35 Years Ago Today

To diverge a bit from the subject matter that has been consuming my attention lately, I feel like I have to mark an important anniversary today. Admittedly, this impulse came about when a younger work friend said, in all innocence, “what’s Live Aid,” when I brought it up in conversation.

Children.

After I turned into ancient dust and blew away on a gust of 80’s wind, I revisited some of the performances of that day through the myriad posts I was seeing that presented the individual memories of other oldsters like me.

Once upon a time Bob Geldof was a songwriter and singer in a band from Dublin.  The Boomtown Rats spent a fair chunk of a couple of decades in the ‘all time favourite’ spot on my personal list, and even today I get a little overwhelmed when I hear songs like

or

(likely their best known song – and one of the first popular songs I learned to play on the piano).  ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ was about school violence in the US, specifically a school shooting in California.  The song hit number 1 in the UK, but was denied airplay in the US as radio stations feared lawsuits and negative reaction from the religious right (interesting that those things are still major concerns – backlash from the gun lobby and the religious right – and still dictate too many things in that country).

They appeared in a fantastic ‘To Sir With Love’ spoof on SCTV:

I can remember madly searching for a blank VHS tape when it popped up on my television.  I still have the tape.

Their songs were largely ‘story songs’ – telling tales of people and places, slices of life in particular environments at particular times.  It’s interesting that they hardly seem dated or out of comprehensible context, despite the fact that they were mainly referring to characters in places like Dublin or London in the 1970’s and 19080’s.

The songs had elements of social criticism wrapped up in the lyrics – often about the lousy lot of the working class in the ‘Banana Republic’ that was Ireland at the time.  A ‘septic isle’ under the thumb of politicians, police and priests.  A place that was rapidly losing its young people to emigration – or the ongoing conflicts in the North.  It was a place that had banned the band from performances due to their outspoken critique of the nationalism, influence of the church and corrupt politicians that they felt were destroying their native land (again, the fact that this is still a thing should be concerning).

‘Banana Republic’ is a fantastic example of how social commentary can be voiced in an articulate yet entertaining manner.  Bob’s lyrics were often biting, but they demonstrated an incredibly clever mastery of language and turn of phrase.  The songs of the Rats always said something, and they said it in a tuneful, and often playful, way.

“The purple and the pinstripe mutely shake their heads

A silence shrieking volumes, a violence worse than they condemn

Stab you in the back yeah, laughing in your face

Glad to see the place again – it’s a pity nothing’s changed.’

There’s something entirely Irish about the lyrics.

In 1984 Bob saw a BBC news report about the drought and famine in Ethiopia.  Out of his horror at the images he saw came this:

He and Midge Ure wrote a song and started a movement to raise money as a response to perceived inaction on the part of world leaders to intervene in the tragedy that was unfolding in Africa.  It was the impetus for other musicians to take up the battle cry, and it brought extensive coverage to the issue.

Bob visited Ethiopia to see the extent of the tragedy for himself and realized that a large part of the reason that African nations were in such states of emergency was due to the repayments of loans to Western banks.  The song wasn’t going to be enough to even scratch the surface. Even when Americans and Canadians came up with their own songs, in response.

So he and Midge got back to work and planned and executed an unprecedented stage show that would join the world together for one day in a desperate and despairing plea for action in the face of incredible need.  By July 13, Bob was exhausted and in pain with a back injury, but his intensity over the course of the day and through the entirety of the live broadcast is palpable.

He continually reminded the audience why we were all there.  It wasn’t just the greatest rock show ever staged, there was an underlying purpose that made the trappings and egos of popular music irrelevant and ridiculous (the day that ‘Do They Know it’s Christmas’ was recorded he famously admonished all the participants to ‘leave egos at the door’).

The recordings from that day demonstrate just how far we’ve come – technology- and communications-wise, anyway.  These days a simple electronic money transfer in support of hurricane victims can be completed in a matter of seconds.  In 1985 there was more involved, and Bob knew that he had to drive the message home and maintain the intensity of the purpose so that people would get off  their butts and DO something to help.

