‘The Calliope Crashed to the Ground…’


One of my very best BFFs seemed to be reflecting upon a park in New Jersey last evening, and posted a line from a particular little ditty as her status on the facebook. It got the song running through my head, of course- the super-rhyme-scheme is catchy as all get-out, but the version that popped in there was Manfred Mann’s cover of the tune, rather than Bruce’s original.

Which, while not surprising perhaps, got me thinking some interesting things about creativity and muses and suchlike.

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

Shrines to the Muses- museums– are pretty much the closest I tend to get to entering places of worship on anything like a regular basis, and as anything other than a tourist. I like museums. A lot. They are places of reverence, to me. And they feel like home. The Muses are definitely ladies after my own heart- even if I have seen neither hide nor hair of their influence lately.

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

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

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

Kalliope is usually described as the eldest of the sisters- something I know a little something about. She’s also considered the wisest… but I’ll leave that one alone, lest my sibs take offense (Happy Middle Child Day to the mid-sis, BTW. Who knew there was such a thing? I guess I missed the notice while I was busy celebrating International Cat Day on the weekend. We humans are ridiculous sometimes…).

I’ve been more than a little short on the inspiration and harmony lately. I mentioned all that a couple of weeks ago (has it been weeks, already? Time does fly when you’re out of creative juice…), but I have been trying to pay closer attention to the things going around me since then, so I suppose some progress is being made.

Complete aside, but somewhat indicative of my re-engagement with things that matter… we’re in the throes of the longest election campaign in our history (thanks current, but soon-to-be-former, Prime Minister for that ill-use of our taxpayer dollars) and I had the opportunity to challenge my MP- who never did answer my letter (written after receiving the inadequate response I talked about here), inquiring about just what the Hell he was thinking in backing the current, but soon-to-be-former, Prime Minister’s ill-begotten, fear-mongering, Bill C-51- when he knocked on my door a couple of nights ago. More fool him. After the first 10 minutes I’m quite sure he was reallyreally wishing he’d just left the little card without venturing a knock… He has less than 10 weeks to convince me that his party deserves my vote- our convo certainly left me doubtful he’ll be able to do so. We’ll see how that turns out…

I’ve given some thought to sources of inspiration and creativity- and, funnily enough (that interconnection thing again), I flippantly referred to a friend as my (small-m) muse, since he was more than a little responsible for my last post. I used a winky-faced emoticon when I said it, but some emoticons hide truth, sometimes, methinks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inspiration can come from any number of sources. I tend to find mine, most often, in other people. With our contemporary state of communication being what it is, social media can be, for all its faults, a sometimes-useful tool to catch up with the important peeps and tap into those things that are driving them forward. Or just keeping them going.

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

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

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

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

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

… here again

Incredulous.  

One of my favourite words, and certainly something I appreciate in others.  Mainly because its opposite- credulous– just isn’t something I get.

At all.

I’ve talked about it before.  Most recently in recounting my reread of Dr. Sagan‘s The Demon Haunted World.

And one of my all time go-to books of profound influence is all about credulity.

In Umberto Eco’s incredible Foucault’s Pendulum, its narrator, Casaubon, after years of education and experience, opted to become credulous for a time.  As we meet the various nefarious characters- those involved in the conspiracy theories and elaborate tales of the survival of the Templars, the Rosicrucians and immortal characters like the Comte de Saint-Germain, we grow, along with Casaubon, in the realization that credulity is among the most dangerous of human vices.

Casaubon was named after the classical scholar Isaac Casaubon- the ‘most learned man of his time’ (1159-1614), who challenged the ‘common wisdom’ of the day with his research into texts and historical writings- but also referenced his son, Méric Casaubon, the author of (among other things) On Credulity and Incredulity in Things natural, civil and divine (1668).  In that work, as a man of his times, he argued (again, among other things) that witches must exist- since everyone believed in them.

Eco’s Casaubon is a melding of the father and the son- learned, yet willfully credulous.  Why not?  Everyone else seems to be.  He remains one of my favourite literary characters.

I first read this book when I was at something of a crossroads (those crossroads again…).  I had taken a year off from my undergrad while I attempted to figure out just what direction I wanted to be taking with my studies.  I had decided that journalism wasn’t for me, Medieval Studies was too limited in time-frame, English wasn’t interdisciplinary enough… What to do?

I remember sitting in a favourite tiny hole-in-the-wall in Ottawa (the Ozon Cafe on Charlotte at Rideau- LOVED that place- the chef would eventually become one of my dearest friends) and reading about the damage credulity can wreak if allowed to run unchecked, and thinking to myself that I’d reallyreally love to DO something about making sure that we become less credulous and more discriminating- in what we believe and why we believe it.

The ‘Diabolicals’- so named by the three literary co-conspirators Belbo, Diotallevi and Casaubon, with patronizing disdain- created flimsy connections between historical events to support their theories about the occult secrets of the world.  In creating their own conspiracy theory and contriving to have it fall into the hands of the Diabolicals, the creators let credulity overtake their lives and, ultimately, ended up either dead or deluded as a result of their imaginary/constructed Plan.

I can honestly and legitimately say that Umberto Eco- and Foucault’s Pendulum, specifically- was one of the driving forces that landed me in Religious Studies (there were others- Dad was reading all kinds of interesting things about de-institutionalizing religions that gave me some food for thought, and I’ve always been intrigued by our collective stories).  But the terrifying prospect, illustrated in Foucault’s Pendulum, of credulity run amok was too much for me to face.  I had to start learning about how and why people would choose to willingly and blindly follow the prescriptions/proscriptions of cultures that disappeared millennia ago.

Generally speaking, I am predisposed to trust people and the fact that sofreakinmany remain willing to be trapped and stunted by credulity is still- even after so very many years of studying and, at times, participating in experiential communities- inexplicable to me.  Generally speaking.

