Praying for Time?

These are the days of the open hand
They will not be the last
Look around now
These are the days of the beggars and the choosers

This is the year of the hungry man
Whose place is in the past
Hand in hand with ignorance
And legitimate excuses

The rich declare themselves poor
And most of us are not sure
If we have too much
But we’ll take our chances
Because god stopped keeping score
I guess somewhere along the way
He must have let us all out to play
Turned his back and all god’s children
Crept out the back door

And it’s hard to love, there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope
When there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much too late
Well maybe we should all be praying for time

These are the days of the empty hand
Oh you hold on to what you can
And charity is a coat you wear twice a year

This is the year of the guilty man
Your television takes a stand
And you find that what was over there is over here

So you scream from behind your door
Say “what’s mine is mine and not yours”
I may have too much but I’ll take my chances
Because god stopped keeping score
And you cling to the things they sold you
Did you cover your eyes when they told you

That he can’t come back
Because he has no children to come back for

It’s hard to love there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope when there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much too late
So maybe we should all be praying for time

-Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou

Despite the title and the inclusion of the lyrics to one of many wonderful songs written by an amazing human, this post isn’t about the gut-punch of a loss that hit us all on Xmas day. I could write – at length – about all the specific moments and memories he contributed to my life: like the time that my BFF (looking at you, JJB) and I stood in line to get tickets to the Wham! show at Exhibition Stadium – something that was allowed only if we agreed to take my little sisters along with us – and about how amazing that show turned out to be; or about the dubious decision to teach an unruly bunch of 13-year-old campers the words to I Want Your Sex as we walked to the Tuck Shop to pick up enough sugar to see us through our out-supper (in defence of 18-year-old me, they already knew the song – they just had most of the lyrics wrong – and misheard lyrics are a crime against all that is sacred. It was my duty to make sure they were corrected); or about the true strength and comfort that radiated from his version of Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me (“Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Elton John!”) as I drove back-and-forth between Ottawa and Toronto, looking for a place to live – a place to re-start – as I put a terrible break-up behind me, and began looking for new beginnings and the healing of myriad heart-deep cuts.

But this post isn’t about George Michael.

2016 saw too many commentaries – by me and by others – that celebrated and mourned a seemingly inordinate number of precious people. Others have spoken about the generosity of spirit and unwavering belief in his fellow humans that George exemplified in all that he did. How his talent often went unrecognized – he was dismissed as a pretty-boy, depth-less popster for far too long – when his songs (if you take the time to really listen to them), sung in that peerless voice, demonstrated an understanding of the best and the worst of the ways we human beings interact with one another and our world(s).

So that’s not what this is about.

Take it as a given that I loved him. And that I feel like the loss of him – and the rest of those who slipped away from us last year – couldn’t come at worse time. Truly. We need those lost voices more than ever – as we enter a new year faced with uncertainty and newly-mandated hatred and ignorance.

For the last couple of days, as the iPod shuffles through songs to keep me occupied on the TTC, I’ve noticed an interesting pattern. (I do that when I’m unsettled – I look for patterns. And often find them – even if a bit of stretching is required. I like the order inherent in patterns. I’m all for order – unless disorder is required…). A lot of the songs in my collection, including the one that prompted this post, have something to say about time.

Needing more time, wasting time, time healing wounds… that last one is sort of what George was going for as he attempted to sort through the social injustice, hypocrisy and hatred he was seeing made manifest all around him in 1990.

Plus ça change, and all that.

After giving it some thought, though, I’m going to have to respectfully beg to differ when it comes to the idea that that might be the best approach. I’m reallyreally tired of all the ‘wait and see’, ‘ride it out’, ‘this too shall pass’ that is floating around out there right now.

It’s time, folks, to stop the freakin’ apocalypse.

I spend a whole lot of time thinking about – and reading and writing and teaching about – apocalypses, specifically those bodies of literature that deal with the end of one time and offering a forecast of what might follow. They were the primary focus of more than two decades of my adult life, and they are a hard habit to break.

Whether or not we are aware, the apocalyptic worldview is something we, in Toronto, in Canada, in the Western World, live with constantly.  We internalize apocalyptic metaphors as they are revealed throughout our social context.

We are conditioned to think about ‘next things’. We are told that in order to get this job, or to earn that reward, we have certain steps that need to be taken. If we want a career in law, we attend law school in preparation. Then intern with established firms, take and pass the Bar, and start at the bottom with an expectation that we will move onto better things, once these mandated steps have been achieved.

We tell young people that they will not get ahead unless they have a university/college degree. As a result, the degrees are treated as means to increasingly-nebulous ends, rather than appreciated for the experience that they can bring into an enhanced life.

Thanks to the influence of biblical religions on our societies, we are all culturally predisposed to be driven by what comes next.

This propensity creeps into our language in a pretty constant and almost subliminal way. How often have you counted down the hours until the end of a day, the days until the weekend, or the weeks until vacation?

It’s part of our vernacular – our language and the way we communicate – to do so. Heck, there’s a US restaurant chain that’s named after this way of thinking (TGIFridays).

I do it when a day isn’t going as I might like, even when I should know better. I’m as guilty of watching the clock as the next person. When periods of work get intense – with deadlines looming – I reassure myself that if I just get through this task or this period of time then all will be well. And then I reward myself for reaching that milestone.

I work, essentially, as a cog in the machine of bureaucracy – driven by deadlines that are imposed by project managers who have no context and no interest in seeing beyond a ‘go live’ date that removes them from all responsibility for the ongoing operation of the project-at-hand. Project development decisions are made in accordance with siloed mandates, and thought out only until they become operational. After that event, the maintenance of the project is no longer the concern of those who were designated as the implementers of the plan. The ‘go live’ is the thing. Our workdays revolve around the timelines of PMs who just want to get the thing done so they no longer need to think about it and can move on to the next project.

I function, daily, within this paradigm. It’s how I make a living, how I pay the mortgage, and (hopefully) save enough money that I can look forward to time away (temporarily – to my next vacation, and to the hope of eventual permanence – as a retiree) from contributing to the perpetual motion of the hamster wheel of government.

As human as this inclination to look with hope toward the future may be, it’s symptomatic of the fact that we slip into the habit of striving exclusively for the future and neglect to acknowledge the importance of the moment in which we are, right now, living.

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, more hopeful scenario at a future date.

How passive is that? Ick. That does not sit well with me.

Especially when you consider that, 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 (I suggest a recent example: the POTUS-elect actually, beyond all that is reasonable, getting elected). 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. Provided you do the things that are mandated and follow the right order of things. No speaking out against the rules and regs or anything remotely rebellious in nature is permitted. Wait. Now wait a little longer, and the god will set things to rights. Just keep on doing what you were doing. Eventually the winds will shift in your direction.

Puh-lease.

We still think in these terms in our secular environments – even if all religious underpinnings seem to be removed. We are the product of millennia of this approach to dealing with societal realities – and it has become part of our inherent way of approaching our world.

And that makes me want to bite something.

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), from a philosophical and personal perspective, it’s my least favourite literary construct. Apocalypticism, by its very nature, negates the life we are living now, promotes complacent acceptance of the status quo, and ignores the lessons of the past in favour of a better tomorrow that might come along at some point in the future. If you let the god/leader/narcissistic reality tv star do what s/he’s going to do.

Don’t get me wrong- it can be a very useful coping mechanism- when things are stressful and deadlines need to be met. It’s a well-used and generally effective management technique- “let’s get over this hump and then things will quiet down”. We’re all experiencing varying degrees of this kind of anxiety now – what with a sociopathic ignoramus untested and radically divisive individual about to be sworn in as POTUS. We are conditioned, by our myths and cultures, to think that we NEED, sometimes, to suffer in the moment so that the next things will be better.

