After sharing some thoughts about the loss of David Bowie and Glenn Frey, I couldn’t bring myself to do the same for His Majesty, Prince. I just couldn’t.

I started to do so – there’s an abandoned draft in the folder – but the words I could come up with didn’t seem adequate descriptors of the talent and impact of the man. He was of ‘my’ generation in a way that the other two weren’t. Whilst David and the Eagle(s) were always and forever a part of my awareness of things that are good and wondrous about this life I lead, I met Prince at about the same time as the rest of the world did so.

I can remember the first time I saw him so distinctly…  and every little bit of the video for ‘Little Red Corvette’ remains highly detailed in my memory (oddly-functioning encyclopedia that it is).

There is, and can be, no one like him. I know that I wrote that about Bowie, too. Two icons – lost to us (save through the catalogues they left us , and the impact of those songs and their other, myriad, contributions) months apart.

He visited my hometown (a place he loved and where he lived, for a time) shortly before we lost him. I was in the midst of the move and setting up house so took a pass on the show. Chatting about it with a friend, we both agreed that we’d catch him next time he comes through town.

Sigh.

And then, just a short time later, Gord Downie announced to the world that we are losing him too. The Tragically Hip will tour one last time – in support of their latest studio album and to give all us Canadians a chance to say farewell to our most Canadian band. Ever.

(Don’t agree with my assessment? I’m happy to discuss. But I’ll win. Certain things are inarguable. This is one of them.)

I’m not going to talk about the whole debacle surrounding ticket sales to said concerts – although I loathe the giant ticket conglomerates only slightly less than I despise those vultures who cry ‘free market’ and are benefiting from Gord’s illness – and the loyalty and love of his fans – and reselling the tickets at exorbitant prices.

Instead I’ll say a little something (in passing, since I’m not going to eulogize someone who remains amongst us) about my deep affection for this band and all that they have meant and represented to me over the manymany years I’ve had the good fortune to be part of their sphere of influence.

I hung out at Queen’s University in Kingston a fair bit when I was a younger me, so I got to see the Hip, on more than one occasion, in bars and small clubs as they began their climb to dominance over cottage-and-campus playlists across this country of ours.

I saw them in large venues, too. A couple of nights in that place in Ottawa where their hockey team plays, (they keep changing its name), for example, the second of which featured nothing but B-sides and a 20-minute version of ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’ that was classic Gordie.

Since I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a fair bit of time with them, I’ve decided not stress too much at my inability to see them on this last tour. I’ll happily pay for the album when it is available, and hang out with them on my own, and in carefully-chosen company (non-believers in their status as our national band need not apply), whenever I have the chance. On my back deck, or in front of a fire or down by the lake at the cottage.

I’ve mentioned before that, for me, in many ways, ‘Last American Exit’ remains the definitive Hip tune. It very much speaks to their unconcern about the development (or lack thereof) of a huge fan-base in the States, and their eternal presence in their home and native land. It’s also the first song of theirs I heard – and the first Hip vinyl I purchased. Still love it (and have it back in my hot little hands after the years in storage).

Lately, though, the sentimental/nostalgic tune that keeps hitting me in the heart is this one:

(WordPress won’t let me insert videos any longer. Unless I want to pay for the privilege. Not going to happen.)

First thing we’d climb a tree and maybe then we’d talk
Or sit silently and listen to our thoughts
With illusions of someday casting a golden light
No dress rehearsal, this is our life…

You are ahead by a century (this is our life)
You are ahead by a century (this is our life)
You are ahead by a century

And disappointing you is getting me down

Like all their songs (there’s an entire history of Canada in their lyrics to be learned, if you listen closely), ‘Ahead by a Century’ speaks to a particular time-and-place, while being – simultaneously – universal in theme and scope.

(I can see that hornets’ nest. Been there, been stung by that.)

It’s hard not to feel that his voice – a voice I’ve known and loved for almost 30 years – is speaking to me directly. Through this song (through all their songs, all their talent) and through the reality of the health situation that may rob us of Gord.

There isn’t enough time, folks.

2016 is bringing home that message in a bigbig way.

Recently I realized (and expressed the realisation in an email exchange with one of my oldest buds) that I am doing the absolute wrong thing with my life (and that is saying a whole lot, given that I have spent most of my life avoiding subscription to most of those things that many people would deem ‘absolute’).

Part of that realisation stems from frustration and feeling under-appreciated and under-utilized and, simultaneously, over-burdened, to be sure. But more of it – most of it – comes from the awareness that we are sinking, as a species, and I’m not doing much of anything to help us swim.

I need to do better. I need to use the talents I can call upon to impact and influence as best I can.

I’m not doing that right now.

I’m trying to figure out how to change that.

I need to stop disappointing. That’s something that’s most certainly bringing me down.

‘When it starts to fall apart, man it really falls apart.’ True dat, Gordie.

But. In the midst of all that dissolution, we don’t always have to look that hard to find the inspiration to (re)build.

When Davy Jones passed away in 2012 he took a big piece of my heart with him. I love The Monkees. I always have done. (I’ve written about them before, too, but I’m not even going to try to link the posts. Not enjoying the ‘updates’ to the composition page here in WP).

So when rumours started that the remaining three guys were thinking about a 50th anniversary album… Be still my holey heart.

With contributions from all kinds of interesting peeps (including XTC’s Andy Partridge, and my beloved Paul Weller), and recordings from back-in-the-day that let Davy’s voice yet be heard, this album makes all of me smile in a reallyreally big way.

Suddenly, everyone seems to be talking about The Monkees. I couldn’t be happier about that. They’re getting some much-belated and well-earned props (not that they’ve ever felt the need to bemoan their heretofore lack thereof), which is awesome. More than that, they’re demonstrating the power of well-crafted songs that can transcend genre and era, both.

In a world of increasingly-auto-tuned ‘musical’ acts, I can’t help but smile at the irony that the original ‘manufactured’ band of the 60’s is topping the charts in 2016. I. Love. It. I’m gloating and glowing, all at the same time. And getting shivers listening to songs like this one:

While I do love them all, Papa Nez has always been a personal hero of mine. He has invented and reinvented himself so many times (invention must run in his family) – always pushing against whatever envelopes he might encounter – creating new and different means of expressing those things he feels some examination.

His innovation and refusal to be categorized or compartmentalized are inspirational to the Nth degree.

In a recent interview about all this, Michael was asked about his thoughts on what, exactly, might be driving this particular resurgence and receptiveness to what a bunch of old(er) guys have to offer a somewhat jaded and superficial music-buying public (forgive my admittedly-biased editorializing).

His response? Well, the real answer is, “I don’t know.” It’s obviously plugged into something that’s very deep. People who come to it at an early age get impressed by it in a way you wouldn’t if you discovered it when you’re older. But it certainly speaks to a kind of innocence, something that does endure. Those are spiritual qualities that don’t go away. You may lose your innocence, but you don’t lose your sense of innocence, is what that means. It’s a nice thing to revisit.’

(The whole chat can be read at: http://www.soundandvision.com/content/new-sounds-and-good-times-michael-nesmith-monkees#OHyg02rLMKQQdds8.97)

That depth of which he speaks? For me it’s about a connectivity, linked to an appreciation for and understanding of the absolutely (there’s that word again) required role of art and craft – and the important, if not always tangible or quantifiable, vitality and progressiveness that inform and permit the appearance in our world of the ensuing results, given to us by those who have the courage, and the innovation, and the talent, to show the rest of us how they see things.

I won’t, likely, have an opportunity to see, live, this most recent demonstration of a lifetime of that art and craft as presented by my remaining Monkee-dudes. I won’t see the Hip that last one more time, either.

Instead, I will get back into the world of music and its magic when I go to see Lord Huron next month. Tickets for their show don’t require taking a second mortgage on the house (or putting cash into the hands of scalpers), and, after more than a year of loving their flavour of creative input, I’m looking forward to participating in its appreciation, as they bring their tour to Toronto.

(check out this one – my current fave from their most recent album – if you’re curious about them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TGld4a5Mb4)

When I showed him Michael’s Facebook post about the success of their new album, my friend, the incomparable Len, said: “FIND YOUR HAT, MIKE. STAT.”

Len’s plea, that Papa Nez might be able to navigate his competing responsibilities and commitments (his explanation about his inability to join Micky and Peter for the tour’s duration involves a deadline to be met for his most recent novel, among other things) and provide us with the opportunity to be a part of something new and old and complete just one more time, resonated more than I can explain.

If Michael Nesmith, with everything that he does already to improve and inform and entertain us all, can find some time in his schedule… I need to step up and sort myself out.

So I’m going to have a look for my missing headgear – such as it is, and set aside for too long though it may have been – with an eager ear tuned to the sources of dedication, inspiration and example upon which I can call.

Not enough time for disappointment and disengagement.

Where did I put that hat?

Stories

Stories and Scottishmomus’ wonderful poetry. Two of my favourite things – and perfect for a snowy April afternoon.

scottishmomus

the stories that need telling fall clumsily

on trails where tributes lie in winding lanes

on cobbled streets of needle-darkened alleys

in shop doorways where sad stories lurch in pain

the stories to remember stumble onwards

resistance plied while truths they serve to give

truths that need the hearing and the telling

giving voice to thoughts of those who barely live


the stories that need telling cause much grieving

these stories they are mourned while others dance

on bloodied, bended knees scarred stories whimper

begging, fighting, pleading, one more chance

the stories we’ve forgotten haunt our dreamscapes

filling us with fear that those we love could be

a story on the corner there but for graces

someone’s child or parent, you or me


the stories sprawled on walls are unenchanting

apoetic in their prose and permanence

these monuments that matter, disassembled

the humblest stories lost to prominence

unhinged of wing they travel like their namesake

foiled phoenix burnt to ashes must reform

soul stories scattered, littered, on rough pavements

barred temples to the place where freedom’s…

View original post 154 more words

No.

