#ItIsSystemic

I have spent the last few days listening to voices who have experiential knowledge from which my privilege has shielded me. Right now I need to be listening – since I need to learn how best to continue to contribute to this war, so all I will say is this, to those who might be less-inclined to listen to those who know, first-hand, what the hell has been going on, but might listen to me.

As both an historian and as an educator, the denials that the events of the week (and the month and the year and the decade and the century and the millennium) are examples of systemic racism are as delusional as they are shameful.

Anyone who thinks ‘things aren’t really like that’ is about to have an awakening that has been too long coming. All those who still subscribes to the beliefs that have permitted the perpetuation of (white) human-created racial divides needs to be listening to people who are making their voices heard right now.

Race, like religion, is a completely human construct. The amount of melanin in one’s skin, or the geographical location from where one originates, has nothing to do with intelligence, entitlement and certainly nothing to do with rightness or ‘better than.’

Differences in skin colour or culture or where we came from or what gods one might think are the best have always been used as a means of othering – a way to ensure that in our narratives and our history we (as opposed to them) comes out looking like the righteous victor and legitimate inheritor of the Earth, or manifest destiny, or American Exceptionalism, or whatever other supremacist bullshit we have written to justify the subjugation of our fellow human beings.

We made that shit up. We can unmake that shit – but it requires a conscious understanding of its existence and our imperative need to do so.

Jane Elliott put it succinctly: white Americans who grew up within the systems and communities of the US who are not racist are only not racist because they took the time to educate themselves about the systemic inequities upon which the US was built. Growing up within the system did no more than teach them about the system that was stacked in their favour – to the contrived and concerted detriment of all BIPOC.

And, while the US is playing out the truth of this fact right now, the rest of us need to examine our own systems and the inequities upon which they were built and which still drive the ways we live together.

This pandemic is shining light on all kinds of concerns about gaps in freedom and access to services and the ways in which we interact with one another. Many of us have a lot of extra time on our hands right now. Let’s use it to listen and effect change that will let us change the narrative to one that is not based in anachronistic ideals of colonialism and supremacy.

A very short list of the people I’m hearing right now.

@jessewente

@AOC

@AylanX

@IjeomaOluo

@JamaalBowmanNY

@TTMProject

@nhannahjones

@LenardMonkman1

@WendellPierce

@theyoungjoo

@TanyaTalaga

@Pam_Palmater

@TaranaBurke

@Luvvie

 

Voices Carry: Next Steps

Well it’s been an interesting few weeks since I first started trying to articulate what I hope to do with this project. I have, already, had some great conversations that will, I hope, lead to larger ones that will focus positive attention on the change-seeking that should come with the restructuring that will be required as a result of the pandemic. Change that can come if we isolate and analyse the inequities and shortcomings of our societies and their will to address those dark places that have been exposed.

It was a rough week, personally, as my family lost one of its members. This was not unexpected – but that doesn’t make the loss any easier. It has lead to a whole lot of soul searching (or soul mining) as I come to the realization that the number of people who have known and loved me since I was born is rapidly dwindling.

Uncle Ken was Dad’s best friend – and we spent a whole lot of time with his family while we we growing up. Even once we were well into adulthood, he and Aunt Marcia took their roles as godparents to me and my sisters very seriously. When a long-term very toxic relationship came to an end, Aunt Marcia acted in Mum’s stead as comforter and provider of hugs and sweets, while Uncle Ken said one of the things that shocked me in its starkness at the time, yet has proven to be a reality that continues to be a source of strength and purpose. He said, “you are not a victim.”

This assertion seemed abrupt and almost harsh in the state I was in – I was still in the wallowing stage of things, I guess – but, as was usual for him, he cut through to the heart of things and reinforced his belief that I would move beyond the situation with the help of my own strength and the support that I could call upon from family and friends. He was a keystone of that support in the years that followed – as we saw Dad through his last illnesses – and I haven’t fully integrated the fact that we will no longer have that support. That’s going to take some time and some focus that I can’t command right now.

Still, the sadness and reflection has helped to shape my thoughts on some potential next steps for this project. I think that these conversations will likely take the form of podcasts  on a series of the necessary changes identified. It is still early days, but the recruitment process has begun, and I’m drawing up some questions I’d like to start sending people to think about in advance of really setting the stage for the chats to begin.

One of the things that wants examining – and one of the proposed topics of discussion – has to do with our unhealthy cultural obsession with celebrities – and those who hold a public spotlight, in particular the propensity to think that said celebrities can do wrong and don’t need their words and actions examined with a critical eye, if they are to be held up as exemplars to which we should aspire.

As is so often the case, reflection on this issue got me thinking about a story – a biblical story (unsurprisingly – I’ve been returning to my research roots more and more lately) that talks about the perils of investing too much unexamined faith in others – especially those who are only superficially worthy of such reverence.

My fave Babylonian king (you know his name. Say it – ‘Nebuchadnezzar’) once had a dream that both baffled and disturbed him. None of his own courtiers or wiseguys were able to interpret the dream for him – since doing so required the input of the gods.  And they didn’t seem to be forthcoming with any guidance – much to the distress of the wiseguys. Distress that grew, quite significantly, when it became clear that Neb was going to execute the bunch of them for their inability to help him sort it all out.

As they were being rounded up (as I re-read the passage I had an image of the Brute Squad clearing out the Thieves’ Forest in The Princess Bride, for some reason), Daniel asked the Captain of the Guard what was up with all this. Once answered, Daniel then asked Arioch to hold off on the whole executing-the-wiseguys thing, and to give him some time to figure out the troublesome nightmare.

Granted the time, Daniel and his Judean buds prayed to their god for mercy, and the meaning of Neb’s dream was revealed to them. Daniel was taken to the king and recounted it fully, before beginning his interpretation – which, he noted, he was able to do because of the guidance of his god. Who was better than Neb’s gods. Just a BTW.

Nebuchadnezzar had dreamt of a great figure – with a head made of gold, upper body of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet made partly of iron and partly of baked clay. A stone – uncut by human hands – came along and smashed the feet of clay, causing the entirety to topple and shatter – with the precious metals being blown away by the winds, as the stone became a mountain which then filled the whole Earth.

Daniel tells Neb that he, the king, is the head of gold. He has been given his dominion by god and is great among men, in his power and glory. After his time, another kingdom will arise – one inferior to his. And then another. And another. Then will arise a kingdom that is divided – and the weakness caused by this division will lead to its downfall – by another kingdom, established by god, that will smash all the others to bits.

Neb was so happy to have his dream interpreted, he made Daniel his chief wiseguy and lavished rewards upon him and his friends (Daniel wasn’t one to forget his buddies…).

There are all kinds of interpretations of this dream and what Daniel had to say lay at its root. The separate sections of the figure are generally thought to represent specific nations – Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome, as one example – and, as such, is more of the same sort of social commentary you find throughout the narrative of the Book of Daniel.

But… as is often the case with such things, strong mythological images develop nuances of their own outside of the context of their creation.

‘Feet of clay’ is colloquially used to reference a character flaw – usually one that is pretty darn significant. The fragility of the feet – the flaw – caused by the hubris or ego of the figure – endangers the whole. Up to and including its wondrous head of gold. The (self-) perceived beauty and wisdom and charisma cannot remain standing under its own weight when any sort of stone shows up to smash into that problematic and fragile underpinning.

We invest so much in our public figures – in those personalities who keep us entertained or informed, or those who seek to lead us in our day-to-day lives. When their clay feet are (often inevitably) revealed, we tend to react with either 1) hostile doubt and by lashing out at those stony accusers who dare to imply anything less than golden about the figurehead they love, or 2) with knowing self-assurance that the idol was always destined to be toppled from his lofty height.

Those who make of themselves a cult of personality do so at their own risk. We like them, until we are presented with reasons to despise them – or their behaviours. But sometimes we cling to the illusion, regardless of the weight of evidence, and maintain the defence long past all logic or rationale (I could cite so many examples of this right now, but I’m sure they wouldn’t scratch the surface of the daily demonstrations that prove that this is a pervasive social issue), hoping that the object of reverence will remember the loyalty when returned to power.

I actually hated this song when it came out. Although, really, that largely had to do with the fact that one of my uni housemates played it All. The. Time. (Until Fletch stormed downstairs and turfed it far out into the snow of the backyard, that is. I think I need to buy him a drink in remembered thankfulness for that…). I’m still not sure I like the song all that much, but its lyrics stand up as well today as they did back in 1988.

Neon lights, Nobel Prize
When a mirror speaks, the reflection lies
You won’t have to follow me
Only you can set me free

I sell the things you need to be
I’m the smiling face on your TV
I’m the cult of personality
I exploit you, still you love me
I tell you one and one makes three

You gave me fortune
You gave me fame
You gave me power in your god’s name
I’m every person you need to be
I’m the cult of personality

And that title.

The song is about psychology and politics. And ‘cult’ is a loaded term that is, generally (i.e., not academically), used negatively. A cult of personality happens when a person uses things like the media to construct an idealized image. It is based in charismatic authority and has connections with narcissistic leadership.

So. If the shoe fits… Perhaps it can be used to cover up those fragile tootsies. Although my recommendation would be that we cease the irrational adulation that permits the rise of such cults – and let them crumble as they should.

It’s time to end our cultural obsession with the lives of people who proclaim their importance and expect us to fall into line to worship based on their self-assessment and the media’s assistance in the development of the construct of their false narrative.

