“Et c’est facile a dire”

Image result for men without hats

 

Suffering, as I have been, from an existential recurrence of that thing that my beloved, eloquent, super-groovy Papa Nez calls high lonesome (more on that at some point soon – check out his wickedsharp memoir Infinite Tuesday, in the meantime), I’ve been doing my best to actively seek out the good; those things that bring me joy, and help me to share what I can of that feeling with my little slice of the world.

I’m starting with this. Let’s call it CanCon is Awesome, Part 1.

Back in a simpler, more peaceful, less-IMPOTUS-ridden time …

1982. I was a young Canadian girl trying to sort out my own tastes and direction and way(s) of dealing with my Torontonian preteen existence. It was smack dab in the middle of the second Prime Minister-ship of the dad of the guy who’s leading us now.

In addition to providing us with pretty cool stuff like The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, PET was big on discussing just what it means to be a Canadian. This search for a national identity was a big part of my personal bildungsroman, as guided by a set of parents and grandparents that made sure to emphasize their interpretations of Canadian-ness.

Music, even then, was the primary focus of my life, and I was trying desperately to find a niche that I could call my own. It was part of the search for meaning and identity that seemingly plagued my every waking moment. From what I remember, being 12 in the 80’s involved a whole lot of sensory overload. Picking wheat from chaff took some doing (although, with perspective, those days have nothing on today’s ADHD-inducing bombardment of stimuli. Being 12 in 2017 seems nightmarish in comparison).

I had some positive musical influences in my life – and there were certainly bands and artists that spoke to the nascent singer-songwriter appreciation that I was cultivating even then. CanCon was a big thing – and, as a country, we were representing bigtime with songs that have weathered well. I loved, even then, The Band, Leonard Cohen, Buffy Saint-Marie and Gordon Lightfoot. Haven’t/won’t stop listening to them. Check out an older post or two, if you’re needing support for that assertion. My Canadian band (and Band-)-loyalty remains strong.

In 1982, there was a whole lot happening in the world of music. Our proximity to the States, and the fact that we yet clung (cling. Plus ça change, and all that) to our familial relationship with the UK, meant that we were hearing a number of bands offering up ever-innovating styles of music. Some of my favourite artists got their start in those early years, or changed up an older formula, incorporating new genres and instruments. Most of the material on my personal playlists was coming out of England, Ireland or Scotland.

Which was cool. Still is. I still listen to most of those go-to musicians. But where was the Canada in all that? I didn’t get Rush back then (still not 100% sure that I do now…) – even when the prog-rock became more synth-driven (but I LOVE that Torontonians voted to name the babies of our recently-fugitive High Park capybaras after the boys in the band). Loverboy was funny and all… but they weren’t resonating with my identity-search in any real way. A few local offerings – Boys Brigade, Blue Peter, Platinum Blonde, The Spoons, to name the most obvious – were striking some chords but weren’t quite it, for me.

Then this band out of Montreal released a full-length album as follow-up to their first EP.

Game. Changer.

I bought the tape (because, back in the day, cassettes were the thing – I had a brand spankin’ new Walkman and tapes were THE way of expressing the angst-y nonsense that was specific to 12-ish-year-olds at the time. You could pop on the headphones and problems such as doting involved intrusive parents fell by the wayside oh-so-quickly.

Rhythm of Youth. I played that thing endlessly (still have it, in fact). On so many family road trips in the station wagon – exploring this country of ours. I had such a terrible childhood – parents who thought it vital that we see our homeland whilst still giving us the world. A prisoner, with my little sisters, of both the car and Dad’s radio selection (I didn’t appreciate CBC then like I do now) as we drove everywhere – and were forced to learn a little something about ourselves, as Canadians, with every family vacation.

Ivan’s baritone led the soundtrack of my life for much of that year – and beyond. From the opening piano chords of Ban the Game, the entirety of the album retained its wonder and got better with each subsequent hearing.

If you have been anywhere around North America since 1982, you’ve heard The Safety Dance. Deny it and I’ll call you a liar. But, while that tune remains pretty iconic as a representation of a particular place and time in history, it’s not, actually, my favourite.

I remain partial to I Got the Message. And Where do the Boys Go? And I Like.

Bits of so many of their songs had lyrics in both langues officielles – truly representing our histoire et identité bilingue and my own, perhaps naive, idea of what Canada was about. The extra-added bonus was that all the years of French classes (in English Toronto) were finally having some tangible pay-off!

The reliance on keyboards alongside the driving drum machine and guitars, typical of the New Wave of synthpop that seemed to be everywhere, meant that after being forced to practice piano for as long as I could remember, there might actually be some cool associated with that particular skill set.

And while they were admittedly infectiously poppy, the songs also had an edge of social commentary that fed my preteen intellectual pretensions.

Men Without Hats remained a constant on my playlists. We took them with us on our high school trip to the USSR – introducing them to a whole bunch of East German soldiers there on weekend leave (who knew that Leningrad was party-central of the Eastern Bloc?). The bartender/manager of our hotel bar got a kick out of the Canadian kids, and let us control the music as long as we kept drinking his ‘screwdrivers’ (vodka and orange pop does NOT a screwdriver make). More than a few German- and/or Russian-speakers were able to sing along to Pop Goes the World by the end of the evening.

Unlike some other die-hard fans, I quite enjoyed their change of direction on 1991’s Sideways album. The electro-pop was replaced by more driving guitars, but the ever-apparent musicality (Ivan and Colin are both classically-trained) of the songs, and Ivan’s inimitable voice still struck chords of familiarity and appreciation.

A couple of weeks ago the latest iteration of the band – led by Ivan and Colin, as in the old days – came through Toronto. I wasn’t sure what I’d make of their show at the Phoenix (I’ve seen a couple too many retro bands make a truly unfortunate return to the stage – nonamesmentionedRationalYouth…), so I was a little concerned about whether or not the love would have lasted down through all these years.

Did it ever. Wow. That was a fun night. Me and my BFF went in without too many expectations and came out completely buzzing with the slice of joy the band shared with us so generously. Ivan’s voice remains a stalwart and much-loved aspect of my idea of Canada. The energy was infectious, and his stories – between all the songs I wanted to hear (although Sideways was, sadly, missing. But the cover of those timeless ‘prog-rockers’, Abba, was just. so. great.) – kept us grinning pretty madly.

In a world that is, currently, dominated by the infamy of the place to the south of our border, Men Without Hats reinforced the thankfulness I’ve been feeling about my Canadian-ness – as I investigate, yet again, exactly what that identity means to me.

We have work yet to do – as a country made up of individuals who have yet to concur on just what, exactly can be defined as a collective identity. I hope that I can contribute to that work in some realized way as I continue to explore and interpret my connection to our history and future.

Part of the take-away from that night at the Phoenix – with my re-introduction to wonderful old friends and the reminiscences the experience garnered, is that I remain a proud Canadian. And that is easy to say.

 

 

Advertisements

‘Warm Impermanence’

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

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

But I didn’t expect this.

David Bowie is gone.

