Trying to find the Good

This week has not been my favourite.  The changes/purges/need to move on that I wrote about the other day are neither sitting well nor progressing as they should.

And to add insult to injury, I have had a few too many people tell me, in the last couple of weeks, that I need to ‘put things in perspective.’

Truly, I think I try very hard to do so as a matter of course.

But.

Perspective can be a funny thing.

Compared to many/most in the world I certainly do seem to have little to complain about and I definitely shouldn’t be feeling the level of stress that I currently am feeling. 

Ever notice that the people who articulate such sentiments generally are in a situation in which all is right with their world?

There is a reason that platitudes do nothing more than piss us off.  Seriously, why do people use them?  They are terrible rhetorical devices that tend to come from those who aren’t going through the sorts of things that we are going through.  And some of them never have done.  No frame of reference, yet lots of ‘advice’ in the offing.

While I realize that all of my current struggles definitely fit into that categorization that seems to be everywhere lately- ‘first world problems’- my Sitz im Leben (‘situation in life’), my context- whether my view is at street level, worms’ eye or birds’ eye- is what informs my attitudes, impressions, thoughts and feelings, and the sitch isn’t all that great at the mo’.

I think I tend to face the world and my fellows with optimism, kindness and dignity, generally speaking.   Lately, I just can’t find that optimism.

So.

First thing this morning (and I’m not kidding when I say ‘first thing’- I was awake unreasonably early) I set out to try veryvery hard to search out my usual sunny-ness of spirit and stave off the darkness that seems crouched not just outside of my door, but inside the place I live and where I should feel the most comfort and stability (I use ‘the place’ both literally and figuratively- my physical and psychological homes are both under attack at the moment).

I saw this in a news feed.

Sure, it’s a feel-good, propagandist story that provides unsolicited ‘permission’ for the LGBTQ community to be who they are, but it is more positive and humanistic than anything that previous popes have had to say on the topic, and as such was something with which I attempted to change my outlook on the day.

“Who am I to judge?”

Those five little words might not seem earth-shaking or -shattering to most of us, but for the head of the RC church to utter them?  This is a Big Deal.

Setting aside the usual, obscene references to ‘sin’ and such, Francis has majorly broken with the ‘program’ in the space of a short interview on the heels of his visit to Brazil.

Granted, he may just have been right knackered after all the rockstar-like chaos he caused wherever he went in the lead-up and main event at World Youth Day.  He is not taking the step of advocating for same-sex marriage or anything like that.  He is not allowing women into the priesthood.  He has not responded to questions about institutionalized sexual abuse and advocated cover ups of that sexual abuse.  But as I’ve said before, this guy strikes me as at least different from those other guys who have worn the mitre lately.

I was starting to feel a little ray of the sunshine creeping back in.  If a venerable and unmoving institutional edifice can witness such a sea-change from its Grand Poobah, perhaps there is hope that followers of the unmoving institutional edifice might someday come around to complete inclusion and the eradication of the concepts of sin, next-life redemption and ideas about external, non-human good and evil.

Admittedly, it’s a stretch.  But hope, spring, eternal and all that.

Then, on the social media, came the criticism.  Mainly from the cheap seats inhabited by ‘New Atheists’, but I saw ill-written commentary and interworld memes with incorrect grammar and/or spelling in a number of places.

I’m no fan of the institution or the theology or the praxis and ritual and dogma and condemnation that I associate with organized religions.  Please don’t forget that important foundational point.

Is Francis the titular head of an obsolete institution?  Yep.  Is said institution, even if obsolete, still one of power and influence in the world?  Yep again.

There are still over a billion people the world over that look to the Vatican and its Papa as the source of morality and guidance in many, if not all, aspects of life.  Is this an unfortunate reality?  Again with the ‘Yep’.

But.

Sometimes people say things with good intention and in the spirit of openness and with (even the barest) suggestion of change.  Should that be immediately shouted down?

It is frustrating to actively set out to find some positivity within the tragedy, dreck and vulgarity that seems to be front and centre these days and, once that little glimmer is found, have it taunted and censured without thought or examination.

Does Francis’ comment excuse, or even mitigate, the terrible and unforgivable crimes that have been covered up for far too long?  Does it justify the institutionalized misogyny, doctrinal adherence to outdated cultural mores and violations of human rights and understanding that remain on the books as the modi operandi of the Vatican and its worldwide minions?

Of course not.

But can we not just try to find some room for optimism and hope for change when an old man- figurehead or not- in opposition to millennia of precedents to the contrary makes a statement as potentially powerful as ‘Who am I to judge’?

The ascent of the Interworld meme as a means of expression of opinion has contributed to our intellectual sloth.  Sure, some of them are funny, but the de rigueur habit of posting a (sometimes) clever frame/cartoon/photo with a succinct commentary as representations of our closely held beliefs seems like just another indicator of the brevity of our collective attention spans and the superficiality of our ability to think critically and for ourselves.

Am I guilty of the occasional re-post?  Of course I am.  Hard to be an active participant in the social media and not engage in the sharing of a Grumpy Cat or passing along something wonderfully cheesy and punny from George Takei’s extensive collection.  Interworld memes can be effective in drawing out dialogue- although too often they attract as many trolls as thoughtful commentators- and can add a smile to a day that is in need of a little lift.

I do take issue with the mean-spirited ones since they are further evidence- if any was needed- of our increasing acceptance of unkindness as a means of carrying on.  I’m no Pollyanna (just ask my friends) but some of the memes out there are as deplorable as the person/place/thing that is being targeted.  Two wrongs and all that.

Anyway.  Sticking to my attempt to regain a little optimism, I am going to choose, based upon the research I have done, to reserve judgement regarding the papacy of Francis I, at least until it is a little bit further along.  I will view the statement as a possible move in a positive direction toward inclusion and away from institutionalized irrationality.  I will give Francis the benefit of the doubt on this one, and see where (if anywhere) he takes it and how (if at all) he backs up the comment with positive action.

And if I can’t, in all honesty, state unequivocally and with complete understanding of context and perspective ‘Who am I to judge’, I will, at least, commit to working harder to walk that mile in the shoes of those upon whom my judgement may sometimes fall too quickly.

That Christian version of the big book of myths and practices has a line of some renown (okay, it has more than one, but this one is significant in this context): “Judge not, that you not be judged.” (Matt. 7.1)

The passage suggests a concern about effect to oneself– ‘if you don’t want to be judged, don’t judge others’.  ‘Who am I to judge?’ seems unconcerned with reciprocity of judgement while stating that passing judgement is not something to be done lightly (or at all).

Some may say that both comments are platitudinous.  But if the leader of the historically doctrinaire and judge-y-by-definition Roman Catholic Church can offer up such a sentiment in opposition to the traditional dogma, the comment just might be both original and significant in this context.  Perhaps the rest of us can give him a little credit and try to do the same ourselves.  Hmmm?