Of course, credulity isn’t something that it restricted to religion(s) and religious/spiritual belief(s).  The gullible/unwilling to do the research can be found in other spheres.  Ones just as influential and potentially dangerous.

Government conspiracy theorists are high up there on my list of people I really don’t want to engage in ‘conversation’ at the mo’.  I’m not suggesting that we should ever sit by, complacently, and let our leaders run roughshod over our democracy.  Never that.  We have responsibilities as citizens of democratic nations.

The primary duty is to actually get out there and participate in the process- by voting- after examining the issues and the response and proposed solutions in order to choose our best possible leaders.  So you voted and still don’t like the way things are going?  Get more involved- volunteer, start a grass-roots movement, write a blog post…

But believing that our elected governing bodies are ALL working- ceaselessly and with contemptuous greed- to deceive the voting public about everything?  C’mon now.

Communicating and articulating informed perceptions of our realities is the only way out of the quagmire of superstition and credulity in which we seem to be trapped.  Buying the line of chatter offered by a talking head that is likely on the payroll of an institution with a self-serving mandate ain’t gonna cut it, folks.

As humans we see connections between things- that’s one of the many ways in which we attempt to make sense of the inexplicable.  I do that.  A lot.  The back catalogue (such as it is) hereabouts demonstrates that little fact quite clearly.  We create meaning from the bits and pieces of things that surround us.

I get it.  I do.  But I don’t structure my life according to these perceived connections.

Just because a bunch of people (or Fox News) tell me that the POTUS wasn’t born in Hawaii doesn’t mean it’s true.   A few radical racist anti-semites tell us that the Holocaust never happened?  Not according to the historical and human experiential records we have available to us.

Millions of people are willing to accept that a book of stories and social strictures is the divinely dictated word of a deity?  I’m not one of them.  I did that homework, and drew different conclusions- based in evidential research that says something else.

Last weekend (last weekend?  Really?  It’s Friday again already?  Where is the summer going?) I took a road trip to our Nation’s Capital to help celebrate the wedding of one of my dearest friends in the world.  On the long drive, I let the Shuffle Daemon have its head and set the playlist.

This one came up as we drove:

I seem to be living my life in placeholders these days.  There just aren’t enough hours…

Matt Johnson.  I don’t throw the word genius around lightly, but this guy… Brilliance.  Embodied.  He will be revisited at some point.

For now…

Recorded between 1988 and 1989, Mind Bomb is an album heavy on the politics and religion- and the politics of religion.  That ^^^ little ditty is profound and prophetic in so very many ways- and the introduction (Are you ready Jesus?  Buddha?  Mohammad?), with its allusion to The Sweet’s Ballroom Blitz (a song about another sort of chaos) is just sososo clever.

 ‘The world is on its elbows and knees, it’s forgotten the message and worships the creeds…’

Yep.  Why?  Because ‘they’ tell us to do so.

Did you catch the news this week?  Have you seen what is blowing up, again, in the ‘Holy Land’?  And the political maneuvering that is happening as a result?

It’s past time to stop listening to ‘them’ in our credulous intellectual laziness.

 Informed rationality.  That’s what it has to be about.

Heavy thoughts for a beautiful Friday evening in my City on the Lake.    Going to shake off the week, and I’m thinking that, perhaps, I’ll let Matt’s reference lead me into my weekend- which will involve the usual chores and catch-up and some reading (and maybe even some writing) that I’ve been meaning to get at…

But for now…

‘My dreams are getting so strange, I’d like to tell you everything I see…’

Happy Friday!

‘Ye who enter here’

A month or so ago, Anne Rice- an author, and individual, I have long loved- asked, on her Facebook page, about whether or not people believe in Hell.  I didn’t respond at the time, since I wasn’t sure that stating the obvious was the type of feedback she was looking to find.  I don’t think she was looking to count my ‘no’, but rather that she was after input into the idea(s) about Hell- and if there are people out there who buy into that little nightmare of our mythology.

I sort of forgot about it, to be honest.  Although Anne has examined the ideas of Heaven and Hell, both in her Vampire Chronicles and the her more obviously-searching books about the youth of Jesus, I wasn’t sure where the question was sourced, and didn’t really feel like getting involved in a listing of the reasons why Hell makes me so angry.

If you’ve been following along with my discussion here about the Devil, then you’ll likely already be aware how I feel about his supposed abode.

While I love the richness of the mythology surrounding the concept, in the main it makes me mad as, well, Hell.  To the extent that it woke me up at 4ish this am (there’s that time again) and left me unable to get back to sleep in anything like a timely fashion.

I don’t get it.  I don’t get teaching about it- for the sole purpose of scaring people into ‘goodness’.  Teaching small children that such a place of eternal punishment lies waiting for them if they don’t behave according to particular interpretations of rules and regs that were millennia old before they were even sparkles in their parents’ eyes…

Eesh.

(Almost as bad as that little idea that we are born into this world in a state of sin.  Not quite as bad, but almost.)

And then, on her page a few weeks later, there was this.

Sigh.  Just when I think that there is progress being made in the RCC from the leadership all the way down…

Exorcism.  Seriously!?!?  I have to admit to being a little a little disappointed in Il Papa over his comments on the subject.

Last weekend, while out with some close friends for our annual Victoria Day Brunch (or annual ‘Roofie Breaks his Champagne Glass Brunch’ as was the case two years in a row- he managed to keep all the glassware on the table this year), on the patio of our fave French Bistro, the discussion turned to Frank (can we call you ‘Frank’, Your Holiness?) and the changes he is attempting to implement among the Party Faithful.

I am not Roman Catholic (to re-state that which should be obvious)- but I have studied a great deal about the history of the Institution- both ancient and recent- and Roofie, who was raised RC and teaches in the Catholic School Board, is always interested to hear my thoughts about things that are going down in the development of the doctrine and practices, such as they may be.