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

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

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

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

I really never thought he would die.

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

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

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

We shouldn’t be surprised.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He did that.

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

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

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

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

He made us embrace the strange.

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

He warned against inaction.

He changed the world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I fear we won’t see her like again…

 

Strange how it happens- that synchronicity thing. A-M and I were just talking about her the other day

As I started my Saturday with a catch-up of some of the news of the week I might have missed as other things took precedence, the news of Maureen O’Hara’s death, in her sleep, at 95, popped into the feed.

I love Maureen O’Hara. There was so much to admire- her beauty (obvious as it was) to be certain, but the spirit and intelligence of the characters she brought to life… that strength and no-nonsense facet of her personality shone through every performance and interview I ever saw.

Although a woman of her times (despite my enduring love for The Quiet Man, there are bits of that- and McLintock!, too- that make me cringe a little. But I can acknowledge the time/place in which those wonderful romps were created, and allow the license that saw her dragged through town and/or paddled by her exasperated husband- John Wayne having shown remarkable restraint up until that point in each story- in full sight of all the townspeople), it always seemed as if she chose, consciously, to always play the strong woman.

No shrinking violet roles for Maureen. Whether she was a divorced single mother who also managed to juggle a position of importance at Macy’s, or a Boston matron taking charge of her children and herself (looking back, how very bizarre was the concept behind The Parent Trap– but I digress), she was a pretty solid role model, or a frontier wife who stood up for herself and her homestead.

She first caught my attention when I was but a wean watching The Wonderful World of Disney, and her role as Hayley Mills’ mother placed her pretty solidly in my childhood orbit. But the character of Doris Walker in Miracle on 34th Street is the one that continues to resonate with me- regardless of the number of times I’ve seen the film and her performance.

As a single mother, Doris was all practicality- hardworking, caring practicality. No time for fairy tales as she taught her daughter, Susan (how wonderful was Natalie Wood, in that role?), to ignore the vagaries of life in favour of the sometimes-harsh realities. And yet, when presented with evidence of the need to hang onto the wonderful, she embraced and encouraged those fancies while maintaining the requisite intelligence and pragmatism necessary to make things work in the real world.

I think that’s a big part of why the story endures, and why the film is still broadcast each year (I admit I’ve never seen the remake. Why mess with perfection?). The adaptability, romanticism, and good sense displayed, makes the story- and its characters- pretty unique. Especially when held up against the two-dimensional characters we are faced with these days- both in film and IRL (no names mentioned, but I could cite a whole family of them that have television shows, for some inexplicable reason).

I’m finding her death- after a well-lived life- yet another example of that synchronicity thing I’ve talked about a time or two, for a couple of reasons.

It’s a melancholy kind of day, here in my City by the Lake. After fighting the good fight- which ended in yet another odd game (that Caleb kid had best not be planning any trips to Toronto any time soon)- my Blue Jays have left the playing field for another year. It was a quite a ride, to be sure, and my gratitude and honest affection for this group of guys is undimmed by their inability to take it all the way. But I woke up feeling a little bereft, this morning, with no baseball left to watch (yes, I realize there’s still a World Series to be played- but it’s not of much interest without the engagement with the players- and I can’t see that happening in the next couple of days…) and a rainy Saturday stretching ahead of me.

Another of my blogging besties, Beth, wrote, yesterday, about her frustrations with the gender gap that remains evident- in politics, in business, in education, in every-freakin-day life- that coincide with the way my mind has been working of late.

Pre-the sad news about Maureen, a random piece of click-bait I saw discussed the gender bias that is embedded and inculcated in Hollywood. Daniel Craig- that most awesome of 007s- minced no words when discussing its ridiculous and insidious double standards. That he also spoke about the inherent misogyny of James Bond? Icing on the cake (Don’t get me wrong- I love 007- in most of his incarnations. Craig is the fave, thus far, though. I’ll be seeing Spectre in a couple of weeks. Definitely).

I’d love to think that the fact that these sorts of topics seem to be everywhere these days is indicative of the fact that things are changing. But I’m becoming increasingly less sure that that’s the case.

Another article that popped up in my feed this morning, by a writer I admire, greatly, Valerie Tarico, discusses the prevalence of blatant and rampant attempts to dis-empower women, and the ways in which certain factions of society are doing so.

As she does so often, Valerie has given me pause and caused me to think about the way we use language- and the dangers in doing so, unthinkingly. Her brief article has significantly shifted my way of referencing- both in my head and aloud- the manner in which conservative factions (including our own, unlamented, former PM) shape ‘discussions’ surrounding issues that directly impact women.

In thinking about the ways in which we communicate (always at the forefront of my mind, given my day job and my constitutional inclinations), I’m increasingly frustrated by the unconscious acceptance we have developed for the improper usage of words and terms as descriptors of phenomena that influence pivotal aspects of our lives.

There are a number of posts in the drafts folder on just that very topic. As we support the decline of our language(s), we blindly accept the ways in which the media, lobbyists, politicians, religious leaders, adapt certain terms to suit their take on particular issues.

It is something that we need to keep in mind, as we sit on rainy Saturdays flipping through the virtual papers to stay up-to-date about what it happening in our world(s).

I’d like to think that Maureen O’Hara- and any of the characters she played over the course of her celebrated life- would agree that if even dialogue about the treacherous undermining of women’s rights is couched in terminology evoking war and assault, then we’d best be arming ourselves with like weaponry in our defence.

She was beautiful, she was classy, she was intelligent, she was savvy, and she was one tough broad.

Although I’ve never seen it confirmed, I’ve always understood that the short story (by Maurice Walsh) that inspired John Ford’s film, was based on the Irish saying: Coimhéad fearg fhear na foighde.

‘Beware the anger of the patient (quiet) man.’

Or woman.

Another of my favourites? Trí ní is deacair a thuiscint; intleacht na mban, obair na mbeach, teacht agus imeacht na taoide.

‘Three things that are difficult to understand: the mind of a woman, the work of bees, and the coming and going of the tide.’

Saturday thoughts. Go in peace, but as you lived, Ms. O’Hara. With fire and determination. I thank you- for the entertainment and for the example. xo

‘Who Told Tomorrow Tuesday’s Dead?’

I think that’s one of my favourite lyrics ever.

No, not the words in the nursery poem, the words in the title.

I know. It’s Wednesday, but I was thinking about that song, and the guy who wrote it, a lot today .

I’ve talked about him before – in the context of another song. A song that helped to set the story of my life, thus far. Truly. It helped to put me on my own particular Road to Find Out in ways both conscious and un-.

And given the crap that’s been going on around here the past while, and the results of yesterday’s election in the States, I really feel like I need an interlude of Cat.

Seriously, neighbours? What’s going on down there?

Not being an American, you’d think that the results shouldn’t be bugging me so much. To be honest, I didn’t pay the midterm election all that much mind. We have had a fair bit going on north of the border, and, honestly, I’m sort of out of sorts about the whole reactionary-engagement-with-politics-thing that seems to be epidemic (and more problematic, on this side of the Atlantic anyway, than a particular virus I could name) lately.