I Can’t Even…

Generally, I try to refrain from too much name-calling.  I don’t think it accomplishes anything productive and it can disrupt attempts at meaningful dialogue and debate.

But HOLY HELL.

I mean, c’mon.  Just. COME. ON.

I don’t know whether to laugh hysterically or to dissolve into inconsolable sobbing.

At least six people have sent me links to a particular Fox News interview (this link also mentions Doctor Aslan’s later conversation with Piers Morgan and his embarrassment at having to repeatedly trot out his academic credentials).  In The Washington Post, Erik Wemple has kindly provided us with a transcript of the Fox debacle- in case you’d rather read than watch the cringe-worthy attempt at an interview- and the opinion that the idiots at Fox owe the Professor an apology.

I can’t even.

Jebus.

I briefly discussed the whole Jesus-as-Zealot issue a while back, and although I still lean to the side of history and scholarship that rejects the claim that he was actively engaged in insurrection against Rome, I am open-minded enough to examine Dr. Aslan’s argument and weigh his evidence before saying that I unequivocally disagree with his conclusions.

But the book, its author and the author’s thesis aren’t going to be the focus of this post.  Once I actually read the book I might have more to say on the subject, as an historian of religions in Antiquity and Late Antiquity myself, but then again, I might not.  Over here in the WordPress universe, I try to write about things that are interesting, engaging or making me completely insanely-off-my-nugget-bat-shit crazy in a given moment.

This qualifies resoundingly as the latter.

Yes, I have ranted about the media a few times before (most recently here) and I understand that it is our job as responsible individuals to pick and choose which news forum(s) we are going believe and use as a platform from which to investigate further and draw our own, informed conclusions and, alternatively, which ones are ridiculous and deserving of recurring spoofs on Saturday Night Live.  Believe me, I get the double-edged sword that comes with the (putative) freedom of the press and proliferation of places that are offering us their ‘journalistic’ viewpoints on the news of the world.

But really Fox News?!?!?

Wemple insinuates that Lauren Green hadn’t read the book before attempting to ‘catch’ her subject on the whole Muslim-Christian problem (this seems to be the poorly-executed underlying purpose of the interview).  Whether or not she did (personally, I can’t believe she has cracked the spines of many books at all, TBH) and adequately prepared herself for the interview isn’t even the biggest problem (although it would definitely be evidence of shoddy and shameful ‘journalism’).

Regardless, the transcript reads like a high school student interviewing an educated elder about a subject with which the adolescent has no frame of reference (her misuse of ‘begs the question’ demonstrates an unfortunately ubiquitous habit that the uniformed often have- misusing terminology in an effort to appear informed).  Although I have known plenty of high school students who would be angry with me for making that comparison.

The problem is her repeatedly-expressed incredulity that Dr. Aslan, as a Muslim, would have any reason to be interested in Jesus.  That she doesn’t understand his academic credentials is obvious.  I’ve experienced the same thing- some people just cannot (or will not) wrap their brains around the fact that studying religion(s) doesn’t have to have ANYthing to do with belief in said religion(s)- and his frustration at this inability, by someone who (one would hope) has done some background research before the interview, is palpable, yet overcome.  Quite heroically and with enviable composure and professionalism.

The problem is that she cites a theologian and Christian Apologist as an example of the scholarship refuting Dr. Aslan’s thesis (and none of the myriad historians of Christianity who might disagree with Dr. Aslan),  further evidence of the existent bias of the ‘reporting’ that goes on at Fox News as a matter of course.  Of her inappropriate analogy about a “Democrat wanting to promote democracy by writing about a Republican”, the less said the better.

The problem is that the interview is inexcusably slanted, uninformed and shows such an incredible lack of anything approaching a desire for dialogue between those of differing faiths, academic backgrounds and cultures that it makes me more than a little sick to my stomach.

But what makes me really ill is the knowledge that Ms. Green is not remotely alone in this willful ignorance, lack of perspective and context and complete unwillingness to acknowledge any of the cultural and religious scripts that have shaped the ignorance.

This is the point that moves the interview from the amusing realm of an academic who competently and completely schools the unprepared interviewer, rendering her a ridiculous laughing stock who will be openly mocked on interworld sites and in memes and GIFS for the foreseeable future, into the terrifying reality that there are way too many people out there who will see the interview, and Ms. Green’s perspective (such as it is), as representative of their own worldview.

The dunce cap is an example of an ‘educational tool’ in a system that has long been rendered obsolete and ineffective.  Shaming people is never going to lead them to work toward better performance or increased comprehension.  That punishing someone by singling them out for ridicule was ever thought to be pedagogically sound is beyond my comprehension.

The word ‘dunce’ originated as a term describing those who stubbornly refused to surrender ideas and ways of viewing the world.  John Duns Scotus, a Franciscan philosopher-theologian and Scholastic during the High Middle Ages (11th-13th centuries CE), wrote treatises on all kinds of points of theology (the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, for e.g.), grammar, logic and metaphysics.

By the time of the Renaissance, and then the Reformation, many of Duns Scotus’ ideas had been superseded by new approaches and beliefs.  Those who continued to support his worldview, even in the face of new evidence and perspective, came to be called ‘dunces’- with the underlying meaning being ‘stupid’ or dull-witted’.

In our common parlance- and in connection with its former use in classroom settings (shudder)- a ‘dunce cap’ is used to mark someone as ‘uneducated’ or ‘incapable of learning’.  Ms. Green is certainly the former.  My hope would be that the attention and response to this interview will lead her to understand this truth and attempt to refute the latter through engaged learning.

I’m not going to hold my breath.

Little technical point that’s bugging me.  Ms. Green repeatedly referred to Jesus of Nazareth as the ‘founder’ of Christianity and Dr. Aslan doesn’t correct her- most likely because he recognized the futility in doing so.  Historical and textual evidence indicates that Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew, looking to reform his religion, not trying to ‘found’ a new one.  Just so’s you know.

Exorcising Some Daemons (with help from the Shuffle Daemon)

I’m not especially good at writing while in the midst of crisis.  I tend, by nature, to shut down completely, totally unable to communicate effectively- or even terribly coherently- when I’m preoccupied with things that are weighing me down.

This has been a problem in the past- having to meet deadlines while trying to cope with stress (like completing the re-write of chapters of my dissertation when, three months before the thesis defence, I lost someone very close to me)- but I am trying to push myself to keep up the work output even at those times when stringing words together seems pretty impossible.

I am learning from my fellow bloggers.  I have seen multiple examples of writing-as-therapy that I find both inspirational and enviably well-presented.  Check out the ‘blogs I think are groovy’ section (look to the right and then down- under the Meta info).

Some great stories to be found here on the WordPress.