Image result for if you can't say something nice

Hey strangers. Been a long time. Crazy doings hereabouts as I get sorted to move house and rethink my career path, all while taking some token stabs at working on a number of neglected writing projects that need attention.

Even with all these distractions, I’ve been bearing witness to some of the insanity that continues the world over. It’s been hard to miss. Especially south of our border.

What is going on down there? Seriously. The inexplicability of it all has had me holding my tongue, somewhat, per advice like that found in that meme up there ^^^^

But I got up this morning with a head full of steam, heightened by a couple of factors: Trevor Noah on the Daily Show last night (I didn’t think I was over Jon Stewart’s departure, but last night I really began to acknowledge that this kid is something else. He could charm the bees from the trees – and is consistently showing some substantial comedy and commentary chops. Consider me won over in toto), and a ‘discussion’ on a group thread on one of the Facebook pages I visit upon occasion.

All prepared to write a rant of epic proportions, I realized that a lot of what was running through my head seemed eerily familiar. So, before putting figurative pen to figurative paper, I checked the drafts folder. And there it was. Three months old and languishing. A post on the topic that is overwhelming my thoughts and every news channel in clicking distance.

That this even needs addressing, still, boggles my mind. Like a whole lot of other people, a big part of me assumed that this insanity was going to max out at some point. I mean really.

So. I have a question:

How is it remotely acceptable that a person who is running for the highest office in a pretty big place (geographically and in a global political sense) can spew hate and fear and still be considered as a contender for that office?

I’m beyond sickened.Especially by the complicity of (much of) the media in the sickening quagmire that reflects the bigotry and xenophobia and dangerous ‘othering’ of specific populations of the world.

I have to say ‘much of’ the media, because I ran across this (in a friend’s fb feed). I didn’t know who Shaun King was (I do now- Google is helpful, sometimes. Seems like he’s made sense in the past, as well), since I don’t regularly read the New York Daily News (though they seem to be leading the charge in speaking out against things that other news groups seem to be addressing only speculative or in the abstract).

And Mr. King’s Op-Ed makes a whole lot of sense. So does this one. And this one.

Othering isn’t only an American phenomenon. Unfortunately. We dealt with more than our share of it under the previous federal government, to be fair.

But, in October, we stood up, as a country, and voted that sort of thinking out of office, heralding a new day that sets us back on the world stage as a country that is proud of its diversity. That choice for change is bearing fruit already. Our new PM is leading with a positive example that makes me proud, once again, to be Canadian. I admit that I had my hesitations about him, and there’s a long road ahead to bring us back to where we should be, but he’s taking us in the right direction, after a too-long period of regression, fueled by fear and the silencing of dissenting voices.

Those neighbours of ours down there… “A man that most Americans saw as a punchline and reality television star soon surged to the top of the polls and has remained there for nearly half a year. Soon he declared that he would “round up” over 400,000 undocumented Mexican immigrants per month for 24 months and drop them off at an undisclosed location in Mexico. With stadiums and crowds coming out to hear Trump all across America, he seemed to find his sweet spot in a new form of white supremacy that degraded Mexicans, stereotyped African Americans and banned Muslims.

And it’s gotten worse in the last three months. Way worse.

In the US, institutionalized racism is being allowed to flourish, while, here in Toronto, we continue to fight about things like taxi cabs. And remain ridiculously concerned about the PM’s childcare.

Priorities are all out of whack. Everywhere.

Today we woke to the news of another horrific attack on a European city at the hands of radical adherents of an ideological system that is medieval (at best) in its thinking and application. I can’t say anything new about the events in Belgium. I can’t do anything but weep for the lives lost in the name of fairy tales and power games and othering.

So, again, I avoided the ‘news’ as best I could and, instead, caught up on some stuff I’ve had bookmarked for later perusal for months.

I was dismayed and heartened, both, to hear a discussion about the borderline-propagandist media coverage of that pernicious racist down south on The Current.

I also saw a story in The Globe that echoed a thought I’ve had many times – that the US sitch is essentially Rob Ford idiocy writ larger- and more dangerously.

“… please, don’t imagine that Mr. Trump will just dry up and blow away. Even if, as seems likely, he fails to win his party’s nomination, he can do great damage. He already has. His remarks about Mexicans and now Muslims have stirred the muddy sediment at the bottom of the pond where hate lies.

It was the same way with Mr. Ford, who encouraged a certain kind of bottom dweller to come out in the open. If he could say it, why couldn’t they? When he boycotted the city’s gay pride parade, homophobes suddenly felt they had licence to say or post all those things they had been feeling. After all, they thought, Rob is on our side.

Looking back, Toronto took far too long to see Mr. Ford for what he was. Perhaps for fear of giving him another chance to say the elites were ganging up on him, leaders of the city’s establishment stood by aghast but mostly silent through much of the Ford era. They couldn’t see the breadth of his appeal. They failed to recognize the very real discontents that drove his rise.

Don’t make Toronto’s mistake. Don’t underestimate Donald Trump.”

Back when we were still in the thick of that four year stretch of self-imposed in(s)anity that was Ford’s tenure as our mayor, I wrote about evil (using the term with all my usual caveats) and the face of banality that it often wears. That little bit of a something was a bit too prophetic for my comfort. Change the names in the post – from Robbie F. to Donny T. – and I could have validly reposted the thing (I actually thought about it). The difference is one of scale – and scope. As the wannabe leader of the US, Donny T. (and that ‘unlikely’ prospect – winning his party’s nomination – draws closer to certainty) has clearly demonstrated that his ignorance and intolerance is something that needs checking. Now. Before it’s too late.

Hard on the heels of such thoughts, and wanting to find out some details about the federal Budget that was presented this afternoon (you know, the small stuff that might, actually, impact my life and the lives of those around me), I happened to catch a snippet that sucked me back to the media offerings. Robbie F. died this morning. While I’m sorry to hear of the passing of any young(ish) father, felled by a horrible disease at an age not far off my own, the mainstream media ’round these parts is demonstrating distressing lack of judgement and focusing all its attention in exactly the wrong places. Again.

On a day that saw horror and death in Europe and our new government’s plan for fiscal forward momentum, the 6:00 news spent most (and I really mean almost all) of its hour-long broadcast on the ‘story’ of the passing of a figure best left unheralded (Note that I don’t say ‘unacknowledged’ – he was a public figure and devoted at least part of his time to his version of public service). ‘Toronto Mourns’, they keep on headlining.

Like HELL it does.

Yet, once again, we the people are willingly drawn to a system of infotainment that persists in presenting the stories that they deem will garner the highest market-share – rather than those of greatest import and long-term impact.

Trevor spoke about it at length on the Daily Show last night – citing the president of one of the major network’s extreme glee that their excessive and unnecessary coverage of Donny T. is netting them a whole pile of cold, hard cash.

The bald admission turned my stomach. As did the sitch on the hometown network(s) – before I turned them off.

Instead of balanced examination, and critical analysis of things like policy and long-term plans, the media (once-upon-a-time the voice of – and for – us regular folks) is leaving such things up to other voices- like George Takei, in performance on Broadway with his own story of being on the receiving end of institutionalized racism (I’d love to see Allegiance – unfortunately I’ve issued a moratorium on all travel to the US until they deal with their racists and their gun nuts. In other words, I’ll be waiting for the touring show to come to town… ). These voices are speaking out against the insidiousness of levels of racism that are, somehow, accepted as some kind of inevitable status quo by media outlets (those that aren’t locked in denial that the racism exists), and supported by political leaders and wannabe political leaders alike.

The ‘Otherers’ are re-gaining momentum. I can see it – in comments sections of social media groups I follow, for example. One such group (a mommy blog, actually. Although I am not a mommy, the originator of the group is a successful blogging friend-of-a-friend, and, I have to admit, that the ‘Merican-ness of the group keeps me morbidly intrigued. TBH, I feel like an anthropologist at times – as the posts and comments are usually so far outside of my ken that I am frequently aghast by the discussions that go on) featured a post about Donny T. and his ‘ideas’.

At first I kept paying attention due to a Schadenfreude of which I’m not entirely proud. There has been some hope that we’ve, just lately, escaped our racist, anti-intellectual, sexist overlord(s) – so it was sort of perversely entertaining to witness the discussions about it happening somewhere other than my own backyard.

Most comments on the page, it should be said, expressed disgust/dismay/anger at the guy’s proposed ‘policies’, but there were more than a few ‘everyone is entitled to their opinions’ that set the conversations down paths of hostility and into unsupported ‘arguments’ that made me want to bite something.

Entitlement is a concept we need to get over. FFS. You can have an opinion. Sure. If that opinion happens to be ignorance, fear and hatred made manifest in ugliness, then I don’t have to sit by and let you express said ‘opinion’. I do not. I will not.

There is no justification – NONE – for supporting a misogynistic, racist, fear-and-violence-mongering reality television performer for POTUS.

Support of the guy is, as Ricky Jones noted, nothing more or less than an acknowledgment that issues of race and class remain an every-day reality in the United States. And, although Trump is a reprehensible human being, to be sure, it is the voting population that supports him that needs to draw our focus.