It was a day of spectacle and excess (Phil Collins hopping the Concorde to play both Wembley and Philadelphia, comes to mind) – and, in addition to the incredible performances (check out Queen. Freddie held that crowd in his hands and revivified Queen in the hearts of many. The DVD highlights the contributions from other countries – INXS’s concert from Australia is still one of my favourites among their live performances), musicians found that their voices – raised together – could impact world events in a positive way.

Over the course of that day, the way we thought about popular music and its ability to affect social change was forever altered and a new standard was set.

A lot of people have done similar things since then.  They have used their celebrity in ways that benefit others (Bono started on his path to real political involvement after Live Aid) and raised money and petitioned governments on behalf of many people in need of aid and intervention.  But Bob was the first to see the worldwide possibilities that could come with the exploitation of love of music.  No one has used music and story as a means of communication as earth-shatteringly as did Sir Bob Geldof.

He has continued his charitable movements for Africa and global peace, achieving success – and his share of critics – over the subsequent decades.  His caustic straightforwardness has earned him derision and some enemies.  He can be an insufferable jerk. He has amassed a fairly vast personal fortune – and may or may not have paid taxes on some of it.  His personal life has seen more than its fair share of ups and downs and negative publicity.  He is an unlikely hero in many ways.

That said, Bob used the tools that he had to hand – his background as a songwriter/musician, his connections in the music and music journalism industries, and a seemingly endless supply of energy and passion – to start a worldwide movement that is still resonating in our popular culture.  He was recognized, at 34, with an honorary knighthood by the Queen, yet refused to sit on his laurels.  He continues to fight for social justice and reform in a number of spheres.

The Rats’ new album is really good (although its exposure has been hampered, as has the great output of so many artists, in the times as they are, right now) – and is reflective of that same drive, even after the passage of the ensuing decades.

On this, the 35th anniversary of the day that changed me – as I learned that those things I love best can help to change those things that needs changing – please remember that there are many contemporary artists who are doing their part to make manifest the lesson I learned 35 years ago today. Art, when wielded well, can do more than bring pleasure and comfort – it can change the world. Listen to what they have to say – and support them however you can.

P.S. If you didn’t get to experience it when it happened, definitely take the time to watch Live Aid in its entirety.  Over and above the significance of the day, it featured some incredible – and some never-to-be-repeated – performances.  It was truly a day of wonder. 

Praying for Time?

Late last night, sitting in the basement, hoping that the latest bout of insomnia would pass, I got to thinking about some things. So doing was, admittedly, not the best course of action if I was looking to put myself to sleep, but what are you going to do? Brain is going to brain.

Spurred by an earlier chat with one of my dearest dears, I thought about the importance of words (a common theme – back when I spent a whole lot more time hanging about these parts) and the impact of time – in all its conceptual varietals – on the way we use words.

After what can be described, at most, as ‘fitful’ sleep, I woke this morning to discover that I wrote and hit publish on these words a year ago today.

Add to that the fact that ‘FOMO’ cropped up in conversation earlier today, along with my diligent attempts to keep to my goal of 1000 words/day in an effort to get shape and record the thoughts in my head (a narrative that includes a whole bunch of apocalyptic ideations, actually) sometime before the (increasingly likely) end of the world, and I’m starting to feel like January 11 has something in common with Groundhog Day.

So, while I ruminate further on this seeming pattern, here’s a revisiting of my thoughts ‘on this day’ in 2017.

colemining

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…

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Monstering and #MeToo

With Hallowe’en just around the corner, it seems like an appropriate time to address something that has been bugging me for some time now. It’s a phenomenological extension of the ‘othering’ that is epidemic in the current climate of nativism and exclusionary rhetoric – things that have no basis in anything other than artificial constructs and institutions of power that belong in the past.

How’s about we stop calling people monsters?  Denying the humanness (detestable as that humanness might be) of actions while criticizing behaviours and/or worldviews abrogates the responsibility for those acts/beliefs. Attaching a supernatural element to the inimical suggests an inability to ensure its cessation.

Monsters are, by definition, MONSTROUS. Created (in our mythologies) by nature, by humans, by gods, to be inhuman scapegoats for all those crimes that we just can’t seem to acknowledge that we – us people – are capable of committing.