The recent sources of angst in my life have got me to thinking about the purging and letting go of things, even when those things are held dear, even ‘sacred’, in some cases.

Exorcism is generally associated with the removal of something malevolent or demonic. Yes, even here in the 21st century, we retain enough of a fascination with externalized forms of evil that exorcists are still in high demand in certain places in the world.

I have written a number of posts  (this one most recently) about the idiocy associated with the belief in externally manifested evil, but the fact that industrialized, seemingly rational and modern nations still see a ‘need’ for specialized practitioners to rid the possessed of demonic influence remains incredibly hard for me to wrap my brain- over-extended though it may be at the moment- around.

A family I knew long ago actually experienced tragic loss at the hands of a purported exorcist, as a family member- with a history of mental illness- died in the course of a church-mandated healing ceremony intended to rid the ‘victim’ of a demonic presence.  This all took place in the environs and under the aegis of an internationally respected college in the centre of Canada’s largest city, and not so long ago that we can pass it off as ‘back in the bad old days’.

It’s still happening today.  I recently mentioned a television show that featured exorcism-gone-wrong as the crime requiring solution by the program’s protagonist.  The current Il Papa has allegedly performed exorcisms.  There is a movie in theatres right now that is ‘based on a true story’ about the possession of a family and the house in which they live.  Only the intercession of the powerful mediums- who provided the story that became the film- offered the family any hope of salvation.

There aren’t any ‘magic words’ that can miraculously exorcise demons- of the mind, of circumstance, of illness or despair (or a combination of any of these).  Change and healing require support (therapeutic, psychological, medical, pharmaceutical, a friendly shoulder- the varieties are myriad), time and a sharing of words rather than a recitation of formulaic chants and cantrips meant to drive out the evil that has taken up residence in the unsuspecting victim.

These shared words can help us understand that we need not be victims (regardless of experiences that may be victimizing in nature*) and that others have experienced the same troubles- and those much worse- than we are now going through, and have come through the dark times and returned to contribute beauty and goodness in spite of the darkness that entered their lives for a time.

(*During one of the worst periods in my life, a person that I love and respect emphatically reminded me that although I had, indeed, been victimized, I was NOT a victim.  The distinction is important- partly about attitude and partly about an awareness that I had resources and support I could alwasy rely on.  That said, I realize that not everyone is as fortunate as I am and I therefore would never presume to judge degree or perception of victim-hood.)

Don’t get me wrong.  I love William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist.  In so many ways it is a beautiful film (green pea soup notwithstanding).  It is more about the redemption of Father Dimi than it is about a victory over some ancient Mesopotamian demon (Pazuzu is the demon of the southwest wind) who found a toe-hold into Washington D.C. in the 1970s through a child who played with a Ouija board.

The movie is visually stunning, and presents a sense of menace and terror far greater than the shock and gore offerings we tend to see these days.  And Oldfield’s Tubular Bells is the perfect haunted song to accompany the ominous sense of fear and foreboding that pervades the film.

The mythology behind The Exorcist and its sequel, Legion, along with the prequels that were made (I won’t even discuss The Exorcist II– even with the cool shots of James Earl Jones and the images of the Ethiopian rock-cut churches.  Where the heck did that story come from anyway?) deal with the archetypes of evil and the fears we are forced to face.

Bet Gabriel-Rufael Church- Lalibela, Ethiopia

(House of the (arch)Angels Gabriel and Raphael)

Being scared- by a book or a movie- can be fun- and sometimes exhilarating.  Stories that scare us serve an important purpose in human societies (think about those stories collected by the Brothers Grimm, for example).  That doesn’t mean that there really are demons out there, or that we need a whole union of priest/shaman/charlatan-types who remain on call to rid us of those demons we innocently attract to ourselves.

Fears of Madonna and ‘Vampire-Culture’ aside, the brotherhood of those who market themselves as capable of removing demonic threats by chanting, tossing magic water and dead languages around HAVE to be viewed as an obscene anachronism in 2013.  Don’t they?

But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t perform a little bit of self-exorcism every now and again.

It is healthy- and cleansing- to periodically clear out the corners of our hearts and minds and remove all that is plaguing and possessing each of us.  We can do so through some good ol’ self-examination (perhaps following a bit of a wallow in some temporarily-gratifying self-pity), perspective, the wisdom of our fellows and a little help from our friends.

And if that doesn’t do the trick, there’s always Mike Oldfield.

M!

Wow.

Earlier this week this little blog o’mine hit 1000 views!  And over 200 followers!

Since I actively started sharing my thoughts ’round these parts back in March, I have tried to navigate around the blogosphere in general and my fellow-Wordpressers in particular whenever I have the chance.  One of the great things about blogging as a form of communication is that communities really do develop around common themes, interests and worldviews.

We are able to expand our networks and friends/family groups at an astonishing rate.

To those of you who have taken some time (which I know is precious and often pressed-for) to hang out with me here and have a look at my musings and responses to the world at large, I thank you.

Bigtime.

It is both humbling and exciting to feel that my words and stories might be somehow resonating with something inside of others out there in the interworlds and wider worlds as a whole.  It helps to fill the gap I’ve been feeling having been out of the classroom for a few years now.

Last night I had the opportunity to hang out with a friend who came into my life decades ago (I’m not going to tell you how many) but that I hadn’t seen in years and years and years.  As he said (right after a comment about ‘suddenly feeling like he was back in the 80s’), most recently, we have had an extremely long ‘penpal’ relationship- undertaken primarily through the facebook and through readings of and comments on our blogs.  We had a great catch-up session and the decades fell away in just a couple of hours.  We certainly won’t wait nearly as long to have another face-to-face meet-up, but the online dialogue- about music and life in general- will continue until we manage to arrange one.

The idea of community and the dynamics of these diverse societies have changed utterly in the past few years.  We can now easily be connected with people all over the globe; whether we’re playing scrabble with friends in other countries, getting to know someone with similar interests through the writings they take the time to post, or renewing friendships with people in different (or the same) cities.

A well-written but seemingly random post can help to change a bad day into a great one, as a different perspective is offered on something of great import at a given time, or simply because the author is feeling exactly the same thing at the same time that I am.

All this new media- even with the drawbacks and dreck that can legitimately be associated with some of it- is our contemporary storytelling circle.

I have sat in a town square, on the many-cushioned floor of a library, under the dome of a planetarium, in a smoky coffee house, on the foredeck of a sailboat (to name but a very few locales) and had the pleasure of listening to accomplished storytellers share their tales of wonder or woe.  While we do lose something in not experiencing the stories orally, the joy of reading a finely-crafted slice of life (or jokey tale or poignant memoir) reminds us of how connected we are.

The other day I wrote about being frustrated with the lack of reading- especially critical reading- skills that I seem to encounter on a daily basis, but I am extremely grateful to be part of a community that demonstrates- regularly and consistently- that there are a whole lot of people out there who are engaged in the on-going quest to discover and share the stories of humanity.