Supporters of the ideology that drives the inflammatory rhetoric of people like Trump (and most of the other GOP contenders, for that matter) are the both the products and symptoms of a system that discourages progressive development and critical thinking.

THIS is what happens when you cut funding to education programs (especially those in the Humanities), while advertising a faulty ‘dream’ predicated on the drive to acquire meaningless stuff, while squandering individual benefits, without thought to the larger community.

THIS is what happens when history is treated as little more than a footnote in a perspective that is, increasingly, deemed ‘academic’ and, therefore, unimportant.

I’ve seen a fair number of memes and GIFs and such that equate Trump with other despotic leaders from our recent history. While I appreciate that any sort of nod is being paid to the lessons of the past, the reality of the danger in ignoring such parallels is being lost in the superficiality of the media in which they are being transmitted.

The rage that Paul Krugman referenced in his post cannot be understated or misunderstood for what it is. The rage is exemplified by one word associated with Trump’s campaign – that insidious little ‘Again’ that follows ‘Make America Great’.

That one word advocates for a return to something that those of us who know anything about history know wasn’t, in fact, the best of times – as can be determined by any accurate measure. I’ve written about the fallacy of the ‘good ol’ days’ before. That sort of idiocy is being taken to the nth degree by the nutbar seeking to lead the country.

Leaders like Trump (and Hitler) are allowed to rise to power because they legitimize ideologies that are ugly – and promotional of a group psychology that encourages complicity to ever-larger atrocity – by beginning with a mandate that the ‘simple’ can get behind. Trump’s ‘uneducated’ masses want to hear that someone is willing to return them to a mythical time when they held some level of ascendancy over some ‘other’ type of person. The ‘social identity’ of Trump’s followers has been shaken by progressive movements advocating social justice and equity.

The reality is that people like Trump are not ‘making America racist again’ – America never stopped being racist.

If this trajectory of the legitimation of hatred continues I’m concerned that there mightn’t be a wall high enough to keep the infection of such thinking south of the border (regardless of who ends up paying for said wall). We’re seeing it here, writ smaller to be sure, in the outpouring of ‘grief’ for a man who embodied racist, homophobic and misogynistic ignorance – and who impeded the progress of this city that I love for too many years.

 Canadian politesse (and the values taught to me by my parents) warns against things like speaking ill of the dead and suggests that the better course is saying nothing at all if niceties can’t be expressed.

Sorry Mum and Dad. Sitting by while the ‘news’ media spins tales of validity out of ineptitude and supposed-plain-speaking is symptomatic of dangerous complacency that supports epidemics of ignorance and wrong-doing. I’m an historian. I know what that level of complacency, and othering, and the acceptance of banality can do.

Unchecked, it can bring down civilizations.

The discontent that permits the rise of supposed-leaders like Donny T. and Robbie F. needs to be addressed, yes. We need to do so by rewriting the systemic inequities and lack of education that permits the persistence of othering. Our collective NOs – voiced in concert against the self-serving politicians, corporations, and media organizations – need to out-shout the manufacturers of fear and hatred that have become a shameful stock-in-trade of those who purport to lead.

So.

No.

Just no.

‘Just find a place to make your stand’

It’s a side-effect of getting older, I suppose- watching those we grew up honouring and loving for the contributions that they made to our lives pass away. The fact that we never knew them personally doesn’t lessen the loss at all.

Still weeping for David, I’m reeling with yesterday’s news about Glenn Frey. I’ve written about the Eagles many times – they are, by a considerable margin – my favourite US band. Feeling a little exhausted (it’s been one of those weeks in my ‘real world’ as well), I was going to just reblog one of those old posts with a new intro and call it a night. WordPress didn’t feel like cooperating. Try as I might, I could not get the thing to re-post. So, instead, I’ve modified and cut-and-pasted this oldie-but-goodie – with a new title, although the substance of the original post remains the same. It’s part of a series I started ages ago about ‘songs that can change a life’. The Eagles had a whole passel of those.

Glenn Frey and Don Henley were one of the greatest songwriting teams of the 70s. Although I’ve always loved Don best (I have a thing for drummers), as he noted in his touching tribute yesterday, ‘Glenn was the one who started it all. He was the spark plug, the man with the plan. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music and a work ethic that wouldn’t quit. He was funny, bullheaded, mercurial, generous, deeply talented and driven.’

The line up there ^^^ that I’ve used as the ‘new’ post title came from a tune he wrote with Jackson Browne (another wonderful singer-songwriter), and exemplifies so much of the fun and spark that Don was talking about. Certain songs just stick with you. Glenn Frey (co)wrote more than a few of the best of them.

I love the Eagles.  Not a fan of Country as a genre, but there’s something about that Country/Rock cross-over (California Rock?) that reminds me of summertime and lakes and cottages and bonfires on beaches.

I have Hotel California (1976) on vinyl, kept in storage with the rest of my favourite records and waiting for the day that I purchase something on which to play them- with all the atmospheric pops and skips intact – although I have always taken meticulous care of my vinyl, so the latter are few and far between (Little side note- Hotel California and all its friends will soon be released from storage, since, in the midst of all the impossible losses of the week, we somehow managed to buy a house yesterday…).

The entirety of the album is thematic- it’s a ‘concept album’ that the Eagles have said was meant to represent the decline of the US as it slipped into materialism and superficiality.  In hindsight, the record was distressingly prophetic.

Both the title song and the album as a whole generally rank pretty high when ‘greatest songs/albums’ are tallied- if you put any stock in such things.  I don’t, really, but I DO have to agree that it contains some great songs, two in particular, that figure near the Top of my personal Pops as incredible story songs.

The title tune, with lyrics by Glenn Frey, recounts the saga of someone trying to live the high life associated with California in the 1970s.  It’s an allegorical trip through the desert to the fancy hotel that appears like an oasis out of the darkness.

On the surface, the hotel seems to offer all the trappings of fame and fortune that California seemed to promise those who arrive, with stars in their eyes, seeking such things.  But the ‘spirit‘ of the peace and love movement of the previous decade hasn’t been around the Hotel California ‘since 1969‘, while the excesses and wealth of the 70s have imprisoned all those who reached for the heights and found nothing but materialism and superficiality.

The opening guitar riff takes me to that highway – and to the sense of uncertainty and entrapment that the song suggests is the direction that society has chosen.  It is a harbinger- and one that has been realized as we look back from a distance of almost 40 (!) years.

The album’s final track has an even bleaker message.  The Last Resort is an epic composition, referencing environmental degradation, institutionalized racism and the myth of manifest destiny.

While Hotel California is all about evoking lonely and deserted highways, The Last Resort takes me to a beach, on a lake, as the sun is setting and the stars and Northern Lights are beginning to brighten the darkness.  It never fails to transport me to my personal paradise.

Don Henley’s lyric traces America’s history – and its tendency to destroy as it attempts to create.  It is about the evils of colonialism and the guiding principle of manifest destiny as it became enshrined to further the development (or, more accurately, rape) of the land and its indigenous peoples.

The New World was seen as a place of redemption – a Paradise – for those descended from the Puritan settlers after they fled religious persecution in Europe.  Manifest destiny was the rhetorical mantra behind the push west – spreading American virtues and institutions as decreed by the destiny ‘established by god’.

Territorial expansion was seen as the providence, right, and responsibility of the United States – the self-perceived and – appointed model for the rest of the world.  By expanding and spreading its values – whether those values were wanted and appreciated or not – they were fulfilling the will of god and doing his work.

Although the song presents the historical western progression of the principle of manifest destiny, Henley saw history repeating itself – in the 1970s – as development destroyed more and more of the natural environment and served to pollute the atmosphere in the same way that forced conversions polluted relations with the First Nations peoples whose lands and ways of life were taken and changed irrevocably.

Myths are not always positive.  Manifest destiny was a narrative script that attempted to justify the destruction of those who stood in the way of the spread of American ideals, beliefs and practices.  The repercussions are still being felt.

Whether or not we use the term these days, the actions of the US government in condemning the elected governments of foreign nations and the invasions of other countries, all hearken back to some degree to the concept.

‘Our way’ is the only way.  And that ‘way’ will be shared regardless of the opinions of the recipients of the ‘wisdom’.

We destroy that which we can’t understand or that which is simply beautiful – in the name of god, destiny, progress, sustainability, the economy, greed, the American Dream… These are the lies we tell.

The Eagles witnessed this in 1976 – and foresaw its furtherance in the future.  That future is our present – and we are faced with the same concerns and considerations to the nth degree.  The song is a beautiful and insightful presentation of the need to use our myths, and the cultural scripts that stem from the narratives, with care and engaged and critical examination.

The prophetic voices of Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh, Randy Meisner and Don Felder weren’t heeded almost 40 years ago.

Since it’s January, I’m not at a cottage tonight, so I’m missing the physical atmosphere that these songs conjure from my memory.  The sense of loss and futility come through regardless of location, but, as I sit and enjoy a quiet evening, the beauty of the thread of optimism that is woven into them rings out as well, like a Mission Bell in the desert.

Time to pay attention and let these stories drown out the wrongs done in the name of the myths of past eras and stop kissing our paradises – individual and communal – goodbye.

I seem to be saying this too much lately. Travel safely Mr. Frey. Thank you for your music – and the sense of fun and lessons, both – that it contained.

‘Warm Impermanence’

‘We passed upon the stair, we spoke of was and when
Although I wasn’t there, he said I was his friend
Which came as some surprise, I spoke into his eyes…’

When I woke up, unsettled, at 4am yesterday morning (funny that it’s always https://colemining.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/4am-in-the-morning/), I figured it was symptomatic of the return of the recurrent insomnia and/or bad sleeping patterns that plague me from time-to-time. Finally falling back to sleep- to an odd dream in which I dyed my hair myriad colours (definitely not a typical look for me), I knew that the disrupted sleep meant that it wasn’t likely to be a great day.