After touching on the recent elevations to sainthood (I have to admit that I have a real soft spot for John 23- that guy had some real chutzpah– Vatican II, his work with refugees during the Holocaust, and things like the removal of the word perfidious as a descriptor of the Jews from the Good Friday liturgy and the fact that he made a Confession, on behalf of the whole of the Church, for the centuries of the sin of anti-semitism… THAT’S my kind of Papa…), we talked about Frank and the politics of the role of Pope.

Frank is a demonstrable Voice for change- like those I’ve been prattling on about ’round here for the last while.  Small steps, perhaps.  But small is better than none.

So I was disappointed to hear that he’s still prattling on about the Devil.  And he doesn’t seem to be talking about him as a metaphor.

Again I say ‘Eeesh.’

As something of a counter-balance, I noticed this on the HuffPost religion page today.

S’truth.  Saul o’ Tarsus wouldn’t have had much at all to say about Hell.  As a construct, it didn’t hit high on the Concern-O-Meter of the earliest of them there Christians.

Although there were certainly myths in the Greek and Roman mythological traditions about complex levels and areas of the afterlife- places of pleasant fields and family vs. places you really don’t want to be caught, well, dead- for the Jews, and the belief-systems that influenced and informed the biblical worldview and mythology, Sheol was simply a place of housing ALL the dead- good, bad or middling.

By the period of the Second Temple, some of those Greek ideas started creeping into the mythology, so there were the first hints of divisions in the place of the afterlife- an area for the good, and one for the not-so-good- and suggestions that Sheol was the holding place for the wicked.

Around 200 BCE, as the Hebrew texts were translated into Greek (in Alexandria), the word Hades was used in place of Sheol, precipitating the overlap of the traditions even further.

Add to this the influence of Zoroastrian dualism and the development of apocalypticism and you had an evolving and rapidly-changing presentation of what the ‘life’ to come might offer us after we pass from this world.

There were also extra-canonical (in the Targums, mainly) mentions of Gehenna as the place of punishment of those who did evil while on earth.  Gehenna (remind me to tell you about an incident with a Ouija Board and a ‘spirit’ named ‘Gehe’- crazy teenagers, we were) was a physical, earthly place outside of Jerusalem where non-Israelites (and, sometimes, apostate Israelites) sacrificed children to Canaanite gods- like Ba’al and Moloch- generally in furnaces.

Eventually, this place of earthly sacrifice came to be re-envisioned as a place of punishment and spiritual purification of the dead.  In the Synoptic gospels, Jesus uses Gehenna as description of the opposite of life in the Kingdom.  English translations of the New Testament often don’t distinguish between the three- Sheol, Gehenna and Hell- meaning that interpreters without knowledge of the Greek texts often lump all three together.

As the mythology developed- from its many original sources and the imaginations of writers and visionaries- visual and literary conceptualizations of Hell became more specific.  As Jon M. Sweeney noted in his article, Dante Alighieri bears the primary responsibility for the shaping of our Western impression of the geography and theology of Hell.

How ironic is it that our collective conceptualization of a place that remains in use as a caution against proscribed behaviour was framed by an allegorical poem- however beautiful and rich in its imagery and language- written in the 14th century?

I’ve chatted before about the wonder that can be found when our stories are interpreted when their origins- as metaphor and allegory- are acknowledged and understood.  Dante illustrated the importance of the recognition and rejection of wrongdoing (as defined by his cultural and temporal context) as he traversed the Nine Circles of suffering- located within this planet of ours, echoing the Greek and Roman influences from which he drew his imagery.

The Inferno is one of my favourite works of literature.  Dante used folks familiar to his readers as examples of the misbehaviours he was declaiming- politicians, popes, enemies and friends- alongside characters from myth and history whose stories were well-known by an audience better-read than those these days tend to be.

The allegory retains its validity and poignancy seven centuries later.  Setting aside arguments regarding sin and punishment as dictated by doctrine or cultural mores- and its Christian centred theology (as would be expected from a man of his time), the place in the poem that most resonates with me, today anyway (since each reading brings new insight and appreciation to light), isn’t actually part of Hell-Proper at all.

After entering the Gate, but before traversing Acheron and meeting Charon, Dante encounters the Uncommitted- those who chose to do nothing– whether good or evil- in life and suffer eternal stagnation as a result.

I’m thinking that, were Dante’s vision an actual place, that vestibule would be pretty full up these days.

Those who pursue the banner of self-interest and apathy don’t even make it into HELL.  That’s a pretty potent statement.  And a lesson that has demonstrably not been learned, 700+ years later.

Although I enjoyed his article and his assertions that our Medieval conceptualizations of Hell as ‘useful in promoting crusades, colonizing and “conversions”‘ are well past their sell-by date,  I have to disagree with Sweeney’s last thought.

Re-imagining the afterlife isn’t the point.

As creative and mysterious and fantastical as our human imaginings about ‘afterlives’ might be, it’s long past time we stop being concerned with and focused on the rewards/punishments of a mythical next world and acknowledge that our lack of engagement in this one is a slippery slope that is contributing to the proliferation of wrongdoing in this world.  The one that we live in NOW.  The one that we will leave to the next generations.

If we’re on a highway to Hell- whether in this world or the next- it is most certainly one of our own making.  Expecting that ‘someone else’ is going to fix it abrogates responsibility to a treacherous degree.  And traitors, whose acts in life betrayed their human relationships- relationships with family and with community-  were housed in the 9th circle.

With Satan himself.

Since the Vestibule of the Uncommitted must have long ago become Standing Room Only, I vote for Circle #9 for the new home of those who remain stagnant and unwilling to participate in making this world a better place.

Allegorically speaking, of course.

Season ticket on a one way ride
Askin’ nothin’
Leave me be
Takin’ everythin’ in my stride
Don’t need reason
Don’t need rhyme
Ain’t nothin’ that I’d rather do

Regarding goat rodeos and other suchlike things

 

I don’t know how I missed this.