There has been a lot of monstering happening over the last week.

#MeToo is a powerful indicator of much that is broken in our societal system(s). The evidence – as presented by people who have been marginalized by our institutions and traditions – is reaching critical mass as we speak up and refuse to accept old adages about boys-being-boys while still being slut-shamed for having the audacity to wear whatever we want, when-and-wherever we want to wear such things.

The number of women responding through social media and identifying themselves with the hashtag started by Alyssa Milano (ETA – apparently the hashtag and movement was created – quite some time ago – by Tarana Burke) doesn’t – sadly – surprise me. Nor – again, sadly – do the instances of men leaping to condemn, using the same, tired, gaslighting that persists on university campuses, in workplaces, on city streets, and in darkened bedrooms during house parties. Everywhere, really.

That women experience harassment and assault on an ongoing basis is tautology. #AllofUs might be a better hashtag – if we’re trying to demonstrate the ubiquity of the issue. But that gets us into grey-areas of negation of the primary message (comparable to the offensive inanity of cries of ‘all lives matter’ when discussing systemic inequity and imbalance), and the primary message is important. Institutionalized abuse is not something that will be tolerated anymore.

Every #MeToo is representative of a lived experience – one that affected the humanity of the woman who experienced the abuse and/or assault. And each hashtag is deserving of respect and sensitivity to that personal – yet also universal – ordeal.

I applaud the awareness campaign – and the rapidity and comprehensiveness with which it has spread – yet I question the efficacy of the social media movement (of any such social media movement, really) since it sings, mainly, to the choir, while permitting the uneducable trolls to spread their vitriol, per usual.

Especially when we classify the humans (and let’s be real, here. We are, mainly, discussing men) as ‘monsters’, denying their culpability in mistreating their fellow-human beings.

We keep doing that.

As an example, since November of last year I’ve seen myriad and multiplying posts, essays and articles claiming that the IMPOTUS is a ‘monster’ for ignoring the circumstantial realities of the citizens over whom he claims leadership.

He is not a monster. He is an abhorrent and immoral and detestable human, who seeks nothing but the furtherance of his own selfish desires. A poor excuse for a human, to be sure, but denying his humanity serves no purpose in any discourse that will help to disempower him and his ilk.

Externalizing evil – and separating those who do evil from the rest of us – is the absolute best way to ensure that evil is allowed to continue. I’ve spent most of my adult life playing Devil’s Advocate (literally. It’s the premise of my forever-in-progress-novel, in fact) on this point.

I will defend to my dying day the assertion that the worst of the manymany crimes committed by the institutionalization of Xianity lies in the development of a supernatural entity designed to displace human responsibility for all the terrible crimes we commit against other humans.

Disclaimer: I’m well aware that the Xians didn’t invent the concept, but man, did they run with it. Those early Fathers and Apologists had a whole lot of internalized darkness that needed external repositioning. SMDH.

Falsehood, assault, mistreatment, inequality and inequity – all these things are human behaviours linked to human-created concepts of power and privilege that are being brought to light in significant ways through media that were un-dreamt of even a decade ago. This illumination deserves and requires immediate action, but we cannot construct new modalities for our social interactions if we cling to archaic personifications and flippant descriptions that permit the evasion of knowing responsibility by those who choose to engage in behaviours that are anathema to progressive society.

If we don’t change our language, we permit the continuation of narratives that allow people who act in opposition to those ideals that we know demonstrate the right and proper ways of interacting and cohabiting on this planet to continue to abuse the privilege we, collectively, refuse to revoke.

Men are already aware of the magnitude of the problem. They are the problem. Do NOT ‘not all men’, me, here. The power imbalance lies now, as it has historically, in favour of the male of the species. That is one of the artificial constructs that we must keep working to change.

#MeToo, and other comparable awareness campaigns, are not about beings with supernatural or superhuman abilities. Abusers are not monsters. They are people – with, presumably, the ability to learn and grow and progress, developmentally, beyond a state that permits (and, too often, celebrates) abusive and anti-social behaviour as it is directed against their fellow-humans – regardless of gender.