But I just. Don’t. Get. It.

So. Let’s intermezzo, shall we? (yes, I used intermezzo as a verb).

Yusuf Islam is out and about on his Peace Train… Late Again tour (forever the most dexterous of wordsmiths. How GREAT a name is that for Cat/Yusuf tour?). I wanted ever-so-much to go and see him when he comes to town- he’s playing Massey Hall, which is certainly one of my very fave venues for live-and-intimate shows in my hometown.

But… tickets went on sale just as I was boarding a train headed for his hometown, so I wasn’t really in a place or position to be online and looking to buy. The show sold out in a matter of minutes.

This is partly because, other than brief television or special appearances, he hasn’t toured North America since 1976. Yes, I said 1976. So I’d imagine that there are a whole lot of people like me desperate to see him and say hello. Since I was six the last time he hopped the pond to play shows, it kind of goes without saying that I’ve never had the pleasure of his company.

And I’ll be missing him again. He has, rightfully and rather impressively, made sure that scalpers and those crummy and criminal ticket resale companies won’t be able to (easily) get their hands on tickets and fleece his fans, so there aren’t even any tickets floating around on Craig’s List or the like.

I admit that I’ve been creeping his fb page and checking out the set lists as he plays to his first North American audiences in almost four decades, and living a little vicariously through those who will have the privilege of hanging with him for an evening.

The Road to Find Out and Tuesday’s Dead aren’t (so far) in the rotation.

It’s understandable- he has such an incredible and extensive body of work that includes bigger hits and better-known songs from the eleven albums that he recorded as Cat, back in the day, and he is also playing selections from his 2006 and 2008 albums, An Other Cup and Roadsinger, and his brand new offering, Tell ‘Em I’m Gone.

But. Those songs.

One of the many beautiful things about music is its accessibility. I can go back and listen to the songs any time I want- or, for that matter, sing them to myself when tuning in (and tuning out) with the Shuffle Daemon isn’t appropriate.

The lyrics have been written on my heart- and they are in my head when I need to call them up for a listen.

Two of his albums, Tea for the Tillerman (1970) and Teaser and the Firecat (1971) are among my all-time favourite records. Of his, certainly, but by anyone, really. I grew up with them- and still know the lyrics to all the songs.

I have a bit of an uncanny (for lack of a better word) knack for remembering lyrics (and the accompanying tunes, of course- but the words are paramount, for me). Some of my old friends still bug me about this ability for recall- but I don’t see anything all that peculiar about it, myself.

It’s part and parcel of my way of engaging with the world- concentrating on those things I find important, or beautiful, or educational, or fun. Or any combination of any and all of those things. It is the primary way that I attempt to be mindful of my context and present in my life. There are distractions aplenty, but focusing on something and really appreciating it? It leads me toward gratitude and appreciation of the relevance and reliability of my fellow human beings, usually when I most need to be reminded of these things.

Great words deserve remembrance. Whether they are shaped like stories or speeches or songs (or poem- which are songs without music), they carry power and retain import that speaks to both their specific contexts and, in the case of the best of them, to their timelessness. The ones that hold the most wisdom transcend temporal settings and retain the ability to impart vital imagery.

If I make a mark in time, I can’t say the mark is mine.
I’m only the underline of the word.
Yes, I’m like him, just like you, I can’t tell you what to do.
Like everybody else I’m searching thru what I’ve heard.

Whoa, Where do you go? When you don’t want no one to know?
Who told tomorrow Tuesday’s dead

Oh preacher won’t you paint my dream, won’t you show me where you’ve been
Show me what I haven’t seen to ease my mind.
Cause I will learn to understand, if I have a helping hand.
I wouldn’t make another demand all my life.

What’s my sex, what’s my name, all in all it’s all the same.
Everybody plays a different game, that is all.
Now, man may live, man may die searching for the question why.
But if he tries to rule the sky he must fall.

Now every second on the nose, the humdrum of the city grows.
Reaching out beyond the throes of our time.
We must try to shake it down. Do our best to break the ground.
Try to turn the world around one more time.

Tuesday’s Dead is something of a thematic follow-up to, or continuation of, the examination of his quest for meaning and understanding of the world he sang about in On the Road to Find Out. Crazy love for both these tunes.

A number of interpretations point to Xian imagery contained in the song (as is the case with Road, as well), but, like my readings of pretty much everything else, I see the themes as being without specificity of creed, denomination or over-arching system of belief. They are human lyrics- that acknowledge the wisdom of the past, the movement toward the future and our ability to work toward change.

There are those who have suggested that the whole thing about ‘Tuesday being dead’ has to do with that old fortune-telling nursery rhyme up there ^^^^^

If Tuesday=Grace, a possible exegesis of the line thus follows that the biblical concept of Grace is that thing that isn’t dead.

I get that interpretation. I don’t agree with it, but I get it. We all make connections that resonate and make sense and create meaning for us. If Xian exegetes want to appropriate the song, it’s all good. My interpretation is far more humanistic (go figure).

The rhyme, recorded as early as 1838, but with traditional versions going back far longer, had a dual- to describe the personalities and help to set the destiny of children born on each particular day of the week. Its later iterations have changed up the characteristics, moving them about in accordance with specificity of interpretation and association.

One version switches up Wednesday and Friday’s characteristics- based in the Xian superstitions regarding bad luck and Fridays (originating with a story about a crucifixion). Being a Wednesday myself, and not especially woe-full, I tend to prefer that one…

Yusuf has said that he’s not entirely sure exactly where he was going (coming from?) having some unknown individual telling ‘tomorrow’ about the death of Tuesday. It’s one of those random lyrics that just fit. Which makes it all the better, as far as I’m concerned.

We don’t always know what we’re talking about. And that’s okay. It’s part of the whole human-thing. We hash it out as best we can- and, in so doing, often come up with the wildly wonderful in the process.

So.

One more time.

Let’s keep trying to turn the world around. In spite of those who attempt to rule- the sky, the earth, the people- based in fear and misinformation and polarizing politics.

I’m not saying anything new here. But allow me to underline his underline, and the underlines of all those who came before him. And continue to echo the mark of his voice- 43 years- and counting- after the fact.

Safe, and peaceful, travels, Cat/Yusuf. Better late than never. Please come back and visit again soon.

Bonus (not-at-all-woeful) Wednesday feel-good tune? THIS one, by my beloved Monkees (written by David Gates- of Bread). It mixes up the days even further- and I’m not sure I like the ‘you’ll live your life apart, now’ as Wednesday’s foretold fortune found here- but hey. It’s all in the interpretation…

The Road

It’s been a long week- with a whole lot happening that has made for a whole lot of dis-ease. It’s Friday. This morning, as I walked to work, the first song to pop up on the Shuffle Daemon was one I wrote about a little over a year ago while feeling a little down and disenchanted.

Interestingly, while I was on the fb last night, I noticed that Yusuf’s page had a post in the feed asking for best Yusuf/Cat memories.