I’m confident that we will have some interesting conversations around this topic – and perhaps come up with some solutions – from journalists and other members of the media, along with those who find themselves in the role of ‘celebrity’ – as to how we can change the narrative and crumble some clay feet – and those who walk around on them – in a constructive way.

Send me a message if you’re interested in participating in the project. Enjoy the sunshine this weekend, stay safe and please stay home as much as you can, and keep your distance and wear a mask if you need to be out. The trends around here are becoming more alarming each day.

 

Voices Carry: The Project

My all-time most-read post, years later, still gets the hits due to the super-distinctive lyric I used as its title. Everyone knows the song, it seems. And it’s one of those that winds and weaves and takes the listener through a complicated journey that winds through time-and-space with a cast of characters that rivals those in that all-time favourite of mine, The Weight.

I originally wrote that post because one of my BFFs had been spending a summer night reflecting upon a park in New Jersey and she posted a line from a particular little ditty as her status on the facebook. It got the song running through my head, of course – the super-rhyme-scheme is catchy as all get-out – but the version that popped in there was Manfred Mann’s cover of the tune, rather than Bruce’s original.

Which, while not surprising perhaps, got me thinking some interesting things about creativity and muses and suchlike and the fact that sharing and interpretation and reinterpretation are one of the best things about music.

Before she became a brightly-coloured musical instrument (usually associated with circuses) Kalliope/Calliope was the Muse in charge of cool things like epic poetry and eloquence. Capital-M Muses were the Greek goddess-types who provided the inspiration for all those things I like best – art, literature, music, history – you know, those things that we create that connect us as humans.

Shrines to the Muses – museums – are pretty much the closest I tend to get to entering places of worship on anything like a regular basis, and as anything other than a tourist. I like museums. A lot. They are places of reverence to me. And they feel like home. The Muses are definitely ladies after my own heart – even if their influence has been spotty at best lately.

The Romans picked up on the idea of the daughters of Zeus (the Big Boss) and Mnemosyne (Memory- in goddess form) and assigned them particular roles. Historian that I am, I’ve always been a wee bit partial to Clio (with her scrolls and all), but all props need go to Kalliope for inspiring the epic-ness of Mr. Springsteen’s well-rhymed song.

Kalliope is generally pictured with a writing tablet – reflective of her importance to those who wax poetic – and was called, by peeps as important as Ovid, the Chief of all the Muses. She was mother to Orpheus, and the inspiration and whispering Voice in the night that drove Homer to write a couple of well-known ditties – about a guy named Odysseus and about a conflict in a town called Troy – of his own.

My beloved Dante spoke well of her: But, since I am yours, O sacred Muses, here let dead Poetry rise again, and here let Calliope sound, a moment, accompanying my words with that mode, of which the Pierides felt the power, so that they despaired of pardon…’ (Dante references the first Battle of the Bands- won, natch, by the Muses, who then turned the upstart Thessalonian daughters of King Pieros into magpies for their extraordinary presumption in challenging them to a sing-off. Think Pitch Perfect, but for keeps).

Kalliope is usually described as the eldest of the sisters – something I know a little something about. She’s also considered the wisest… but I’ll leave that one alone, lest my own wee sisters take offence.

I’ve been more than a little short on the inspiration and harmony lately. I’ve mentioned all that in more posts then I can count, and the current circumstances are making it hard to focus on productivity of any kind. I can usually prod through a work day with something to show for it by the end, but none of it seems to hold much value, if you get what I’m saying.

I’ve given some thought to sources of inspiration and creativity- and, funnily enough (that interconnection thing again), I flippantly referred to a friend as my (small-m) muse, since he has been more than a little responsible for a number of posts – and for exposure to a whole lot of the music I’ve been listening to as I shelter in place. I used a winky-faced emoticon when I said it, but some emoticons hide truth, sometimes, methinks.

Bruce wrote Blinded by the Light because his record company insisted that Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J, his debut album, needed something a little more single-y, more hit-esque, than the songs he’d already come up with. He wrote the lyrics first – unusual for him – using a rhyming dictionary. The result is pretty damn clever, indeed – especially for someone like me who loves playing around with words and who can recognize mastery of the craft. The language-play is full of images and stories that leap at the listener as the song unfolds, reminiscent of some of Dylan’s coolest poetry-set-to-music.

For all Bruce’s undeniable prowess, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s version is arguably better-known – and contains one of the most frequently misheard lyrics of all time. Interesting how certain things translate well, while others can become indecipherable when the origins are messed with. The piano line(s) – and the interlude of Chopsticks – are instantly recognizable.

The steam piano that, with unpleasing sneezing and wheezing, crashed to the ground in both versions, is noted for its volume. Powered by steam or compressed air, calliopes were primarily used on riverboats and circus carousels and the music carried for miles, suggesting that listeners should come closer. Check it out. But, since pitch is affected by the steam, they are almost always out-of-tune on the higher register.

So. Loud and off-pitch. And associated with circuses and all the, uh let’s say down-homey, atmosphere that they can conjure. Sort of totally the opposite of that other Kalliope- what with all her wise, grand, poetic harmony… Yet the instrument entices, and encourages, and draws us in, as it rasps across great distances.

My fave lyric from the original doesn’t appear in the single version – or the cover – of the tune:

‘Yes and Scotland Yard was trying hard, they sent a dude with a calling card who said, “Do what you like, but don’t do it here”
Well, I jumped up, turned around, spit in the air, fell on the ground
Asked him which was the way back home
He said, “Take a right at the light, keep goin’ straight until night, and then, boys, you’re on your own”‘

The play on light and darkness, and the implied aversion to creative expression in the person of the police officer, evoke so many cool things that resonate with the paths down which my thoughts have been traveling.

Inspiration can come from any number of sources. I tend to find mine, most often, in other people. With our contemporary state of communication being what it is, social media can be, for all its faults, a sometimes-useful tool to catch up with the important peeps and tap into those things that are driving them forward. Or just keeping them going when we can’t meet face-to-face.

Our muses can be myriad – if we take the time to pay attention. I’ve been bad at that lately. But I’m working on it, and listening to those Voices I love. Even if the things they say are off-hand, or ‘thrown-away’, or representative of nothing more than a current playlist – it’s a pretty fruitful place to start.

As is memory – that Mother of all Muses – perhaps especially when the memories seem to be placeholders of regret. The ‘way back home’ does, at times, require treading in the darkness of night, but we shouldn’t be hanging out there, eschewing the light, for too long.

‘Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun
Whoa, but mama that’s where the fun is’

What sights does our sun see when it looks down upon its third planet, after all, but the wonder that is us, and all our human potential? Whether it involves cutting loose or revving up (though not, hopefully, ‘wrapping up like a douche.’ Never that…) it’s time to listen to those shooting stars, sitting in sidecars, humming their lunar tunes, and realize that they can point us in the right direction. And, perhaps, make things all right. Even when those boulders on my shoulder have us all feeling older.

Bruce knew what he was talking about. It starts with sticking together and being sources of inspiration and creativity to one another. All runners in the night – chasing our Kalliopes, and calliopes, wherever they may lead.

It’s a hard time. An unprecedented time. There is a lot of noise out there, serving as distraction – not that we don’t need some of that right now. I feel like we spend each and every day looking for an end – all that apocalyptic thinking I’ve been talking about. But I’ve been feeling this week that what we should be talking about is starting things. Not prematurely REstarting stuff – but shaping new beginnings and new approaches and new thinking into tangible expressions of lessons we have learned.

I’m trying to ignore those infuriating noise-makers who have nothing to contribute beyond vitriol, out-dated/ill-informed rhetoric or toeing of party lines that are working to the detriment of all of us. Focusing on the trolls (internet or otherwise) is doing nothing more than raising my blood pressure to dangerous levels. So I’m instead going to focus, on rallying the cries of those who are speaking the about the good and the progressive and the positive and take the time to invest thought and time in their actions and reactions to the world around them and start some discussions – dialectics, if you will – that can lead us to positive change.

Dialectic is not synonymous with debate. The latter involves a measure of persuasion – and, often, an emotional investment in the perspective – that is required in order to ‘win’. Dialectical methods search for truth through reasoned argumentation. They involve discourse between two or more people with differing points of view but who wish to use logic and rationality to work toward the common goal of gleaning the best possible truth of a matter.

It’s not about who yells loudest or most persuasively. Unlike debates, dialectics do not require an external judge to determine a ‘winner’. Consensus is reached through discussion rather than hammering the other side with talking points and statistics.

Politicians use debate and rhetoric to inflame the emotions of those who bother to listen to them. They appeal to the often-base desires of voters in order to motivate that electorate to continue to support them – since they suggest that in so doing ‘the people’ support themselves (and not necessarily the despised ‘others’). There’s a lot of that happening as people politicize the pandemic and most of us seek slow and reasonable re-starts. The lies and self-interested bullshit abound – as the privileged call for sacrifice (of others, of course) so that petty discomforts can be resolved.

As all of this plays out on screens around the world, many of our politicians seem completely disinclined to participate in any sort of reasoned discussion with those who hold opposing views. Those of us who wish to approach this world of ours with reason and fairness have to wonder what it is they are trying to hide as they avoid discussions and favour more insidious forms of rhetoric. Some of them, evidently, aren’t capable of listening to anything more than the sycophantic soundbites that support their own mandate and position.

We need to talk. But we also need to listen. Some of that means returning to stories we’ve already heard – and interpreting them for today’s environment.

I started this post referencing a song and its best-known cover version. The Weight is one of the most interpreted songs that I know of. Playing for Change‘s version – with contributors from around the world – hit deeply before I’d even heard the word ‘Covid’. It’s a tangible example of the ways in which we can come together from different backgrounds and disciplines and cultures and share in the experience of being human.