But I didn’t expect this.

David Bowie is gone.

I could scarcely wrap my brain around that fact, let alone begin to figure out how to articulate what this means to me, personally. He belonged to the world, certainly, and his legacy lives on in a body of work that is staggering in its diversity and genius. But. He was such a force and presence in my life… I wasn’t sure what to do with this information.

Drinking the first of what would be many coffees, I opened the facebook to a message from the Incomparable Len- the truest Bowie fan that I know (perhaps the truest Bowie fan there is)- just as the CBC told me the same thing. I had to stay off the social media all day – again – this time because I just couldn’t handle all the notices and reminiscences and tributes that are happening, everywhere.

I spent much of the day doing my very best not to cry. Which I managed by not acknowledging that he is gone. Once home, whilst I threw together some dinner, the nightly news kept trying to disabuse me of that little bit of denial. Like the rest of the world, I’ve had to realize that it’s time to face the sad music and let him go.

I’ve written about him a number of times before – generally in passing – when something he wrote, or said, or performed, could express what I was getting at better than I ever could. He was such an ubiquitous influence in my life – and in the lives of my generation and those immediately before and all those after (whether they know it or not) – that little pieces of him creep into the everyday without real notice or acknowledgement.

I really never thought he would die.

The surprise is, in and of itself, a mark of the man and his absolute class. Unlike other ‘celebrities’ these days, David was an intensely private person, living large in the spotlight while in character (whichever character was of the moment), but holding tight to the reins of his real life- with his wife and his family and friendships.

Friday was his 69th birthday- and the release date of his new album, Blackstar, a project that seemed to belie any indication that the fact that he has kept out of the spotlight completely for many months meant that he was struggling with health issues. I first heard the title song a number of weeks ago and, watching the video, I admit to feeling unsettled by the underlying message and imagery. He had a habit of being ‘unsettling’.

Since Friday, ‘Blackstar’ and the second single from the album, ‘Lazarus’, have become all the more poignant, since it seems that the album was intended as his final farewell to this world- and all who loved him. Even his death was art of a spectacularly high form.

We shouldn’t be surprised.

No one was more innovative and inclusive and inspirational than Bowie. No one. He transcended genre and gender and sexuality – while bringing those things to the forefront of important discussions and helping to change the way we view them all. He ripped us out of the ignorance and puritanical biases of the past – often without us realizing he was doing so. His genial intelligence and quick wit and charm distracted us from feeling too much pain from our extraction out of nonsensical previously-held mores.

He was part of the landscape- and frequent contributor to the soundtrack- of my entire life.

As a teenager: on a bus in Pushkin, outside of Leningrad (as it was called then- St. Petersburg in these post-Soviet Union days), listening to ‘Suffragette City’ while sharing earphones with my BFF. Which meant that only one of us could hear the ‘hey mans’. David accompanied us on the tour of Catherine the Great’s Summer Palace museum- with its Amber Room (at that time pre-reconstruction), and was as much a part of my remembrance of that day as were the artistic and historical wonders of the place.

When I first discovered Anne Rice’s vampires (also while a teenager), Lestat looked a whole lot like David in my imagination (never that Cruise guy. Nope. NEVER. And that Pitt guy as Louis?!?! Yeah, no. Worst casting of any movie ever. But I digress…). When I read her now, still, that Brat Prince looks more Jareth (oh how I loved him in Labyrinth. Muppets and Bowie together. Perfection) than Rutger Hauer (Anne’s imagining) or Stuart Townsend (better casting – an unfortunately terrible movie, though).

In my twenties I wrote a long, self-indulgent stream-of-consciousness piece of drivel (it haunts me to this day) called ‘Talking to Ziggy’- about the ongoing conversation between a young, struggling woman and the realized ‘ghost’ of Ziggy Stardust (what happens to fictional characters when they are no longer needed? Do they become ghosts, like humans are supposed to do? It was, in some ways, delving into similar themes as Neil Gaiman’s American Gods – although he did it much better. Speaking of Neil… he posted this lovely piece – a short story in his latest collection, Trigger Warning – that he calls ‘fan fiction’. Beautiful- and further evidence of the reality that David touched so many of us in so many ways…). Looking back at it now (I pull it out every now and again to assure myself that my writing has improved), I realize that – purplish prose and young-adult angst aside – I can’t under-emphasize the place that guy holds in my heart.

I could go on (and on, and on) about specific experiences that call him to mind, and how his songs take me back to places and times that grow farther away from my immediate recall as I grow older. I won’t, though. I’m still sorting through a lot of them and some ain’t so easy to revisit.

Suffice it to say that he was the person I spoke with when I felt no one else was listening. He was also the one I listened to – and discussed things with – working through questions and crises with the voice in my head that was oh-so-familiar from his songs, his films, his interviews (with the release of Let’s Dance he was ever-present in the beginnings of MTV and MuchMusic). I felt like I knew him. And I never had a doubt that he knew me.

He did so much. His spheres of art and influence were so vast that it makes the rest of us (read: me) feel like incredible slackers. His being was a kick in pants. To get moving. To turn and face the strange and effect changes to things that need changing.

When I’m not paying attention (or focused on something else – my job, for instance), I can slip back into the denial that was my initial coping mechanism upon hearing the news. It’s hard to face a world without him. If I could’ve believed immortality of anyone, it’d have to be David. He was somehow completely human and otherworldly, simultaneously.

The ‘fictional-something’ I’ve been working on forever deals with, in part, ideas of immortality – how we play with the concept, and those things we do to make it happen – in some form – since true, physical, immortality isn’t something to which we humans can aspire (at this time, anyway. Who knows what the more scientifically-inclined might come up with in the future…). Since I’ve been trying to hold to my determination to actually finish the thing this year, it’s a theme that’s uppermost in my thoughts lately.

There’s a lot of talk today about his last song, ‘Lazarus’, and its foreshadowing of his death. It shares its title with play he co-wrote, currently playing in New York. The play is based on The Man who Fell to Earth (David starred in the 1976 film, based on the novel by Walter Tevis) – with its themes of redemption and salvation.

Lazarus was, of course, a mythological figure – the guy that Jesus brought back to life after he had been dead for four days. He was a harbinger of something even greater to come (Jesus’ own resurrection) and the symbol of the defeat of that most indefatigable enemy of humanity: death.

David didn’t seem all that concerned about much outside of THIS life, though. The papers today are talking about his fight to live – to conquer the cancer that was taking him from his wife and young daughter while continuing to create and send messages to all those who have paid attention to what he has had to say for so many years. The use of Lazarus as a character in his swansong(s) is symbolic in its entirety. David understood metaphor and the importance of mythology.

I started this blog as a way of discussing our myths (it’s right there ^^^ in the tagline) and their enduring importance in our shared humanity, and discovered (quite quickly) that our stories and our music, when they’re at their best, come from the same place.

If any one person lived the truth of that with his entire being it was David Bowie. The characters he created, the personas he assumed and cast-off, the ideals and concerns and wonders he expressed, the everyday events in the lives of the ‘normal’ and the not-so-normal people he encountered… all these things have become part of our mythology.

He did that.

He was an exemplar for so much that is good and important.

He altered our perceptions of ‘normal’ and ‘natural’ and ‘acceptable’.

He turned taboos/’traditions’ on their heads and made us see their inherent inequity and ridiculousness.

He let us all know that our feelings of lack of belonging – as if we are aliens on our own planet/outcasts in our society – aren’t terribly unique or all that concerning, in the grander scheme of things.

He made us embrace the strange.

He led us new places, and foresaw the changes that would shape new generations.

He warned against inaction.

He changed the world.

He contributed to my world in ways I’m still discovering.

‘Pushing thru the market
square
so many mothers sighing
News had just come over,
we had five years left to cry in

News guy wept and told us
earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet
then I knew he was not lying

I heard telephones, opera house, favourite melodies
I saw boys, toys electric irons and T.V.’s
My brain hurt like a warehouse
it had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things
to store everything in there
And all the fat-skinny people, and all the tall-short people
And all the nobody people, and all the somebody people
I never thought I’d need so many people’

Whether we have five years, or five hundred years, or five million years, left to us as a species of inhabitants of this world, David reminds us that we need each other – over and above all those other things that are out there.

All loss leads to introspection of some kind. Great loss can lead to great introspection and the finding of new insights. As I turn myself to face me (‘I still don’t know what I was waiting for’ ‘a million dead-end streets’… these lyrics have been hitting me in the heart for months as I figure out what comes next in my own life. Hard to pick one favourite song from amongst the myriad- but right now that’d be it, methinks. ‘Warm impermanence’ indeed.)  – setting aside denial and starting to integrate this great loss – remembered lessons from his body of work will guide (and goad) my future steps. As they always have done.

His last words leave us saddened, yes. Immensely so. But also heartened by the knowledge that he, as Lazarus, was a harbinger of those things that may, yet, come to be realized all over this world – acceptance and light and promise of peace and an understanding of ourselves in all our human variety. His eternal wisdom tells us that we need these things in order to live together in this life, on this planet, together. If we act to harmonize all these realities then the inevitability of death might become less fearsome, and our search for routes to immortality – and anachronistic stories about its possibility – less important than living our best lives now.

His final character is that bluebird – flying free with nothing left to lose.