This is my fave of his songs (and boyohboy is it hard to choose a fave from his catalogue) and, like it always seems to do, it snapped me into a semblance of clarity.

However long-lived or truncated that clarity might prove to be, it’s leading me into the weekend with some thoughts in my head and a song about positive energy in my heart.

As my buddy Doobster noted- with his characteristic insight and ability to strike at the central point- on one of my posts a little while ago, ‘we’re all in the same boat and there’s no such thing as a hole in just one end’.

So.

‘Sometimes you have to moan when nothing seems to suit ya, but nevertheless you know you’re locked toward the future.’

The song encouraged me to have a very productive day- at work and, since I’ve been home, on some of the things that I’ve been neglecting lately. Enough wallowing. Time to grasp at the clarity and get back to contributing rather than complaining.

Happy weekend everyone.

colemining

It seems, lately, like I’ve strayed from the originally plotted course for this forum.

I love the stories, don’t get me wrong.  They are my life, so to speak, and they can do so much to help us heal this world.  There is undeniable wisdom to be found within their characters and plots and ultimate messages and they deserve examination and re-contextualizing for our time and circumstances.

Looking at our myths with new lenses can truly aid us in moving forward.  Perhaps not repairing the injustices of history- that is beyond even the significant power of myth- but certainly helping to advise us when we are searching for the right way to proceed from here.

But something happens when the seasons turn in Toronto.  Especially after a longer than usual winter (although the meteorologists would say that this one just past was more in keeping with historical temperatures and snowfall)…

View original post 635 more words

Shazbot

Je sais, je sais.  J’ai disparu.  Encore en fois.

There I was, thinking I was back on track to get back to my semi-regular postings on Life, the Universe, you know- Everything, really.  When a few things happened…

a) I got caught up in an Ideas (that CBC again) presentation about Nietzsche.  Yes, Nietzsche.  Suddenly I’m back in the bookstore (yes, I still go to bookstores- fewer and further between though they may be) in order to re-visit his views on this world of ours (between him and Spinoza, I’ve spent a fair bit of time with philosopher-types of late).

b) I woke up in the middle of the night (my 4 am awakenings have recurred- vengefully, it seems) with a fantastic idea (if I do say so myself) for a project regarding our perverse and self-destructive insistence upon living our lives according to apocalyptic thinking.  An idea that jibed exactly with the Nietzsche and some of the books about positive corporate culture that I’ve been reading as part of my day job.

c) While cruising the interworld (as I am sometimes wont to do) I became aware of a heinously misinformed group of women who think that #womenagainstfeminism is a real thing and a good thing- let alone an ideology that makes anything like rational sense.

This was enough of a distraction- based in something like despair- that I felt the need to track it to its putative source(s) and read- and listen to (sitting in for Jian, Stephen Quinn spoke with Roxanne Gay- author of Bad Feminist- on Q today, and The Current had a discussion about ‘the movement’ on August 4)- a whole bunch of stuff about the ‘arguments’ against feminism that are appearing as poster-boarded memes.  Memes that are dedicated to, and exemplars of, the sorts of things I discussed in my last couple of posts.  Credulity, and how not knowing history leads one down the slippery slope of having it repeat itself.  For example.

d) My company’s Chief Morale Officer paid us a visit, and brought back to my mind something he said at a recent team culture meeting.  It was about how having knowledge makes no difference if that knowledge isn’t shared.  Zero.  Zippo.  Nada.

It reminded me that I know stuff- and that I should be sharing the stuff I know.

And then.

e) Mork left us all behind to return to Ork.

So much has been said- so wonderfully and with such sincerity of loss (I won’t even address the ignorant, negative comments and despicable behaviours that are out there in the ether.  Such things need no further dissemination or acknowledgement)- that I’m not sure I can add anything about his courage and kindness and gifts.  And about how his celebrity and the genuine shock so many of us are feeling has opened (re-opened?) lines of dialogue about the insidious reality that is depression- and the stigma that remains attached to mental illness.

While he brought us so very many enduring characters, I will never forget first meeting, while sitting in my parents’ bedroom, that red-clad charmer from another world.  As he spoke with Richie Cunningham and then battled the Fonz (Fonzarelli thumb against Orkan finger), I felt like I’d found a new friend.

Mork, with his innocent view of our world and his weekly explanations to his superior back home as he tried to make sense of it all, was profoundly resonant- and personally identifiable.

On our yearly family holidays- which always involved extremely long car trips- as a way to entertain my wee sisters (and- as a side-effect- annoy the hell out of our parents- although that was an understanding I came to much later) I created a character of my own.

This character was an alien- with, for some reason, a British accent- named YumYum.  As we passed things of note- landmarks, cities, mountains, or listened to music (when it was our turn to control the tape deck), YumYum asked the sisters (named ‘Hi’ and ‘Bye’- my childhood imagination had significant gaps of inspiration, at times) to explain things as we drove along.  In hotels, at the end of each long day, they taught YumYum to swim, talked about things that were on the tv and read each other books as a way of demonstrating the world to their own, personal, visitor from outer space.

To say that YumYum was modeled on Mork is to state the veryvery obvious.  Both aliens taught as they, themselves, learned.

Robin’s subsequent roles built upon the innocence and wonder and joy with which his first great fictional incarnation viewed the world.  He became a teacher (Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting)- and his lessons spoke volumes to the teacher in me.

He played the archetypal little boy who never grew up- except that he somehow did grow up and forgot the lessons of his eternal childhood (until that scene when his Lost Boy straightens out the wrinkles and the extra facial padding and says, heartrendingly, ‘There you are, Peter’).

In that way that all things can seem to be connected…

Last week, during our team meeting, our manager played us that little ditty up there ^^^

She and another colleague are both learning to play the ukulele, and Izzy’s mash-up of Somewhere Over the Rainbow and What a Wonderful World was illustrative of this new undertaking- of branching outside of comfort zones and taking risks for the sake of trying something new.  Izzy’s story- his talent, his pride in his home State, his status as a hero of Hawaiian rights, ideals and culture- make his loss (too young) all the more poignant.

The discussion led me to comment that, on that very same day while walking to work, the Shuffle Daemon played me this tune:

Taken from Don’t Worry About Me, Joey’s only solo album- released posthumously, it demonstrated his enduring spirit in the face of his fight with lymphoma.  The world knew he was fighting- he battled his disease for seven years- but his death still came as a surprise. To me, anyway.

I can remember exactly where I was when I heard he was gone (in a seminar class- Coptic language- my thesis adviser asked what I was listening to as I took my seat and removed my earlier-incarnation of the Shuffle Daemon.  I happened to be listening to Rock ‘n’ Roll High School– and he told me that he’d just heard on the radio that Joey was gone…).  When I watch that movie (at least once a year) or listen to any of his music, I still find it hard to take on board that he isn’t with us anymore.

There’s another version of that song too.  The first version.  The one from 1967 performed by the great Louis Armstrong.  The one that was used in a movie called Good Morning, Vietnam.