Our myths matter.

And so do our rituals.

One of the many commonalities we share across geographical, historical, racial, cultural, social and religious divides is the need to mark significant milestones.  Anthropologists call these events ‘rites of passage.’  They mark our transitions from one stage to another and help to demonstrate and explain the cultural construction of social hierarchies, values and beliefs.

I’ve been feeling somewhat liminal of late, so I think I will see this particular benchmark as the push over the threshold that I’ve been looking for to help me fully leave behind one stage of my life and progress to the next.

I think I can justify a wee celebration of my thousand views.

Nothing showy or over-the-top.

Perhaps a little Friday dance party?

All around the world wherever you are

Dance in the street, anything you like

Do it in your car in the middle of the night*

Have a great weekend!

* M, Robin Scott’s synthpop project, was something of a threshold band- moving from the disco era of the late 70s into the New Wave of the early 80s.  Not just a great tune- but apropos for both the name of the band and its position at the passage between two eras of music.  Everything connects.

Media Goo Goo, Media Ga Ga

Last week I wrote a couple of posts (which will not, for some arcane reason, be linked into this one- Moss Grows Fat… Parts 1 and 2, if you’re interested) that could, in part, be construed as a defence of media- in particular, investigative print (and online) journalism.  This week I honestly feel like rescinding even that tentative support.

Holy cows.

Yes.  A couple had a baby.  They are experiencing the joys of first-time parenthood and seem to be handling it all beautifully.  In this case ‘it all’ includes constant and invasive and ridiculous media presence.

Seriously.

I have absolutely nothing against William and Kate- or the British monarchy, for that matter.  I am Canadian, and I’m okay with our historical connection to Britain and its kings and queens.

My issue lies completely with the media (speaking in BROAD generalizations here)- and the way it is allowing itself to be used by our political establishments.  And since it’s not the first time- even very recently- that this has come up, I can’t not comment on what’s going on.

Even the venerable CBC has spent an inordinate amount of time discussing this child (it was a topic on Power and Politics with Evan last evening.  Sigh).  The morning show on CBC News Network (which is, admittedly, more about headlines than stories with any depth) was all about the Royals going home and the first visit of Her Majesty, Great-Grandma.

Jebus.

Enough already.

A friend of mine recently commented that the media is completely responsible for the fluff that dominates our airwaves these days.  While I would never consider myself a conspiracy theorist, I have to say that there is insidious behind-the-scenes governmental/social leadership culpability when you boil the phenomenon (this domination of non-news in our news feeds) down to its source.

The powers that be- Municipal, Provincial (or State), Federal and religious- ALL benefit from an ignorant populace.  The more that we are sedated by mind-numbingly terrible television shows and junky celebrity magazines, the less attention we tend to pay to issues of any import.

My personal beef is with the fact that no one seems to read anymore.  Granted, complaining about non-readers (and lack of reading comprehension) on a writing site seems counterintuitive at best.  Venting about such things in a forum that features writers -often writing about the great things that they’ve read- does amount to preaching to the choir.  But it is my hope that there are choristers among us who may be in positions to positively influence change in this regard.

Teachers, speakers, political leaders, pundits and writers with a larger readership than little ol’ me can (and should) speak out about the lack of critical reading skills- and, by extension, listening skills (for those who still refuse to look at anything in print format)- and encourage those closest to them to actually think about the stuff they are exposed to (in whichever forum that they prefer).

We have myriad means of communicating with one another.  I have spent most of a lifetime examining the ways in which we communicate with one another, and the ways in which those methods of communication are often controlled and manipulated.

Humanity’s myths are frequently propagandist.  Propagandist techniques include such things as scapegoating and demonizing the enemy (for a full list see that bastion of all knowledge, Wikipedia) Such myths are means of establishing and maintaining order and are designed to be intentional societal scripts.  Some of these stories are self-aware and clear in this intent.  Others are more insidious.  We have to remain vigilant in order that we not fall under the lulling spell of some of our imposed scripts- including the idea that mindlessly watching television programs about hillbillies and rich ‘celebutantes’ is a deserved reward for how hard we have to work each day to keep body and soul with roofs over our heads and food in our bellies.

There are people speaking out about this manipulation of the media as a means of continuing the imposition of willful ignorance that seems to be the norm these days.  Bill Moyers is among my favourite voices crying in the wilderness of this reality.  With Marty Kaplan (the founder and Director of the Norman Lear Centre which studies the impact of entertainment on society) he frequently discusses such topics as media and political systems as ‘Weapons of Mass Distraction’, and how the mainstream media purposely avoids discussions of important issues such as climate change, and the lack of general outcry as the distance and divide between the very wealthy and everyone else continues to grow at an alarming rate.

There are others.  Not all television or journalism is skewed toward the ridiculous or inconsequential in the grander scheme of things.  Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart (and lately, in his absence, John Oliver), Louis C.K., Lewis Black, Rick Mercer, the cast of This Hour Has 22 Minutes… all these good folks illustrate the folly of drinking the Kool-Aid our mainstream media is trying to force-feed us on a moment-by-moment basis.  Our comedians are providing us with more coverage of important local and world events than our news outlets.

We are being manipulated.

Of this there can be no doubt.

We have to pay closer, critical attention to the mythological scripts that are being presented to us, and make informed decisions about what we are willing to stand for from our media and our leaders.  We can’t sit in apathy and complacency while allowing the propaganda to distract us from taking stands and making changes when they are required.

An arguably important baby has been born.  Let’s react to this bit of news by ridding ourselves of the infantilizing effects of media and political propaganda.

Time to grow up.

(All that said, a very Happy Birthday to young Master ‘no name as yet’  (update: George Alexander Louis) of Cambridge.  May he grow up to become a leader worthy of his history and a positive force in the world he will inherit).

Pots and Kettles

“Evil, they said, was brought into the world by the rebel angels.  Oh really?  God sees and foresees all, and he didn’t know the rebel angels were going to rebel?  Why did he create them if he knew they were going to rebel?  That’s like somebody making car tires that he knows will blow out after two kilometers.  He’d be a prick.  But no, he went ahead and created them, and afterward he was happy as a clam, look how clever I am, I can even make angels… Then he waited for them to rebel (no doubt drooling in anticipation of their first false step) and then hurled them down into hell.  If that’s the case he’s a monster.”

Umberto Eco- The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (pg. 349)

No one writes like Umberto Eco.  His language- even as translated from Italian- is beautiful beyond belief.  He seems to see words as symbols- and as a semiotician (not a ‘symbologist’- hear that Dan Brown?  No such thing) he maintains that all cultural phenomenon can be viewed as communication.

He is one of my heroes.