My love and thanks, Starman. Know that your immortality is secure through those many myths you have left behind you. We have been immeasurably enriched by your example.

A Tempest in Russell’s Teapot

First winter storm of the season. It is NOT pleasant outside today.

So I have storms on the brain, and as 2015 draws to a close, I’ve been having a think back over some of the things that have recurred – in my thoughts and in my writing – and giving some head space to how I might make, based in those recurrent things, some changes in the New Year.

I have to believe that the biggest and best tool we have in our collective arsenal against inequity and injustice is another ‘in’ – ‘incredulity’. I’ve written about its opposite in the past – and how that ongoing, unjustified, suspension of disbelief when it comes to things that reallyreally matter is at the heart of most (if not all) of the problems that we, as a world community, as facing as we enter 2016.

N.b. that date. Two thousand and sixteen. That we continue to mark the passing years in accordance with a calendar that adheres to the purported existence of a mythological character is, in itself, telling. And what it’s telling us is that we need to just stop permitting such characters – and the politically-driven stories that developed around them – to dictate our societal governance and ways of viewing the world. Lack of examination of the origins and intended interpretations of the stories – along with constant, continuing, unthinking citation far removed from their historical, geographical and sociological contexts – is making us stupid.

This morning I watched an old TedTalk, by a guy named James Randi.

He has been challenging the credulous – and those who prey on the credulous – to reexamine their beliefs and check their credulity at the door in an effort to prevent the further stagnation of our collective intelligence. The talk is from 2007. I fear its message has been lost in the interim (although, to be fair, homeopathy isn’t nearly as ‘accepted’ as it once was. Other forms of ‘alternative medicine’ remain popular, of course, but that’s another day’s windmill…).

Over the holidays we, like 1/7th of the world’s population, went to check out the rebooted Star Wars universe. Full disclosure: I liked the original three (Empire was the best), but loathed the prequels. So I’m not sure I was expecting much – despite being told by true aficionados that I’d enjoy the ride.

I did. Largely because of the familiarity of the thing. Sure, there was enough mystery to keep me guessing and wanting to know what happens. But, truly, the motifs and the themes and the characters… all were as familiar as old friends. And I’m not just talking about Han and Chewy and Leia.

We recognize the characters – and their struggles – despite the fact that they’re living in a galaxy far far away. Good writers (and directors – JJ Abrams is both) understand the pull of mythological archetypes, and use them to their advantage. The archetypes employed by George Lucas in his original vision of the series stand the test of time and are greeted in their later years with fond welcome. But we love the new characters, too. Because, like those who came before them, we know them.

I’m not going to be pedantic and go back through all the ramblings (like this one) I’ve written about why the themes and types of characters keep showing up as we, as humans, try to answer the big questions and entertain (since these are things that need not be mutually exclusive). Suffice it to say that nothing is ‘new’. Not Rey, not Finn, not even BB-8.

Just like that dude, Jesus. He wasn’t ‘new’, either. Nor was Moses. Nor Muhammad. There is nothing new under the sun, to paraphrase my buddy Qoheleth.

Our brains, fierce though they may be when used to full capability, see the world in the frameworks to which we are accustomed. And we rarely like stepping outside of those comfort zones of familiarity. That would require work.

Those who easily transcend the boundaries of those limitations are our astrophysicists, our visionary philosophers, our poets and, historically, our theologians (who were, often, scientists and philosophers, as well. Limited by their cultural context and language, they spoke of the unknown as ‘god’. They’d know better now).

The rest of us tend to be a little more pedestrian in our understanding of things. So the myth-makers, now as then, use the familiar to tell the stories that want telling. And to set the examples that need setting. Star Wars: The Force Awakens revisits the New Hope we first encountered in Episode IV. Cycles. And the continuing battle between good/evil or dark/light or order/chaos.

I’m okay with all that. I like our stories. The ones that date back 2000+ years, and the ones that we’re hearing today. Both sets offer up wisdom that is finely-crafted and impactful, and, often, super-fun to watch/read. Having spent most of my adult life learning and studying these stories, I’d be the last one to assert that they are valueless.

But.

Stories, while they may contain elements of historical, documented, truths, are not, always (or even often), true. So using them, whole cloth or in bits and pieces that lose the overarching message, to determine things like social justice and equitable, human governance, is ridiculous, at best. At its worst, it’s downright dangerous. We can see the latter happening in the US – as credulity is permitted to run rampant, and people believe (without evidence) the various, all-too-familiar, narratives that self-serving individuals are selling, since it jibes with the stories they are already telling themselves.

And not all stories are good stories. Some should be examined, yes, but then consigned to the history that has demonstrated their inhumanity and ideological obsolescence.

Bertrand Russell introduced his concept of a celestial or cosmic teapot as a means of illustrating the nonsensical argument that the burden of proof for the non-existence of god(s) lies in the hands of the atheist. Russell likened such ridiculousness to the idea that there is a china teapot in an elliptical orbit around Mars, which, though no more provable or disprovable than the assertion that god(s) exist(s), remains highly questionable, and unlikely to be widely believed. Unless, of course, there was a centuries-old tradition of literature and teachings about said teapot. Then the idea of a cosmic teatime, with appropriate crockery, might have some value.

The point of the teapot analogy is its usefulness as a demonstration that assertions should not have to be disproved. Occam’s Razor suggests that the starting point in any discussion of this nature should be the one with fewest assertions: i.e. that no gods exist. It also points out the reductio ad absurdum of those who vacillate and/or claim to be ‘agnostic’, suggesting that if we can’t know for sure whether or not there is/are god(s), we also can’t know for sure that there isn’t a china teapot out there circling Mars. Since neither claim is any more or less scientifically provable, both are equally (im)plausible.

Idiomatically, a tempest in a teapot is ‘a lot of unnecessary worry and anger about a matter that is not important’.

We’re at the beginning of a New Year. We’ve spent 2015 beset by matters that are of great importance – to all of us, as a human family. How’s about we forget about that teapot and its equally-ridiculous co-assertions, and get on with the business of being human. Total and complete secularization is the only direction for us to be headed.

Otherwise it’ll be a hard rain that falls on us all.

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son
And where have you been, my darling young one
I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son
And what did you see, my darling young one
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder that roared out a warnin’
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’
Heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’
Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Oh, what did you meet, my blue-eyed son?
Who did you meet, my darling young one?
I met a young child beside a dead pony
I met a white man who walked a black dog
I met a young woman whose body was burning
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded with hatred
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Bob Dylan wrote this song in a time of uncertainty, when injustice, suffering, warfare and environmental destruction threatened the fabric of the world and its continuing stories. Plus ça change, as they say. I’m an historian and an atheist – not a poet and a visionary. My voice may not have the breath, or breadth, that his does, but my plea remains the same as his was, in 1962.

Wishing us all peace and harmony. For 2016. Happy New Year, my friends.

 

It’s beginning to look a lot like…

Toronto Christmas Market in the Distillery District

Actually, it’s not. Looking anything like Xmas. At all.

It’s 9 degrees at the moment. NINE degrees. Going up to a high of 11. On Xmas Adam (I call it that since Adam came before Eve. Little biblical studies joke…). My City by the Lake isn’t looking all that traditionally-Canadian-Xmasy, to be honest.

I’m okay with it. Really I am. After the years of the ‘Polar Vortices‘, I’m pretty much done with ridiculous cold and snow, so the unseasonable warmth isn’t to blame for the spirit of the season taking more than its usual sweet time to arrive on my doorstep.

There are any number of factors contributing to my lack of festive feeling – as evinced by most of what I’ve written ’round these parts lately (when I’ve written anything at all) – but it’s hard to lay full blame on the existential ennui caused by our world leaders and the (in)actions that they’re taking, when we, here in Canada, have seen such a positive shift in attitudes in such a short period of time.

We are welcoming new Canadians, driven from their former homes by the conflict in Syria, as other places stand steadfast in their faulty reasoning and seek to prohibit such humanitarian outreach. My hometown is getting back on its feet after the initial hangover period since that idiot was ousted from the mayor’s office a little over a year ago. There’s good stuff happening. As often as not, lately, I find myself in tears while watching the evening news – not because of the crimes we commit against one another, but due to demonstrations of kindness, for a change.

The bad is still there – all over the world, certainly, but all-too-significantly in evidence south of the border as moronic, xenophobic fear mongers seek the leadership of that country (and as credulous, fearful people support their inflammatory and disgusting rhetoric) – and the uncertainty I feel as to how to understand and work to change that badness continues to hang over me like a Damoclean sword.

So there is that. Distracting, for sure. But I think the real struggle to find my merry lies in the merciless commercialization of the season that I’m feeling around me this year. Is it worse than in years past? Perhaps not, but, for whatever reason, the in-your-face grab-and-greed of the season has me disconcerted more than usual.

My emotional links to the time of year are all sentimental – it has nothing to do with religion/belief (obv), it isn’t about giving gifts for the sake of getting gifts (the exchange of lists of stuff is something that I will never truly comprehend), and the corporate push to make us buy stuff according to economic schedules and forecasts makes every fibre of my being rebel. It should be all about family and friends, taking a few days here and there to relax and hang out and spend the one thing that matters – time – with those I love best.

I’ve been feeling pulled toward too much of the former and nowhere near enough of the latter this year. There aren’t enough hours in the day to get things done, yet the things needing doing aren’t really those things I want to be doing, if you get me. There have been a whole lot of feelings of obligation floating around for the past few months. I’m okay with obligation- provided it’s to a person/cause/idea that is important. Fighting crowds out buying stuff and running like a headless chicken to cross things off lists? Yeah. I can do without that sort of obligation.