As I’ve mentioned in a many recent posts, as a way of coping with lockdown and distancing and uncertainty some of my favourite musicians are inviting us into their homes and their processes and demonstrating that music, at its best, can be a powerful force for change and awareness-raising – and can tell stories about particular times and particular ways of viewing the world, while leaving us with themes and tunes that resonate regardless of time or place. They continue to create. Musicians gotta music.

Last week, Matthew Ryan released a cover version of his own.

Although I am, of course, familiar with Belinda Carlisle’s version, I was well into the first spin of Matthew’s iteration before I connected the two in any way. His revisiting of the song, in light of the sadness that is the frightening and frustrating nowness of 2020, offers the same optimism and light – and the video shows us examples of perseverance and history and continuity.

Music gives – comfort and insight and entertainment – allowing us to take what we need and leave the rest for the next person to enjoy and use as they might require.

In a speech accepting the MusiCares Person of the Year Award (2015), Bob Dylan had this to day:

All these songs are connected. Don’t be fooled. I just opened up a different door in a different kind of way. It’s just different, saying the same thing. I didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary. Well you know, I just thought I was doing something natural, but right from the start, my songs were divisive for some reason. They divided people. I never knew why. Some got angered, others loved them. Didn’t know why my songs had detractors and supporters. A strange environment to have to throw your songs into, but I did it anyway.

Last thing I thought of was who cared about what song I was writing. I was just writing them. I didn’t think I was doing anything different. I thought I was just extending the line. Maybe a little bit unruly, but I was just elaborating on situations. Maybe hard to pin down, but so what? A lot of people are hard to pin down and you’ve just got to bear it. In a sense everything evened itself out.

Music shouldn’t divide. Not when it’s reflective of the best that it can be. I’m feeling like we need some evening out hereabouts these days. Some equatable sharing of the load – whatever that load might be. A lot of us carrying pretty heavy, right now.

All of this is to say that I’m hoping to start something – something small, but in keeping with these themes – of connectivity, dialectic, interpretation and re-interpretation, history and story. But most of all a discussion about those things that unite us and how we can work really hard to make manifest our collective knowledge and innate, emotional connectedness, based in those things we all, as humans, share.

I don’t, yet, know exactly what this will look like, but I’m leaning into my own strengths – perhaps rediscovering some of them after a period of disuse – and counting on some help from friends who can bring their own talents and approaches and wisdom to the table. I’m confident that we can share what Matthew calls our ‘intelligent generosity – both intellectual and emotional.’ And maybe contribute to the necessary reshaping of the world as we come through this latest re-volution.

I write this on a day on which one of the most distinctive and innovative voices of the 20th century has been silenced. Little Richard changed everything. It’s not hyperbolic to say that that the music we listen to and love now wouldn’t sound the way it does were it not for Richard Penniman.

There’s no one like Little Richard. But if we follow his example – which included openness, innovation, humour and mentorship, among so many other things – we can shape our own changes.

Please watch this space – and send me a message if you want to join in the conversation.

 

Ordering Chaos

It doesn’t seem like there is anything else on the menu, lately. Everything is in flux and new and different and not in a good and exciting way.

All of us are struggling with the reality of Covid-19 – and the ways in which we deal with the chaos are as myriad as our personalities and life situations.

I tend to like order.  Not to the extreme of stifling creativity or preventing spontaneity, but, overall, I like to have things organized.

I’m not sure that I’m really truly a control freak or anything. I can go with the flow with the best of them. I’ve been known to drop everything and take chances/switch plans/directions at the drop of a hat – proverbial or otherwise (hats HAVE been left behind on occasion).

Before anyone starts thinking that I’m perhaps protesting too much, let me just say that I am well aware that my Virgo-Nature (as one of my BFFs – and fellow-Virgo – terms this propensity) sometimes gets the best of me. I’m eminently self-aware about that little character trait.

I think it’s why, actually, I tend to gravitate to the mythologies of the Ancient Near East and Egypt. The belief systems that came before and heavily influenced the beliefs and the worldview that would be recorded in the bible – those Testaments Old, New and extra-canonical – were based in the foundational dichotomy of the need for maintenance of order to stave off the constant incursions of chaos in the known world.

The myths – and the societies that developed according to the worldviews contained therein – saw the primeval forces of the universe as sourced in chaos. In Mesopotamia this tradition was found in the stories of Tiamat – Mother-goddess of chaos and origin of the world as we know it. As in the world was created out of her defeated carcass. Still, such was her power that even after Marduk’s victory her influence continued to be felt since we – and the planet we rode in on – were carved out of her physical remains.

We like chaos. Or, at the very least, seem to gravitate toward drama and the exaggerated over-turning of societal norms – those same societal norms that were instituted in things like the Code of Hammurabi, those Ten Commandments, or the more numerous and somewhat onerous Levitical Laws. They all served the same purpose: order vs. chaos

But the laws are all about the maintenance of the balance of the two, not the eradication of chaos. That would mean self-destruction, after all, coming as we did from the body of chaos herself. Our rules are set out to ensure the careful manipulation of behaviours so that order can keep it in check.

If the rules aren’t followed the influence of Tiamat comes creeping back in to mess with the nicely ordered society that the gods – and the kings/priests/leaders who act on behalf of the gods- have created. For our own protection, of course. But also for the greater glory of those who hold the earthly power.

I get this – atavistically, and also because it suits my personality. We need rules – be they rules of morality or practicality. We also need to understand that rules are contextual in nature. They are based on specific needs and sourced in specific times/places and, as such, should be subject to change as our context does so.

Somewhere along the line, the order/chaos dichotomy got changed into one of good/evil. I’d argue that came about under strong influences from Zoroastrianism and its dualism, but that’s a discussion for a different day.

Bottom line? Those things associated with order became the rules that described what is good. Acting outside those rules became all about the evil.

Example? That little story about the Garden of Eden and getting kicked out and that whole, much later, Augustinian nonsense about Original Sin? Yahweh gave them one rule – ‘don’t eat from that tree. The one over there. All others are fair game, but leave that one be.’ And what did they do? They violated the prescribed order/rule and ate from that tree.

It’s called a ‘cautionary tale’ for a reason.

Right from the get-go we were being influenced by that crafty Tiamat (or her minions, who were myriad and took the forms of demons, ill-winds and, sometimes, serpents) to break the rules and let her get a little of her own back.

That’s an image of her up there ^^^.  It’s also the image that appears on my homepage underneath the name of the blog. I believe in facing my fears head-on (I’m really not kidding. One of my cats was named for the embodiment of chaos herself.  was thinking along the lines of ‘naming something robs it of its power’. Didn’t quite work out that way.  My Tiamat was pretty chaotic. I blame myself for the misstep). Please note that she looks like a great big snake, herself.

‘What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.’

My fave OT dude wrote that in Ecclesiastes (1.9).

Yep. We are nothing if not a lather, rinse, repeat sort of a species. We beg, borrow and often steal the stuff that came before us and apply it – generally willy-nilly – to our own social contexts. Does that really sound like a remotely rational plan?

Despite my deep-seated appreciation of order, the need to examine from whence our conceptualizations of that order might have come is the very thing I’ve been (over-) thinking about of late. For a long time now we have been letting our community leaders tell us what we should be watching/buying/doing and how we should be thinking/voting/spending our spare time without any sort of examination or thought given to the context from which these prescriptions are coming.

Since we aren’t (last I checked), in fact, a Bronze Age culture trying desperately to assert our national identity among hostile ‘foreigners’ (whose land we’ve come to take) and therefore beholden to any notion of having our actions dictated as we are expected to blindly follow someone’s notion of what is ‘best’ for us, we really have to be looking more closely at these things.

We have so much opportunity and access to information that we HAVE TO make our decisions based in this cultural/social context rather than one that had its day more than 2000 years ago, half a world away.

That doesn’t mean that some of the rules – and the lessons contained within the rules and the stories that support them – mightn’t reflect universal truths and maintain some validity. I’m not saying that at all.

But c’mon. Too many of the people who want to make the rules (especially in that country to the south of us) are basing them on interpretations of those ancient documents in complete disregard of their – or our – cultural and historical contexts.

If we take the time to weigh all sides/voices/contexts we can see that we have, in fact, progressed from the city states/nomadic/monarchic civilizations that came so very long before us. We have evolved.

There is a devolution of society that seems to be happening here and there that is beyond distressing in the face of this reality.

We need a paradigm shift. Bigtime. Let’s forget about the whole externalizing/personification of evil/assumption of the existence of absolute good that we’ve inherited from later iterations of the Mesopotamian and Egyptian worldviews. Time to let go of childish things – like devils and demons and primordial gods (although not the cats who bear their names – two of my current feline besties are named for Canaanite deities) and take responsibility for our role in the balancing act that is life in the 21st century.

The maintenance of order is important.  It balances the chaos – of our own natures and of those things IN Nature over which we can exert no control.

And, unlike evil – and the way in which we tend to pass the buck by labeling and externalizing actions/people as such –  chaos will always remain a part of the world and its perpetual motion. We can stop with the evil. It is a purely human construct.

There are things beyond our human control and creation. Yep. There are indeed. The way we react to these incursions of chaos in our lives is completely in our hands.

In citing the historical tradition of leaders who created laws as a function of control, please don’t think that I’m saying that there aren’t leaders who make rules for the preservation of their people then or now.