My thoughts are all over the place, lately.  Clarity is tricky to come by, and focus is lacking.  Sorely.  I’m, admittedly, scattered and, truth be told, more than a little shattered.

So.  I’m setting aside all that development of big ideas and sharable knowledge and the kvetching about the things that need changing.

Tonight I’m just going to hold onto the conceit that our friend and teacher, Mork- and the man who brought him to life- has been recalled by Orson, once and for all.

To join Izzy, and Joey and Louis.

“Friends shaking hands, saying ‘how do you do?'”

Na-nu na-nu, Captain, my Captain.

Required Reading

Every once in awhile I find myself missing university teaching.  I miss the students- wide-eyed and eager to learn, and the colleagues with whom I shared common interests and background.  I miss the discussions we had, and the ideas that they would bring to the table that would enhance and develop my own perceptions of our world.

But one of the things I miss most is the opportunity I had- every four months or so- to create a syllabus outlining the assignments and readings for the course.  In doing so, I got to share some of my favourite stories and concepts with my audience- and they actually HAD to read them (at least if they hoped to pass the course, they did).

I miss it partly because I genuinely LOVE sharing the wonderful contributions that have been made in understanding our humanity with my fellow humans, but also because sometimes I reallyreally wish that I could MAKE some people do things I want them to do.  For their own good, of course.  For their good and for the good of us all.

There are some vital things out there to which we all NEED to be exposed.

I’ve spoken before about how much I love the reboot of Cosmos.  Dr. Tyson has done an incredible job of revivifying the message that Dr. Sagan left with us when he passed away almost 20 years ago.  Inspired by the show (there IS good stuff on t.v, now and again), I decided that it was past time for me to revisit Dr. Sagan a little more fully.

With a cottage weekend on the horizon (T-minus 2 days!), I picked up some books to accompany me as I sit on the dock, cocktail in hand, and fully and formally welcome back our Canadian cottage season.

And, because sometimes I’m not-so-good with the waiting, I have to admit that I cracked the books a little prematurely.

One of them is The Demon-Haunted World- Science as a Candle in Dark, Dr. Sagan’s penultimate work of wonder and genius.  His next-to-last published offering to the world of his eloquent view of the Cosmos and our humanity- and a warning that we haven’t managed to heed.

I read the book for the first time as a student, many years ago, but not as part of my course-dictated required readings.  As a student of the Scientific Study of Religion, I was interested in the interplay between what we have learned, through generations of scientific observation and experimentation in the natural world (both the provable and theoretical outcomes), and the stories of the supernatural that we have created and to which we continue to cling, in spite of lack of evidence and with an extremity of the beggaring of common sense.

The disconnect disturbed me then, as it does now (to an ever-growing degree).  I can no more understand today, even after more than a decade of researching how and why we construct religious beliefs and the institutions that support and further those beliefs, why people choose to remain willfully ignorant and in the thrall of superstition and fairy tales.

I understand that there is collected wisdom to be found in the stories- wisdom that stands the test of time, since it is human in origin.

Re-reading the book, I was struck- seemingly on each and every page- by how prescient Dr. Sagan truly was.  And not in any pseudo-scientific ‘psychic’ way.

On pages 25-26 he wrote (in 1995):

“The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations of pseudo-science and superstition, but especially a celebration of a kind of ignorance… The plain lesson is that study- not just of science, but of anything- are avoidable, even desirable.”

Jebus.

That particular quote- and the one that accompanies his picture up there ^^^^- are shaking me to my very core.

The guy, through his observation of the world that he loved, knew.  He knew, back then, that we are on a slippery slope to our own destruction- one that is being expedited by our stubborn unwillingness to think for ourselves and set aside the beliefs and willful ignorance that keep us yoked to the agendas of those in power- whether the powers are religious or secular.

We believe the fairy tales because doing so is easier than thinking for ourselves.  We have an entire world of wisdom and knowledge and evidential experience to tap into- with new discoveries being made daily- and yet we persist in holding onto Bronze-Age ideas regarding the structure of the world/universe in which we live.

Re-reading his words left me intellectually and emotionally exhausted with the inspiration they still provide.  But it also left me mad as Hell (there’s that word again).

As his synopsis of his life-long love affair with science and the natural world unfolds, he speaks about the need to continually educate ourselves and question and test our conclusions- the way scientist do as they seek to explain and understand our universe.  The continuous testing of hypotheses to shape an approach to the truth is required methodology in the sciences.

In religion?  Not so much (pages 34-35).

“Which leaders of the major faiths acknowledge that their beliefs might be incomplete or erroneous and establish institutes to uncover possible doctrinal deficiencies?  Beyond the test of everyday living, who is systematically testing the circumstances in which traditional religious teachings may not longer apply?  (It is certainly conceivable that doctrines and ethics that might have worked fairly well in patriarchal or patristic or medieval times might be thoroughly invalid in the very different world we inhabit today)… Scripture is said to be divinely inspired- a phrase with many meanings.  But what is it’s simply made up by fallible humans?  Miracles are attested, but what they’re instead some mix of charlantanry, unfamiliar states of consciousness, misapprehensions of natural phenomena, and mental illness?  No contemporary religion and no New Age belief seem to me to take sufficient account of the grandeur, magnificence, subtlety and intricacy of the Universe revealed by science.  The fact that so little of the findings of modern science is prefigured in Scripture to my mind casts further doubt on its divine inspiration.

But of course I might be wrong.”

That last line is so Sagan.  Always the scientist.  Always the awareness that his hypothesis might not prove accurate and therefore have to be consigned to the dust-heap of failed attempts at understanding.

The last chapter of the book resonates these days in ways that would be spooky- if he wasn’t who he was, and if I was inclined to believe in things that are ‘spooky’.  In ‘Real Patriots Ask Questions’ he outlines why it is our responsibility, as participants in democracy, to keep ourselves informed about the world in general and the actions of our elected leaders in particular.

Since our federal government, just today, made public their intention to proceed with a staggeringly ill-conceived decision that flies in the face of majority (and scientific) opinion and is demonstrative of their typical arrogance and self-preserving agenda, that chapter hit home pretty freakin hard.

Again with the wisdom (page 434):

“If we can’t think for ourselves, if we’re unwilling to question authority, then we’re just putty in the hands of those in power.  But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us.  In every country we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights.  With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit.  In the demon-haunted world we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.”

I powered through the book.  The impact of his observations and the articulation of our current issues in a work written almost 20 years ago left me feeling like I needed to finish it quickly.  Impending danger and dark foreboding, folks.  He started warning us about it decades ago.  And not only did we not listen, we are rushing headlong- willingly blind- into the idiocy that will bring about our destruction.

This weekend, on the dock, I will savour it again- more slowly this time- to appreciate the fullness of his thoughts and the beauty and power of his words.  It will be my required (re-)reading- in amongst the literary creativity of a couple of my favourite authors of fiction.

The finale of Cosmos, a couple of weeks ago, started with Dr. Tyson ‘in’ the Library of Alexandria.  My dream palace.  Seriously.  Of all the great human constructs that have been needlessly destroyed, THAT one hurts me most of all.