At its most extreme, we get so caught up in thoughts of the future – and how it has to be better than the stress/boredom/suffering – that we are currently experiencing – that we lose the experience of right now – and miss the both potential enjoyment that might be found in all those passing moments and, perhaps even more importantly, the occasions through which we can work to affect change. We waste countless opportunities that can be found in our immediate reality as we wait for a projected reckoning at which time all will be set to rights.

So, how do we overcome a narrative that is a hidden but ever-present part of our way of looking at the world? How do we stop thinking apocalyptically?

Popular culture loves a good apocalypse (as I said, the BEST stories) – and it has transformed the way we think about them. In most of the narratives that deal with apocalyptic considerations these days, the world as we know it ends, one way or another, and things get even worse after the fact.

Zombies and aliens dominate our tv, computer and movie screens. Through all these imagined outcomes we can see that the paradigm behind the narrative has changed. The end result of that event that changes everything is dystopic – and punishing to all those who felt the disconnect with expectations and assumptions and held out hope after hope that the future would offer succor for the suffering. Regardless of what they did or didn’t do before the eschaton happened.

Way to shatter illusions, Hollywood.

What they’re saying is that we’re damned, regardless of what we might do and what form the end of days might take. No action we take or role we play will affect the outcome of the apocalypse – and what comes after.

As a philosophy, that really sucks. But it does point out that eschatology has its vagaries. You can’t count on apocaplypses to work out the way you wanted – they, like the gods who deliver them, are capricious by nature.

As we begin 2017 we need to acknowledge that being singularly and constantly focused on the unknowns that the future might hold is counter-productive to living our lives with investment in our current situations. We can certainly look forward to future ‘better things’ (I reallyreally hope to get to Scotland again this year – something that would be better than going to work every day) – but we must do so without squandering the experiences of the present.

Popular culture has already changed the narrative from what it was in biblical times – (although there are still those people – waaaay too many people in a supposedly-educated population – who hold fast to versions of us/them righteousness triumphing over evil) the world ends, but the external salvation/rewards aren’t forthcoming. So the world ends, people adjust and keep moving forward as best they can. And deal with the new challenges with all the tools they can bring to bear. Cross-bows, come to mind.

But how’s about we do all that without waiting for the end-game event as a spur to action? Isn’t that a better use of our time than waiting around for a catalyst that forces us to do something?

We do have time.

Lots of it. Enough of it that we tend to waste it – focusing on issues of irrelevance or binge-watching television programs about zombie apocalypses – and then lament that it is gone.

We need to take what time we have – and the amount varies from person-to-person – to invest in what is happening right now and acknowledge and overcome the defeatist rhetoric that says that better things will come if we just wait it out.

Better things won’t come unless we actively seek to create them. Complacency and unmerited hope isn’t an option. Patience, in this case, is not a virtue.

Arguably we have seen events (the US election is but one symptom of the ass-backward direction that a number of people seem determined to take) that might be seen as cataclysmic. Is it hyberbolic to assert that Trump – and those he is bringing to his ‘leadership’ table – is a disaster of historic proportions? I’m not sure that it is. Underestimating the severity of this situation is not an a risk-appropriate option as things stand.

Rather than waiting for any further apocalyptic happenings – and the changes they might bring, for better or worse – we need to look to our past and follow the example of those who came before us, when they faced injustice and inequity . There are LOTS of great examples. We can mobilize, agitate, and use our voices to speak passionately (like Ms. Meryl did the other night) against those who seek to further their agendas at the expense of freedoms and truths.

What happened in the US in November is wrong. How it can be permitted to stand is demonstrative of systemic issues that lie well beyond my ken (wasn’t the Electoral College created to prevent the rise of demagogues to the highest office in the land?). What has followed clearly demonstrates the need to wake up and affect our current reality through the use of words, action and activism. Wishing for time – to (hopefully) ride out this storm – moves us nowhere, except towards the infamy of nativism, racism, xenophobia and sexism that we see in daily tweets from the next leader of the Free World.

To be sure, there are disparities between our expectations and societal realities. My expectation was that no one in their collective, national right minds would even come close to electing that guy. That isn’t something that’s new. But doing nothing more than placing hope in a future that will prove salvific and redemptive for those who have to endure the imbalance is an abrogation of responsibility and morality.

Returning to those things that belong in the past – ignorance and ‘legitimate excuses’, as examples – is not an acceptable response to the anomie, discontent and disconnect that so many are feeling in the here-and-now of 2017. That there are those who think that waiting for a Judgement Day – which will redress the varied imbalances felt by a diversity of people – is the best course of action, lends itself to some level of understanding about how we got here. It’s ridiculous, but it’s also hard to let go of a closely-held and precious delusion that confirms that we will be vindicated and rewarded, if we suffer long enough.

Understanding – and even empathizing with – the place from where that ideology hails doesn’t mean we should sit by and watch the apocalypse play out without our participation. That’s what people like the POTUS-elect want you to do – sit idly by as he and his cronies run roughshod over freedoms and human rights.

Apocalyptic narratives support his positions – and the promises he made (we’re seeing some of those promises broken already – and he isn’t yet in office). We can’t ‘wait and see’. The course is set – but it can be diverted, if we take hold of a narrative that speaks to something other than a linear rush to fruition – if you are one of the ‘chosen people’.

Praying for time? Hanging on to hope in the face of hopelessness? All due respect to our dearly departed, but these things cannot be the answer.

But he also wrote this:

I believe in the gods of America
I believe in the land of the free
But no one told me
That the gods believe in nothing
So with empty hands I pray
And from day to hopeless day
They still don’t see me

Instead of placing hope in false gods and demagogues – who don’t believe in us – let’s give them a run for their money and show them that we aren’t going to wait and see any longer. The system needs a shock – that is one positive take-away from the recent crisis – and we need to be the ones to stand and deliver that shock.

A good way to begin? Set aside childish things – including anachronistic biblical metaphors. Together we have the power to stop the apocalypse and, instead, spend our time doing the work that will bring a future that benefits humanity as a whole.

It’s what George would have wanted.

 

… and I feel (de)fine

The other day I briefly referenced the fact that I’ve been thinking a whole lot about apocalyptic thinking- particularly in the context of the workplace.

A sizable portion of the reading I’ve been doing lately has to do with the development of positive corporate culture- a mixed bag of approaches to the office environment in the midst of changing realities in the wider cultural/societal environment.

So many of the concepts I’ve been reading about have one thing in common. Whether they use the specific terminology or not, they are advocating the eradication of apocalyptic thinking.

I’m in the process of trying to pull some of these ideas together- and add my own particular voice and perspective to the discourse. Doing so involves some definition of terms and exploration of apocalypticism- as both a body of mythological literature and a worldview.

I love the literature. GREAT stories- some memorable and colourful characters that persist in holding our imaginations. As an ideology? Not so much. The nature of apocalyptic worldviews lies at the heart of a boatload of our social, cultural, political and just plain ol’ human problems. That these issues lead to problems in the workplace is, to me, a logical extension of the fact that we inherit and adopt ideologies without necessarily being aware that we have done so.

I wrote this post over a year ago. It serves as something of an introduction to apocalypticism (as does the previous post that is linked in this one) and begins an approach to getting my thoughts on the connection of end-of-world thinking and general (and, by extension, workplace) dissatisfaction.

colemining

The Eschaton.  The End of Days.  It seems to be everywhere lately.  There are television shows, movies, books and seemingly constant news articles about various ways in which society as we know it might be brought, abruptly, to a problematic conclusion.