We are in a period that is completely outside of our usual experience – most of us in the West, anyway. Rules have been put in place in efforts to keep us – as individuals, families and societies – safe and healthy, and to keep us from overwhelming our health care systems. Most of us seem to understand the origin of and continuing emphasis on the need to maintain physical distancing. These conditional rules have an origin and purpose that should be pretty easy to comprehend.

Unfortunately most is not all. There are ongoing murmurings – which are getting louder the longer this goes on – regarding the need to reopen the economy and get everyone back to work and producing and consuming at pre-pandemic levels.

I get the concern. Except that there can be no economy without society – and we are still in the process of ensuring the maintenance of that last part. The narrative of the ‘need’ to get back to working/living as ‘normal’ is being dictated by those who have financial mandates – rather than ones having to do with moral or ethical considerations. As has always been the case – in spite of how far removed we might be from the Bronze Age Near East – the most adamant supporters of movements dedicated to opening it all up right now are from the privileged strata of society, and those they persuade (or pay) to wave their flags of consume consume consume.

Sacrificing those in the most tenuous economic positions is a tactic that is much much older than capitalism, to be sure. It’s at play right now, though and it’s a manoeuvre that the kings and priests of the Ancient Near East would recognize and applaud.

We have the unique opportunity to create right order through all of this. We are recognizing the gaps that could lead to the failure of all of society – something that some of the powers that be seem to be willfully ignoring for the purposes of financial expediency.

Public health care, accessible education, fair wages for those who provide us with our food and safety, support for those who keep us entertained and informed. The struggles of these groups (and many others, of course) are demonstrations of the innate failure of capitalism as an equitable societal model.

The tension between doing what we’re told for our own safety and that of others and being forced back into dangerous situations under threat of not being able to eat, or pay rent, or provide the basics of living, requires a great deal of balancing between the dichotomous actualities of our present-day order and chaos.

Messages about continued vigilance and new statuses quo for the foreseeable future are daunting and, frankly, depressing for those of us (all of us) who want to be back out in our communities, supporting our neighbours and contributing responsibly to the economic health of our shared society. When placed beside the narratives coming from people who seek to gain all while sacrificing nothing themselves through forcing a premature return to previous states of consumerism, the former need to be our ongoing priority.

We have to trust in the people using educated and evidence-based forecasting to set the rules which will keep the chaos in check for us all. Listening to those who want the bucks off the backs of the rest of us will lead to a complete disruption of the order that comes with society.

We have no control over what is happening right now – and that is really really hard for a lot of people. Me, for one (see above, re. Virgo-Nature). We, here, are fortunate (for the most part, there are outliers, to be sure, and don’t get me started on the embodiment/s of chaos in the States) that the rules around vigilance are the ones that are being enforced – and, as hard as it has been (and it’s not getting easier by any stretch of the imagination) are the responsible, human response to the situation at hand. It is not our natural state to live in isolation – we are social beings and the entirety of our societal interactions and institutions are structured based on that reality. But we are also rational, thinking beings – and we are able to weigh the necessities of the current situation against the sometimes-bigger voices who are shouting for their own benefit to the detriment of those of us not part of the 1%.

Those who would rather we rush to open in spite of the subsequent chaos such orders will produce might want to consider the source/s of those directives and ask if they are, really, suggesting such steps for anything other than their own mandates and for their own selfish desires.

Order happens when choices are made – and we are having to make some that are really hard right now. There is much to be weighed and measured in order to strike the best balance possible. We have the unique opportunity right now to make the choices that can reframe our society in ways that lead to more equity, equality and inclusion. The voices of chaos might be louder – and they might be persuasive – but we have the power to ensure that our leadership is listening to the rest of us as we work together to get through this crisis and figure out how we go on living together once we can truly be together again. We can change the menu to one that is more varied and palatable for the entirety of our community.

Mene Mene (especially you, MAGAts)

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m doing my best to catch up on reading and paying attention to things that used to inspire and entertain, both, as I navigate the challenges that have come along with this physical distancing and isolating thing. When I’m at my most optimistic/least anxious, I feel lucky to have the extra time to revisit writings and readings that were the focus of my life for a couple of decades. It’s making me miss the stories and the studies and the research and the people I got to work and interact with, if not the time/place in which I did the studying and research. That period of my life was a mixed bag, to say the least.

Still, the opportunity to reflect – and hopefully refocus so that I can plan some personal next steps once we are on the other side of this – is something for which I am grateful. I am re/learning lessons about prioritization and the value of stuff that find important – regardless of whether or not others can understand that value.

The focus of my academic life was pretty esoteric. I get that. It’s not something that everyone gets or cares about or views with any degree of import. It wasn’t practical – by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve been asked, more than once, ‘but what can you do with that kind of a degree? What can you actually do?’ And that was from ‘friends’. Once outside of academia I had no illusions that I’d find employment in an area involving my subject matter expertise. I’ve lived with that for a little over ten years now. It doesn’t even bother me. Most of the time.

The societal crisis we’re experiencing right now is making me really examine how much value I place on my current role, and it’s resulting in some pretty deep soul-mining. I can’t stop thinking about the need for the creation of a new normal that we will have to undertake as cities, provinces, countries and as a global community. And I don’t really think that the job I do right now will permit me to contribute to the required paradigm shift in any meaningful way. I can’t overemphasize how much we need to rethink the ways we determine value – starting with all our frontline essential folks – in medicine, home care, food delivery, emergency response, cleaning and sanitation… the list goes on – but not forgetting our creatives.

So, with time on my hands and the inability to sleep, I’m going back to what I know. And what I love and what I value. And we’ll see where that has taken me once the dust settles.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had something come up in the course of business calls and email back-and-forth that was irrationally irritating (to a ridiculous extreme that is indicative, in part, of the tension of isolation, to be sure), so in the spirit of getting it off my chest so I can stop fixating on it, I’ve decided to address that irritation, here.

People keep saying ‘(they’ve) seen the handwriting on the wall.’ It’s making me nuts.

I get that that’s pedantic to the extreme, but I also feel like it’s illustrative of the ways in which we miss the salient point because we misinterpret or misunderstand its context. The reference comes from one of my most favourite bibical texts – one I’ve written about before. I went back to that post (waaaaaay back to 2013!) and, after cringing at some of the writing, realized that the story is super-relevant to the times through which we are living right now. As are so many of our human stories – regardless of when or where they were written.

The Hebrew Scriptures have a lot of pretty cool stories that contain some really cool characters and memorable lines. I’ve been studying the texts of the OT and NT and the Apocrypha, and Pseudipigrapha, and the literatures of neighbouring countries (Egypt, the Ancient Near East, Greece, Rome, and etc.) for so very long now, it’s tricky trying to single out what (and who) makes my absolute top of the pops of ancient literature.

I have resolved my love-hate relationship with the particular text(s) that served as the basis of my doctoral thesis – and I’m back to hanging out and having fun with my gnostics, in all their ‘heretical’ glory. Man, did those guys know how to spin a tale.

The NT and I remain estranged – there are still some residual hard feelings left over from my Master’s thesis, and, to be honest, I’m even more convinced that Saul of Tarsus and I will never see eye-to-eye on things. The Revelation (no ‘s’ – again with the punctiliousness) has a lot of fun stuff, but it’s being used all over the place lately (those Evangelical nutbars in the US are tiresome with their citations taken out of context), so I’m feeling like the over-exposure and forced interpretations take it out of the running for revisiting right now.

I’ve always been fascinated by the character Daniel. He’s a guy you can really cheer for – and the book about him marks the real, canonical, beginnings of apocalyptic literature in the biblical worldview. I’d rather not get into an argument about whether or not the book belongs with the prophetic books or the writings. Some day, perhaps, I’ll talk a bit about biblical prophecy being not so much – or at all – prophetic but very much about the social commentary of the time in which it was written – and therefore a type of early apocalypticism – but right now I’m grooving with Daniel, who belongs with the writings as a proto-apocalyptic.

Next to my gnostics, I love the apocalyptic- and prophetic-types  best. The genres and stories tend to overlap a fair bit – hardly surprising since they arise out of discontent and disconnection with the society when the texts were written.

When people are pissed with the status quo things often get a little apocalyptic (I talked about this the other week, in the context of our current state of unrest and anxiety). Daniel – and the pseudonymous book about him – was presented as a harbinger of a whole lot of discontent and attempts at change and it gave us one of the most interesting images of the whole bible.

The narrative tells the story of Daniel, who, as a member of the Judean nobility, is serving some time in the service of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. He, and three of his pals, refused to succumb to the lures of the food and wine provided by their captors, and maintained the mandates of their heritage and religion, even while in exile. They catch the eye of the king, who declares them to be superior to his own wise men at court and enlists them to his service. Daniel soon gains a reputation for the accuracy of his dream interpretations, and, since Nebuchadnezzar (I love that name. Just typing it makes me happy. Saying it makes me smile) frequently needs his dreams analysed, he eventually appoints Daniel as his Chief Wise Guy.

While Nebuchadnezzar had his good qualities (like his name. I love his name), he did steal the treasures of the Temple of Jerusalem (during the destruction of the city and the beginning of the Exilic Period) and brought them back to Babylon with him. While Neb deals with his demons (7 years of crazy, living like a wild beast and all that) his son Belshazzar (the Book of Daniel is the only source that lists Belshazzar as Neb’s kid – other historical sources list him as the son of Nabonidus – but we can let him be Neb’s son – no harm to the story) acts as co-regent, and then king in his own right.