It was, as Neil noted, the storehouse of the wisdom of the Classical period.  The math, the science, the philosophy, the theology.  Our stories and our discoveries about the world we live in and the universe around us.

At that time such wisdom was available only to the elite, and so, when the mob came to destroy the Library and its wonders, there weren’t many to stand against the hoard.

Intelligence and critical thinking and rationality and engagement with the realities of our world are characteristics and attributes that are actively being discouraged in our popular media and by our leaders- those in the business world, in the arena of religious belief, and those we elect to political power.  We celebrate the pedestrian, the ‘common’, the ‘creators’ of amusing 140-character soundbites.  Credulity is not only acceptable, it’s laudable.

In 1996, Carl Sagan offered another example of his great and awesome voice crying out against the wilderness of ignorance and complete lack of healthy and needful skepticism.  He shouted, but not enough of us seemed to hear.

If we don’t start hitting the books and completing our assigned readings, we students of the world are going to fail this class.  Bigtime.  And that failure will lead us, inexorably, “back into superstition and darkness.”

And when that happens, who among us will stand against the mob?

And if the dam breaks open many years too soon, and if there is no room upon the hill

And if your head explodes with dark forebodings, too, I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.

Brain damage, indeed.

PS- For a few days, come Friday morning, I will be shutting down the connectivity to all things technological in favour of my lakeside dock and the company of good friends.  Have a fantastic weekend, WPPeeps.  And if you’re looking for something to read… Just a suggestion.  A strong and pleading suggestion, but just a suggestion nonetheless. 

Bullies

Last week on Cosmos… Oh, how that show continues to amaze me. And this last episode spoke about concepts of immortality- and how the development of writing has allowed us to see into the hearts and minds of those who lived millennia before our time.

The stories remain. Neil deGrasse Tyson spoke of the Hero’s Journey- as undertaken by Gilgamesh as he searched for immortality.

The episode cleverly pointed to the existence of a Flood myth- one that predates the inspiration for Russell Crowe’s latest film by 1000 years- while continuing to explore the reality that to understand our planet and the cosmos as a whole we have to open our minds to its seeming vastness and our relative insignificance in the scale of space and time.

I love that show.

Anyhoo.

It got me thinking about my guy Gil- and called to mind this post that I wrote way back when I first was finding my voice here at colemining.

I wrote about him in the context of his initial character- the bullying leader, out for his own agenda- rather than the wise ruler he became as a result of his travel and discoveries.

Since today was the day that those running to lead this province as the next government were allowed to begin broadcasting their campaign ads, I thought that the topic of bullying and bullies could do with a little revisiting.

I haven’t had the television on today so I am able to live in hope (until I do catch a news report or a commercial) that this crop of political leaders will transcend the growing- and repulsive- trend toward attack ads as the norm.

Let’s keep it clean and on point, folks. There’s too much at stake for lowest common denominator mud-slinging and schoolyard name-calling.

We go to the polls on June 12. Make your voice heard, Ontario.

colemining

http://www.qacps.k12.md.us/mms/george/gilgameshpicture.jpg

Gilgamesh.  If there was ever a classic example of a  cautionary tale about leaders misusing their power to the detriment of the lives of the people, and the displeasure that this abuse caused the gods, the Epic of Gilgamesh is it.  A Number 1.  While there is a great deal going on in the myth, its warning against bullying tactics as a political ‘strategy’ is as important today as it was more than 4500 years ago.

The earliest extant version of the story dates to about 2100-2000 BCE, from the time of the Sumerian revival in Mesopotamia.  The Ancient Near East was a collection of City States, constantly battling for supremacy.  We have no precise dates for the historical King Gilgamesh (sometime between 2800 and 2500 BCE is likely), but he is mentioned in the Sumerian King List and tradition holds that he conquered the previous ruler to become king…

View original post 882 more words

The Humanity of Humanism

Despite the arrival of the vernal equinox last week, my part of the world seems determined to keep wearing its winter clothes.  Hope that this changes so we get to see some summer skies and meteor showers before too long…

I love Stephen Fry.  So much so that I started a post ages ago about his approach to the world and how he meets his challenges with grace and dignity (I had just finished watching Fry’s Planet Word on TVO- LOVE that series).  It’s one of a few posts that languished for too long in the drafts folder and then ended up in the trash since I couldn’t quite figure out where to go with it.  As can be seen in the clip, he speaks so well all by his ownself, he certainly doesn’t need me to reiterate the wisdom that he shares with his world.

Then my friend Lenny, over at Lenny May Say, posted the link the other day, and I’ve seen it pop up in a few other places since.  I love its succinctness, especially given my propensity of late to, um, let’s say, ‘run on’ about things more than a little bit.  Another one of those cases when something teetering on the edge of your mind finds expression outside of yourself.

I am often asked the question:  how do I find meaning in the world if I don’t believe in a god/gods.  It has been hovering implicitly- never quite out loud, most people have more manners than that- even more, recently, with the loss of my Dad.

It’s hard- although not impossible, even in this day and age and in downtown Toronto, to put together an organized ‘funeral’ (or celebration of life by another name) without including the trappings of religion/religious belief/sentiment.  People are so very well-meaning.  I say that with a feeling of complete sincerity that has been reinforced this past while as wonderful friends and acquaintances expressed condolences and concern in the days leading up to and following Dad’s passing.

Offered prayers and blessings are always gratefully accepted in the spirit in which they are offered.  One person’s prayer is another person’s positive message to the universe is another person’s demonstration of solidarity and support in this here world of ours, after all.

By whatever name it’s an expression of the connectivity we humans share in times of loss and pain.  And in times of joy and new beginnings, for that matter.  We want to help one another.  To share or attempt to alleviate the burden of sorrow and celebrate the wondrous happenings with those we love.

People ROCK.

I’m not a ‘defensive atheist’.  I’m comfortable with my non-belief and the reasoned and rational steps that led me to my worldview.  I don’t feel the need to defend it- although I will, at times and if under attack, stand my ground.  It’s ground on which I feel secure.

I’ve done my homework.  Years and years and years of it.  And the learning never stops.

My beliefs about the world- and the larger cosmos (are you watching that show, by the way?  You should be.  Neil deGrasse Tyson is another guy we all need to be watching) are well-examined.  I do my best to investigate the wisdom of those who have come before me and to temper their findings with my own experiences and awareness of the world as I see it.

I am not bereft– in any way- as a result of this non-belief.   I have heard things along the lines of ‘poor you, not knowing the love of the god in your heart’- over the years.  It leaves me bemused.  I am not bereft because I truly believe that the human imagination that can create gods with the compassion and love they are gifted with (when they aren’t being vengeful or judgmental) certainly has access to those same things in ourselves.  In our human selves.

I’ve been fortunate in my life to have met a whole lot of people who do so.  Access and manifest the kindness and love and goodness that others might deem the sole province of a created deity.