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

It’s still blowing my mind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not long ago I threatened to talk about these guys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I still get choked up when I watch that video.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Circular Motion

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

We called it Celtic Hour.

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

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

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

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

Anyhoo…

Celtic Hour.

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

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

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

‘Life goes on…’

It won’t stop popping into my head.

Seriously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yep.

Same building.

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

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

But that kind of blew me away.

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

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

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

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

There’s this other song…

(Speaking of Scottish music/musicians)…

You know I love Donovan.

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

Brilliant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life goes on.

In a circular motion.

And it can be pretty damn beautiful.

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

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

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

Sleep well, WordPressWorld.

The Devil’s Music

I have such a love/exasperated (can’t say ‘hate’- I ‘d never hate them) relationship with U2.  They have made some of my favourite music.  Seriously.  So many of their songs figure prominently in the continually developing soundtrack that is my life.  But man, some of the stuff that comes out of Bono’s mouth these days…

The other day Pete Yorn- a fabulous singer-songwriter who I follow on the Facebook (seriously, check him out.  Great stuff)- was asking people to name their fave U2 song.  It got me thinking.  There are a whole lot of great ones to choose from.  As I say, they are a formative/foundational band in the development of my youthful love of music.

This one is near the top:

‘Don’t believe the Devil, I don’t believe his book’

Sure, the song is (at least partly) about the unauthorized biography/biographer of John Lennon, but the imagery of the devil and ‘his’ book is just tootoo apt, in my humble opinion.  The creators/recorders/redactors of the mythology, theodicy, rules and rituals of diverse and often-disparate biblical literature assigned a whole load of culpability to one figure- and those minions who chose to follow him in rebellion.

‘But the truth is not the same without the lies he made up.’

We use the devil to illustrate the opposite of what is ‘right’ and proper.  Without him- and the many ‘wrongs’ he manages to consistently and continually tempt us to execute- we have a great deal of difficulty determining proper course.

It isn’t enough that we have long lists of things we are supposed to be doing- whether those things are mandated by religious command or communal laws and consensus- we are, apparently, so easily influenced that we require constant and ever-changing (these things are culturally relative, after all) examples of ways not to behave.

These bad things are fluid to a ridiculous degree.  Unlike the larger prohibitions that are written into our legal systems- the big stuff like murder, theft, property damage (although even these things can be ‘condoned’ in specific- generally politicized- circumstances)- elements of our morality are subject to change according to the times and the ideology that holds the most power at any given time.

These actions are most often associated with that Devil Dude.  If a particular group of people decides that, say, a type of music is the result of the persuasive intervention of an external entity messing with the ‘proper’ order of things, and if that group has money and power and the means to communicate this message of ‘evil’ to a community of followers… the Devil receives all credit for culpability of origin.  The behaviour comes to be associated with him- and as something that is directly in opposition to his ‘good’ counterpart.

And if that type of music can also be associated with a marginalized group of people, then those people are also lumped in with the horned one and his disruption of all things good and ‘godly’.  As mores and tastes change and evolve, the music might eventually come to be regarded as ‘mainstream’- and acceptable to those who hold true to ‘strong values’- yet the stigma of association with the Big Baddy remains.

Labeling something as ‘evil’ or ‘against god’ gives its negative association an unreasonably long shelf life.  Those things that his detractors claim belong to the Devil are incredibly tenacious in their resonance across time and generations.

U2’s God Part 2 is an appreciative echo of John Lennon’s God.  In it, John deconstructed a whole passel of beliefs and constructs that he saw no need to hold onto as he remade himself as ‘John’- no longer the Dreamweaver, or the Walrus, or 1/4 of the Beatles.  Just John.  With Yoko.  Believing in the two of them- but not in the idols (religious and secular) he listed after declaring that ‘god is a concept by which we measure our pain’.

‘I don’t believe in magic
I don’t believe in I Ching
I don’t believe in Bible
I don’t believe in Tarot
I don’t believe in Hitler
I don’t believe in Jesus
I don’t believe in Kennedy
I don’t believe in Buddha
I don’t believe in Mantra
I don’t believe in Gita
I don’t believe in Yoga
I don’t believe in Kings
I don’t believe in Elvis
I don’t believe in Zimmerman
I don’t believe in Beatles

The song marked his new beginning as he let go of the trappings of the past to move in a new direction- one that would eventually lead to Imagine– and its beautiful vision of a world without religion, heaven or hell.  A world focused on this life- that we spend here together on this big ol’ rock in that we call ‘Earth’ for the duration of our lifetimes.  The song remains timeless in its simple beauty- both for its music and its message.

That guy knew.

(Short aside here- again with the links and connections that I keep harping on… As I write I have Forrest Gump on in the background- 20th anniversary of that movie.  How did THAT happen?  Where has the time gone?- and it’s just at the scene where Forrest is on Dick Cavett’s show with John- ‘inspiring’ him to write Imagine.  Weird).

And then there’s this:

‘I believe we’re not alone
I believe in Beatles
I believe my little soul has grown
And I’m still so afraid…

What made my life so wonderful?
What made me feel so bad?
I used to wake up the ocean
I used to walk on clouds
If I put faith in medication
If I can smile a crooked smile
If I can talk on television
If I can walk an empty mile
Then I won’t feel afraid
No, I won’t feel afraid
I won’t be Be afraid
Anymore’

Bowie recorded that song for his 2002 album, Heathens.  Since much of it was written and produced after the attacks of September 11, 2001, most of the album illustrates the pervasive anxiety felt across the country and around the world in the immediacy of the aftermath of the terror.

He has said that the album in its entirety is one of deep questioning- hence its title and the subject matter of many of its songs.  He stated in interviews that it was reflective of our collective trauma but that he wasn’t seeking to resolve the trauma.