One night Belshazzar and his sycophant friends throw a big party – and use the sacred vessels plundered from Solomon’s Temple as pint glasses. They make toasts to their gods – mainly inanimate deities – using Yahweh’s own sacred vessels. Those of you who have read the Hebrew Scriptures up to this point in the continuing story have to realize that this is not a good idea.  Yahweh does not (generally) take kindly to his word, his people or his stuff being messed with (Shoah and millennia of antisemitic bullshit notwithstanding).

To the horror of the collected party goers, a mysterious disembodied hand appears and starts writing on the wall.  Still reeling from the strange apparition, neither Belshazzar nor his assembled guests can figure out what the writing says, so he calls for Daniel to come and have a look.  Daniel, the best-of-the-best and Yahweh-favoured Chief Wise Dude, reads the words as Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin. At first inspection they seem to be meaningless references to weights and measures, but Daniel interprets them as the verbs that correspond to the nouns: numbered, weighed, divided.

As such, he explains that god has numbered the days of Belshazzar’s kingdom and decided that they are at an end. The kingdom (and its king) have been weighed and found wanting, so it will be divided between the Medes and the Persians. Like now.  Right now. That very night Belshazzar was killed and Darius the Mede became king.

Generally the story is used (‘the writing on the wall’, ‘the hand writing on the wall’, ‘Mene Mene’) to indicate imminent doom, originating in misbehaviour or inappropriate governance. Those who attended the feast – and shared culpability for the bad politics and decisions – were able to see the hand as it wrote on the wall, yet were totally unable to understand the message that was being imparted. The interpretation had to come from someone who wasn’t in any way responsible for the negative behaviours – or the misuse of the vessels and the sacrosanct ideology behind them. Only Daniel was able to give warning and explain the impending collapse of the Babylonian kingdom by reading the writing on the wall.

Increasingly, these days and with the societies and systems of government that we have created and institutionalized, fewer and fewer people are able to see the imminence of danger as we continue headlong down a path that is becoming less and less equitable and more and more as dictated by those who hold power. That those in power were, ostensibly, chosen by the people (rather than through hereditary ascension, as in the Babylonian example), makes the systemic problems all the more glaring and frustrating.

We are not doing enough to hold our leaders to account while they choose to ignore the disembodied hand and its message entirely.  We need to see both the message and take note of its origin – the existence of the hand itself warrants attention.

Before COVID, claims about improvements to the economy (while myriad citizens remain in situations of un/underemployment and the middle class continues shrinking while the divide between the haves and the have nots become more pronounced), to the housing market (as home ownership is increasingly an inaccessible pipe dream in most major Canadian cities), and the short-sighted politics that reflect immediate self-interest rather than long-term nationwide benefits were standard fare for politicians of all stripes.

These things, as serious as they are, only scratch the surface of the current crises we are facing. The entirety of our economic systems will have to undergo revision – as will the way we view essential work and workers. We, in Canada, are fortunate in our leadership. Responses while not perfect, have helped us to come to the right side of the curve more quickly than projected.

The situation in the US is inexplicable – except when you look at hi/story and its many examples of clownish rulers who demand only those things that benefit and enrich them and their intimates directly. That there are those who support them without seeing any direct advantage has to do with lack of education, critical thinking and awareness of hi/story. They barely understand the message – and never even acknowledge the messenger.

As I say over and over and over again, our myths – and their interpretations – have a whole lot of wisdom to offer, if we bother to take the time and pay attention to what those who came before us had to say. Especially since we keep on making the same sorts of mistakes, driven by greed and one-upmanship and the ever-increasing need to hear ourselves speak (or yell) over the voices that might be offering an alternative (and better, more equitable) perspective.

In February 1964, as a response to the assassination of JFK a few months previously, a young lad named Paul Simon wrote a song. The Sound(s) of Silence (the original title was plural) shares an enduring sense of futility and awareness of the dangers of silence – the problems that arise when people fail to effectively listen to and speak out about the cancers growing around us.

As we continue to bow to our own neon (or orange) gods, perhaps we need to take time to listen to this song a little more closely. It might help us to see the hand and decipher the message it is continually writing on the walls that surround us.

And the sign flashed out its warning, in the words that it was forming

And the sign said, ‘the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls’

And whispered in the sounds of silence.

Mene Mene. Take heed, while we have ample time on our hands to be considering the past and planning next directions. The hand is getting pretty emphatic with its messages. Our governments are being weighed and the days of many of them are numbered – if we can look past our own interests and understand that the divide is what is causing our most significant systemic problems. We might have more time than did Belshazzar, but not much. This current crisis is highlighting the fact that we need to look for solutions to all of the sources of our societal discontent once we are released to do so. The signs are all there.

Bread and Circuses Pt. 2 or Finnegan Begin Again

5 weeks in and this staying home stuff is getting challenging. I have nothing to complain about, really. Lots of space in the house, tiny little green space out back (and the hope of some sun and warmth tomorrow), cats, food, music, books… more than enough to keep on keeping on as things remain dire in the outside world.

I’ve had to turn off the tv for the most part. I can’t take the broadcast news – the constant sound-bite-and-click-seeking asinine questions from (many) reporters following every press conference and the increasing dramatic dialoguing from some of our elected leaders is wearying – and I’m already exhausted. Don’t even get me started on the abrogation of responsibility of much of the media in the US – failing to hold the mass murderer-in-charge to any level of responsibility.

(I realize that last paragraph makes me seem anti-journalist. I’m not. Really, I’m not. Almost became one, myself. And I could list many who are doing a great job weeding through the bullshit and constant changes of the past month and a bit – some close friends among them. But too many are nothing more than ‘content creators’ looking for ‘gotcha’ moments, when they aren’t intentionally selling an anti-science narrative and I’m just done with that level of bullshit. Done.)

I can’t watch the updated statistics anymore, or hear about those still refusing to do the right thing and put aside their personal wants for the benefit of us all – and especially for the safety of those who have no choice but to be out there making sure we come through this thing.

I’ve made the conscious decision to avoid getting caught up in any of the myriad streaming services and the shows on offer. I’m spending way too much time sitting in front of a screen – what with the working from home and trying to catch up on some writing projects – as it is. So if it’s on, it’s in the background (now that Schitt’s Creek has run its course). I’m hearing second-hand accounts of some interesting-sounding programming – coming to us from the creators we are all relying on to entertain and distract and comfort us in our current circumstances.

But there’s some weird-ass stuff out in the ether as well, and, like all those people who flocked to Florida’s foolishly (unintentional alliteration there, but I’m keeping it anyway) reopened beaches today, it’s causing me to question some aspects of our shared humanity and alleged capacity for rational and civilized thought.

I admit that I’ve been hoping that this crisis will prove to be a wake-up call – shining lights on inequity and inanity, both, and showing us that need the one and should disdain the other. I was really looking forward to a new world order that consigned reality tv stars to the trash heap of irrelevance where they have always belonged. All of them – even if they are, somehow, Leader of the (formerly) Free World.

Given the inexplicable popularity of a show about the revolting abuse of big cats (the most apt description I head likened watching it to licking a subway pole), I’m significantly less certain about the positive strides we might be making in deciding what is worthwhile and what is detritus without which we are better off.

This dispiriting realization called to mind a post I wrote in 2015 about the Juvenalian concept of bread and circuses. Back then we were in the lead-up to a federal election, and the behaviours of the people running for office and those who fell on one side of the electorate equation in particular, were spouting a whole lot of nonsense and generally pissing me off. Juvenal used ‘bread and circuses’ to denounce what he saw as the self-involved nature of the ‘common people’ and their willful ignorance regarding wider concerns and matters pertaining to things like civic duty. Not one to pull punches, was Juvenal.

Master of satire that he was, he employed the metonym to describe the unwillingness of 2nd century CE Romans to understand, or even acknowledge, their history and the need for their political involvement in order to ensure the health and well-being of the system. He said, essentially, that the people have abdicated their duties, in favour of sitting on their butts hoping that they will be handed bread and invited to circuses – state-provided food and entertainment.

Were the people culpable for their anomie and disengagement? You betcha. But the fact of the matter is that even wayway back in Ancient Rome (one of the cornerstones of the democratic/republican – using both terms in their original senses – systems that we hold in such vaunted esteem), leaders opted to give the people what the people thought they wanted as a means of garnering support. The federal Cons were doing a whole lot of that in the summer of 2015. Sure, the election that happened the following year to the south of us would make their attempts at propagandizing and displacement and outright lying seem, well, juvenile in comparison.

But.

Plus ça change. I recycled bits of that earlier post, here, because it is resonating with me really strongly right now. And I’m all about the connections.

The satisfaction of shallow desires – for free refreshments and hollow entertainment – remains the biggest tool in the kits of contemporary politicians. And the owners of media conglomerates. And heads of national and multi-national corporations. That buffoon in the States has made a career – and managed to win the Presidency – based on these principles, such as they are.

Bread and circuses generate support that is not based in silly things like exemplary service or concern for the good of society in its entirety, and serve to distract us and take our attention away from what is really going on. Large corporations and banks and politicians and religious institutions and media groups – anyone, really, who has been given power under the social structures that these groups have contributed to building – continue to throw shadows to disguise their underlying intent of self-promotion and the furtherance of personal agendas.

Of course, all these ‘leaders’, public and corporate alike, will claim that the distractions are well-intended and meant to protect us and our best interests. Certainly, right now, we need all the entertainment and distraction we can get. It is keeping us inside and safe. But there is so much that is better out there than that trailer park trash fire that is making the rounds.

In my favourite book by my favourite Canadian author, one of the primary characters, a military leader and soldier (among other things) entertains two small children in his care by casting shadow hand puppets on a wall. The show is meant to divert the children’s attention from the assassins that have been sent to their house to kill them – and to cover up the sounds as the men under his command dispatch the ‘bad men’ and keep them safe.