There are viruses, plagues, earthquakes, aliens, and, pretty much everywhere you look, zombies!  Zombies!  ZOMBIES!  From the Walking Dead to World War Z(ed)- they are among us and just waiting to rise and make life even more miserable.

I wrote here about societal anomie and how it leads to expressions of anxiety that include apocalyptic stories.  The apocalyptic tradition has provided some of the best, and most enduring myths.  They endure, in part, because periods of great collective social anxiety tend to be cyclical.  As the stresses return again and again, the idea that there is something better (or at least different) that will redeem us while punishing those…

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(Anti)disestablishmentarianism

Way back in the day, when things were simpler and people were actually expected to know how to do things like spell and construct sentences correctly, my grade 7 homeroom teacher always supplemented our weekly prescribed, curriculum-based, spelling test with an extra-special challenge.

As a result, I learned the spelling- and the meanings- of a lot of very interesting words.

Tintinnabulation was one.  How wonderful is it that there is a single word to describe the ringing of (church) bells through the countryside?  It always reminds me of Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey, by William Wordsworth- partly because my first exposure to the poem came around the same time I learned the new word and partly because the bucolic setting of the poem lends itself to hearing bells in the distance, but mainly because of the similar sound of tintinnabulation and Tintern.

I love language(s).  I love words.  I love playing with them and respectfully befriending them as befits their vast importance in our human interaction.  Words facilitate communication.  While there are, certainly, other methods of communication, the effective use of language is undeniably one of the forces with which we need reckon as we attempt to make sense of this human existence and try to get along.

As has been the case for most of my adult life, part of my current role involves working with other people and helping to hone their written communication skills.  Being talented, driven professionals, none of my colleagues are completely hopeless with when it comes to the clear and effective use of language, but the reality is that we are surrounded by opportunities to misuse our well-learned writing skills once we move outside of the halls of academia.

It’s partly peer pressure.  I see sooooo many typos/inconsistencies/grammatical errors in allegedly edited publications/news groups these days.  Status updates and tweets and PMs are rarely given the once-over, let alone the twice/thrice-over that I tend to use when putting things out into the ether.  The people that we see on tv speak in colloquialisms that seem barely recognizable as mother-tongue English.

It’s also laziness.  We know better, most of the time.  I’m positive that people really know the difference between to/too and there/they’re/their- but (maddeningly) don’t get the importance of actually writing the correct word.

I realize that, here in my WPWorld with my WPPeeps, I frequently devolve and use extremely vernacular or truncated language, while employing my own little stylistic idiosyncrasies that very much reflect my voice (at least the one in my head that shouts the loudest…).

I’m allowed.  colemining is a blog.  Its purpose isn’t about business or professional concerns.  I’m chatting with my friends- putting some of my ideas out there and responding to the ideas of others that strike me as profound, interesting or entertaining.

I’m also of the mind that once you reallyreally know the fundamentals of a language you then, and only then, get to play around with them.  And I’m pretty confident in my grasp of the fundamentals of language (more than one, truth be told).  So I’m okay with writing choppy, seemingly-incomplete sentences, hereabouts.  Or beginning sentences with ‘so’.  Or ‘or’.

That’s the language in which Cole chooses to write.  If it isn’t everyone’s cup o’ java, it’s all good.

Word-crafting is an art– and when it’s employed by those with a real talent for turns of phrase and clever construction it is truly beautiful.  We find such wordsmiths in many realms- of music, literature, poetry, philosophy… even (dare I say it?) in the political world.  Expressive, connotative language describes and illustrates our humanity.  Regardless of the specific medium- or subject matter- it connects us by helping us to communicate our stories- individual and shared.

Before I accepted my current role, I languished a little bit in the wasteland between the world of academic writing and that of business correspondence.  ‘Writing’ ‘form letters’ (a primary responsibility of my previous job), offered few opportunities for either creative flare or nuanced construction.   By their very definition they were formulaic.

That temporary residence in said void led to a whole lot of playing with words and encouraging their music in my spare time- something that has been wonderful for my creative output (work on the novel(s) and such), but it also made me a little lazy, to be honest.

As I get back into the scheme of things, I’m finding that editing the words of others is a little less instinctive than it once was.  It’s taking me longer to restructure and rearrange than was the case, once upon a time.

Some things are straightforward- eradicating ‘as per’ from all writing that crosses my desk requires no effort at all (I realize that the construction is used widely, but it is both jargonistic and freakin’ redundant – the English/Latin hybrid makes me cray-cray.  It is pretentious and generally lacks clarity- even assuming it is used correctly.  My SO suggests that I am tilting at (yet another) windmill with this one, but I am determined that nothing that comes through my hands will contain that vitiated vernacularity.  We hates it, my precious.), and ‘utilize’ becomes ‘use’ with barely a second thought.

Switching passive voices to active ones?  That involves a little more time and thought and trial and error.  But, as I attempt to emphasize the effectiveness of using the best possible words to convey meaning, I’m discovering discussions about language use everywhere.

That synchronicity thing again.

There was a news story on the CBC this morning, as I got ready to leave the house, which discussed findings that suggest that ‘expert’ texters are better spellers than those who are less dexterous with the one-handed typing.  It makes sense, linguistically, in a way.  Breaking down words into shorter forms helps with the understanding of the constituent parts of the whole.

While searching for reading selections for my first cottage weekend of the summer (T-minus 5 days, and counting!), I kept running into discussions about the perceived literary ‘value’ of certain bestsellers.  Not being much of a proponent of literary criticism- and frequently not a fan of those books that make the critics roll over and purr- I haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to the foofaraw.

I like what I like- and if a novel doesn’t hit on all the aspects required to grant it legitimacy as part of the Western Canon?  Oh well.  If an author engages my imagination and creates characters that resonate and stay with me, then I’m happy to have spent the money to support their efforts.

Writing is hard.  Doing it well is underrated.  Effective communication always requires clarity and the ability to know and accurately read an audience.  Sometimes that involves using colloquial or informal language.   In other circumstances messages need demonstrate a requisite level of professionalism and polish that is often lacking.

IMHO that whole clarity-thing requires the correct use of grammar.  Am I a Grammar Nazi?  Perhaps.  But it is a skill that we seem to be losing- much to my distress.  We would need to spend a whole lot less time looking for meaning in the words of others if their messages were well-constructed and to the point- without layers of extraneous rhetoric and misused language.

When we were told to learn the word antidisestablishmentarianism for one of our weekly tests, our teacher offered a brief definition and the explanation that it is one of the longest words in the English language.  I thought it was pretty cool.  It was long and lyrical and rolled off the tongue not unlike that most wonderful literary creation supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. 

The meaning of the word didn’t register much, at the time.  It wasn’t really a concept that hit all that high on my 13-year old list of things I should be thinking about retaining.  But I did.  And it is a word that has surfaced more than a few times over the course of the studies that have been the focus of most of my adult life.

As a movement, antidisestablishmentarianism opposed proposals that sought to remove the Church of England from its status as the state church of England, Ireland and Wales.  It was tied into the role of the monarchy as head of the Church and concepts of the absolute separation of Church and State.  It’s still a concept that comes up- in the British context- now and again.

Who knew- back in the dark ages when I learned the word- that I would grow up to be a card-carrying disestablishmentarian?