Great songwriters do that- as they play the Devil’s Music.  They reflect and comment upon our experiences and sometimes even posit new directions that might make a difference to our overarching existence as human beings.

Gods and devils are both concepts which we use to measure our pain.  As metaphorical markers they have value.  Our earliest attempts to understand our world use story and metaphor.  We learn- and teach- using universal concepts that resonate with us because of their apparent immutability and simplicity.

‘Good’ is better than ‘Evil’.

Pretty easy, right?

Too bad the simplicity is always complicated by greed and politics and power plays.  This inevitability is part and parcel of our human nature.

So.  If John Lennon, David Bowie and U2- and all those who came before and after them- are playing the Devil’s Music there’s even more reason to appreciate the Horned One, if you ask me.  He obviously wields some mighty influence leading to incredible songs that are also expressions of our human nature.

Sometimes you have to take the bad with the good.  Unfortunately just what fits into which designation isn’t always all that easy to discern.

Musicians contribute their voices to the battle for the maintenance of the goodness and rightness of our humanity, often speaking out against governmental and other power-based inequities and wrong-doing.

I’ve said it before.  I’ll likely say it again.

Music.  And Science.  Both associated with the Devil.  Both often running counter to the accepted traditions/norms that fight change in favour of clinging to obsolete ways of viewing our world.

I think there are patterns forming hereabouts…

 

Dad

He was my first ‘follower’.

When, after thinking and talking about it for ages, I finally started this blog as a way of writing about some of the things that I deem important, my Dad was the first one to subscribe to colemining.  Even though the blogging world was a bit of a terra incognita to him.

He always encouraged us- me and my two sisters, and pretty much anyone else who came into his charismatic sphere and stayed for any length of time- and he knew that I had things to say that needed to be said.

He was my biggest fan.

Always.

We were so very fortunate- growing up and now, as adults- to have been raised by parents (and an extended family of grandparents and aunts and uncles- biological and otherwise) who encouraged us to find our own way in the world and pursue those things that most resonated with us, personally.

You see, they knew that they had raised us to be concerned about things larger than just us, that they had instilled in us the reality that we are part of a community.  They trusted us- and they trusted themselves- enough to know that they had created three responsible, independent and thinking citizens of the world.  Individuals who learned the most important lessons that can be taught- and who will hold firm to the mandate that shaped both their lives: that we are all required to do our best to leave this world a better place than we found it.

Our own paths- guided by intelligence (both inherited and nurtured) and kindness- perhaps kindness above all else- are the legacy of two wonderful people that anyone who ever met them feels privileged to have known.  Being supremely lucky, I got to have them as my parents.

When Mum was diagnosed with a form of early-onset dementia, Dad became her constant and always-doting companion and care-giver.  We often forget that our parents were people before they became our parents, but, through Mum’s long illness until her eventual death, we got to witness the playing out of a love story that Hollywood couldn’t come close to imagining.

One of their oldest, dearest friends sent this memory to me- all the way from Australia:

It is always so sad to lose one’s parents, regardless of their age or yours. It is the end of an era. Take comfort in the fact that he had a great, happy, long and useful life. When we were young and used to go out together, it was such a joy to see your parents — a couple so very much in love — I think your Dad beamed from ear to ear during the whole of their wedding ceremony! It was also the very first time that they had ever met or even heard of (her boyfriend at the time, now husband of many decades) as I was otherwise engaged, so the invitation did not include his name. Whilst other friends heartily dispproved, when I contacted your parents, they graciously said, “whoever you choose and want to bring to our wedding is alright by us. We want you to be happy and you both will always be welcome in our house” and they certainly stood by their word and the rest is history. We have never forgotten their kindness and generosity over the years.’

And this:

 ‘How time flies — it seems like yesterday when your Mum would call home to see if Rick had written and if there was a letter, she’d fly home during lunch hour to get it. So all of us knew that it HAD to be serious! Your paternal grandmother said she KNEW it WAS, as she didn’t think that your Dad was capable of holding a pen in his hand, let alone producing a letter as he had never ever written to HER when he was away so Betty HAD to be very special to get even one line from him!’

That last bit was news to me and is so veryvery ironic, I can’t even tell you.  It has become a running joke- in our family and beyond- that Dad must be on the no-fly lists of a whole bunch of countries- starting with our own.  He LOVED to write letters.  To politicians, especially.  And had NO problem AT ALL spelling out exactly where they are falling short of his expectations of them- and the responsibilities of the job to which they were elected.  (See?  I come by it honestly.)  I guess all those love letters he wrote Mum served to loosen his pen…

I lost my Dad this week.

We lost my Dad this week.  My sisters and I, and everyone who knew him.  The condolences and memories that are flooding in a constant stream into inboxes and voicemailboxes are markers of the impact that this man had on his world.

You may not be aware of it, but those of you who are kind enough to spend some of your precious time hanging with me here in the WordPress World also lost him.

All the words I write, all the truths I seek to discover and all the stories I try to tell, they all have a kernel- and sometimes a great deal more than a kernel- of my Dad at their heart.

Another of his lovely friends wrote this in an email to me today:

‘When I think of your dad I always think of him as a seeker of knowledge and truth.   I see him with his beloved books reading passages to us that he thought needed to be read aloud and discussed.

I think of him in the middle of many and varied lively conversations holding us accountable for our opinions…

I don’t need to tell you how proud he was of the three of you. He wanted you all to find your own path and pursue it with zest. He would tell us all about what was going on in your lives. (Don’t worry he didn’t divulge any of your secrets).  He loved to read your “colemining” blog and was especially touched when you wrote about your grandfather.’

Yes.  I definitely come by it honestly.  I am my father’s child.  Of that, there is no doubt.

He was proud of us.  There is, truly, no higher praise.

I was proud of him.  All my life.  The person he was filled me with constant pride and amazement.  His ethical conscience and concern with social justice was unmatched.  His life was spent in service to others- to ideals that are bigger than any one person, certainly, yet, somehow, seemed summed up in his very being.