Still. To paraphrase a wise, baseball-playing ghost (as opposed to one of those spooky, judgemental-if-helpful ghosts of past, present or future), ‘if you build it, it will come’. The spirit of the season, that is. It will come to be housed in a place built with things like tradition and quality time with important peeps.

I got a start on that last Friday night. I know I mention the Skydiggers Xmas show at The Horseshoe Tavern every year. There’s a reason for that. It’s something we’ve done for years and years and years – since the very first year, in fact. My presence was sporadic in the years I spent in exile in Ottawa, but I have perfect attendance since being back where I belong. 8-years running, as of last Friday.

We were a small group this year; three of us, compared with last year’s turnout of 17 (getting those tickets was fun- I had to go to TWO locations to pick them up, since the 20-something-year-old hipster at Rotate This wouldn’t sell me more than 8. I get that there’s a policy to prevent scalping… but seriously. While I’m not sure I know what a scalper looks like, I’m pretty sure it ain’t me. Plus it was a show at the HORSESHOE. A SKYDIGGERS show at the HORSESHOE… but I digress…), and 15 the year before that.

Which might have made the evening’s importance that much more pronounced, when I think about it. Will (the originator of the tradition) and I have been there – more or less, as I mentioned – since the beginning, and I can’t imagine a Skydiggers Xmas without him. Shawn is a relative newcomer (he’s only been coming for the last decade or so), but he finds as much importance and meaning in the get-together as any of us oldtimers.

It’s a big deal, but a big deal that, as is generally the case with these guys of mine, isn’t often articulated. There’s an underlying understanding of the importance of the night, and how, for many of us, Xmas isn’t Xmas until we’ve seen those guys take the stage on that dive bar on Queen Street.

And oh, those guys (and lady- can’t leave out Jessy). It was fullest complement this year – Peter Cash seems to have remembered how much he loves hanging with them and playing those tunes since he joined them on their 25th anniversary tour last year, so he spent the whole show up on that stage where he belongs, singing songs that never sound quite right without his voice.

We three agreed that the set list was the best it’s ever been. Ever. The whole playlist (minus ’80 Odd Hours’- but even mentioning its absence seems petty in the face of all that was included) from 25+ years of being the band that represents a good chunk of my favourite associations with my hometown.

I’m rediscovering Toronto lately. Looking for a house means that I’m spending a lot of time visiting neighbourhoods I haven’t seen in a long time. It’s cool to find myself on a street that is so familiar-yet-different, and realizing that I haven’t been down that way in many a moon.

But the memories are there. My grandfather, in particular, and then my parents after him, made sure that we saw a lot of the city when we were kids. They ensured that we visited its neighbourhoods and landmarks. When I first moved back, I led walking tours as part of my volunteer gig at the ROM.

I know this town pretty well. I love this town a whole lot.

The band is as much a part of that love and that history as is the tavern in which they entertain us every year (the Horseshoe will have its 70th anniversary next year…).

Perhaps because we were a smaller designation – and perhaps because we consumed fewer 50s than is the norm (Will was getting over a bout of food poisoning, Shawn had to work in the morning, and I had houses to go see) – I paid closer attention to the band, and the tunes, than is usual. As much as we love to see them, the night is about spending time together and, to be honest, the music can sometimes be a bit of a backdrop to catching up with the peeps.

Andrew Cash made his usual appearance – with a great version of Elvis Costello’s ‘Pump it Up’, and some good-humoured jokes about having a fair bit of time on his hands since October 19 (Andrew lost his seat as the NDP MP for Davenport in the Liberal shake-up that was the last federal election) – but it was Jessy and Andy singing a Andrew-penned tune (co-written by Charlie Angus- another NDP MP) that, in retrospect, had the biggest impact on me this year.

Odd, that a bittersweetly plaintive song about someone who feels far from home while in the city is so resonant with me. This city is my home.

Still, as I walk down Dundas Street every night after work, I can feel some of the disconnection that they’re talking about. It’s inescapable in a place this big and this diverse.

I also know that Xmas Eve snow (though it’s unlikely that we’ll see it this year), and wandering the streets – all alone, thinking about yesterday, and regrets – as it falls, and hearing the bells – from St. James’, from St. Patrick’s, from St. Andrew’s – when the lights are lit, the roads are quiet and this city of over 6 million people feels like a small town.

Even when there’s an edge of sadness to the wanderings and the thoughts, my town grounds me and reminds me of the people who came before me and helped to shape the person I am now. I am Toronto – even when I’m disconnected and a little dysfunctional.

Hear the church bells ringing down Dundas Street

Calling the lost, and calling the weak

And the angels singing ‘come home’ 

I’m so very happy that I did. Come home. Finally.

My thanks to my Skydiggers for helping me to recapture a seasonal awareness of that which is best about the world and my life. You’ve been doing it for decades. I hope you’re around to do so for decades to come. To my two guys: love and thanks for your company at the show and the opportunity to, once again, get the season started in our own, traditional, manner. May it continue. Always.

And I hope that all of you, my friends, my family, are in a place – or with the people – that you call ‘home’ as we celebrate the ending of another year on this planet of ours. Whatever your traditions or definition of quality time, best wishes for the holiday season and for the year to come. 2016 will be a year of positive change and progress – I can feel it. And I look forward to sharing it with you all.

xo

 

 

Increasing the Nones

Since I’ve been short on time and ideas and motivation to engage in the insanity of the world lately, I decided to peruse the drafts folder to see if there might be anything in there that could be polished enough that I’d be okay with it seeing the light of day.

In the course of my usual early morning reading (internet-driven though it may be) I kept coming back to articles about a white, American-born terrorist shooting up a women’s health clinic in which the media/government refused to use the appropriate terminology to describe the act- and the actor. Terror is terror is terror. And terrorists know no colour, nor any one specific, ridiculous and inhuman(e) ideology.

The fact that most of the candidates for the Republican nomination for President of those United States have been unwilling to remotely acknowledge their complicity in this act of terror- what with the recent Anti-Planned Parenthood propaganda campaigns that they have waged- makes me want to bite something. (If you haven’t seen it already, check out Valerie Tarico’s great post about stochastic terrorism).

And then it happened again, today. Another mass shooting in that place that insists on clinging to its might-as-well-be-religious fervor regarding its ‘right’ to have guns. And already we’re being hit with the early talk about ‘mental illness’ rather than acts of terror.

So when I came across this post in the folder, I figured what the hell. Let’s have another chat about putting away all the childish things that accompany blind adherence to misunderstood and misquoted Bronze Age stories and social pre/proscriptions for living. It mightn’t be the most festive of topics, but the irrationality of belief that too-often comes along with the season is sticking in my craw in a particularly offensive manner at the moment. The post’s original iteration dates waaaaaay back to June. Tellingly, I didn’t have to change it much to reflect my horror about the events of today.

Well over six months ago, while running out and about this town of mine (and that little town called Niagara-on-the-Lake- we had a visitor from across the Atlantic and a birthday being celebrated, so there has been much activity around these parts), I happened upon a street performer in the Distillery District. He was here as part of something called ‘Circus North’- and was one among a variety of performers who entertained the crowds on a lovely May day.

This is him: The Fireguy. In addition to the fire tossing and eating and that sort of stuff, he kept up a running dialogue with the crowd- largely tourists- and talked about his Circus-training days. One of his teachers, early on in his juggling career, advised him to choose one thing and learn to do it reallyreally well. Fireguy choose the Devil Sticks, and, after many years of honing his skills, counted himself a master.

The second element of the teaching came into play at that point. If you can learn to do one thing reallyreally well, then you can apply that same ability to learn to do things to other things you might like to get good at. Awesome, if simple, advice.

But it made me think. I’ve been suffering from a complete and total lack of focus lately. It’s been all but impossible to pick a subject and see it through to the end. Which means that my creativity has been somewhat stunted and that I’m not really being all that productive or progressive.

Which isn’t good.

In an attempt to re-focus, I’m going to try to shift things away from the one-note venting I’ve been stuck on in the recent past, and get back to my own, particular way of looking at the world and attempting to affect change through the application of those things I’ve learned reallyreally well.

Upon examination, I’ve realized that the main thing I know reallyreally well, is the thing I’ve spoken about least around here, lately. I’m talking about education the and effective and affective communication of the stories we tell ourselves and others. Caught up in that knowledge is my awareness of the insane level of  access to information that should lead us toward the path that will allow for complete and total secularization as we figure out that those human-constructed stories (and their starring characters) of division- religion, race, ethnicity- mean less-than-nothing when stacked up against our shared humanity and the answers we have figured out for ourselves.

Some of my more recently reblogged posts were prompted by the existence of something called ‘Openly Secular Day’- and were my reiterated shout-outs to the fact that I completely and absolutely KNOW that religion HAS to be removed from the business of politics and governance. The frequently-hypocritical double-speak of those who claim religiosity (of whatever stripe) as the only viable marker and maintainer of ‘ethical behaviour’ has to be shouted down once and for all.

It happened in Ireland in May. In the most wonderfully human way I have seen in a long time. Irish Ex-Pats (Ex-Padraigs?) flocked home to vote ‘yes’ to equality and fairness and the legal acknowledgement that everyone must be afforded the same rights and privileges in a fair and democratic society.

What a thing to behold.