I will likely wax philosophic and play the super-fan about him at some point, but the focus here is meant to be what he has to say about god and the fall of the angels in Queen Loana.

(after one more quick aside… It’s a beautiful book- about memory, and the loss of memory, and how it is tied to our definitions of self and the construction of personality.  You should read it).

So… God is a prick.  And a monster.

What else can you say about a deity who sets its creation up to fail?  And to Fall?  That particular point of theology/theodicy has always been a big sticking point for me.

‘Look at all these super-cool trees.  You can eat from any of them.  Oh.  Except that one.  The best looking one of all.”  There seems to be a whole bunch of unreasonable and unjustified ‘testing’ going on throughout the biblical mythology.  It’s like Yahweh was playing The Game with an entire Nation of unsuspecting suitors.

Of course it’s not a new thing- questioning the theodicy of the god of Israel.  Reconciling a supposedly benevolent and omniscient singular deity (the ‘mono’ in monotheism) with the evil that is an apparently dominant presence in the world was something that the Ancients also wrestled with.  Some of the greatest Wisdom literature examines this tension in great detail- and to differing degrees of success.

For polytheists, this was less of an issue.  There were all kinds of gods- and not all of them had the good of humanity as one of their major points of concern.

Evil (or chaos- going back to that foundational Ancient Near Eastern and Egyptian dichotomy) was easily explained as the influence of malignant beings- gods or demons- as they messed with humanity- either for their own ascendency or just for something to do.  Apparently, being a god could get boring.  This godly need to ‘interfere’ with humans is a functional component of most world mythologies and religion.

Interference can take the positive form of divine inspiration or communication (through such interesting media as burning bushes, voices in the thunder, taking human form on earth, and etc.) or the less-than-holy ‘temptation’- persuasion and inducement to join the dark side of the force.

And sometimes they just showed up to get their rocks off.  Zeus, for example, had a thing for animal disguises and tendency toward rape.  Even the god of the New Testament wasn’t above impregnating unsuspecting Palestinian maidens.

All this is pretty ‘hands on’ involvement in the lives of us human creatures as we crawled about on the face of the earth back in the day (it doesn’t seem to happen as much lately).  Many of the oldest stories feature humans as little more than playthings of the gods- pawns in some incomprehensible game of Twister.

(And as I wrote that line this popped into my head :

The gods may throw the dice, their hearts as cold as ice

And someone way down here loses someone dear

Ah, Abba.  Benny and Bjorn can be connected to anything!)

The biblical stories- canonical and non-canonical- demonstrate this propensity and the idiosyncratic changeability of the character of the god.  This can be explained by the fact that stories were written and re-written and redacted by generations of Israelites, Judeans, Jews and Christians (not to mention the ‘heretics’ like the followers of the various gnostic groups) over hundreds of years.

But many of those who see the bible- old and new testaments- as a single continuity and narrative have a harder time reconciling the vast differences in personality and approach of the singular deity (that was then divided- yet not divided– into three parts).  Still, they manage.  Somehow they are okay with this clearly bi-polar god being seen as unchanging and unchangeable.

The lengths to which we are willing go in the continuation of self-delusion when we try really hard is pretty spectacular at times.

Still, can we really look at the actions of Yahweh as being all about the betterment and support of humanity?  The authors of books like Job and Ecclesiastes didn’t really think so.  They asked questions and received less-than-strongly-supported ‘arguments’ about the god’s omniscience and justice.

If the fallen angels can be vilified for giving humanity the gifts of civilization (temptations that lead us from the path ordained by the deity) can we go any easier on the deity who allowed the Fall(s) (Adam’s and the angels’) to happen.  Who orchestrated the actions?  Is it not all part of the ‘divine plan’ that is laid out in linear history and leading us to the ultimate End of Days at which time those pesky fallen angels will finally get their comeuppance?

Free will is a tricky proposition.  Arguably, there would be far fewer (or non-existent) issues if we all were programmed to follow a set path at all times and under all examples of adversity.  The truth is, people often suck.  We do have this propensity to want to look out for ourselves, take what isn’t ours, reach beyond that which we’re capable of.

In order to explain that- in a worldview that posits a benevolent deity- evil, and those who suborn evil, had to be created in explanation.  And if we were to be able to be influenced by this evil and its incarnations, we had to have some sort of ability built in to us that permits that choice.  So, free will.

It would be lovely if I could believe in just the benevolence and the love and wisdom that can be seen in some of the myths of the biblical deity/deities.  As I have said before, faith can provide hope when faced with nothing more than hopelessness.

I had an email conversation with a friend, and former student, today.  In discussing current job searches, I offhandedly told him to ‘keep the faith’.

His response to that?  “Faith is the active suspension of critical thinking…. no thanks.”

And my comeback?  “It doesn’t have to be about a lack of critical thinking.  I was using it figuratively- or rather, in a humanistic manner.  In that I have faith in (some of) my fellow humans and experiential evidence that some people warrant that level of faith.”  Or something along those lines.

I can continue to believe in people.  We are continually subject to change and so very very adaptable that it astonishes me when I see the things that some manage to cope with, weather and emerge the stronger for.  I honestly think that we are constantly trying to do better, to be better, to achieve the level of goodness with which we imbue the best of our gods.

Even assuming that I could somehow change the entirety of the way in which I view the world and discover some form of faith in a supernatural entity that is overseeing my life and the lives of those I love, if that deity adheres to/embodies an approach to justice that I can’t begin to comprehend in what way does it deserve love and worship?

And if said deity is not as adaptable and open to evolution (as opposed to inconsistent and scatter-brained changeability) and betterment as its creation, how can he it considered in any way superior to the best of humanity?

Blaming rebel angels for the negative stuff that happens in the world is a supreme cop-out.  Especially when the creator deity, if we follow the theology and myriad attempts to explain an incomprehensible theodicy (‘humans cannot know the mind of god’?  Another cop-out), is supposed to be all-knowing, -creating, -seeing and -loving.

Making this group of rebels the source and continuation of all that is bad and wrong in the world not only doesn’t make the least bit of logical sense, it really is a case of one kitchen implement referring to its comparable counterpart as dark and evil.

Or, just a childish, petulant deity that has no place in the 21st century.

I know you are, but what am I?

“Moss grows fat… but that’s not how it used to be”- Part 2

Part 1 featured a whole bunch of disclaimers.  Here’s another:

1) I am not opposed to religion.  I have spent more years than I care to admit to studying the religions of the world.  I know that they hold value for those who subscribe to them and I very much understand how they can offer a framework that provides stability in the face of the unstable and hope in situations of hopelessness.

Emotionally, I understand the comfort in having something like that as a foundation to life.  The fact that I don’t have the luxury of belief and comfort has not made me angry, or bitter, or lacking in something fundamentally human.   People are going to believe as they wish, and, provided that it does not interfere in any way with the rights and freedoms of their fellow human beings or our progression and evolution as we seek to further understand our universe, I say (cautiously), knock yourselves out.