He led by example, instilling in us the reality that boundaries- of race, religion, socioeconomic situation- are human creations– and, as such, subject to constant examination and re-evaluation.  Prejudice- of any kind- is unacceptable.  Unexamined beliefs have no place in rational discourse.  People matter.  Outdated ideologies do not.  Except as cautionary tales and reminders of how far we have evolved and developed as civilizations.

The Shuffle Daemon hit me hard, on the way home this evening.  It does that, sometimes.  Picks up on what I’m thinking and figures out just what I need to hear.

This is that morning
It’s waiting for you
The face of destiny
Standing before you

This is zero hour
Now is for you
Can you feel that power
Inside of you?

Through this priceless moment
In your possession
Answers to mysteries
Stand in succession

This is zero hour
And there’s no way back
Can you feel that power?
In its arms you’re wrapped

All through the night-time
‘Til the sun comes in
Now heaven’s open
Just to fly right in

Now you stand in that garden
This is that vision
Out on the world’s edge
It’s your baptism

This is zero hour
And your hands are free
Can you feel that power?
It’s ecstasy…

There is irony, I realize, in including a song called Heaven’s Open (the version isn’t the best quality, TBH, but it’s the only one I could find) in a post dedicated to my father.  Dad didn’t believe in heaven.  He was all about the importance of this world– and about living a life that positively affected this world.  If he believed at all in destiny– it was about the need to create and fulfill one’s own goals- schooled in experience and education and awareness and engagement with the world around him.

You gotta know that I don’t believe in heaven.  But, as I wrote in the post I reblogged yesterday, the idea of heaven, as a metaphor, or archetype, drawn from our shared mythology as a means of dealing with loss and pain, is beautiful, and so very human in its hopefulness.   So that, along with the evocative power of the lyrics of that song…

The Shuffle Daemon knows.

Mike (or, in this case, Michael) wrote the song in 1991 as part of the final album he was contractually obligated to provide for Virgin Records- with whom he had something of a contentious relationship (after he pretty much ensured the success of the label for that Branson guy with the success of Tubular Bells).  It’s a kiss off.  A lovely and elegant kiss off, but a kiss off all the same.  It’s about new beginnings- and it’s about finding the power within oneself to move past the things that have kept you stagnating.  Or imprisoned.  Or confined in any way at all.

I love Mike Oldfield.  He is a musical master.  And an interesting character.

I love my Dad.  Dad loved music.  It was a significant part of his life and he made sure that it was a significant part of ours.  He was also an interesting character.

He spent much of the last few months imprisoned by his own body, laid low by various infections that the doctors couldn’t quite seem to get a handle on controlling.

He’s not imprisoned any longer.

Thank you for giving us the tools to create our destinies, Dad.  Wrapped in the arms of the power you gave us, we will try to live up to your example.  We will leave the world a better place than the one we inherited.  Just as soon as we figure out how to navigate a world without you in it.  Which we will.  Eventually.  You taught us well.

Heaven’s Open, Dad.  Fly right in.

Chaos is my enemy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Order vs. chaos.

The maintenance of the balance of the two.  Not the eradication of chaos- that would mean self-destruction, after all, coming as we did from the body of chaos herself- but the careful manipulation of behaviours so that order can keep it in check.

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

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

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

Bottom line (I’m trying to be succinct, for a change)?  Those things associated with order became the rules that described what is good.  Acting outside those rules became all about the evil.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But c’mon.

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

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

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

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

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

And, unlike evil– and the way in which we tend to pass the buck by labeling and externalizing actions/people as such- chaos will always remain a part of the world and its perpetual motion.

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

I know he’s right.

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

PS- So much for being succinct…

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

‘We watch in reverence’

You know that thing?  That thing that happens when something- a word, a person, a concept- comes into your immediate frame of reference and then seems to be everywhere?

You do.  You know what I’m talking about.

Way back when (it’s only been a few months, but somehow it seems like eons ago) I wrote a little bit of a thing about our selfie culture and what larger meaning and impact that whole mindset is having on us, communally-speaking.  I also wrote something- even longer ago- about our current sorta mayor and his particularly heinous form of self-aggrandizing.  I don’t want to think/talk/write about him right now.

I also noted, much more recently, there are (at least) two great bloggers out there writing about narcissistic personality disorder, who have seen fit to acknowledge my own humble scribblings hereabouts.  As I said, I know little about clinical narcissism, myself.  From a psychological and/or diagnostic perspective, anyway.

But the subject keeps popping up…

Just today, for example, it appeared in my Facebook feed in a HuffPost article.

There’s a double-edged sword to all the potentiality for wonder and discovery in this world of ‘information sharing’ that we have happening.  There are SO many great sites- fiction, non-fiction, poetry, music, essays, opinions… there are myriad variations on endless themes out there.  But, as I’ve also mentioned, the lack of editorial control sometimes means that there is content out there that requires that we look at it quite critically  (certainly with a keener eye than is our general practice) to ensure that the material is coming from more than a troll-ish imagination that seeks attention and cares little for source checking or anything like documented support to ideas and statements.

There are also those sites that are devoted to pure vitriolic hatred- but they are easy enough to spot and avoid.  The pages of those with narcissistic leanings can be a little more insidious (like narcissism itself), since, needing attention, they have learned to disguise their manipulative ways by claiming to be talking about something else.

One such page was brought to my attention recently.  Generally I would have had a look and then dismissed it from my mind never to visit again.  But this page… In addition to the fact that it is poorly written (the grammatical and spelling errors are almost physically painful) the blatant pandering for attention is out of control.  Again, not normally my concern.  Except that such poorly-written blogs can be a little like a train wreck- and it can be hard to stop looking out of sheer amazement and morbid curiousity.  They often remind me of some of the more classic (using the word loosely) assignments I received while I was teaching, and so provide an element of nostalgia alongside the horror.