Superstition and prejudice and spurious arguments in favour of ‘tradition’ and unchangeable ‘definitions’ were left in the dust of what is right and what is good. By the PEOPLE. Not as an act of government, but as an emphatic nod towards that which is undeniably the correct direction for the country and its citizens, by its citizens. Not its institutions- and certainly not that one that has held sway over too much policy-making in Ireland for far too long. There are still things that could do with some changing tout de suite, but wow. That was capital-C Cool.

You know what I know a whole lot about? I know that we need to enact similar scenarios whole-scale and worldwide. ASAP.

We need to update our stories and how we see our narratives. You know, those things that we tell ourselves to try to make sense of the often-inexplicable and -troublesome. It is happening- we saw that in Ireland- but those steps forward are also producing resulting inclinations toward extreme steps backward.

A while ago on q (note the move from the capitalized letter to the lower case- marking its new beginning with Shad taking the helm), Greg Proops was talking about his latest project, The Smartest Book in the World. An extension of his popular podcast, the book references all kinds of important information- and talks about why we so often take the easy way out and resort to believing/doing the stupid, rather than making the intelligent choices, or even acknowledging that there is better, more accurate information out there.

“Stupidity,” he says, “continues to be a big seller. It’s easy and it’s fun for people… We have people in this country who want to invade Iran- which is an extraordinary poor idea- and we’re mad at the President for making peace.”

He’s also vocally supportive of equality- and while some of the examples of the anti-women culture we take for granted might seem, to some (small) minds, innocuous, when he, with his comedic voice, points them out the inequity is made laughable in its extremity and has to be disconcerting to even the most delusional proponents of ‘men’s rights’. He believes that the lack of respect and equality afforded women around the world is the cause of all the world’s problems.

Cool. And hard to argue. In fact, one of my big heroes- there ARE still people worthy of the name- Jimmy Carter, has had a whole lot to say on this subject, himself. And he’s dedicating his remaining time to making sure that these issues get addressed.

Greg’s discussion of the Oxford comma? Not so much. I have to disagree with that bit.

Still. So very refreshing to hear any sort of encouragement of things that are smart.

Especially in light of nonsense like this. I know that there are bigger examples of cray-cray out there in this big ol’ world right now, but most of them are just too overwhelming for me to be wrapping my brain around addressing and/or I’m still trying to figure out a way to restructure my discussion of them (that whole C51 debacle, for example) so that I can aid in affecting a better overall outcome.

This one, I can handle. And it’s in keeping with my crusade to stop blaming the devil for all those things to which we refuse to accept our due culpability.

Seriously, Priest-dude? “There is no such thing as ‘innocently playing with demons’.” ?!?!?

Talk about playing to the stupid. And subscribing to the stupid. And demanding that others- over whom you hold some inexplicable influence- adhere to those same values of stupidity.

Fear-mongering. Again. It’s everywhere. If it’s not masses of ‘terrorists-disguised-as-refugees’ that should have us terrified, it’s supernatural beings that are waiting to pounce on unsuspecting children playing with pencils. (I do have to say that I was astonished to learn that any child might be able to access a pencil. I don’t think I’ve bought a pencil in years- and I still tend to write things in longhand- much to the dismay of those who have to decipher my handwriting).

Do I really need to re-rant about the absurdity of externalizing evil as a monster who has set himself against a deity that opts not to defeat said evil, but who would rather let the monster to continue to use his influence and god-given wiles to tempt the creation that the deity claims to love?

Do we really need to be reminded how ludicrous and repugnant it is to frighten children with stories about and threats of eternal damnation if they decide to play a game with pencils and paper? I, for one, am kind of nostalgically pleased to hear that children might be using something other than a tablet or an X-Box or a smartphone as a way to entertain themselves while learning how to play well with others.

Enough with the imaginary boogeymen. There are real ones to spare in this actual plane of existence (apparently in famous Quiverfull families who are given television shows, and people who shoot up concert halls, and women’s health centres, and places offering services to developmentally disabled children…). We needn’t be inventing non-human monsters as warnings. We can do enough damage without ascribed supernatural characteristics.

Propaganda trumping fact- its skillful employment is reaching ever more lofty and ever more dangerous heights.

No more hedging about- trying to sugar-coat reality and mollycoddle those who refuse to let go of the fictional stories that maintain a fictional status quo. It was never ‘better’ than now- unless, as Greg Proops noted, ‘you are a white guy named Gordon’.

I’m not ‘angry’. I’m not ‘militant’. I’m done being ‘reactionary’.

I am fed up, though. And I’m done with letting people get away with using ancient stories and supernatural characters to justify inequity and abuse, while attempting to control the bodies and minds of other people. I’m done up with politicians who uncreate the stories we are being told by those scientists who examine and seek to understand our world as they move forward with their own agendas as means of maintaining control over the credulous population.

I study people- and the stories we tell. There are narratives that should be expressed. Stories needing to be told. I’m not a politician (thank goodness). I’m not interested in the compromise of policy-making and bureaucratic maneouvering required to make things happen on an implementation level. Especially since that level rarely represents the best interests of the people, en masse, who will deal with the implementations once they are enacted.

Lawrence Krauss accepted the Humanist of the Year award earlier this year, and delivered this speech in response. It is one of the most important things I’ve read in a long time.

“I want to argue here that it is possible to imagine a future without the tyranny of religious myth and superstition, and its chokehold on supposed morality. And it is possible to imagine such a future soon. We are never more than a generation away from change. The key is reaching the next generation when they are young… The most important goal in educating our children should be to encourage them to question everything, to not be satisfied with unsubstantiated claims, and to be skeptical of a priori beliefs, either their own, their parents’, or their teachers’.  Encouraging skeptical thinking in this way, as well as directing a process by which questions may be answered—the process of empirical investigation followed by logical reasoning—helps create lifelong learners and citizens who can responsibly address the demands of a democratic society.”

Contrary to what some believers- of whatever stripe might say- us atheist-types do not lack meaning and purpose- and we certainly don’t want for moral centres and empathetic understanding of our fellow humans.

Gleb Tsipursky, PhD,  has made this reality a focus of his research- as both an historian and as part of his interest in modernity and popular culture.

“My research, and that of others, illustrates how secularly-oriented societies provide social institutions that offer a source of meaning and purpose. The focus on religion as the primary source of life purpose in the United States is a historical contingency, one that may shift over time. Indeed, there is a growing number of “nones,” people without any religious affiliation in American society, especially among younger adults. Many nones, and especially college aged youth, are seeking for answers to the question of life purpose that do not necessarily include a G/god as part of the equation. Likewise, there are growing numbers of secularly-oriented venues through which they might  find the answers to their questions.”

It’s important to remember that the reality that is the “contingency” of history is also, by definition, the opposite of “inevitability”. In addition to the faulty assertion that the US is a ‘Christian Nation’ (that is pretty clearly against the writings/purposes of the Founding Fathers, the way I read the history) the many contingencies of US history, thus far, have led to the belief that gun ownership is a ‘right’- and something that is to be held to with all the fastness of stubborn, deity-given ideals about freedom.

But the contingencies (those things that are liable to happen as results of what is happening/what has happened) of NOW, in almost-20-freakin-16– are things like education and rational thinking and the ability to collect and widely communicate statistics and other pertinent information and use them all together to further our understanding about things like an individual’s ‘right’ to possess firearms. One of the takeaways we need to absorb from the events of the last couple of weeks? The knowledge that historically out-of-context assertions should not cannot do not take priority over human lives. One person’s perceived right to own a gun is not more important than another person’s life.

We need to change the narratives. Which means knowing the past and seeing how it got us here- to the present- while letting the exigencies of our current societal and political and morally humanistic realities help us to determine appropriate future courses.

We are seeing some positive strides. As I write this, people across my City on the Lake- and across this country that I love- are getting ready to open their homes and hearts to other humans- in defiance of those who would rule by fear and have us continue to view them as ‘other’ and, therefore, dangerous.

The fact that people are collecting resources to help them transition, and planning committees to welcome them with open arms, is far more in keeping with my understanding of what this season is supposed to symbolize. A little different than fighting (literally) for a ‘great deal’ on a piece of merchandise that we’ve been told we HAVE to have. ‘Stupid’ isn’t the only thing we’re continuing to buy. And it’s A LOT different than watching yet another community picking up the pieces after yet another example of ideology-based violence run amok.

If we are going to tell ourselves stories, why can’t they be ones like the first example, rather than the other two?

Being an honest student of humanity, I’m not confident that we can do all that much to further expedite increasing the nones across the world. (Although I sososo sincerely wish that wasn’t the case. But we should, at the least, be leaving the outdated characters of the stories of yore back in the bad old days from whence they came. They have no place in our politics or our human dialectic. We will find answers- better answers- among ourselves, the real live people of this world, to help us respond to our contemporary contingencies and responsibly address the demands of our societies.

Money, power, holy roads
Freedom puts my faith in none of the above

If there’s a time, that we ever see
The nature of life in reality
‘Cause I want to be there
To kick at the answer 

‘You know it’s dark…’

Photo: Toronto Star

That’s what the big, pointy thing in my backyard looked like last night.

I’ve turned off the television and I’m avoiding social media as best I can. Once again, hatred is coming to the fore and demonstrating the depravity and delusional depths to which we, as humans, can sink. I can’t handle the speculation and the voyeurism that is the norm when things like this happen. I’m not sure that I have anything at all that I can add to any sort of dialogue about why we, as humans, continue to do these things to each other. This blog is full of posts (here’s one), and my life is full of ghosts of discussions-past, that strive to address underlying causes and the nonsensical clinging to anachronistic and out-of-context ideologies that suborn these types of horrors. I’m exhausted from re-hashing my dialectic around why we must address- and enact- the complete separation of world statecraft and politics from any and all mindless adherence to mythologies and social controls that are out of place and time.