I’m all about this world.  My world.  The world that holds the people and places and things that I love, and respect, and wish to preserve.  It’s not a perfect world.  It isn’t inhabited by perfect people.  But I don’t see any value in hedging my bets by envisioning a ‘better’ next world- one that includes judgment and punishment and divisiveness in the name of one imagined deity or another.

If your worldview does include such a perspective on what might come after, I say ‘excellent.’  Whatever gets you through the days/weeks/years.  Whatever allows you to contribute positively to this world.  I have no problem at all with other people holding whatever beliefs they care to hold.  This is part of the freedom that we value and that work to preserve- here at home, and around the world when need be.

(Although this is not to say that I think we should be interceding all the time.  There is always more at work than differences of opinion as to what, exactly, constitutes freedom.  And politics and greed tend to get all mixed up in there a whole lot of the time- so all such actions must be handled with care.

Oh, and please don’t use your personal freedom of religious belief to attempt to diminish my personal freedoms and those of others whose opinions might not aline with your particular theology/ideology.  Do that, and my tendency to stand my ground might become a little more emphatic.  But I digress…)

A dear family friend- the connections between our two families are myriad- honoured us by speaking about Dad on Monday.  She is a retired Anglican priest (among other things equally interesting and illuminating), and she and Dad locked horns on any number of occasions about points of theology and belief.

She is well aware of Dad’s non-traditional approach to the life and teachings of Jesus.  She knows that he didn’t place a whole lot of importance in the divinity or non-divinity of the guy.  For Dad, Jesus’ message about community and social action was the teaching to which he held fast and afforded primary importance.

As she started her tribute- she is a true and talented storyteller- I knew that she would impart a message that was in keeping with both ways of viewing the world- her own and Dad’s.  She told a story about a child asking about what happened to people when they died- and the adult telling the child to look to the stars when such questions come up.  She pointed out the awareness we now have- through our scientific discoveries- that all life on earth is made up of pieces of stardust.  We are all stars.  And, as stars, we can never really be gone.  We are part of the universe forever.

It was a lovely amalgam of belief and science- and hit the perfect note as a remembrance of my Father.  These things can, and should, work together.  Just as we- whether we self-define as believers, scientists or atheists (or any number of other things over the course of our lives)- must work together.

Defensive, reactionary rhetoric is never progressive or remotely useful.

Stephen Fry knows this.  A lot of us do.  We just need to give those voices the airtime, rather than those who see fit to declaim their unexamined beliefs as statements of fact about how the world should work and why.

‘Slow slow slow, come come
Someone come come come
Even love is goin’ ’round
You can’t ignore what is goin’ ’round

Slowly rebuilding
I feel it in me
Growing in numbers
Growing in peace

People they come together
People they fall apart
No one can stop us now
‘Cause we are all made of stars’

Disclaimer: I don’t, actually GET Moby.  I’m not into his type of electronica and I find his persona somehow off-putting.  But this song is the obvious choice to accompany this post, so I’m giving it a chance.  Evidently he wrote the song as an expression of hopefulness following the September 11th attacks.  I can honour that- and empathize with the spirit and sense of the song.  And it is appropriate.  Even if it isn’t among my top picks.   We are all made of stars.

‘4am in the morning’

A day to myself.

It’s been so long since I’ve had one of those…

All day yesterday- truly one of the longest days of my life (that whole ‘time is relative’ thing again)- I kept thinking that ‘if I can just keep standing until tomorrow…’

I have a day off.  I’ve given it to myself- and firmly told myself that I needn’t do anything today that I don’t want to be doing.  I have the rest of the week to get things done and to gear up for the start of my new job (!) next Monday.  Today is for quiet and rest and the beginning of the recovery of my resources- which are a little tapped out right now.

We hosted a lovely celebration of Dad’s life yesterday.  So many wonderful people coming together to speak about him- either as part of the ‘formal’ celebration (it was hardly formal in any traditional sense) or during the reception afterward.  So very many wonderful people.  Friends, family.  People I hadn’t seen in, literally, decades– yet who took some time out of their day to share their memories of Dad- and of Mum- and of my sisters and I when we were but wee things.

I am quite drained.  Emotionally, certainly, but physically as well.  I’m not sure what that’s about.  I feel like I’ve been running marathons or something- and I sure as heck ain’t no runner.

But I don’t do idleness well.  After sitting on the couch this morning- catching up on local news (why do I DO that to myself?), I’m itching to get something accomplished.  There are lists to be made (oh, how I love lists)- of thank you cards to be sent, tasks that need accomplishing as a means of getting going on the realities that require attention after such a loss (the legal, the financial, the day-to-day things that need de- or re-constructing)… so much still to be done.

I’m not sure I have the requisite concentration level at the moment.

But this time of transition is about more than the great loss of Dad.  That’s the biggest thing, of course, and the one that it is hardest to wrap my brain around.

But…

For the first time in over 5 years I am not looking for a job.  I am not checking the myriad online job boards I have bookmarked on the laptop, or researching potential employers to better explain my suitability to join the organization in a tailored cover letter, or adapting my CV yet again to better convey the reasons why I would be an asset to the company.

I’m sort of at a loss.

Those who say that looking for work is a full time job know what they’re talking about.  And, for years, I was doing so whilst working a full time job.  And volunteering at my Museum.

Did I mention I don’t do idleness well?  Especially enforced idleness- even if I’m the one acting as the enforcer.  I told myself that today is just about chilling.  Not sorting through papers, not catching up on chores, not taking things to the dry cleaners.  Just vegging on the couch.  With a book.  Or catching up with my WordPress peeps.  Or a movie.  Or some music.  Hanging with the cats and with me.  With no one else around.  There hasn’t been much of an opportunity for that in the past few weeks.

I know this is a temporary thing.  I will be kept on my toes once the new job begins- lots to learn, people to meet- and I hope to pick up the volunteering again- slowly, and possibly in different ways than before- as I settle into a new routine.  I’ll be back running and feeling like there aren’t enough hours in a day in no time- of this I have no doubt.

So today is supposed to be about time for a little reflection and to catch my breath and sort through my own head a little.  Even though I was there when it happened- peacefully, and with the three of us at his side- I still have moments when I just can’t believe that he’s gone.

There is much to be taken on board.  Much of the ground beneath my feet has been rendered somewhat treacherous for the gaps in the foundations.

Ever since the Shuffle Daemon managed to shake me out of the total lack of clarity I was feeling after Dad died (as least insofar as I claim any real return to clarity.  I remain in more of a fog than is usual- even for me) I’ve been letting Mike Oldfield help soothe the jangled nerves.

Sometimes this is a little counter-intuitive.  Much of music is pretty much the opposite of ‘soothing’.  His hugely elaborate Tubular Bells (1, 2, 3 and the Millennium Bell) and Hergest Ridge albums feature movements that can shock you either awake or into awareness with their power.  The guy- and his talent (he plays all guitars- bass and otherwise- organs, glockenspiel, mandolin, bells- tubular and otherwise- and timpani.  Basically all the instruments)- are pretty staggering at times.  He was 19 when he recorded Tubular Bells.  19.   NINE-bleeping-TEEN.