Knowledge isn’t something to be squandered- and those things we learned in our schooldays (halcyon or otherwise) aren’t transitory.  Despite suggestions to the contrary, the need to learn the fundamentals of correct spelling, grammar and vocabulary is not something that has gone the way of the dinosaurs in a world of spelling/grammar check and lowest common denominator vernacular.

Even when we take the time to listen to one another (not something that happens nearly as much as it should) it can be extremely frustrating trying to separate the wheat from the chaff in the convoluted/misused language that has become the norm.

Ladies and Gentlemen, my beloved Monkees.  Wailing their way through Boyce and Hart’s Words:

‘Now, I’m standing here.
Strange, strange voices in my ears, I feel the tears
But all I can hear are those

Words that never were true.
Spoken to help nobody but you.
Words with lies inside,
But small enough to hide
‘Til your playin’ was through.’

Clarity.  Using our words with integrity without sacrificing accuracy, style and beauty.  It can be done.  It SHOULD be done.

Just a few thoughts for our newly elected majority government here in Ontario.  And all the rest of us.

Regarding goat rodeos and other suchlike things

 

I don’t know how I missed this.

Thankfully, in a meeting today, our management team brought this wonder to our collective attention.  The video was presented in the context of team-building- and a discussion of the employment of varied talents, brought together to create something almost beyond belief in its greatness.

It’s still blowing my mind.

Not just the undeniable beauty of the music that these sessions produced (you know I love great music) but because it is indicative of the overarching culture that drives my place of work.  And because it completely corresponds with the direction in which my brain has been running this week.

Bringing together disparate elements with individual strengths to create an incredible whole.  Yeah.  I like that.  A lot.

I also like the song a lot.  Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile (and Aoife O’Donovan on Here and Heaven) came together in 2011 and demonstrated that things like background and genre need mean nothing when there is a common goal.  That Bluegrass and Classical music speak to the same atavistic drives and desires and propensity for greatness and cooperation that we have as humans.

The two genres might generally appeal to different sorts of people, from different places and different circumstances, but the artists demonstrated that when the elements are brought together, the superficiality of some types of context can vanish in the face of the purity of what is produced.

As you might be aware, I’ve been saying that very thing about our stories and songs for quite some time hereabouts (have a run through the archives if you need a refresher).

A goat rodeo is a chaotic situation in which many things must all go right for it to all come together.  It is often used to describe corporate or bureaucratic circumstances, but, in this case, it refers to the perfect storm of challenges that is required to combine the elements of the styles of music.

(N.B.  It’s also, apparently, a real thing.  A rodeo.  But with goats.  Go figure.)

The term is often used negatively to describe an unmanageable event or circumstance.  The artists who participated in The Goat Rodeo Sessions have turned that definition on its head.  They prove that order– constructed through the work of many- can be used to overcome chaos- another specific point I’ve chatted about recently.

There’s a whole lot of chaos out there.  I can hardly bear to watch the news some days.  I could easily list off some of the more distressing manifestations of the chaos that is making headlines around the world today.  It would be a long list.

I’ve written posts about that sort of thing before.  Not being one to bury my head in the sand and deny the crazy, it’s hard to move past the day-to-day realities that demonstrate the desire- on the part of too many people- to act in ways that reflect the lowest common denominator amongst us human-type-beings.  Horrors and injustice and just plain bad behaviour clog the news feeds and contribute to the general malaise that seems unwilling to let loose its grip.

Exposure to direct evidence of the contrary- the highest heights of cooperation and collaboration- mitigates the pessimism.

Not long ago I threatened to talk about these guys.

I have to admit that I was more than a little awestruck waaaaaay back in the day when the Wilburys showed up.  Sure, there had been other examples of super-groups- it was the post-BandAid era, after all- but that particular combination of singer-songwriting majesty just blew me away.

Bob Dylan.  Roy Orbison.  Jeff Lynne.  George Harrison.  Tom Petty.

Handle With Care, while about the trials and tribulations of fame, spoke to the Wilbury ideal.  These five guys.  All HUGE musical presences with the exposure and the accolades rightly afforded by their decades of dedication to their craft.  You’d have to wonder- with some justification- how the egos all managed to fit in the same building, let alone studio.

But.  The project stemmed out of George’s desire to do an album with his ‘mates’.  Just him and some pals writing some tunes and contributing their own, inimitable, voices to some songs for the pure joy of doing so.

To add to the fun, they created pseudonyms and personae around the conceit of the Wilbury family- traveling musicians who were half-brothers stemming from a single, fictional, father.  Along with the fun, the stories, the harmonies and sense of togetherness, as the great songsters they are/were, they provided little bits of advice that remain timeless.

‘I’ve been uptight and made a mess
But I’ll clean it up myself, I guess’

Personal accountability- a pillar of individual success, but also one that contributes to the smooth functioning of groups and development of the product needing to be delivered.  It comes up as a theme in this one, too:

‘You can sit around and wait for the phone to ring (End of the Line)
Waiting for someone to tell you everything (End of the Line)
Sit around and wonder what tomorrow will bring (End of the Line)’

After Roy Orbison died of a heart attack, the Wilburys kept on Traveling.  The rocking chair- empty save for his guitar- and the brief close-up on the framed photo still speak to me about the importance of remembrance and recognition of lives touched while illustrating that the road doesn’t end when we lose the people we love.

I still get choked up when I watch that video.

As the years moved ever onward, we also lost George (admission here- he will always be my fave from the Fab 4).

‘I don’t see nothing new but I feel a lot of change
And I get the strangest feeling, as I’m
Heading for the light’

The joy of this song- finding a path after a time in darkness- is so very George.  Yet, the addition of Jeff’s distinctive harmonies and the combined guitars make it a Wilburys song.  Truly- bits and pieces of the best of some of the best of a generation of musical presences- what is more positive and concerted than that?

A concert is ‘a public performance of music’, but it also represents ‘agreement in design or plan’ and ‘union formed by mutual communication of opinion and views’.

Despite the individual and collective merits of each of their songs, as we head into the first long weekend of the summer (come on blue skies and rising temperatures!), this is the one that will be heading the playlist on the Shuffle Daemon.

In that short piece of goodness (mainly authored by Tom), each Wilbury is identifiable as an individual- but the concert of it all makes it one of my favourites of their joint composition.

(I really do like Jeff’s bit best, though)

‘Still the sun went down your way
Down from the blue into the gray
Where I stood I saw you walk away
You danced away’

I’ll be dancing my way into the weekend.  Spending it with friends and family and acknowledging that for all our individual strengths, we remain best together.

We can all be honourary Wilburys.  Let the concert begin.

Circular Motion

A few millennia ago, back when I was a first year undergrad at university, one of my housemates (he remains one of my very best peeps) and I shared a tradition on Saturday nights.  Before we headed out for whatever fun and trouble that might find us, we started things off- just the two of us, generally- with a little time spent with a beer or two and some of our favourite music.

We called it Celtic Hour.

Okay- it wasn’t actually a tradition originating in Antiquity.  But I have been feeling the weight of the years a little of late, so thinking back on old times involves more taxing of the brain than once was the case.  First year uni seems like a longlonglong time ago.

The ‘all grown up’ tasks at hand seem to be multiplying exponentially and that To-Do list is stubbornly refusing to get any shorter.  New stuff keeps adding itself to the bottom before the top-most items have come close to being completed.  I’m sure that there’s some sort of reasonable explanation for this, but I have really started to feel like it’s a function of the perversity of the universe right about now.

Add to that the fact that the temperatures refuse to rise and the sun is playing shy… there’s been a real dearth of energy in my general vicinity.