Intellectually, I cannot believe in external, supernatural manifestations of good and evil.  That those two extremes exist in the world is an indicator of their presence within us.  We humans have an incredible capacity for beautiful acts of good and terrible depths of evil.  And, unfortunately, those impulses- standing alone or as a mix of the two (evil is frequently done with the best of intentions)- cause us to do terrible things in the name of belief.

When that happens, we have to root out the causes of such actions and work as a society to prevent them from happening again.

Janet Reitman’s Rolling Stone article attempts to do just that.

It is a first step- highlighting some of the challenges faced by immigrant families in a new, multicultural environment, separated from extended family and history and ‘the known’ and left to figure things out without enough community resources to facilitate their transition between cultures.

(My good friend, Farah, has done great work in this field.  Her perspective, experiences and huge store of knowledge on this subject is invaluable.)

Through her interviews, Reitman illustrates the ways in which people can hide their disconnection from the larger community, while seeming to be involved and engaged with those around them.  It shows that someone who appears well-adjusted can lose that sense of belonging when stability is threatened or removed completely.  And that people, when left without that stability, can be influenced by organizations or ideologies that, at base, are all about the search for power through destructive means.

I do have some issues with the article.  Primarily the fact that Reitman labels the subject of her article a ‘monster’.

Words have a great deal of impact and affect our reactions on a very basic level.  Rather than calling the accused to account for his actions, denying the humanity of the person in fact becomes a way of excusing the actions.  Monsters are monstrous because they are MONSTERS.

When people do horrible things there are reasons- however insignificant or incomprehensible or inexcusable.  There ARE reasons.  And getting to the source of those reasons can help us prevent future actions that may result from the same conditions.  Making perpetrators into monsters also abrogates our collective responsibility for the conditions that can lead to heinous acts.

Externalizing evil- making destructive thoughts/actions all about the Other– whether supernatural in origin or sourced in a different culture/religion/worldview suggests that there is nothing we can do about it.

(I’ve begun to examine the origins of this propensity to excuse ourselves from our tendencies toward doing evil hereherehere and here).

Of course there is something we can do about it.  We are pretty awesome at solving problems when we put our collective minds and resources together.

This blog is supposed to emphasize the best of humanity.

Sometimes we have to look at the worst- and figure our where it came from- so that those impulses to act against our fellow humans in such heinous ways can be eradicated.  This requires that we examine the causes of social anomie- including the reasons why a young man, seemingly well-adjusted and from a ‘nice neighbourhood,’ could do something like he did.

Taking one magazine to task for publishing an investigative story suggests that we should be holding our journalists to some standard of sensitivity and morality- one that takes feelings into account- and yet the media has become an hysterical free-for-all of opinion and sensationalism rather than a measured and well-researched exploration of facts, origins, conditions and resulting outcomes.  Post-9/11, media outlets and satirical commentators were silenced for doing what they do- delving into the story behind the obvious extremity and inhumaity of the act.

Although not always the case, there are generally complex issues at play- involving religion, society, myth, culture.

Our illustrious PM, in a turnabout of his expressed opinion that we should not ‘commit sociology’ (I ranted about that here), has changed his tune about searching for causality in a different circumstance.   The causes of one tragedy, but not the other, are, apparently, worth discovering.

Investigating the process by which a young North American college student became a radicalized terrorist is perceived as somehow ‘glorifying’ the act and the actor, although both dangerous and short-sighted to an alarming degree, and is not viewed as being as important as punishing the perpetrator.

Investigating whether or not a terrible accident had its source in negligence or in the government-advocated cutting back of standards in operational procedures on the rails of our country?  THAT will be done, and ‘quickly’.

As I stated on my ‘About’ page, my studies of religion and humanity have taught me that sometimes we have to un-create our gods- or our closely-held ideologies- and create something better and more human. And humane.

Rolling Stone has always been associated with the liberal end of the politically ideological spectrum.  Interestingly, many of the retail corporations and celebrities that have loudly spoken out against the August cover article can be found at the opposite end of that spectrum.

Politicizing our reactions to tragic events is despicable, and is one of those things that we have to change.  It is one aspect of our political system(s), media, and society in general, that needs to be un-created and re-created in a way that takes into account something other than power/influence for its own sake.

Jann Wenner named his magazine after a 1950 Muddy Waters song.  The proverb (credited to Publilius Syrus in the 1st century BCE) that inspired that song “is often interpreted as referring to figurative nomads who avoid taking on responsibilities or cultivating or advancing their own knowledge, experience or culture” while “another interpretation equates moss to stagnation” (according to the Wikipedia).

Bob Dylan used the proverbial image as the basis for the extended piece of poetry that became his 1965 song Like A Rolling Stone.  It is a wonderfully complex song that explores the themes of resentment and revenge, as well as compassion, and the perceived freedom of being without ties:

When you ain’t got nothing you’ve got nothing to lose

You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to reveal

How does it feel?

To be on your own

With no direction home

Like a complete unknown

Like a Rolling Stone

Because everything is connected (and because that’s the way my mind works) it’s hard not to see the correspondence of themes in Dylan’s song and the human condition of loneliness and disconnection that can lead to social anomie.

Don McLean’s American Pie (one of my all time fave tunes) has a nostalgic yearning for an era in which things were not stagnant- the time before the Day the Music Died.  Although he is famously elusive about discussing the meaning behind the song, McLean is citing a point in time that is associated with perceived innocence, but also with change and progress.

For the “10 years we’ve been on our own… moss grows fat on a rolling stone, but that’s not how it used to be.”

That was 42 (!) years ago.

We have to keep rolling forward and let the moss of stagnation fall from us as we work together to solve the problems that lead people to the desperation and separation that can lead to acts of terror.  We should be ‘advancing our knowledge, experience and culture’ while refusing to be mired in the past or in created ideologies that prevent this progress.

That isn’t going to happen if we insist on silencing our writers for the sake of ‘sensibilities’ or due to the politically motivated obfuscation of invaluable research and social criticism.

How does it feel?

It’s an important question that needs to be answered.

“Moss grows fat… but that’s not how it used to be” – Part 1

Image result for stone moss stock

I wasn’t going to weigh in on this.

Because (and the list is nowhere near exhaustive):

1) This blog is supposed to be about myth and music and the good stuff that we have to teach each other- and how these things permeate and enrich our world cultures.

2) I’m not from Boston, so I can’t really comprehend the pain in the city and the rawness of the feelings of violation and horror stemming from the act of terror that occurred at an event as historical and important to its identity as the Marathon

3) I don’t personally know anyone whose life was forever altered by the (alleged) heinous actions of the accused and his brother (although I do empathize with the depth of their loss and with the continuing struggles they will face as a result of this act of terror)

N.B.- I use the qualifier ‘alleged’ only because the US justice system (in its holier-than-thou assertions about rights and freedoms) is very big on insisting upon the whole ‘innocent until proven guilty’ thing.  And, unless I missed it, there has been no trial as of yet that has resulted in a conviction for the crimes he is accused of committing.