But, in addition to the wondrous orchestral masterpieces, he has a number of songs that are more in keeping with the ‘singles’ that you might hear on the radio (radio still exists, right?)- with vocalists and everything.

The Shuffle Daemon seems sort of stuck in the way in which it is rolling out these songs for my listening pleasure.  In addition to the song I wrote about the other day- and included in the post I wrote about Dad, which I managed to read at the celebration yesterday- two others keep popping up, both featuring the wonderful vocals of Maggie Reilly.

Family Man tells the tale of the unsolicited attention that a gentleman receives whilst in a bar one evening- and his insistence that he isn’t ‘that type of guy’.  Nothing, really, to do with any of the memories I have of Dad, of course (but, as I noted the other day, our parents were people before they were parents, so who knows…) beyond the title.  Dad was certainly a family man.  We were the centre of his world- of that there was never any doubt- and my Mum was the love of his life.

Hall and Oates did a cover version of this song- which changes its tone quite completely.  At the end of their version the family man in question succumbs to the lure of the ‘lady of the night’- although it was too late to manifest his illicit choice.  And the quintessentially 80s video is so endearing in its cheesiness.  The clothes.  The production values.  That moustache!

And then there’s this song.

This lovely live version of the song- while lacking the crashing Oldfield-esque guitars of the album version- highlights the sense of loss that the lyrics evoke so beautifully.

It’s hard to choose a favourite from amongst the works of this guy.  Heaven’s Open is up there- for many of the reasons I discussed the other day- and for all the new associations that it has brought to me this week.  His artistry makes it reallyreally hard to pick one song above the others.

But Moonlight Shadow.  Moonlight Shadow.  I can remember the first time I heard it- and the many many many nights I’d sit in my bedroom listening to it on repeat.

‘The last that ever she saw him, carried away by a moonlight shadow,
He passed on worried and warning, carried away by a moonlight shadow,
Lost in a riddle that Saturday night, far away on the other side,
he was caught in the middle of a desperate fight, and she couldn’t find how to push through.

The trees that whisper in the evening, carried away by a moonlight shadow,
Sing the song of sorrow and grieving, carried away by a moonlight shadow,
All she saw was a silhouette of a gun, far away on the other side,
He was shot six times by a man on the run, and she couldn’t find how to push through.

I stay, I pray, I see you in heaven far away,
I stay, I pray, I see you in heaven one day.

Four a.m. in the morning, carried away by a moonlight shadow,
I watched your vision forming, carried away by a moonlight shadow,
Star was glowin’ in a silvery night, far away on the other side,
Will you come to talk to me this night, but she couldn’t find how to push through’

Some have suggested that it was written in response to the murder of John Lennon (despite the lack of correspondence between the timing of the events of that tragedy and those in the song), and Mike has allowed that it may have had some level of influence.  He had arrived in New York the day of the murder, and was staying a short hop away from the Dakota where Lennon’s profound voice was silenced.  Mainly though, he was thinking about a film he had loved about Harry Houdini (starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh), particularly about attempts to contact the late illusionist after he had died.

Like Mike, I am fascinated by the life and times of Harry Houdini- particularly by his attempts to expose false spiritualists who made money from the pain and loss of others.  I loved that about him.  That, and the close connection the guy had to his mother, and the loving relationship- which encompassed both the business and the personal- he and his wife Bess shared throughout their life together.

This song resonates, for me, personally, on a very specific level.  Years and years ago, my grandfather (Dad’s Dad) was staying with us while Dad was out of town on business.  One night, very late, I woke up and heard someone moving around in the kitchen.  Grandpa was down there, opening and closing the refrigerator door and wandering pretty aimlessly.  I asked him what was up, and he admitted to feeling restless and if something was wrong.  I put the kettle on and sat with him at the kitchen table.  In my memory of the event, I glanced at the cuckoo clock my parents had brought back from Switzerland, noting that it was 4 am, just before the phone rang.  The phone call informed my Grandpa that his youngest brother had just died.

A couple of years later, my Mum woke me up to say that she and Grandma (who was staying with us while Grandpa was in the hospital- Dad was out of town with work again) had to go out for a bit.  I was in charge- although my sisters were sound asleep.  I dozed off again, but startled awake not long after, feeling as if something was wrong, but also overcome by the feeling that my Grandfather was with me.

Unable to fall back to sleep, I went upstairs (I was sleeping in the basement, since Grandma had my room) and turned on the tv- catching the late night replay of CBC’s Video Hits.  A little while later they came home- surprised to find me awake in the middle of the night- and told me that Grandpa was gone.  It was 4am.

After Dad was moved back to hospital from the rehab clinic where he had seemed to be making solid progress, I found myself waking up in the middle of every single night.  Each and every time at 4am.  After the first couple of nights I didn’t even bother checking the clock.  I’d settle in on the couch, cell phone beside me, awaiting the phone call I felt would inevitably come.

When the call did come, it wasn’t at 4am.  For the first time in weeks I had slept through my own personal witching hour, until the nurse called me at 5:30.  As I called my sisters and arranged to pick them up to head to the hospital to be with Dad, a big part of me was honestly thinking that this couldn’t possibly be it.  It wasn’t 4am.  We had passed the ‘danger time’.

I don’t know why Mike Oldfield chose 4am as the pivotal time in his most wonderful of songs (I also don’t know why he included the redundancy ‘4am in the morning’– but I’ve tried to let that go in the name of artistic licence and lyrical metre) but it has always served to very personally connect me to the song.

4am is random- even when I look at my own experiences of that particular time of day/night.  It does serve to reinforce my awareness that we are all connected- to those we love and to those in the larger world who have had the same types of experiences- of family, of love, of loss- and that we all seek to share those experiences in the best ways we can.

Mike Oldfield is a musical genius.  He expresses and shares that genius through his songs.  My family and friends contribute their own forms of genius on a daily basis- sending their strengths and insights out into the wider world, and teaching me as I am touched by their examples.

So, even though it is my ‘day off’, I can let myself get away with ‘working’ since I am still taking my own prescription to chill and try to absorb all that has happened lately.  Writing, for me, can be work, certainly.  But it is also therapy- and the way I sort through my own feelings and experiences as I attempt to make manifest the gift of my life- and share the things that I have learned at the feet of teachers greater than myself.

PS- Even though I have run on more than long enough (even for me, this post is extremely long-winded), I need to thank all of you- here in my WordPress world- for the beautiful messages of condolence that you have offered in the past few days.  Anyone who claims that the online world is lacking in humanity or any sense of real connection certainly isn’t hanging with peeps like you all.  The messages are lovingly received with gratitude.

And a special shout out to Rachel at Rachel Carrera, Novelist for her kindness in nominating me for a couple of lovely blogging awards.  As usual, please, if you are so inclined, take some time to browse her site, and those of the other wonderful writers that I am lucky enough to interact with regularly here at colemining.  People are awesome.