It’s hard, even with best intentions, to stay motivated when loose ends that need tying apparently multiply by the hour.

Anyhoo…

Celtic Hour.

Fletcher and I would pop on some tunes by those Scottish and Irish troubadours we so love, and have a wee sing-along.  Although the songs varied week-to-week, the one that kicked it off always remained the same.

As the first notes of the traditional folk song- She Moved Through the Fair– led into Jim’s beloved voice, we would take our seats and raise our glasses to the week past and the one ahead.  The lyric’s of Belfast Child evoke a terrible period in Ireland’s long history, while still offering up hope for return and rebuilding (and the flip-side of the single was Mandela Day– another great song that has seen a resurgence in the past while.  Talk about an incredible double bill.  How freakin great are Simple Minds?!).

Sure the arrest (and subsequent release) of Gerry Adams last week brings up its own share of unpleasant reminders and debates that continue to rage in certain circles (I’m not touching any of that, so don’t even go there please), but the real reason I was casting my mind back to the song- and its Celtic Hour memories- is because there’s this one line

‘Life goes on…’

It won’t stop popping into my head.

Seriously.

Jim seems to be permanently in situ dans my tête (how’s that for a random mixing of languages?  And please forgive the unintended allusion to a Céline tune.  Snuck in there, it did.).

Generally, at least as it’s heard in my skull, the repetition offers both reassurance and admonition.  Although the critical reproof has been on the ascendent as the myriad tasks aren’t completed as quickly as I’d like.  I’ve been very focused on them- but said focus has also had something of an overall debilitating effect as well.

I’m not sure I’ve been coping all that well, to be honest.  I’ve been putting up a pretty good front, but despite some overwhelmingly positive things happening in my life I’m still reeling and trying to find my footing in the Dad-less world.

Meaning has been a little bit harder to find, and exhaustion- mental and physical- is almost ever-present.

Then… on Sunday while sorting through things at Dad’s, amongst some other extremely cool things we had never seen before (like a circa 1895 stereoscope with lots of neato pictures- who knows where THAT came from), I found some of Dad’s business envelopes- from wayway back when he worked downtown, before the company headquarters moved outside of the city’s core.

I remember visiting Dad at work as a small child- on days off from school and such- and I knew that his building was in the same general vicinity in which I am spending my 9-5 hours these days.

But the address on the envelopes?  The VERY building.  Where I work now.

Yep.

Same building.

Do you have any idea how many office towers there are in this town?  I don’t.  Not exactly.  But there are a lot.

I’ve written before about synchronicity and connections.  I believe in these things as manifestations of the reality that we all go together– as human beings who share a planet and biological origin.

But that kind of blew me away.

I have to admit, odd moments of grief aside, that I’ve been riding something of a pretty substantial high at my new employment gig.  I honestly love going there in the morning.  As I’ve been getting to know the people I work with, I grow ever more impressed with their commitment and professionalism and sense of community- and fun.  This is a group of people- and a company- that is affecting positive change every single day.  I’m loving it.  Did I mention that?

It’s a place that Dad, with his incredible and developed sense of social justice and drive for equality and equity of opportunity, would have felt at home.  Turns out he would have been right comfortable in the building itself.  Seeing as he spent a whole lot of time there 30+ years ago.

Since Sunday, I’ve been feeling him close to me more than ever.  I have one of the envelopes on my work desk, now- as a kind of tangible manifestation of that feeling.

It’s like something has circled round again.  Two of us in the same place- if removed by a couple of decades.

There’s this other song…

(Speaking of Scottish music/musicians)…

You know I love Donovan.

Not only is the song about happiness- and how it runs in a circular motion– it is a round.  A form of music featuring at least two voices singing the same melody but beginning at different times- and fitting together in harmony.

Brilliant.

Since the sun actually deigned to make an appearance today, I took a long stroll home, through the park, after work, thinking about the counterpoints- those independent yet harmonious lines- that make up our lives.

There were people out and about- riding bikes and skateboards, walking dogs and children- enjoying the sunshine.  I saw a woman stretched on the grass on her stomach feeding a pigeon Sun Chips from her hand.  A young man sat on a picnic table playing his guitar.

I thought about my new place of employment and the opportunities it affords- which now include a connection to Dad- and the fact that one of my other housemates from first year uni works in the building across the street.  We’ve had a couple of quick lunchtime encounters to try to catch up on more years than I care to count, and there will be a better opportunity on a patio sometime soon.

When I got home and checked email there was a message from that wonderful Being who spoke so beautifully at Dad’s memorial.

I woke up this morning and was very much aware of your presence. So…. this is me following up. I trust that you are OK and that all is well with your new job. I also trust and hope that you are finding your way thru this grief process.”

I’ve been feeling Dad’s presence all week.  It seems that someone was also feeling mine.  Someone who has recently circled back into my life.

Life goes on.

In a circular motion.

And it can be pretty damn beautiful.

P.S- There’s one more song that kept running through my head as I finished this post:

The great Harry Chapin.  It’s a song from my camp days, and it’s the tune that is ending my evening.

“It seems like I’ve been here before, I can’t remember when
But I got this funny feelin’ that I’ll be back once again
There’s no straight lines make up my life and all my roads have bends
There’s no clear-cut beginnings and so far no dead-ends…”

Sleep well, WordPressWorld.

Chaos is my enemy

I actually said that recently.  During a job interview, as a matter of fact.

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.

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- but 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 (I’m trying to be succinct, for a change)?  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.’  (Obviously I’m paraphrasing here).  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 is named for the embodiment of chaos herself.  I was thinking along the lines of ‘naming something robs it of its power’.  Didn’t quite work out that way.  My Tiamat is 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 buddy- and 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-) emphasizing of late.  We are letting our 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.

Take the time to weigh all sides/voices/contexts and see that we have, in fact, progressed from the city states/nomadic/monarchic civilizations that came so very long before us.  We have evolved.  In every conceivable way.  And the devolution of society that seems to be happening here and there 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) 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.

I’m always looking for some order- and some New Order never goes amiss either…

‘I like walking in the park
When it gets late at night
I move round in the dark
And leave when it gets light
I sit around by day
Tied up in chains so tight
These crazy words of mine
So wrong they could be right’

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.

There are things beyond our human control.  Yep.  There are indeed.  But the way we react to these incursions of chaos in our lives is completely in OUR HANDS.

I know he’s right.

There’s been enough chaos lately.  We need some great changes right about now.  But they aren’t going to happen all by themselves.

PS- So much for being succinct…

In case you were wondering… the interviewers seemed to both be pretty tickled by my comment regarding chaos.  So much so they offered me the job.  All being well, it’ll be onward to new challenges and a new venue- one that has a mandate for positive change and proactive involvement.  HUGE thanks to you all hereabouts for the support offered as this first realized step in my journey- more meaningful action in my day job.  Here’s hoping it will allow for the continuation of meaningful engagement in all aspects of my life.  If nothing else, it will help me, personally, to balance that foundational dichotomy as best as I can.

‘Only to Surrender’

I’ve been called naïve before.  More than once, actually.  A LOT more than once, if I’m honest.

I’m okay with that- because the criticism usually comes as I discuss a person or an idea that I admire/appreciate but that may not quite fit with the ‘common wisdom’ (such as THAT may be) that is floating around out there.

Those of you who have been hanging out and listening to and chatting with me hereabouts are aware that I’m in the (ongoing) process of trying to figure out an appropriate and workable way to make my voice- and the voices of other likeminded people- heard about things that I deem extraordinarily important.  Things like education.  And fairness.  And decency.  And accountability.  And doing away with ‘expediency’- political or economic as a cure-all, default motivation.