4) I tend to agree that many (too many) journos are all about sensationalism and grabbing readers without any thought given to their subjects’ feelings or, as in this case, the feelings of the victims of the subject(s).

5) Our ‘celebrity culture’ does tend to celebrate BOTH the famous and the infamous- and the ignorant among us (who are, terrifyingly, legion) often have trouble discerning differences between the two designations.

6) Most of me recoils at the thought of doing ANYthing that might be construed as contributing to any sensationalizing- and the infamy- of someone who could do what he did.

7) The cover photo was a really really bad editorial choice.

But that doesn’t mean that the story shouldn’t be told.

Contrary to many of the criticisms that I’ve seen floating around out there, Rolling Stone is NOT ‘just’ a ‘music magazine.’  Since its founding in 1967, it has been known for its political reporting and commentary.  The likes of Hunter S. Thompson produced important political and social commentary for the magazine- that retains it relevance 35+ years later.

Sure, in the 80s and (especially) the 90s the focus shifted to one of more ‘general entertainment’ away from regions of controversy and stories of any great depth.

But it returned to relevance in recent years largely through the work of Michael Hastings (who died in a car accident a little over a month ago) and Matt Taibbi- young journos known and heralded for their hard-hitting exposés of the American military and fraudulent American banking activities, respectively.

Janet Reitman, the author of the article in question, wrote a story uncovering the workings of the Church of Scientology that was nominated for the National Magazine Award and provided the genesis of her book Inside Scientology.  I know from experience what a hard group of nuts those Scientologists can be to crack, and her examination of the cult is both comprehensive and riveting.

The recent products of these three fine journos alone should be demonstration enough that criticising Rolling Stone for publishing an article about something other than music/entertainment is misplaced and ludicrous on its face.   But the mandate of the magazine was never restricted to entertainment.  In its first edition, founder and chief editor Jann Wenner described Rolling Stone as “not just about the music, but about the things and attitudes that music embraces.”

If you are one of the incredibly kind readers who has been following my trains of thought over the past few months, you know that I have repeatedly emphasized that our myths and music are, and always have been, fundamentally connected to our societies and cultures and the main indicator of what it is to be human.  Our stories and songs talk about the things that need working out.  Counter-cultural movements have always used music as a means of illustrating inequity and calling for change.

The cover story of the August 1, 2013 Rolling Stone Magazine is very much in keeping with this awareness that myth, music, culture, history and contemporary events/issues/concerns are inextricably linked.

This post is not really meant to be a defence of the magazine.  As I said, I think that the cover photo panders to society’s repugnant need for sensationalism and voyeurism.  It is a magazine that is assumed- rightly or wrongly  to be mainly about music and rock stars, so using a photo that evokes Jim Morrison was both in poor taste and something that, in MHO, warrants some of the critical bombardment that’s out there at the moment.

Using that photo seriously smacks of sensationalism with the ultimate goal to do nothing more than sell magazines.  True journalistic integrity might suggest that the story could have been presented differently- in a way that better acknowledged the sensibilities of the victims and the city of Boston as a whole.

I won’t be buying the magazine, but they’ve hardly lost a customer.

Like most people I know, I rarely buy print magazines or newspapers these days.  I will read engaging and important articles off of interworld sites until the cows come home, and I even like heading to libraries and checking out the microfiche every now and again.

The last time I purchased a Rolling Stone this was the cover:

(okay, that’s a tad hyperbolic, but you get the idea).

Still I firmly believe that this story NEEDS to be told.

There are too many similar tales out there (like this one) and as a society we have to get to the bottom of where these impulses, these examples of radicalization and extremism are being created, nurtured and ultimately facilitated into actions.  Actions that are undeniably terrible and tragic and heartbreaking.  Actions that cannot be swept under rugs of ‘respectability.’

They should be investigated and presented with a clear application of respect and sensitivity.  Did Rolling Stone miss that mark somewhat?  Arguably, yes.  Is the magazine as reprehensible in its pandering to a particular audience and in its thoughtless quest for readers/ratings as other media outlets I could name?  I don’t think so.

Whether or not your personal views dictate that you should/shouldn’t give the article and the magazine any of your time, it has already accomplished something that the most responsible of news stories should do.  There is dialogue happening (even if some of it is admittedly hysterical and reactionary) and informed, well-reasoned discussion is always a good thing in a civilized society.

Next up:  The whys and wherefores regarding the need for the search of root causes (‘committing sociology’, if you will) and an examination the problems associated with ‘making’ monsters/externalizing ‘evil’. 

The former is something we MUST keep doing and the latter is something that HAS to stop…

Dog Days

Sirius-ly?!?!?

(See what I did there?  It’s not a spelling error- it will be important later)

This is pretty much the gist of most conversations happening in the City today- and what we’ll be sounding like over the next few days:

We are Canadian after all.  We like to grouse complain talk about the weather.

A LOT.

I was party to a conversation the other day- the subject being the projected heat wave that we are now experiencing- that referenced the Dog Days of summer and the dog-like laziness that tends to accompany the high temps.  The speaker seemed to think that the ‘Dog Days’ were so named because of a connection with the inaction of domesticated doggies (and the humans who love them) when the weather is super-crazy-hot-and-steamy.

It’s a logical assumption.  Smart dogs (and the humans who love them) DO lie around doing not much of anything when the mercury gets up there.  Today it actually hurts to breathe since the air is so thick- and I’m not walking around in a fur coat and without sweat glands.  Can’t blame the puppies for lazing about.

Really though, the description of the hazy summer days of July and August (here in the Northern Hemisphere) is a reference to Sirius, the Dog Star, which is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major.  The Dog Days were those weeks in which Sirius rose just before sunrise.

Sirius is the hunting dog and companion of Orion- the gigantic hunter and hero of Greek mythology who was raised to the stars to became a constellation by no lesser god than the Big Guy himself, Zeus.  The rising of Sirius that heralded the beginning of the hot and dry summer was also seen as the cause of plants wilting, men weakening and women becoming, um, randy.

The star twinkled in its brightness, and these emanations were thought to be the source of the malignant happenings down here on Earth.    Anyone suffering from the effects of Sirius was said to be star-struck (two-for-one word origin stories today!) and people offered sacrifices to Sirius and Zeus asking for cooling breezes and the alleviation of the nasty influence of the Dog Star.

Romans also sacrificed dogs at the beginning of the Dogs Days (July 23rd or 24th to August 23rd or 24th) to appease the raging Sirius who was thought to cause the heat and dry conditions.