Do they need numbers pointed out to them – through the impersonality of the social media screen – to understand the extent of the damage that is still being caused? Are those who enjoy the benefits of institutionalized power – and the permitted violations of other people supported by those institutions – likely to give any weight to the experiences of those who participate and identify themselves through campaigns like this one?

I’m not sure my faith in humanity runs quite that deep.

But. #MeToo is a powerful illustration and empowering acknowledgement of the problem, if nothing else.

Societal permissions are not going to change unless and until we stop vilifying the perpetrators as creatures outside of the parameters of humanity. Which doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be vilified. All people who abuse their power (putative or realized) and behave in ways that negatively impact those around them must be held accountable for their actions.

But we need to check and define our terms. Language is, itself, powerful, and the words we use impact the ways in which we interact with the world. Labelling heinous human behaviours as ‘monstrous’ may make us, on some level, feel better about our own humanity and what that might mean – separating us from those who act in ways that seem incomprehensible and egregious – but it imparts a sense of invincibility, imbuing pathetic abusers with more dominion than is warranted, while attaching a strong sense of inevitability to their actions that is both deplorable and entirely unsupportable. No actions are inevitable. Anti-social behaviours are preventable.

Calling atrocious humans ‘monsters’ makes them seem inexorable and impossible to beat back. They are not. Progressive evolution and education – and the discussion that can come out of effective and affecting social media campaigns – necessitates the putting away of childish stories about supernatural entities that ameliorate all those bad actions which illustrate the dark corners of our shared humanity.

Unless and until we truly understand and inculcate the reality that we are perpetuating a status quo that continues to support the abuse of our fellow humans as some sort of unfortunate but inevitable side-effect of maintaining a standard of living in the pursuit of some nebulous, exclusionary, materialistic dream (American or otherwise), nothing will change.

People that engage in destructive and anti-social behaviours are not monsters. They are humans. Bad humans, but humans none the less. We can fight against the wrongs perpetrated by other humans. It is our responsibility to do so. Acting in concert and tearing down the structures that permit the continuance of such unchecked behaviours is the only way to invalidate that which is monstrous in our societies. Part of that tearing down requires a definition of our terms.

We are collectively responsible for the monstrous people who walk among us. In order to call to accountability and punishment those who have been permitted to abuse others the rest of us need to ensure that the conditions that nurtured such behaviours and attitudes are irrevocably destroyed.

That said, #MeToo. Too many times to count – yet each indelible occurrence lives on with me, integrated into my brain and body and impacting the ways in which I interact with others.

#MeToo – because I am a woman, and because I live in this world that humans have created – one that supports the continued ascendency of anachronistic constructs that place men above women, people of one skin colour over others, humans from some parts of the world over those who live in our own hometowns.

And one that permitted the election, by humans, of an admitted sexual predator to one of the highest leadership roles on the planet. As important it is to talk about the rampancy of abuse and assault in general (as spurred by revelations, long-ignored, out of Hollywood), we need to address the fact that the IMPOTUS was elected with full knowledge that he committed those same crimes.

Removing him from office and revoking his entitlement and heretofore un-checked privilege is the best way to make manifest the comprehension of the message that has been spreading through social media over the past few days. With the din of cognitive dissonance growing ever-deafening, it might be the only way to do so.

 

 

 

 

The tools we have to hand

20258081_10154588033600964_1306340685664480_n.jpg‘Todmorden’ by STEEN (used with permission of the artist – and the proud owner – ME!)

I’m not sure where the summer went – although, if we’re honest, this wasn’t the best of the best that we’ve come to expect ’round these parts. Still, there is something always-melancholy about Labour Day weekend. It’s been more than a few years now since I’ve returned to school, and I find myself missing the preparations involved in getting back into the classroom at this time of year more than at any other.

In retrospect, the past few months have had a melancholy tinge about them. Call it a mid-life crisis if you will, but I’ve been struggling with envisioning how this next part of my life might go. I don’t feel like I’m living up to my potential – however that may or may not be quantified.