If you really want to, you can search back through the catalogue and find far too many reactionary posts that arose out of tragedies of this sort. Before the first indicators of the events of yesterday started in my feed, I was toying with an idea for a post- a break from the fiction I’ve been trying to write lately- in the form of a belated experiential slice-of-life sort of a thing that spoke about the goodness of the life I enjoy. Given that it was going to be a post about a music show, in a local music hall, the subject’s poignancy has taken on a new dimension. Going out of an evening to share the connection that music brings to those of us who value such things above the irrelevancies of constructed divisions and preconceptions is something that I hold to be a sacred (for lack of a more appropriate term. Yes, I get the irony) part of being a human that shares this planet with other humans.

So I’m writing it anyway. I’ll take comfort in memories of some of the real, tangible, good to which I have been a privileged party. I welcome anyone who might like to join me, but I understand that many of you are glued to the incoming messages and the pain associated with the images and realities of the situation. I will return to despairing over the crimes we commit against each other when we have more than speculation and in-the-moment reactions with which to deal. Especially since, once again, the soundbites and commentaries are fanning the flames of racism and xenophobia and demonstrating, yet again, wrong-headed thinking that stems from positions of privilege. If you want to read some excellent insights into that reality, have a look at this op-ed. Totally jibes with my thoughts on the subject of the day-presented more clearly than I can manage at this point.

Outrage and grief are understandable, and certainly warranted. I’d be the last to suggest otherwise. But what is, per usual, missing (for the most part- the essay linked above is a welcome exception) is perspective, and rational response. Enough. On to some regularly-scheduled programming…

——————————- 

For Canadians, Thanksgiving comes early (relative to our neighbours down south, that is). I had booked some vacation time around the October holiday- hoping to get some things done and have a bit of a break from the workaday normalcy. Those Blue Jays were still in the running and providing us all with some awesome post-season excitement. It was a warm weekend in this City by the Lake, and, after a lovely dinner with the fam, I’d arranged to meet an old friend up at Lee’s Palace (not the ‘Shoe, but probably my second-fave live venue in town) to see a guy who feels like an old friend.

The Wheat Sheaf Tavern had set up tvs outside- for smokers, people passing on the street and those, like me, waiting for streetcars. I witnessed another of those amazing Kevin Superman Pillar catches before the Red Rocket whisked me north. As I walked over from Bathurst, every bar on Bloor was playing the baseball game, and I was reassured that we were solidly in control of the game. Since all was good with the Boys in Blue, I was ready for some high octane rocking and rolling (admittedly, there were text updates throughout the evening- no disrespect to the star of the show at all, but it had been 22 years since the Jays were in the post-season. 22. Long. Years).

Jesse Malin has come up in my WordPressWorld discussions a time or two- he’s one of the most engaging live artists I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a few) and he never fails to entertain. The holiday and the Jays’ game pretty much validated my concerns about the timing of the show- there weren’t a whole lot of people on hand. But my friend had rearranged his family dinner plans to make the show, and we tend to celebrate big dinners early in the day, anyway, so we were there, wearing our proverbial bells and hoping to make enough noise to make up for the poor turn-out.

We got there in time to see most of the opening act- Matthew Ryan, a dude out of Philly who writes and plays solid story-songs that offered important messages that were lovely, lyrically and musically, both. Between songs, he spoke of the importance of engagement- political or otherwise- words that rang especially vividly leading up, as we were, to that federal election. We got to have a quick chat with him- and snap a few pictures- between sets. Always a bonus to meet the person behind newly-discovered music.

By the time Jesse hit the stage the crowd hadn’t grown significantly, but it didn’t take long for him to entice us all down to the dance floor for a sing-and-dance-a-long that turned into one of my favourite nights of live music, ever.

In the last year he has released two albums of new music (yes, I said TWO). The most recent, Outsiders, had dropped the previous week. I admit that I hadn’t had much of a chance to listen to the newest stuff (the lack of real computer means that I remain hesitant to download the albums- and I like, whenever possible, buying CDs from merch tables at shows- so I’d relied on streams from various sources and some YouTube viewing to catch myself up), but, having seen the guy three times previously, I knew that the live versions of the new stuff would be the stuff of which memories are made.

I was right.

Jesse’s been at his craft for a few years decades now (he started performing at CBGBs when he was 12. Yes, that says 12), and his live shows are things of beauty. He’s a consummate professional- the voice, the backing band, the energy… and the lack of crowd deterred him not-at-all. Within a couple of songs he had joined us on the dance floor- belting out his new material (with a few older standbys in the mix) and showing just how classy working musicians can be. A few people came close to being clothes-lined by his mic cord as he moved among us, but great music- and its appreciation- is about taking chances, and should be riddled with the potential for a little danger.

Man.

I’ve tried to isolate some of the highlights in my mind. It’s difficult, though. His shows (even the one that packed the ‘Shoe because the TIFF glitterati thought the Boss might show up- I wrote about that one here) always seem more like a kitchen ceilidh- hanging with friends, sharing some stories and dancing ’til your feet hurt and your cheeks ache from the smiling and singing along.

I visited the merch table- of course- and bought both New York Before the War and Outsiders. Since the show I’ve had them both on repeat pretty constantly.

Hard as it is to choose favourites, this one stands out from New York Before the War:

I love the references to Dee Dee Ramone (clarification: turns out I got my musical allusions wrong. I checked out a YouTube clip, ‘Live at Vintage Vinyl’, today, and Jesse provided some background on the tune. In Addicted he’s actually referencing the life and death of Arturo Vega- the close friend and artistic director of the Ramones, who, among other things, designed that iconic logo of theirs. LOVE the stories this guy tells about his experiences and travels. Check out the performance if you have an hour- his story about Shane MacGowan- as a lead-in to his version of If I Should Fall from Grace with God… so awesome)- who has to be a personal hero of Jesse’s (he pops up in earlier tunes, as well), and the NYC atmosphere that resonates throughout. The themes of tearing things down (bookstores for condos, for example) and moving on- or being forced to move on- are visited throughout the album, which is a working-out of all kinds of things that have been floating around his head since 2010’s Love it to Life. It’s about how quickly things are changing, without requisite time or sensitization to get used to all the dramatic shifts in paradigm that we experience nowadays. The album reflects on the disposable culture we’ve created, the prevalent apathy and mindless following of trends, and addresses the realities of having to deal with horrible, terrible things- but still manages to find a spark of positivity that keeps us keeping on. And dancing while we do so.

Outsiders is darker, but also playful and full of tongue-in-cheek humour than demonstrates his masterful use of language and lyric.

At Lee’s, he talked a little about filming the video for this one. About how it was sweltering that day in New Orleans as they made their way around town to gather the images to accompany the lyrics- capturing NOLAs ‘away-ness’ in his song about the eventual return to his home- where his heart remains.

I can’t stop listening to it. Seriously. Non-stop. It’s my new  get-up-and-deal-with-the-day tune. Naturally, the title resonated quite personally. Sort of foregone, conclusion-wise, that I’d be intrigued. The song is so full of allusions and references and well-connected turns-of-phrase… I’m gushing, I realize. And if it doesn’t make you feel like dancing… you might want to get that looked at.

After the show wound up, still feeling kind of breathless, I thanked Jesse, as he passed on the way to merch, for coming to see us again, and for giving us such a fantastic night. He signed my new CDs, and posed for some photos with us, while chatting away about past shows at the ‘Shoe and other visits to TO.

Loved it. All of it. (Many thanks again to Mr. G- for the company, and the ticket, and the long-ago intro to Jesse’s music).

Nights like that demonstrate the best of us human-types. People making art, sharing art, connecting with strangers and reinforcing the reality that those things we create to share with love are much more important than the things we create to feed divisiveness and hatred.

We need that message on days like yesterday- and today. Thank you, Jesse, for your long-term and ever-developing role as messenger.

——————————-

“Hey man, whatcha doing,

All along the road to ruin

You know it’s dark when atheists start to pray.”

The crimes committed in France yesterday are bringing out the hashtags and the superficial demonstrations of engagement and encouragement. One of them, #prayforparis, is generating backlash, as others post things about there being too much prayer- and asserting that prayer is the origin of the problem. While I understand the sentiment behind the hashtag, I have to concur with the naysayers who are pointing out that fighting against hateful ideology- supported by religions and political systems, both- is what we should be doing.

Charlie Hebdo’s message to the world (cartoon by Joann Sfar)

As a concept, I’ve always thought that prayer, the way it’s generally defined by western religions- as an intransitive verb that addresses god(s) with adoration, supplication, thanksgiving or confession- is the ultimate cop-out. Asking a deity- any deity- to intervene in problems of our own making, horrific acts performed by humans against other humans, removes us, in a way that is criminal, from taking responsibility and proactively working to make things better.

It is dark. In the City of Light, in Lebanon, in Kenya, in too many other places on this globe.

But there’s another definition of the term- one that is distanced from overtones of religion and belief- and the abrogation of human culpability. As a transitive verb, ‘to pray’ means ‘to entreat or implore’, often used as an introduction to a question, request or plea.

I can get behind that last bit. Pleading. With all of us, as human beings, to mourn, to punish the guilty who seek to end or disrupt the lives of others for reasons that can never suffice. But vilifying and scapegoating entire groups while blaming and further victimizing those who are fleeing the terror… I implore us all to think before we act/react/speak.

That’s how this atheist prays.