This one has stuck with me since it seems to be an exemplar of specific narcissistic tendencies- in particular the pathological drive to maintain contact and receive attention (if the ship of positive attention has sailed, then, evidently, negative attention will suffice) from those who have terminated relationships with the narcissist.

It’s such an inexplicable response that I can’t even wrap my head around it.

Ursula, at An Upturned Soul, wrote a post that helped me understand this propensity, at least a little bit.  She also noted that narcissism, as a theme/buzzword, appears to be the newest popular ‘trend’ in pop psychology.  For those who have experienced life with someone with narcissistic personally disorder this must be met with mixed emotions.  Everyone may be jumping on the bandwagon of late, but, as Ursula notes, overexposure and then boredom with the subject (side effects of our limited attention spans) will happen and something new will fill the void of topical psychological diagnoses.

I have had little personal experience (thankfully) with NPD.  But the other day a colleague asked me to define ‘narcissism’, so I inquired about the context of the question.  A mutual friend described the person she is involved with as a narcissist- and, not having even basic internet search skills, she didn’t know where to begin to look to discover what such a designation might entail.  I explained that there is a significant difference between narcissism as a character trait and narcissistic personality disorder as a pathology, though both terms come from the same source (it turned out that the person in question, while something of a ‘vain peacock’ does not, likely, have NPD).

You know I love words- and I’m all about the myths from which some of them originated…

Narcissus was the son of a river god and a nymph.  Something more than human, and, by all accounts, quite something to behold as far as physical beauty is concerned anyway.  He was also a jerk.  He delighted in the effect that he had on those foolish enough to think that a pretty face meant that he might have a heart/soul to match.

The version of the story that most know comes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.  The mountain nymph, Echo, sees and loves Narcissus, who spurns her advances and leaves her lonely and existing as little more than a remnant of her true self- a hollow reverberation that is the source of our word for the (partial) repetition of a sound or thought.

The goddess in charge of revenge- Nemesis- is unimpressed by this behaviour and causes Narcissus to fall deeply in love with his own reflection- his exterior love mirroring his interior love of himself.  Since this love would forever remain unrequited, Narcissus died alone and in agony that it could never be fully realized or properly addressed.  He pined and wasted away because his self-centredness was so encompassing- both before and after Nemesis played her little trick-  it never allowed for the presence of another person in his life.

Other versions of the story- both contemporary with and earlier than Ovid’s- end even more bleakly, with Narcissus actively killing himself when he realized that no one would ever live up to his self-idealization and replace himself as the centre of his own universe.

The takeaway from all versions of this story is that extreme selfishness/self-involvement/self-love- whether stemming from pathology or personality- is never going to end well.  As one of my blogging buds said a while back (I’m pretty sure it was Beth Byrnes- check out her post that I reblogged earlier today- awesome stuff, always), the historical pendulum- that has seen our societies move from a norm that was community-centric to one that highlights the importance of the individual- has swung too far.

We need a happy medium.  Yes, one must pay attention to the needs of oneself in order to effectively contribute to the addressing of the needs of the many.  Definitely.  No argument at all there.  A little selfish hedonism every once in a while is certainly acceptable and to be encouraged- provided it is done without completely ignoring our responsibilities to those with whom we share the planet.

Our systemic self-interest is directly connected to our lack of historical awareness and engagement with the lessons that have come before- those that are recorded in our collective myths and the events of significance that we can all access, should we be bothered to stop thinking only about ourselves and take the time to actually and actively LEARN something.

I know.  I’m lecturing.

It isn’t all about ‘ME’.  It CAN’T be all about the individual.  Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not, our societal structure is in real danger of crumbling beneath this misperception- that the things we do need benefit us and us alone.  We are encouraged in this belief by our leaders- mainly through the lies rhetoric that speaks about people looking for ‘handouts’ or a ‘free ride’- at the expense of ‘the rest of us’.

Systemic selfishness is NOT an acceptable way of approaching the world.

Back in the Dark Ages (or the 1970’s), a band called Genesis (which then included Mr. Peter Gabriel) recorded and regularly performed an epic song that is both a work of musical genius and employs lyrical imagery that alludes to our shared histories and mythologies over the course of its 23 minutes.  It’s a commentary about- among other things- religion/spirituality, society and personal journeys.

Section IV- entitled ‘How Dare I be So Beautiful?’– references a solitary person, seemingly obsessed by his own image and evokes the story of our friend, Narcissus.  The heroes of the song witness his transmutation into a flower and are, themselves, pulled into their own reflections in the water.

The next section- ‘Willow Farm’– sees them emerge from the water and find themselves in a new reality- where everything moves and changes quickly and everyone seems mindlessly busy.  With each random blast of a whistle, everything changes into something else.  (Keep in mind that this was written in 1972.  Holy prescient view of the technological future in which we now find ourselves, Batman!)

After passing through the Apocalypse (there’s that apocalypticism creeping in- societal discord seems to make that happen), Magog is ultimately defeated by the forces of good.

It’s a powerful piece- made even more so by its employment of the imagery and archetypes that are drawn from our shared mythologies.  Its length (given the shortness of attention spans these days) and the fact that it alludes to all kinds of cool stuff, likely renders it unapproachable- to too many people- these days.  Like so much else of value.

Part of understanding the value of the Humanities is the necessary comprehension that we NEED to look outward- as well as inward- to really manifest our connection with this world of ours.  The fact that narcissism- with all its meanings- is such a topical term of late seems to be profoundly illustrative of the fact that this reality has been neglected- to our extreme and dangerous detriment.

And the fact that our putative leaders encourage and lead us by example into these behaviours?

Sing it, Pete.