As in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, the shadows on the wall are meant to distract from the reality of circumstances. In the situation in Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Lions of Al-Rassan, the attempt is well-intentioned – they were protecting children from political machinations, after all – but ultimately doomed to failure. Though young, one of the children understood the puppet show for what it was – and asks, at its end, if the bad men have gone.

We are not children – and yet we seem to be more than willing to let our leaders distract us with shadows on the wall, with bread and with circuses, rather than to pay close attention to the irrevocable damage that they’re doing and attempt to free ourselves from the cave of superficial perception.

The light of the fire that is the source of the shadows may be hard, and uncomfortable, to look at, but we need to stop shying away from those things that are ‘hard’. We have to accept our responsibility, as citizens who participate in the structuring and furtherance of our societies, to weather the discomfort of escaping the cave and the pain of the initial exposure to the sun and its light, in order to clearly see it in all its truth – and to take that truth back to those who remain entranced by the shadows on the wall. They will resist – Plato had that much right (and how little has changed) – since the journey is full of challenges and inconveniences and we have become intellectually lazy-beyond-belief. But we still have to try. Once we are freed from our actual ‘caves’ we need to work on getting the hell out of the figurative ones.

In the background as I write this the local sports channel is showing Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS (seems to be a 2015 sort of a night). For those who might not remember (if you’re not from Toronto) it’s the game with the craziest 53-minute 7th inning in the history of the sport. A game that lives in the hearts and minds of every fan Jays fan. The game that featured the bat flip heard ’round the world – and solidified my abject hatred of Texas’ 2nd baseman (I really hate that Odor asshole). Our Canadian catcher-man was behind the plate, and that weird dude (he was our weird dude, though) who would go on to be MVP that year was on third. Out in right field was the guy who hit the run (and flipped the bat) that took us to the next level – and who had kept baseball a thing through too many years of mediocrity in Toronto, and in centre was a fielder who was well on his way to earning his cape. Our DH DH’d and tied the game in the sixth – running the parrot around those bases. And then that 7th…

When it was happening in real time, I was a bag of nerves and tension. Sudden death for the Jays in their first post-season in a thousand or so years (felt that way, anyway) was a Big Deal. Watching it tonight is a different type of distraction – it’s nostalgia and comfort and excitement and remembrances of a great group of guys whoo held the city captive for a season (or two). It is real entertainment seeing it now – not the potential end of a run that brought this town together for a time – a warm memory made more poignant as we are all forced to be separate right now (I’m choosing to ignore the shameful 18+ minutes during which people threw stuff on the field. I maintain that they weren’t real fans. Probably not really Torontonians. They certainly don’t know how to behave). I know the good guys are going to win. I need that sort of thing right now. We all do.

Other than spending time with my boys of summer in repeats, I’m spending a lot of time listening to music – and watching some of my favourite artists sing and talk to other favourite artists from their living rooms – and reading. The value of creators and what they bring to our lives has never been more apparent to me than it is now. Those same creators are paying a heavy toll – as tv shows can’t be produced, theatre and music cannot be performed live, visual artists can’t have showings of their art, craftspeople of all kinds are unable to share their work, writers can’t support new releases by touring and doing book shows and signings. We need to support the ones providing the talent – not the conglomerates that benefit from their gifts. They need to be supported to the extent of the support they provide to us at the least especially now when we are desperate for their creations.

I wrote about calliopes right around the same time I was thinking about old Romans and their take on society. Interestingly, that post remains one of my most frequently read (people searching for the Boss and ending up with me). Calliopes – with their associations with the liminality that has always been a feature of the carnival and sideshow – can draw us to things better left unvisited. Stray tunes, carried on the wind – or drawn from memory – can be harbingers of a great deal of trouble. Figuring out which song is safe to follow can be dangerous business. The value of distinguishing the art from the purposefully-designed chaff is something we all need to keep in mind as we look for distraction to fill all this time we have to hand.

‘I had a vision tonight that the world was ending’

It’s a weekend for stories – in particular ones that have, historically, shaped beliefs and ideologies and provided guides for living life. Of necessity, the sharing of those stories has a different form right now as the rituals that accompany them have to be amended for our safety and the safety of all of those out there dealing directly with this virus on behalf of us all.

We lost a great storyteller this week, so my thoughts have been straying in the direction of how and why we create the tales that keep us entertained and provide us with models for living this life – or help to point us in the direction of things that we can do to make it all better.

I’m listening to one of my fave contemporary storytellers right now. @thebrianfallon’s album was released two weeks ago, and since he can’t get out to present it to us in person, he’s been streaming from home and sharing his thoughts and stories on all the social media. He’s overcoming the strangeness of playing to an empty room so that we can participate in some check-in time and share feelings about the physical distancing that will be our collective situation for the foreseeable future. It’s a lovely indicator of the ways in which we can maintain our connectedness in this time of enforced disconnection.

John Prine was a master of the story song. He created characters and embodied and expressed their individual voices when he told us about their lives. Brian’s songs are likewise relatable – and hit hard and close to home because we can see ourselves in some element of the slices of life he presents in his lyrics. There is an optimism and comfort even in the mundanity and loss and the day-to-day struggles presented in the songs that may not have direct equation in everyone’s life, but which share the commonality of being human and the joys and pain that accompany that condition. I don’t think I’m alone in my feeling that stories like this need airing more than ever at this point in time.

For those who might need a reminder (or who might not have known), I deal in apocalypses. Most of my adult life has been about reading them, and interpreting them, and putting them into appropriate historical, geographic and cultural contexts. I’ve been writing one of my own for the past couple of years, as a matter of fact. As far as literary genres go, the apocalypse ranks among my personal faves and takes up an inordinate amount of my head space.

That’s creating some issues for me right now. This global pandemic we, as humanity, are enduring as part of our shared experience is more than disconcerting in its scope and uncertain outcomes, so thinking about the end of days… that’s a bit of a slippery slope if I want to keep myself from depths of despair and the inactivity that accompanies that condition.

Since I can’t let go of the apocalyptic thinking, I’m going back to my primary sources and thinking about what we can learn from it – as pattern of thought that arose from the need to cope with circumstances that are less than ideal (to massively understate the severity of the here-and-now. It’s a rhetorical device I’m using as way of keeping panic at bay).

Apocalypticism, as a literary genre and as an ideology,  is a reflection of societal discontent and disconnect – something called anomie, if you want to get all sociological about it. The stories that come out of this discontent – often presented as dreams or visions of future events and an undoing or redoing of the world – are creative revelations about what will happen if things continue along a particular trajectory of wrongness.

The Wikipedia insists upon a religious connection – and yes, most apocalyptic envisioning accompanies a particular mythology – incorporating its motifs of good vs. evil (angels, demons etc.) and all the various players in the dramas that make up the foundations of belief systems around the world.

In more contemporary times, the players in the end of days dramas are just as external as angels and demons – aliens, AI run amok, zombies and the like – and still set one group – ‘us’ – against another – ‘them’.

Apocalyptic ideation is a way of coping the world that is an inherent part of Western interpretations of experience.

Intrinsically – if not always consciously – we are conditioned to think about ‘next things’. We are told that in order to get this job, or to earn that reward, or make it through a global pandemic, there are certain steps that need to be taken.

As human as this inclination may be, it’s symptomatic of the fact that we slip into the habit of striving exclusively for the future and neglecting to acknowledge the moment in which we are, right now, living. This creates a certain tension that leads to a great deal of personal discomfort, if I’m honest with myself.

Historically and sociologically, apocalyptic thinking develops as a response to the perceived disparity between expectations and societal realities. When we are unhappy in our current situations, we project a better scenario at a future date.

In historical literary and religious traditions, the better scenario generally comes after a cataclysmic and status changing event of some kind that trashes the social or cultural system that is causing the disconnect between expectations and reality. The new reality is posited to be one of justice – as perceived by the person who is unhappy with the current status quo. Religious apocalypses promise salvation as the aftermath of the period of trial and unhappiness.

We still think in these terms in our secular environments, even if all religious underpinnings are removed. We are the product of millennia of this approach to dealing with societal realties – and it has become part of our inherited way of approaching our world and managing our existential discontent.

For all that I love the myths that have been created in accordance with this particular worldview (some of the best stories are apocalyptic in nature (go reread that one about The hand, writing on the wall, if you doubt me) from a philosophical and personal perspective, it can be a problematic construct. Apocalypticism, by its very nature, negates the life we are living now, in favour of the life that might come along at some point in the future.

It can be a very useful coping mechanism – when things are stressful and deadlines need to be met, or when we are told to hunker down and remain isolated for an indeterminate amount of time. It’s a well-used and generally effective management technique – we’ll get through this period of uncertainty and then things will quiet down and get back to normal.

We’re all experiencing this kind of anxiety now. We are conditioned, on some levels, to think that we need, sometimes, to suffer in the moment so that the next things will be better.

Those who fully accept this paradigm may be handling all this better than I am right now. I tend to want to appreciate and be thankful for those things that are of the moment – so the future-striving as central tenet is distasteful to me. Simply enduring the right now with the hope of something better coming along seems both wasteful and somewhat lazy.

Time may be a construct, but as we’re seeing all too frequently right now, it isn’t endless and we don’t have much of a say as to when ours will come to an end.

I need to reach a happy medium between the acknowledgement that whenever we come out the other side of this pretty much everything is going to be different and using the time confined to the house to some purpose and level of productivity. Sitting and doing nothing but waiting for this to be over is not going to be sustainable for me or for my health.