Some of that reflection stems from missing my parents. It’s not a feeling that even really goes away, but their absence has seemed greater to me over the past little while. I’m not sure why that is – something I’m still trying to figure out – but it’s left me questioning a whole lot of stuff that I had fallen into the habit of taking for granted.

Couple that with the anxiety-causing nonsense to the south of us – and elsewhere in the world – I’ve been feeling like I need to get back to doing something that will permit me to make a move toward positive change. I’m still sussing out the parameters of that – and what such a move might look like, ultimately, but it is a work-in-progress.

A number of years ago I began following the FB artist page of a friend from the old ‘hood. The evolution of his work has been hugely interesting – and incredibly inspiring. Back in the Spring he exhibited at a gallery down on Queen West, and a couple of my friends and I went to check out the work we’d been seeing live-and-in-person.

I was blown away by both his vision and the incredible detail he inserts into every piece of art. In talking with the gallery owner, I started to think seriously about undertaking a commission – in support of Brandon’s continuing growth as an artist, but also as a tribute of sorts to my parents.

Dad was a great patron of Canadian art and artists. His collection of Inuit sculpture sits in my living room – in some cases, accompanied by letters from their creators. I remember being with him when some of the purchases were made. I feel a fair bit of ownership over one piece, in particular, since I fell in love with it from the moment we entered the gallery in Old Quebec.

Rather quickly I made the decision to begin the commissioning process, and Brandon and I had a wonderful chat – after many many years. He visited the house, and photographed some of Dad’s collection, and, over the course of another great catch-up session, gleaned a whole lot of remarkably keen insight into me and my family.

The result is at the top of this page.

I grew up within spitting distance of Todmorden Mills – in the Don Valley, and I live, currently, not that far away. I can catch a glimpse of the spire when we pass through the Prince Edward Viaduct on the subway commute every morning. It’s been a landmark in my life for as long as I remember.

The image on the large wall is Brandon’s representation of my favourite of Dad’s Inuit sculptures. Mom and Dad’s names appear in the graffiti. My little lost Dude smiles at me from the window. The centre mosaic of Grandpa’s ceiling at the ROM runs up the spire. My love (seemingly misplaced, this season), of my hometown Jays. Even the Spaghetti Monster is there – as a giggling nod to my personal (lack of) beliefs.

I continue to be stunned every time I look at it – and the glow I still carry from being privileged enough to be able to have participated in the process (in however minor a manner) of the creation of something so beautiful and so meaningful is a fully-realized reminder of the many great opportunities provided to me by my upbringing and the strength of those personalities that I’m lucky enough to call my parents and grandparents.

That wonderful experience is one element of this latest quest I’ve undertaken. I’m looking for new directions, career-wise, and questioning whether it is time that I get back into the world of pedagogy.

I’m trying to write more – some freelance articles that take me back to esoterica of my academic life, and (per always) the fiction projects that seem to change course every time I give them some time and (attempted) focus.

That last bit meant that I had to attend one completely practical matter. I needed a new laptop. If you go back through colemining posts, you might recall that my MacBook died, oh, close on three years ago now. Since then, I’ve made due with a hand-me-down I inherited when we lost Dad.

I never seemed to be able to just go out and make the purchase of the better tool – one that could hold a battery charge, that didn’t freeze if I had too many widows open at once, and that I could bookmark for ease of research and reference. I admit to being a master of procrastination when it comes to certain things (the things I just don’t want to do, for example), but my unwillingness to commit and purchase the new computer was starting to seem a wee bit pathological.

I bit the bullet a couple of weeks ago – largely because we were heading to the cottage and I wanted access to all the music that lives in iTunes but has been unaccessible to me for the past three years – since iTunes was another thing I refused to install on Dad’s laptop. He had his own account, and it felt like I’d be erasing something of him, if I replaced it with my own music.

A computer is a tool – I certainly do my best not to be chained to mine – but the reality is that the one I had been using had outlived its efficiency and efficacy. But it was Dad’s. As much as I LOVE my new tool (it’s SO fast! And I missed MacWorld. Regardless of what haters might say, it’s the best tool for the uses to which I tend to put the thing), the old one still sits on my desk, waiting to be wiped and recycled.

I’m not there yet.