So we’ll end with a whistle and end with a bang

And all of us fit in our places

With the guards of Magog swarming around

The Pied Piper takes his children underground

Dragons coming out of the sea

Shimmering silver head of wisdom looking at me

He brings down the fire from the skies

You can tell he’s doing well by the look in human eyes

Better not compromise, it won’t be easy

666 is no longer alone

He’s getting out the marrow in your back bone

And the seven trumpets blowing sweet rock and roll

Gonna blow right down inside your soul

Pythagoras with the looking glass reflects the full moon

In blood, he’s writing the lyrics of a brand new tune

Songs to Learn and Sing

So… today is another one of those examples of polarization that I keep talking about.

Ostensibly about love, do a quick internet search and you will be presented with at least as many posts about how Valentine’s Day suuuuucks as you will find links to the ‘perfect gift/thought/outing’ to plan for/with a special someone.

Flipping back through what I’ve written the past while, I can’t help but notice an extremely un-cole-like preponderance of negativity and cynicism overshadowing my thoughts and the words I’ve felt compelled to share here on the WordPress.  So while I could (and almost did) write something about how this ‘Hallmark holiday’ is nothing more than yet another example of the hyper-commercialism of society and one of the many things that keeps us distracted from stuff we need to be thinking about, I’ve decided that it’s past time to lighten the hell up a little, and view the day in light of ‘best intentions’ and the celebration of the many forms of love in this life to which we should be paying daily attention.

We humans are social animals and we gravitate to one another for a variety of reasons- whether biological, emotional, philosophical, intellectual or otherwise.  This basic commonality is reflected in our myths and music.  It pervades February 14th and has become associated with, strictly, couple-y love (in the high Middle Ages the day was about courtly love- which had little to do with things like love within the bonds of marriage and more with those rules of chivalry that Don Quixote tried so hard to re-introduce) rather than love of a more general and all-encompassing sort.

I think this emphasis represents a missed opportunity.

Here in Ontario we have a long weekend ahead of us (thank goodness!) with Monday being the ‘Family Day’ statutory holiday.  Arriving in tandem with all the pink/red flowers, hearts, candy and cutesy teddy bears, we can take the opportunity to stop for a little bit and focus on the existence of love- in all its manifestations- than can be experienced as we travel these roads together.

I let the Shuffle Daemon take the wheel (since it has been brilliantly returning absent friends to me lately) and find me some tunes that speak to this theme of love-in-general that we need to get working for us.

I wrote about this guy- and mentioned this song in passing- the other day.  I think it’s one of my favourite being-in-love songs ever.  Straightforward and real.

‘I could be discontent and chase the rainbow’s end
I might win much more but lose all that is mine
I could be a lot but I know I’m not
I’m content just with the riches that you bring
I might shoot to win and commit the sin
Of wanting more than I’ve already got
I could run away but I’d rather stay
In the warmth of your smile lighting up my day
(the one that makes me say, heh)

‘Cause you’re the best thing that ever happened to me or my world
You’re the best thing that ever happened – so don’t go away

I might be a king and steal my people’s things
But I don’t go for that power crazy way
All that I could rule but I don’t check for fools
All that I need is to be left to live my way
(say listen what I say)’

Little Stevie Winwood.  The hope/assertion of fact in this song is just so veryvery human.

‘Think about it, there must be higher love
Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above
Without it, life is wasted time
Look inside your heart, I’ll look inside mine
Things look so bad everywhere
In this whole world, what is fair?
We walk blind, we try to see
Falling behind in what could be’

Some people might interpret this song as being about the supernatural love of a deity somewhere.  Steve might even have meant it to be about that.  One of the great and beautiful things about music is its interpretability.  I think it’s about that human-to-human connection we all need.

‘Worlds are turning and we’re just hanging on
Facing our fear and standing out there alone
A yearning, and it’s real to me
There must be someone who’s feeling for me’

Interpret as you will.  I saw him at Maple Leaf Gardens when he toured this album.  Man, can that guy sing.

I love that movie.  And when Lulu sings the title song to Sidney Poitier/Mr. Thackery… my poor teacher’s heart overflows.  It’s a wonderful and innocent reminder of the impact that we make as we pass through the lives of others.

‘The time has come
For closing books; and long last looks must end
And as I leave,
I know that I am leaving my best friend
A friend who taught me right from wrong,
And weak from strong — that’s a lot to learn
What — what can I give you in return?
If you wanted the moon,
I would try to make a start… but I
Would rather you let me give my heart
To Sir, With Love’

I know, I know.  I write about these guys a lot.  How can you not?

It’s about family love and lessons and the reciprocity of both.

Although I could go on and on and on… Should dash and get my plans for the weekend started.  But there’s time for one final tune…

‘In a hand painted night, me and Gypsy Scotty are partners
At the Hotel Flamingo, wearing black market shoes
This loud Cuban band is crucifying John Lennon
No one wants to be lonely, no one wants to sing the blues

She’s perched like a parrot on his tuxedo shoulder
Christ, what she’s doing with him?  She could be
Dancing with me’

Ah, Mellencamp.  This tune just makes me smile all over.  It’s a buddy/road trip song about adventures shared and bumps in the road overcome (and Matthew McConaughey is in the video).  The line about the ‘Cuban band crucifying John Lennon’ is one of my favourite lyrics EVER.

Let’s all get some of that love thing made manifest this weekend- whether it’s in the company of that one special person, your family, friends, furry children, or sent across the wide world in representation of love for and pride in our home and native land- and those doing us proud at them there Olympic Games (I know, I said I wasn’t interested, and I have yet to watch any events/coverage, but between the medal count and the fact that our athletes/coaches/fans are making my proud Canadian heart sing… it’s hard to stay Grinch-y about it all).

Happy Valentine’s Day/Family Day/We-are-human-and-we-love.  It’s-what-we-do Day.

PS- I stole the title for the post from an Echo and Bunnymen Greatest Hits compilation.  The Shuffle Daemon didn’t see fit to add them to the mix, but I thank them for the inspiration, nonetheless.