In Egypt, the star was called Sopdet, and during the period of the Middle Kingdom the calendar was based on the day that it became visible just before sunrise- which occurred around the time of the annual flooding of the Nile and the Summer Solstice.  The return of Sirius (after an absence of 70 days from the sky) marked the return of Isis from the Underworld- a key motif in Middle Kingdom mythology.

The perception that the Dog Days were all about icky happenings and lassitude and madness has persisted in the Western World into contemporary times.  The 1975 Oscar winning film Dog Day Afternoon tells the story of a disastrous bank robbery that happens on an August afternoon.  As one thing after another goes wrong, the ill will of the Dog Star can certainly be felt.

I just had a visit from my favourite Canis Minor (an hilarious pug named Cosmo who should sirius-ly have a constellation named after him) and we agreed that being outside during these here Dog Days that we have happening at the mo’ is something best avoided if possible.

Mythological word/phrase origins are fun.

Heatstroke/dehydration is not.

Stay cool, People.

Evade the wrath of Sirius and keep from being star-struck if at all possible.

Although I have no mythological basis upon which to make the assertion, I’m thinking that a coldcold beer is the best contemporary preventative measure to stave off malignant starshine.

Will give it a go anyway.

‘I Sing Myself to Sleep…’

Insomnia.

Sucks.

Not a new thing, or even something that’s all that rare, but frustrating nonetheless.

Likely stems from the fact that I took a mental health personal day and spent it doing ‘me’ things.  I DID have an appointment in the morning, but I spent the bulk of the day doing little more than reading and writing.

Once upon a time that was how I spent pretty much every day- with time for social interaction and long walks in between.  It was a pretty ideal workday.

Reality (horrible, stinking reality) dictates that I don’t get to do that anymore.  While I still spend the bulk of each day reading and writing and interacting with people, it is no longer on my own terms and with subjects and people of my choosing.

I know- tiny violins of sympathy playing all around me.

Whining about days of yore isn’t actually what this post is about (although who doesn’t love a good whine every now and again?) so I’ll stop the wallowing tangential train and get back to the point.

I did a lot of reading.  Mainly online stuff; friends’ blogs (like this one, and this, and this one too), some articles of academic interest that I’d saved ages ago and never got around to- but I also picked up a novel that I’ve read a number of times before (I do like the re-read) for the TTC trip to the doc and got caught up in the story- even if I know it practically by heart by now.

I finally set that aside and got to some serious writing- work on this blog (hence the back-to-back posts), an academic article, and that book that somehow never seems to get finished.  Every time I look at it I hope against hope that the writing angels (or daemons- I’m not prejudiced) have completed it for me, but so far that hasn’t happened.  So far.

Regardless, it was a productive and highly enjoyable day.  Setting my own pace and moving from one thing to another at will is a wonderful luxury.  I know I have weekends in which to do that sort of thing- and some weekends I DO do that sort of thing- but there is something decadent about being able to be both dissolute and industrious on a weekday.

It felt like playing hooky.

Everyone else was at work.

It was as hella hot and steamy as Hades in the summertime outside, but the house was cool and quiet.

I ran all kinds of things through this ol’ brain o’ mine over the course of the day.  My reading brought me ideas for potential new writings and the writing reminded me of more things I’ve been wanting to read…  Not enough time.

Usually getting things on paper (figuratively- I have given up the ink and paper for the computer pretty much exclusively now) helps me sleep.  Once it is out of my head and preserved for posterity I no longer need to think about it.  All those ideas and issues that have been circulating for the past while have been swept out of the corners into which they were tucked when I had others things on my plate that were taking priority.

I sorted out a plot point that had been plaguing me for weeks, sketched out two additional chapters, linked a couple of draft posts together for further examination later, finally wrote out a dialogue that has been eluding me AND took on board some of the wisdom that other writers have had to offer- about the state of the world of late, the wonder of discovering new people, places and things… all kinds of good stuff that helped to quell some of the existential anxiety being fed by some of the world’s most current of events.

So the brain should have been all calm and ready for some rest.

Instead, I tossed.  And I turned.  I had that appropriate (and hilarious) ad for Tylenol PM for company (“Why is the word ‘abbreviation’ so long?  What if the hokey pokey really IS what it’s all about?”  That’s some GOOD copy!) as it cycled endlessly through my head over and over and over…

I resisted getting up and grabbing the Shuffle Daemon.  Listening to music actually keeps me awake (unless I’ve had a couple of beers.  THEN I’m usually out like a light before the first song has ended).  I can’t help paying attention to the lyrics I love so much and the words get in the way of drifting peacefully into slumber.

I’ve never been a big fan of the non-vocal music (despite many trips to Massey- and then Roy Thomson- Hall to see the TSO) so I don’t have much lyric-free music in my collection.

Except Mike Oldfield.  Who I love (Opening Ceremonies of England’s Summer Olympics?  Spectacular!).  But his symphonies alternate between the quiet and the bombastic (or spooky, as the case may be- Tubular Bells, anyone?) so the lulling is often interrupted by the demon voices and such.

As I lay there considering getting up to try the ‘couple of beers’ remedy, THAT song (up there ^^^^) popped into my busy brain.

James.

James.

Love them.  All their stuff.  This one reminds me of an old friend I haven’t seen in way too long and always makes me feel better about things as I run through my memories of him.

So I tried to take their advice and ‘sing myself to sleep’.  Then the words got in the way (why is Gloria Estefan sneaking in?  Can’t stop the musical infiltration- whether or not it’s something I actually like–  it seems).

They’re just SO GOOD.

As always, when I listen to James, I choose to ignore (editor’s prerogative) Tim Booth and Jim Glennie’s affiliation with the, um, sect (yes, let’s call them a sect.  Cult makes people squirmy.  Even if there is some reason to be squirmy in this case…) LifeWave.

Yes, this affiliation seems to make it into the songs (‘I believe this wave will bear my weight so let it flow’) but again, choosing to ignore…

As the lyrics chased themselves through my head I had to appreciate how well they suited my overall mood this week, and reflected some of the things I’d been thinking about and focusing on:  Letting go, feeling crazy/down/defeated- then okay again- then back to crazy/down/defeated, and, most of all, that no one is ever alone in feeling that they’ve been to ‘some far out places’.

Those who:

Feel the breath of sadness

Find they’re touched by madness

Find themselves ridiculous

(who are)

In love

In fear

In hate

In tears

Sit down next to me

We can all sit together in the awareness that we share these things in common.  All of us.

And when those ‘secrets I can’t keep’ and ‘insights of the day’ prevent me from sleeping, I can always hear some James in my head, telling me they’ve been there too.

At some point the words reassured me enough that I slept- and got up ready to meet the new day.  Even if it wasn’t a save my sanity personal day and I had to get to work.

James.

Love them.