I’m also in search of a more rewarding job (more money would be nice, yes- but my primary goal is to find something more philosophically/existentially rewarding).

Most of the job postings I see these days are sales positions.  They may not call them that, but that’s what they amount to.  ‘PR’.  ‘Communications’.  ‘Community Coordinator’.  ‘Community Outreach’.

I don’t want to sell people stuff.  I don’t want to be ‘marketed to’- so the thought of marketing to anyone else really makes my skin crawl.  I can’t stand the minutiae involved in choosing one inane option over another inane option.  I really don’t want to be the person gathering the info about inane preferences, nor the one trying to influence anyone in deciding which inanity to go with.

I’m over the commodification of this here society of ours.  I don’t pay attention to commercials (unless they’re funny or have cute animals in them- and even then, I can rarely tell you what they are advertising) since I tend to make my buying decisions based in information I can glean for myself- rather than that which is fed to me by the marketing companies and advertising agencies.  I do take advice from people I trust, but please believe me when I tell you that people who call me on the phone or accost me on the street/inside stores are not members of that particular group.

Competition drives the economy.  I get that.  So having people around who are willing to shill for the various sides in all these day-to-day competitions is a necessary function of industry and society.

I can opt out of that.  I don’t feel pressured one way or another to buy anything these days.  If I like something and see a need for it- or just find it beautiful or interesting- if I can afford it, I will make a purchase.  No biggie.  Having someone tell me that I HAVE to have this ‘next big thing’, or paying any sort of attention to celebrities who are paid to advocate certain products… Yeah.  No.  Thanks but no thanks.

I’m not easily influenced.  And once I like something, I tend to stick with it until something happens to shift my loyalty.  And that something generally has to be fairly cataclysmic.

None of this is to say that I don’t appreciate nice things and that I’m not interested in getting value for money and something that is going to serve me well for a long time.  All those things are important aspects of being conscientious consumers.  And if we must be consumers (since I’m not about to go off-grid in the wilderness somewhere, I’ve resigned myself to that reality) I do my best to be as aware as I can about the impact of the choices I make.

I quite firmly draw the line at the concept behind making ideas- and the sharing of those ideas- a commodity.  While I realize that I should be able to command some sort of monetary recompense for the knowledge and experiential application of the learning that I have received and achieved, when educational systems are being designed according to business models, I have to protest.  LOUDLY.

This was a key aspect of the discussion to which I contributed on The Current a few weeks back.  As happens in radio, full interviews are edited for time and content (and to ensure that the participants stay on point- as much as possible, anyway.  Producers/editors aren’t magicians), but part of the conversations not heard in the broadcast dealt with this very matter.

Dr. Elizabeth Hodgson discussed programmes that she has been instrumental in implementing at her university (UBC) to help doctoral candidates gain ‘real world/practical’ experience in advance of graduation, demonstrating the ‘marketable’ skills that are gained through the work involved in the pursuit of a doctorate in the Humanities.  This programme was instituted, in part, because of the dearth of tenure-stream positions being offered as universities- particularly North American universities- are placing increased emphasis on the importance and value of those in administrative roles in the university system, over those doing the actual teaching and research.

Dr. Lee, on the other hand, seemed to see no issue at all in this move to make universities all about the business of profit rather than the business of education, or the manner in which university teaching has been commodified.  And, with his own background originating in the business world, he seemed quite intent on placing the onus for the lot of the adjunct professors in their own hands- seeing as they chose to study the Humanities, rather than something of ‘marketable value’.  That he is also a politician shouldn’t have surprised me.

I might not be directly part of that world any longer, but since the broadcast I have tapped into a number of groups that are attempting to raise awareness and work toward change.  The issues have done some trending on Twitter and the subject is being discussed on news groups in any number of forums.

Still, as I noted yesterday, I’m pretty sick and tired of defending the ever-increasing NEED to study the Humanities- especially to those who will never get it.  That doesn’t mean I’ll stop doing it, of course.

It’s too important.

I’m honestly not sure how best to do so, though.  While I could listen to the siren call of marketing advocates the world over and resort to those sales tactics that seem to guarantee persuasion and purchases, I’m not sure I have it in me to do so.  Since my preferred modus operandi is discussion rather than debate, I wouldn’t be all that adept at polarizing the issue(s)- a requirement, evidently, if you’re looking to catch the attention of the masses these days.

See, my lifelong-and always continuing- studies have taught me to think critically and to examine situations and arguments from ALL SIDES before forming opinions.  And that forming an opinion requires work and analysis as opposed to blind adherence to a talking head and/or the denigration of dissenting views and those that hold them.

On a wonderful- and very much under-valued– album many many moons ago (Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd., 1967), the Monkees sang a song (written by Craig Vincent Smith) about the transient life of a travelling salesman.  It remains one of my favourite songs from the album- with Mike’s folksy voice at once celebrating the life of the traveller and yet hinting at the underlying sadness of his existence.

‘Salesman, as the years go by,
People changing every day
Hey, salesman ’til the end of time you’ll be livin in the same way
You always wear a smile, you love ’em fast and you live wild
Short life span, but ain’t life grand?’

We shouldn’t have to sell the importance of a balanced and experiential education.

‘Sales’ isn’t for me.  In any of its forms.

But neither is this:

‘I’m going to be a happy idiot
And struggle for the legal tender
Where the ads take aim and lay their claim
To the heart and the soul of the spender
And believe in whatever may lie
In those things that money can buy
Thought true love could have been a contender
Are you there? 
Say a prayer for the pretender
Who started out so young and strong
Only to surrender’

P.S.  I know what I said about the whole Olympics-as-soporific thing, but HOLY CATS!  THAT HOCKEY GAME!  The maple syrup is flowing rapidly through THIS proud Canadian heart right about now.  SO many CONGRATULATIONS to the Ladies.  And fingers crossed for a repeat tomorrow, Gents!

There it is again…

I’m not really the type of person who looks for signs or stuff like that.  But I do try to listen to what the universe seems to be telling me.  Since I believe that we, as people, are interconnected in numerous ways, I do subscribe to the idea that synchronicity exists and is at work in our lives.  I’ve written about that before.  When things aren’t going all that great, it’s easy forget that these connections exist so sometimes we need a kick in the butt to get us paying attention again…

January/February is not my favourite time of the year.  In addition to the polar vortices (anyone else getting completely sick of the overuse of that particular hysterical buzz term, or is it just me?) of biblical proportions (it’s freakin’ cold out there again today) and a distinct lack of sunlight, I find that my brain tends to slow into hibernation mode- and likewise isn’t up for much in the way of social interaction or, to be frank, productivity.

Winter blahs to the nth degree.

So, given the usual late-January ick factor, yesterday was an unusual day.  I was productive at work- despite the fact that I needed those fingerless gloves (think Bob Cratchit at work in any theatrical/filmed version of A Christmas Carol) to effectively type the regular daily correspondence (wearing them today, too.  Polar vortex, you suuuuuuck) and feeling like was I getting somewhere with a few things on the new job-search front, so the fact that I have been feeling a little less-than-myself, and not particularly inclined to write stuff lately, was less wearing and seasonal-affective-disorder-triggering than it has been.

Before I left work I got an email from a dear friend regarding an in-the-works CBC radio story on a topic close to my heart.  The one I wrote about here.  This friend gave the producer my name to possibly have a chat about my experience with and perspective on the whole thing.  Interesting, indeed.