One of my favourite bands has a song that’s all about visions of the literal end of the world that strikes some of that balance. Spending whatever hours might be left in conscious awareness of the minutes passing, with gratitude for what we have. I love listening to this song as the sun sets over the Big Lake on that rock at the Cottage on the Bay.

I had a vision tonight that the world was ending
Yeah the sky was falling and time was bending
We spent our last night in the moonlight
Baby it’s so bright we’ll be up all night
I got a helluva view for the end of the world
I’ve got a bottle of booze and a beautiful girl
If I’m a’­goin to die I’m gonna go in style
What if the world dies with the sunrise?
Baby it’s all right we’ll be up all night
What if we’re unmade when the stars fade?
Keep me going ’til the night turns into the day

 

Until the Night Turns is one of the connected story songs on Lord Huron’s Strange Trails album. It’s a loosely-woven series of fairy tale-esque interactions with the other, supernatural, world and its impact on those it touches. It’s my kind of mythology – and in keeping with the direction of my thoughts and the ways in which I’m coping with things right now.

For me, listening to Lord Huron, and to Brian, and John Prine as I mourn his passing, permits a means of reflection and appreciation of the past, a method of coping with the present, and acts as guidance as I engage in some future planning – and hopes as to what might take shape as we re-evaluate what is important as we live in society and in community.

It is clear that things will be very different on the other side of this. Taking lessons on board – about inequity, and struggle, and anachronistic biases and prejudices – as taught by our storytellers can help with the reshaping of the world if we don’t turn away from the evidence of disparities that this crisis is highlighting.

We speak in apocalyptic terms without giving it much thought. One of my Dad’s favourite things to say when I was making mountains out of emotional molehills (i.e., being a drama queen) was ‘it’s not the end of the world.’ Right now it feels like we’re as close as we’d care to come to it being, in fact, the end of days. Instead of dreading the inevitable changes, we need to take this time to build our true apocalyptic vision of what those better days to come will look like.

Whatever stories you are celebrating this weekend – whether of deliverance from destruction, rebirth and salvation, or the return of the fertility of the land that keeps us fed – I hope you do so in safety while maintaining whatever level of connectivity you can.

On a Train Bound for Nowhere

I am trying to stay off the news today because the last week has been a little overwhelming with the constant updates and rapid changes. The chyrons on the local news station are giving me headaches unless I un-focus my eyes and look slightly to the side. Our 24-hour news cycles mean that every update – however minor – is given priority of place.

It comes as something of a surprise that anything not virus-related can really stand out in the constant bombardment of new cases and new lock-downs and new warnings.

This morning when I got up it was out there everywhere already. Probably because so many of the people I hang with on social media (and IRL when we’re allowed to do that) have similar tastes and experiences and memories, and the presence of Kenny Rogers in our shared world was basically a given. A randomly-cited lyric from The Gambler needed no explanation as to its origin. It is a rare person in my life who doesn’t know the song and won’t start singing along when provided with the opportunity.

That song has been played at pretty much every house party I have ever hosted. One of my bffs (now a semi-responsible financial advisor and father of two) performed an interpretive dance while wearing my mother’s wicker hanging planter on his head as he belted out the tune. I have pictures, if you doubt me. Another friend and I managed to get it into rotation in the post-meal singsongs at our camp when we were first year staff. Visiting years later, it was heartening to see that it remained a favourite – alongside The Ship Titanic and Charlie’s inability to get off the MTA. It still receives a ritual playing when certain friends come to visit, as a final wind-down to an evening of beers and talk.

The loss of one person – and a person who had a long, fruitful, impactful life at that – at this point in time, as we deal with uncertainty and anxiety and, in some cases, more immediate losses, might seem negligible in the overall scheme of things. But so many people have already left fond memories and feelings up and around the social medias I feel like I’d be irresponsible if I don’t add my double pennies.

I grew up in a house in which we were fortunate to be surrounded by grandparents and older relatives pretty much all the time. When we were very young both sets of grandfolks lived within walking distance – and they were all very much part of the fabric our of regular lives. I wrote about one of them here (back in the days when I will still pretending it wasn’t me that was writing this blog). Gramps loved Hee Haw. He loved the country music of the time – and the stories the songs told. They were closely aligned with his way of seeing the world and his own deep love of a great tale, well-spun.

I’m not sure when Kenny really hit my radar in a big way but I do know that I received his Greatest Hits record for Xmas the year I turned 10. I knew that record start to finish. I know that record start to finish, actually.

You see, I have this thing I do when I’m anxious or stressed or, as is increasingly the case, when I start getting concerned about my memory with the whole aging thing – a panic that can easily turn to paranoia about incipient dementia, given our family experience.

I’ve always had a thing for lyrics – I remember them easily and pretty much forever. Even songs I don’t like much get stuck in there. It’s a mixed blessing sometimes (looking at you Achy Breaky Heart). But it provides me with a fantastic stabilizing exercise – one that comes in very handy in weeks like the past few have been.

I run through certain songs more frequently than others – I have my standbys: I wrote out the words to Tears for Fears’ Mad World before every exam – high school to doctorate – and two from that regular playlist came to me from Kenny.

The Gambler, of course (a song as celebrated for its catchiness and sing-along compliant nature as it is underrated for the overall philosophy of life it presents) but Coward of the County has long been another of my go-to head-songs (since 1980!) in times of stress. I ran through it all while in the shower this morning, as a matter of fact. And I cried. Which, I understand, is at least partly in response to the stress all around us. Except that it always makes me cry. Always.

The words run through my head, but I hear Kenny’s voice singing them (I wouldn’t want to hear my own) and the emotion and authenticity with which he imbued the lyrics resonates completely. Still. I never doubted for a second that he had a nephew named Tommy whom folks called ‘yellow.’ Never. Just like I never questioned his chance encounter with the old gambler on that train. It happened. All of it.

Kenny – and others like him – helped shaped my musical taste in a very real way. I remain drawn to those singer-songwriters who speak to life experiences and general states of being on the planet, while reflecting on weightier issues of good and evil and love and hate. Small stuff to the very large. Basically all aspects of our interactions in the world with other humans.

Most artists rely on touring and merchandise sales to support themselves and ensure the continuance of their wonderful contributions to the world of art and music and storytelling – something that has been interrupted at the moment.

Spotify and the like are all fine and well and good for exposure to new music, but these platforms doesn’t do enough to support the artists who are creating the music. As we look for things to fill the days as we distance and isolate, this is something that we can actively do to change things for the better.

One of my very very favourite guys has a new album coming out on March 27. The songs he has pre-released for us are beautiful, heartfelt and representative of incredible growth in his songwriting trajectory. Brian Fallon was supposed to visit us at Danforth Music Hall in early April, but we’re not going to get to see him just now. We’ll make sure we’re there when he is able to reschedule, and I’ll make do with multiple playings of the new album in the meantime. Please check him out and buy Local Honey – and his other records – directly from his website.

Then there’s this other guy, who I’ve written about before. He was out on tour in support of his latest record (we saw him here in the fall) – but it seems likely that it will end sooner than anticipated. He released a new video this week – along with a remarkable article in Rolling Stone about the subject of the song – that notorious and remarkable songwriter, Shane MacGowan. Follow Jesse on his website for information about his tour and how to get Sunset Kids.

While I’m talking about Jesse, the opening artist at that show I talked about in the post was a singer-songwriter named Matthew Ryan. Since seeing him that night – and having the opportunity for a quick chat – I’ve followed him on twitter and the fb, accessing new tunes as he brings them to us and appreciating his thoughts on life, the universe and everything, He posts lovely reflections about his favourite songs – definitely a kindred spirit – and he sings about things that can break your heart. Give him a listen. You won’t be disappointed.

I can’t consider complete any reference about the overlap between story and song without noting that Mikel Jollet has a memoir coming out in May, concurrent with the release of The Airborne Toxic Event’s first record in five years. He was on the fb yesterday, live streaming and talking about favourite tunes and concept albums, and playing bits from the new record alongside some old favourites. He has been a significant and important presence on Twitter since that 2016 election – calling out all the things that need calling out, but it was wonderful to listen to him talk about the healing that music – and the completion of his story in order to share it with all of us – has brought to his life. I wrote about the band what seems like ages ago. Even then, I was reflecting on memory and the tricks and trials it can bring. Plus ça change, as they say. You can pre-order the book and the album here.

I love a good concept album (there are Pink Floyd records that make me shiver just to think about them), and there is no one, these days, better at that than Lord Huron. If The Gambler is a poignant short story, then albums like Strange Trails or Vide Noir are epic novels in which you can lose yourself completely. Ben Schneider, the driving force behind the band, trained as a visual artist and the tangible storied imagery of the settings comes through like individual paintings in every song. I can see the scenes and the characters as he sings about them. I wrote about the band, along with another guy you might’ve heard of, when I was hoping to get back into the habit of writing – and when I was searching for inspiration in the face of too much loss. Again with the plus ça change… Lord Huron is planning to produce a movie based on Vide Noir. I don’t know where those plans might be sitting, given all that is real right now, but you can buy the album – and lots of other fun merch – here.

It sort of feels like this train we’re all riding together right now is bound for nowhere. Or nowhere we’re going to like and want to stay, anyway. As I wrote the other day, regardless of what happens in the next weeks and months, change is going to be our new and continuing reality for the foreseeable future.