It will likely sit for a time, still, until I’m ready to go through the files and revisit the ways in which Dad used it as his tool for so long (he may have been almost-74 when we lost him, but he was more computer-savvy than a lot of folks my age).

I’m trying to focus on the many – less-tangible, but far more important – tools that were bequeathed to me and my sisters by our parents and grandparents; the history and the wisdom and the experiences that helped in the making of us. Those things that have helped to create – and allow us to create new history, experiences, and, hopefully, wisdom, as we take up the tools we find along our own paths.

Brandon used the tools he has to hand – his talent, his discipline, his insight, his vision of our world – to complete a creation of beauty and remembrance for me and my family to treasure and pass on to those who might come after us. I will never be able to thank him enough for employing those tools as successfully and beautifully as he has done, for the delight of all of us.

My toolbox includes such things as a knowledge of the lessons of history; the importance of art of music, and the human expressions of our shared stories; the deeply-held belief that these arts and stories are the most important things that describe and define the reality that we are all more alike than different; an inclination (compulsion?) to string words together; and, if I’m honest with myself, the ability to teach about some small aspect of all of the above.

Those are the tools that I’m working to pick up again. They might be slightly disused, but I believe they’re still serviceable. I have an amazing example, now living on my wall, providing me with constant inspiration about what is possible when tools are turned to intended- and best-use.

Brandon Steen’s next exhibit is at the Elaine Fleck Gallery, 1351 Queen Street West, November 1-30.

“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.

 

 

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.

 

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

 

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

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

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

Back in March I wrote this. Even though it was not my circus, so the behaviour of its clowns shouldn’t have concerned me all that much, after too many months of nativistic, misogynistic, xenophobic and racist rhetoric I HAD to say something.

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

8 months ago I said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Stephen Stills)

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

I remember. Je me souviens. 

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

Photo by I.am_nah on Unsplash

 

No.

Image result for if you can't say something nice

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

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

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

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

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

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

So. I have a question:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Priorities are all out of whack. Everywhere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like HELL it does.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unchecked, it can bring down civilizations.

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

So.

No.

Just no.

Increasing the Nones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which isn’t good.

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

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

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

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

What a thing to behold.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bread and Circuses

Sticking with thoughts about calliopes*- in particular, their ability to draw in the listener, their encouragement of us rubes to come and join the fun of the midway- and the chasing of said music machines, I’ve noticed a certain thematic recurrence featuring circuses and such like things ’round these parts.

It’s partly the time of the year. Any day now- with the summer spectacle of the Pan Am and ParaPan Am Games a fading memory (a hearty ‘well done’ to all the organizers, volunteers and athletes, by the way)- the ads for the CNE will begin to dominate the airwaves (if they haven’t done already- I’ve mainly avoided the airwaves lately. More on that later) marking the end of the summer.

It’s not feeling like the summer is anywhere near its end right now- we’ve had a stretch of crazy hot-and-humid sort of days (all fine with me)- but there is a shift in the type of energy- and a definite sense that back-to-school and the winding down of all things summery is in the air.

It’s hard not to get caught up in a new energy. My next door neighbours are creating quite the sensational fuss, what with being (currently) two games behind the Yanks in the AL East and turning up the heat as contenders for the first time in decades. There were 40+ thousand people down around my house every day last weekend as the Jays hosted those guys from NYC. That’s a whole lot of people creating a whole lot of buzz (I’ll refrain from stating the obvious- that more than a few were certainly ‘buzzed’- on expensive SkyDome beer…).

Please don’t think I’m hopping on a bandwagon here. I’ve never, really, jumped off. Not fully, anyway. Some of my fondest memories are of shivering in the cold at Exhibition Stadium in the days when the Jays first arrived in town- and before they moved to the Dome (sorry Rogers-types- it will ALWAYS be the SkyDome, as far as I’m concerned), with its ability to shield us from the elements somewhat.

1985, for example, was a banner year for the club- marking the first time we won the division championship- and the accomplishment was marked on the weekend with a celebration of the players that made that happen. The nostalgia was pretty phenomenal. Good to see all the faces that marked the shift to the Jays becoming contenders and welcome them back with some big love.