I headed home on the TTC, grabbing the first bus that showed up so as to not have to stand in the cold for long.  Mistake there.  That first bus took me not to a nice, warm subway station where I could get on a nice, warm subway, but to a streetcar line.  Which would be fine.  In reasonable weather.  But it seems as though the streetcar lines don’t play nicely with polar vortices, so the connecting streetcar (which was there right when I got off the bus- THAT never happens) was going nowhere.  Which also meant that all the streetcars that showed up after it were also going nowhere (given that they all use the same tracks).  There were lots and lots and lots of people exiting streetcars with nowhere really to go.  Instead of waiting around for shuttle buses to start arriving, I started walking.

Toronto is a great town for walking.  Normally.  The downtown wind tunnels when the wind chill is making it feel like -30+ degrees Celsius?  Nope.  Not fun.  Not great at ALL.

But, once I was committed, I walked.  The rest of the way home.  After a few blocks I could have hopped a subway but I have this stupid stubborn streak that, MetroPass notwithstanding, makes me feel lazy or something if I take public transportation for a minimal distance.  One subway stop?  Silly.  In January with brutal wind chill?  That might have been the more prudent option, actually.

Point of all this?  I was walking past things I wouldn’t normally be walking past- if I’d taken a more sensible route from here to there/there to here.  I stopped in for a coffee partway- it warmed my hands, even if it burned my tongue- that helped make the last few long city blocks survivable.  Liquid warmth clutched in mittened hands, I cut through the courtyards between buildings and found myself beside the venerable CBC MotherShip itself. 

Just as this song came on the Shuffle Daemon:

Followed by:

and then:

Once home and (somewhat) thawed out, I got to thinking about the opportunity to share my two cents (which is what I do hereabouts, after all), having my voice heard by some who might not otherwise hear it, and the potential positive outcomes that such an opportunity might bring.  I’m certainly not counting chickens- opportunities aren’t always realized, after all- but there seem to be some things moving in my little section of the universe.  And even the barest hint of a whisper can sometimes, if properly nurtured, lead to the necessary volume required to affect change.

I also realized that it was six years ago this week that I defended the thesis that earned me the title of PhD.  Achieving that designation has taken me down a number of paths- and none of them are the one on which I thought I’d be traveling.  This, I realized, is okay.  Knowledge and experiences are never wasteful- and should never be wasted.

Even with the lassitude that winter always seems to instill in me, I’ve started 2014 with the intent to bring about change.  For myself in my own life, and in matters that will contribute to changes in my wider community and world.  I’m still working out strategies.

But….

I’m on my way to City Hall tonight to attend a ‘how to become a candidate’ meeting in the Council Chamber (yes, that famous site of so much of the recent press attention our ‘mayor’ has brought upon us.  I can’t even think about the latest escapade.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll be ready to talk about it.  Although I’m sure it will be well-covered by Jon Stewart, so not sure I should bother).  Not because I’m thinking of running- at this time, anyway- but because I’m genuinely interested in learning about how the process works and the steps required to declare and then pursue candidacy for municipal office.

Basically, I’m doing things and looking forward.  Which, when it’s cold and dark and the News keeps getting on my nerves (there was that speech the PM gave in Israel too.  Was going to write about that… We’ll see.), is nothing to sneeze at (there is more than enough sneezing going around here, surrounded, as I am, by people who SHOULD be at home, in bed, with the flu).

Well, my soul checked out missing as I sat listening

To the hours and minutes tickin’ away

Yeah, just sittin’ around waitin’ for my life to begin

While it was all just slippin’ away

Well I’m tired of waitin’ for tomorrow to come

Or that train to come roarin’ ’round the bend…

There WILL be better days.  I’m doing what I can to expand the reach of my small voice.

Have to keep that in mind.

Fr-fr-frozen

Holy Jumpin’ Jebus.  It’s cold.  Crazy cold.

I don’t even pretend to like the winter- and its temperatures/snow/ice- but C’MON.  A few days after the city was restored to power (mostly, anyway.  Still a few poor people who remain in the dark/without heat) and we are dealing with wind chill that is making it feel like close to -30 freakin degrees Celsius.

The city isn’t the only thing that’s frozen over, though.  I’m dealing with a pretty significant case of writer’s block at the moment, which is a big ol’ pain in the ass.  ‘They’ say to just keep writing through the block- that the best way to overcome is to just ‘produce’.

‘They’ suuuuuck.

I spent a few hours over the holidays watching Jeff Dunham specials on various comedy networks- looking to enhance the cheer.  I do love my Muppets, and ventriloquism has always fascinated me- and boy, does he do it well.   When he has multiple voices going… I don’t love all his characters, but for some reason Peanut and Jose Jalapeno- on a stick- were seriously making me laugh.  As a result, whenever I say/think the word ‘suck’ the voice now sounds like Peanut.

The ideas have been few and far between, the prose just ain’t a’ flowing and I have absolutely no interest in doing the research/job searching I should be doing at the moment.  I’m thinking it’s partly to do with the end of year/beginning of a new one reflective funk that sometimes happens.  It can be stated, fairly, that my introspective moods do become a little too extensive and extended at times- and this is likely part of the problem.  Inward insight makes outward output tricky, to say the least.

There’s also been some drama in my extended family unit, so coping with that is making concentration a wee bit problematic- as the lack of sleep and anxiety makes itself manifest.

One of the things I’m also meant to be doing is generating a strategy for creating systemic change in this city of mine.  I have not received a response from my own city councillor- I’m allowing for the fact that it’s still technically the holidays as a reason for that- but that buffoon who persists in calling himself our mayor officially declared his intention to run again and continue to garner attention for everything but responsible policy development and institution.

This should be enough of a goad to get me off of my butt and back doing something, but I have to admit that my own, personal and professional, situation is foremost in any strategizing that might be happening right now.  A number of things that have gone down of late have left me feeling as if some sort of deadline is looming- and that sensation is really causing me to focus on making changes in my own life.

But figuring out just what those changes need to be is the biggest thing that is keeping me frozen right now.

Part of responsible citizenship is discovering a balance between one’s responsibility to oneself- and one’s family and friends- and active participation in the wider community.  The juggling of these responsibilities can be hard to negotiate (as I mentioned in my last post regarding the vagaries of Time) and any wrench- regardless of size or import- tossed into the planning and execution of attempts to keep all the balls airborne can significantly mess with progress.

Right now, despite best laid plans and the sincere desire to remove both myself- and my fellow citizens- from our current mire of expediency-over-what-is-right, moving forward with anything seems a little insurmountable.

There are a whole lot of lists circulating around right now- ‘what to do for a better 2014’, ‘what not to do for a better 2014’, and things along those lines.  While they have their place- and certainly serve some level of purpose, I suppose- I’m pretty much opposed to the whole sound-bite-as-response way of looking at things (which is one of the reasons why my posts drag on so long).  Pithy sayings and trite observations aren’t always the best solution to things, IMHO.

At a couple of gatherings over the holiday season there was a great deal of talk about ‘white people’s problems’- mainly having to do with power outages and the like (a lot of the neighbourhoods that were hit badly by the ice storms are those older ‘hoods with their older-growth trees and higher property values), but some of it was directed at job dissatisfaction and inability to fight the status quo.  While most of my current spate of concerns definitely falls into that category, knowing that others are certainly worse off does little to mitigate that reality.

I know that well-meaning friends were not being dismissive, exactly, of my current situation, but such responses do tend to make me clam up and cease throwing around ideas and looking for help as to directions- personally, professionally and in the larger societal sphere.  They are likely sick of hearing me talk about it all.  Believe me, I am far more sick of living with it and trying to come up with solutions.