We might not be able to get out to see the musicians we love right now, but this time should be teaching us about our continued reliance on the artists that make the hard times less hard and who celebrate the good as it comes right alongside us. The best ones teach us something about ourselves as they tell us their stories. They deserve to be fairly compensated for all that they bring into our lives.

Support them directly, however you can, and spread the word about the songs and the stories that are keeping you going. Start playlists with friends – recommending and linking those musicians you can’t live without.

Stop taking for granted that their hard work and inspiration will always be there to get us through, and acknowledge the important role they play in providing entertainment, and inspiration – and in keeping anxiety in check when things are really hard and uncertain. Make sure they get the appreciation they deserve.

Pay the creatives.

We need them more than ever now, as we think about what is important to throw away, and what is important to keep.

Go gently, and with thanks, Kenny. I’ll keep those aces you dealt me held as tightly as I can.

Changed, changed utterly

It’s hard to know where to begin, here. It’s been so long. Those who haven’t seen me around these parts much lately but who remember the days in which I was far more prolific in my thought-sharing and voice-raising about all those things that unite and sustain us as human beings might also remember that today marks six years since we lost my Dad.

Six years.

There’s been so much change over that time. It might seem trite – and like I’m quickly becoming one of those oldsters who rails about the ‘good ol’ days’ – but a great proportion of that change hasn’t been positive. Please keep in mind that, although I might legitimately be approaching antique status, I’m also an historian – and therefore fully aware that there is no such thing as ‘good ol’ days’.

As an historian – and more importantly, as a human being – these last years have demonstrated a distressing level of social regression that has left me feeling impotent to do anything other than shout into the void of self-serving greed and insular politics that widen divides that had been diminishing as we became aware that there is more that unites us – one to another – as people living together on this planet than the opposite.

Shouting into the void is exhausting, and, I’ve found, serves little purpose.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m well aware that there has been change for the better. We started listening to voices that had gone unheard for too long. #Metoo, we cried. And perspectives from POC, First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities and commentators in this country, at least, are gaining exposure (if slowly, and not without a huge load of push-back from those who see their inherited privilege being threatened).

But.

Too long a sacrifice/ can make a stone of the heart.

When I look back over the posts I’ve put up here over the years – and all the wonderful interactions I’ve had with the valued friends I’ve met through this forum, I can trace a rise in the existential angst I was feeling in the lead-up to the conservative back-slide that has marked the time that we’re currently navigating.

It started, for me, with the mismanagement of my hometown by an unqualified populist who somehow ended up mayor. We are still dealing with the results of the inaction and pull-back from his time in office and the lack of progressive change under his replacement – who is more competent, certainly, but still unwilling to address the concerns and needs of anyone outside of his base of support.

And then…

Since November 2016 it seems as if a terrible tide turned, and all subsequent attempts at progress have been greeted with hostility and manufactured narratives designed to hold tightly to a status quo that protects the very very few while leaving the rest of us worse for wear. I need not identify the source, but I’m sure you’d agree that the consequences of that event started an acceleration of negative repercussions around the world (looking at you, in particular, Brexiters) and permitted hatefulness to flourish unchecked.

Continuing to contribute to my little piece of the internet became an exercise in futility and repetition. I was saying the same things over and over. And over. And screaming at my friends in the choir, for the most part. We all need to be careful of not falling into echo chambers – even if our intentions are well-meant. Writing about the world necessitated paying a lot of attention to the world, and the world was increasingly an unrecognizable and frightening place to me.

My particular privileges had kept me blind to aggressions – micro and those that are anything but – that are a constant fact of life for great swaths of our population. Suddenly, it seemed, no one was keeping the prejudices and biases and hatred in check. Rather, they were given free reign and were encouraged by those at the very top of our leadership structures and by people who should have known, and done, better.

I went underground. I admit it. Historically, I have had significant issues coping with anxiety – especially when it arises as a result of things over which I have no control. In reaction I started social distancing long before this health crisis mandated ‘staying away’ for all of us for our collective good. Sure, I was out in the world – interacting with others, maintaining connections and, even, from time to time, giving a good long shout into that there void about those things I find most egregious and upsetting. But none of those reactions have been productive. Not in any real, helpful way.

And certainly not in ways that live up to the example of my grandparents, my extended family and friends, my mother, and especially my father – who left us six years ago today.

But I’ve been noticing something this week. The enforced distancing and isolation (and maybe even self-reflection) that is accompanying responsible responses to the pandemic is producing a movement of support and positivity that I feared was buried beyond recovery in the rhetoric and intentional polarization that has been the norm over the last few years.

All of this socializing media is turning a corner, it would seem. Writers are sharing their work – reading from novels and engaging with their audience in impromptu book clubs to discuss the stories and their origins. Musicians are treating us to tunes recorded in their living rooms – since they can’t get out to come see us in person right now. Teachers are offering parents suggestions of in-home learning they can share with their children as their regular school routines are disrupted – and critics may even be starting to understand the important role that our teachers play in ensuring that our children are able to cope with the world in an informed and responsible way. And cats have retaken their rightful possession of all things interwebs. Okay. Dogs, too. Animals of all kinds, really (and don’t get me started on that sock puppet eating the cars…).

We are seeing communities come together – while remaining at a safely mandated distance – serenading from balconies, offering to drop groceries outside the doors of people who aren’t as mobile or who are at greater risk of exposure if they venture out for necessities. The pulling together stories seem to be outnumbering those that are about the endless tearing apart that has dominated feeds on the twitters and the fbs and the instas for the first time in forever.

Those still seeking to divide are increasingly being ignored – when they aren’t being shouted down in concert.

Resilience is a human characteristic that has been low in its visibility as we deal with people and governments and ingrained systems that remain determined to have us toe a line that continues to benefit those who hold the power – to the detriment of the rest of us. This time of trial that has us all caught in its grasp at the moment seems to be letting us bounce back into an understanding of the importance of community and support of one another as we live together in social groups both – IRL and online.

It’s leading me into something I haven’t felt in a while. Despite the anxiety and concern for those who are most affected by this pandemic – whether in increased concern for the continuing health of those at risk, or as a result of the economic impacts that are coming along with it, and the measures we need to have in place to stop it in its tracks – I’m feeling actual optimism, if cautious (under the circumstances, caution is called for in all things), that we can come back together and find the terrible beauty that is life on this planet with all of our human family.

We seem to be using this time to push for changes that benefit the many. We are offering support where it’s most needed. We are stopping and actually listening to one another when all those around us use voices to discuss experiences and perspectives that might differ from our own way of living in the world.

I realize I am fortunate to be in a country that is showing sincere and reasoned leadership. Even the unqualified brother of the unqualified mayor (who is, inexplicably, premier of the province) is listening to the people who actually know stuff and behaving like a responsible adult who understands the importance of aligning vision and action in this situation. I know that other people don’t have our safety nets – those extant, like our healthcare system, and those newly-created to offer assistance in this unprecedented global situation. I also know that other countries – some really close by – are hampered but the gross incompetence and rank corruption of their ‘elected’ leaders.

But I feel like that might be changing, too. Adversity can bring out the best in us – and, despite the toilet paper hoarders and the hand sanitizer re-sellers, we’re starting to see an increasing amount of good overall.

It’s not Easter, and this isn’t, exactly, a revolution that we’re fighting, but yesterday was the traditional day of the wearing of the green (if celebrated less publicly and enthusiastically than is the usual case) and Yeats’ words resonate through time, regardless.

Hearts with one purpose alone   
Through summer and winter seem   
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream. 

Social structures – with all their benefits AND problems – that we take for granted may well crumble under the new reality that this virus is creating. The lessons of the last years can – if we have been paying attention and if we act in accordance with the better natures that have been on display the last couple of days – lead us to rebuild with a conscious awareness of all the highlighted gaps in equity and fairness and community solidarity that have come to light in the face of this global emergency.

There’s going to be a long haul ahead – with new challenges and picking up the pieces once we are through to the other side, but, if we work at it, we can institute a new world order that builds upon these early glimmers we’ve been this week. It won’t erase the negativity and hatred that became somehow acceptable before we were hit with this, but perhaps we can take a lesson from this history (since it’s so recent and doesn’t involve reading texts written by the winners) and ensure that it doesn’t repeat.

Make music. Or buy it directly from the artists you love, who can’t tour at the moment. Read books – or get back to that writing project you’ve been putting off forever. Check in on one another – and take care of one another. Take this time of enforced social distancing to reflect upon the world we want to see when we can all come together again – following the examples of community support and working together for a common goal, in defiance of created political divisions and antiquated ideologies that are happening right now. Stay home and monitor the clouds and keep watch for their eventual dispersal – and think about how we can maximize the changes we are sensing and enacting as we weather this storm together.

Be the stone. Be the change. Stay safe and well.

A shadow of cloud on the stream   
Changes minute by minute;  
 
Minute by minute they live:   

The stone’s in the midst of all.*

*It occurred to me as I tried to sleep last night that I didn’t cite my source well at all – that should tell you how long it’s been since I’ve written anything. Bad form. The poem cited throughout is Easter, 1916, by my fave poet-dude, W.B. Yeats. He wrote it in response to the unsuccessful Easter Uprising against British rule in Ireland. Most of the revolutionaries who led the uprising were executed for treason. The poem is a reflection of Yeats’ support for Irish nationalism – even though he disagreed with violence as a means to that end – and his disbelief at the actions of the British following the uprising. It is an indication that the powers of the time (the British government) started – rather than stopped – a movement that continued to grow and develop through the act of executing the Irish republican leaders. The shock and horror of that act gave the revolution new life – and birthed the terrible beauty that would forever affect the course of Irish history and Irish-English relations.