And then there was ’92 and ’93. I was in the early years of my exile in the Nation’s Capital (what was I thinking?!? Hindsight and 20/20 and all that), so I missed the electricity that powered the city as the Jays won back-to-back World Series- led by some of the greats of the game (Joe Carter remains a personal hero of mine- for reasons that go way beyond his ability to swing a bat and catch a ball- but, oh, that home run and that catch…). But I yelled and screamed my support from various couches and sports bars in Ottawa and cried with the rest of my hometown when the boys of our northern summer brought home the Canadian bacon (as I laughed at the ineptitude of the folk in Atlanta who hung the flag upside down. Ah, ‘Mericans. Gotta love ’em).

And I’ve attended a few less-than-stellar outings since I came home and moved in next door. Even bought a cap with their ‘new’ logo a few years ago (although I really like the one with the Maple Leaf a whole lot better).

I’m getting cautiously optimistic. Torontonians are wise to temper their sports enthusiasm with some caution- our teams are notorious for their shared ability to trounce all over our raised hopes and dreams. But I am getting a little caught up in the excitement- while yet holding on tight to my oft-broken heart.

I’m also a little distracted, and I’ve now distracted you with my talk of my local sports heroes… Let’s bring it back to the point, shall we?

The late-season surge in energy and hope for contention is also indicative of the fact that we will be setting aside our summer-dreaming (for those of us privileged enough to have been able to take breaks from the norms associated with ‘making a living’ and all that adulting-type stuff) as the cooler practicalities of the fall start to set in. A last hurrah, as it were.

Although I’m now five full years out of the classroom, I still feel that back-to-school pull- the nervous energy that comes from course set-up and the preparation to meet all the new minds that I might be permitted to influence. A new year- in a sense that is more real, somehow, than the changing of the calendar that we mark in the dead of Canadian winter.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been suffering from a significant pulling-back and sitting-out of late. Through an (on-going) process of introspection and general examination, I’ve isolated some of the reasons behind this ennui. One cause that keeps rearing its head is a need I’m feeling to distance myself as much as possible from the calculated distractions that are offered up everywhere we turn. It may seem a tad hyberbolic, but I really think that my recent avoidance of things of import is a reactionary and somewhat unconscious recoiling from the nonsense on television and elsewhere in the media these days.

The lead-up to the election is a big source of disgust disquiet- and I’m certain that our soon-to-be former PM is not unaware of the general public malaise that is sure to be the foregone result of a campaign lasting eleven freakin weeks.

Which calls to mind that wondrous old Juvenalian concept of ‘bread and circuses’. He used it to denounce what he saw as the self-involved nature of the ‘common people’ and their willful ignorance about wider concerns and matters pertaining to things like civic duty. Not one to pull punches, was Juvenal.

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

Were the people culpable for their anomie and disengagement? You betcha. But the fact of the matter is that even wayway back in Ancient Rome (one of the cornerstones of the democratic/republican- using both terms in their original senses-systems that we hold in such vaunted esteem), leaders opted to give the people what they think they wanted as a means of garnering support.

Plus ça change. The satisfaction of shallow desires- for free refreshments and hollow entertainment- remains the biggest tool in the kits of contemporary politicians. And the owners of media conglomerates. And heads of national and multi-national corporations.

If they all, together and separately, keep us diverted by the next big show streaming on Netflix (or by a story about a wonderful show- one that was produced with the intent of making early education accessible to children from all socioeconomic backgrounds- moving from a publicly-funded broadcaster to a pay-for-service cable channel), encouraging support for the local college football team (as we funnel money into such programs while things like actual educational standards at the same college suffer from lack of funding), or just by being a buffoon that appeals, inexplicably, to the ‘real’ people, then we mightn’t be inclined to delve deeper into the issues that are driving the continued inequities and flat-out wrong directions in which they are attempting to take us.

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

The other day a friend posted a link to an article talking about how a developer is planning on building a hotel on the grounds of the CNE (former home of those Blue Jays). Jaded as I am by the state of development in this city, it didn’t really surprise- although it did appall more than a little since that place is sort of sacred ground for a lot of Toronto-folk. When I thought about it a little more, though, the symbolism of such a thing seemed insidiously apt- building towers so that the populace can actually stay overnight ON the circus grounds? Why didn’t someone think of this before?