Balance.  Hard to find and harder to maintain.

Depeche Mode gets it.

There’s more besides joyrides
A little house in the countryside
Understand, learn to demand,
Compromise, and sometimes lie

Get the balance right, get the balance right

Be responsible, respectable,
Stable but gullible
Concerned and caring, help the helpless
But always remain ultimately selfish

Get the balance right, get the balance right

You think you’ve got a hold of it all
You haven’t got a hold at all
When you reach the top, get ready to drop
Prepare yourself for the fall, you’re gonna fall
It’s almost predictable
(Almost)

Don’t turn this way, don’t turn that way
Straight down the middle until next Thursday
Reverse to the left, then back to the right
Twist and turn ’til you’ve got it right

Get the balance right, get the balance right

Happy New Year to you all.  Hoping that I’ll be back to better form and looking a little more forward and a little less inward as the year unfolds.  Begin as you mean to go on, and all that.  The way the year is started can help to frame the way that the year progresses.

Have to overcome the sense of being overwhelmed and get back to fighting the good fight.

PS- I just passed 6666 views hereabouts.  The Number of the Beast, plus an extra 6.  That’s fun.  Might have to think about writing about the Antichrist sometime soon…  THAT might get me back on track…

Take off, eh

Just in case there was any remaining doubt in your mind- which there shouldn’t be if you have read any of my posts (like this one Or this. Or this.)- I am very proud to be a Canadian.  I might get more than a little testy about our elected leaders- and their behaviours and systematic dissolution of some of the very policies and programs that have made us stand out, internationally, as an awesome place- one with welcoming arms and a social conscience to go with its gorgeous landscapes and world class cities, but I’d really rather live here than anywhere else in this wide world.  (At least permanently.  An extended holiday somewhere without winter wouldn’t be all that bad…)

I read this article without even a bit of surprise and with a heart full of pride.  I love it when we are recognized for our overall awesomeness.  For the most part, we deserve it.

Which is why I was distressed to have read this article yesterday which is, IMHO, bang on about our very real and very dire situation here in Canada’s biggest (and best) city.  We are in a state of crisis, evidenced yet again yesterday when the chair, Frances Nunziata (an ally of that buffoon I’ve spoken of at length), of city council was forced to shut down the session because of the un-parliamentary behaviour of said mayor-in-name-only and another of his cronies.

What’s a citizen to do?  Really.  I’m asking.  For reals.  Looking for a response that makes sense to me.  There is a crisis of strong, ethical leadership at all levels of government right now (although, as the article notes, Kathleen Wynne is doing her absolute damnedest to lead her chaotic party with something like a responsible example- it’s a majorly uphill battle, though) and that got me thinking about a number of things- none of them particularly comfortable.

At dinner with close friends a couple of weeks ago, the talk turned to politics (not something that is unusual).  One amongst our number- a high school principal in one of the RC boards in the GTA- will be throwing his hat into the ring of provincial politics sometime in the near future.  He took a run at it about a decade ago but decided that it was a bad idea- given the dysfunction of the political environment.  But things have now reached a state where he is feeling like not getting involved is a form of negligence or collusion.

As we spoke, and as I ranted about the municipal situation (as I’m inclined to do), he suggested that I should run for city council.  My initial reaction?  Yeah, right.  First of all, I do not have the personal wealth to get involved in politics (one of the many flaws in the system), and the reality of the situation here in TO means that I would be unlikely to garner any level of financial backing, since I’m not convinced that my view of things is in any way supported by others in this great town.  At least not those with the money to spend to back an untested candidate.

Plus, I would certainly be dismissed as an ‘elite’- given my educational and locational background (having always lived in affluent, ‘downtown’ neighbourhoods), so that would eradicate any possibility of support from ‘the Nation’ and others who might be disinclined to vote for a non-career politician.

I have no interest in having my life exposed to the constant scrutiny of the media- and to those in opposition of my views that might seek to ‘expose’ something unseemly.  Not because I have anything to hide- no skeletons in my closet that I’m aware of- but because the thought of becoming part of a system that is run that way is anathema to everything I believe in.  The behaviour of ridiculous groups like the ‘birthers’ in the US, or those who vilified Michael Ignatieff and Stéphane Dion- when they ran for federal leadership- solely because of academic background and perceived elitism… I just don’t get- and can’t, in any way, suborn that kind of thing.

So.  I dismissed the suggestion out of hand.

After reading the articles yesterday, and with my Canadian pride all lit up like the CN Tower at the recognition that we are pretty cool folks, now I’m feeling like making excuses for not participating on some level is far too close to complicity in the perpetuation of the complete lack of leadership that we are dealing with in my city.  And my country.

I’m not sure what to do with this feeling, or where it might lead me, but I’m thinking that the New Year is going to HAVE to see some action on my part.  Enough just writing and bitching about it.  My CV- widely dispersed in my ongoing search for a more meaningful line of work- claims ‘excellence in leadership’ as one of the attributes I could bring to a company or organization smart enough to hire me.  I’m thinking that it’s time I figured out how to put those skills into practice to effect some change.  How that will be done will require a whole lot of reflection and discussion with my loved ones.  I’m not sure I can sit idly by as my beloved city/province/country loses all those things that make us stand out- and stand tall- as Canadians.

That said, I’m not about to commit myself to a run for council.  I don’t think I’d last a day.  I am a pretty patient person (as classrooms of hundreds of undergrads can attest), but at the first sign of behaviours like those seen in the council session yesterday?  How do you fight idiocy?  I have no clue- and standing, daily, against that level of discourtesy, boorishness, ignorance and completely unjustified arrogance would render me completely ineffective in a matter of weeks.  I can’t fight on their level.  I won’t fight on their level.  But I am at a loss as to how to even begin to raise the standards.

The people seem to like their idiots-as-leaders/media personalities (did you see the latest Fox ‘News’ debacle about the definite ‘whiteness’ of Santa Freakin Claus?  And Jesus?  You can’t see me, but believe me, I’m shaking my head in exasperation).  I’m not an idiot, and I have no intention of playing one on tv.

I hate politics.  Not a big fan of politicians either.  They are single-mindedly focused on their own agendas- or those of the lobbies that support them.  The few ideologues who are brave enough to climb into the mire for the betterment of others too quickly become engulfed by the surrounding culture of self-serving impetus.  In the aftermath of the loss of the great statesman (NOT politician.  NEVER a politician), Nelson Mandela, it’s impossible not to make a comparison with those putative leaders that we can claim, these days.  How do we remove the ‘dirty word’ aspect of politics and politicians in favour of a more statesperson-like definition?

And then there are those ‘mayors’ who never even finished university or had a career other than ‘politician’ and ‘ part time football coach’… Those who cast unfounded and libellous aspersions upon the names and characters of those journalists who are called to hold him- and those who likewise claim to represent the best interests of the city- to account…

Food for thought.

PS- I have also decided that I am going to begin interspersing my regular conversation with all the stereotypical ‘Canadianisms’ that float around outside our borders.  Anything to keep up our image of ‘quaintness’ in the face of accusations of inbred idiocy, which, given the fact that so many people are still saying they would re-elect a certain someone, aren’t completely unfounded.   So… ‘take off, you hosers.  I’m off to pick up a two-four of Labatt’s Blue and then head oot and aboot in the snow of the Great White North. Eh.’  

PPS- I’m not, really.  Labatt’s Blue is TERRIBLE beer.  And I never been either oot or aboot- to my knowledge anyway.