Of course, all these ‘leaders’, public and corporate alike, will claim that the distractions are well-intended and meant to protect us and our best interests.

Sure.

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

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

We are not children- and yet we seem to be more than willing to let our leaders distract us with shadows on the wall, with bread and with circuses, rather than to pay close attention and free ourselves from the cave of superficial perception.

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

I needed to re-learn that piece of Socratic/Platonic wisdom. When chatting with my wee sister on the way to Sunday dinner, I admitted that I have had to ‘unfollow’ certain friends on the facebook, what with the lead-up to the federal election. I’m having issues with seeing posts in support of certain soon-to-be-former PMs and the rest of his merry misfits.

Wee sister commented that she keeps such peeps around in her feeds- since she likes to examine arguments from all angles. Ouch. That one stung. I like to think that I am past-master of hearing all sides before deciding my own perspective, but I have to say that certain attack ads and the front-and-centre-ness of a whole lot of rhetoric on the parts of all of the federal political parties has made me want to turn off the tv and tune out of the written articles permanently.

That, combined with a little article I saw in the New York Times yesterday morning, have reminded me that the examination of the whole has to be taken in consideration, regardless of how obvious our own conclusions might seem to be. Overcoming confirmation bias- when we aren’t even aware of it- is a trickytricky thing, sometimes. It’s easy to see all those places in which we are right. Identifying the wrong bits… that involves looking at things from all sides- and in all lights.

Which means checking back in. I’ll have a look at and listen to all the posturing and politicking- whether or not it reinforces what I already think is the right answer- and re-engage in the process. Looking beyond the shadows on the wall isn’t always fun, or easy, but it beats becoming blindly subject to the bread and the circuses that they use to mollify us and keep us quiet. And maybe, just maybe, by doing so I might manage to drag a person or two out of the cave to join those of us who aren’t satisfied with what the mollifying shadows might be selling.

(Yes, it’s that Mike Oldfield guy again)

Treat me like I’m evil
Freeze me ’til I’m cold
Beat me ’til I’m feeble
Grab me ’til I’m old

Fry me ’til I’m tired
Push me ’til I fall 

Treat me like a criminal.
Just a shadow on the wall

The plan: ignore the shadows on the wall- flailing desperately, as they do- while they try to convince of their ‘truth’, and head back into the light, and reality. Pulling whomever I can grab along with me.

And what the hell. What’s life without a little hope?

Go Jays Go!

*Another indication- should you need more- about that whole interconnectedness thing about which I tend to go on and on and on… Having eschewed television (for the most part- baseball games don’t count- and they lost to the Phillies (!) last night- I popped on my rally cap and everything!- so I might have to rethink my optimism a little. Although it was an interleague game, so it doesn’t really count…) I’ve been reading a whole lot lately- and that reading has been focused on authors who create great characters.

Since Mr. Stephen King is pretty unmatched when it comes to introducing us to people who leap off of the pages, I decided to give ‘It’ a go. I thought I’d read that one- years ago, actually- so I was expecting a re-read (I definitely remember the cover of the novel- with Tim Curry as Pennywise) but this is my first immersed visit to the town and its folk. My memories of the story come from the miniseries- which starred EVERYBODY! What a cast that was!- so getting to know the characters through King’s written words has been excitingly brand new.

Anyhoo… one of the characters first encounters the big nasty that plagues the town of Derry after he follows the sound of a calliope playing ‘Camptown Races’. Fortunately, Stan manages to escape the manifestation of the festering source of all that is wrong in Derry, but the incident marks him for the rest of his life. Calliopes- with their associations with the liminality that has always been a feature of the carnival and sideshow- can draw us to things better left unvisited. Mr. King is wise in his warnings. Stray tunes, carried on the wind- or drawn from memory- can be harbingers of a great deal of trouble.

Figuring out which song is safe to follow can be dangerous business. Yet taking a risk has to be better than stasis and stagnation…