Crafting Love

“In the first days of his bondage he had turned to the gentle churchly faith endeared to him by the naïve trust of his fathers, for thence stretched mystic avenues which seemed to promise escape from life. Only on closer view did he mark the starved fancy and beauty, the stale and prosy triteness, and the owlish gravity and grotesque claims of solid truth which reigned boresomely and overwhelmingly among most of its professors; or feel to the full the awkwardness with which it sought to keep alive as literal fact the outgrown fears and guesses of a primal race confronting the unknown. It wearied Carter to see how solemnly people tried to make earthly reality out of old myths which every step of their boasted science confuted, and this misplaced seriousness killed the attachment he might have kept for the ancient creeds had they been content to offer sonorous rites and emotional outlets in their true guise of eternal fantasy.

But when he came to study those who had thrown off the old myths, he found them even more ugly than those who had not. They did not know that beauty lies in harmony, and that loveliness of life has no standard amidst an aimless cosmos save only its harmony with the dreams and the feelings which have gone before and blindly moulded our little spheres out of the rest of chaos. They did not see that good and evil and beauty and ugliness are only ornamental fruits of perspective, whose sole value lies their linkage to what chance made our fathers think and feel, and whose finer details are different for every race and culture. Instead, they are either denied these things altogether or transferred them to the crude, vague instincts which they shared with the beasts and peasants; so that their lives were dragged malodourously out in pain, ugliness and disproportion, yet filled with a ludicrous pride at having escaped from something more unsound than that which still held them. They had traded the false gods of fear and blind piety for those of license and anarchy.

Carter did not taste deeply of these modern freedoms; for their cheapness and squalor sickened a spirit loving beauty alone, while his reason rebelled at the flimsy logic with which their champions tried to gild brute impulse with a sacredness stripped from the idols they had discarded. He saw that most of them, in common with their cast-off preistcraft, could not escape from the delusion that life has a meaning apart from that which men dream into it; and could not lay aside the crude notion of ethics and obligations beyond those of beauty, even when all Nature shrieked of its unconsciousness and impersonal unmorality in the light of their scientific discoveries. Warped and bigoted with preconceived illusions of justice, freedom, and consistency, they cast off the old lore and the old ways with the old beliefs; nor ever stopped to think that that lore and those ways were the sole makers of their present thoughts and judgments, and the sole guides and standards in a meaningless universe without fixed aims or stable points of reference. Having lost these artificial settings, their lives grow void of direction and dramatic interest; till at length they strove to drown their ennui in bustle and pretended usefulness, noise and excitement, barbaric display and animal sensation. When these things palled, disappointed, or grew nauseous through revulsion, they cultivated irony and bitterness, and found fault with the social order. Never could they realize that their brute foundations were as shifting and contradictory as the gods of their elders, and the satisfaction of one moment is the bane of the next. Calm, lasting beauty comes only in dreams, and this solace the world had thrown away when in its worship of the real it threw away the secrets of childhood and innocence.”

From ‘The Silver Key’, by Howard Philips Lovecraft. 1926

Please note the date of composition.

1926.

I’ve been reading a lot of Lovecraft lately. I’m not totally sure why. I did read Stephen King’s latest, Revival, recently, and the novel certainly evoked some Lovecraftian reflections, so that might have something to do with it. I was also fighting a brutal virus of some kind- and when I’m feeling ill and generally down-in-the-dumps, my literary tastes tend toward the gothic for some reason.

I purchased Lovecraft’s collected works for my Kobo for something like $3.00. Canadian dollars. That’s a whole lot o’ lit for not a lot of money. As I’ve been working my way through the collection, a bunch of things have been jumping out at me- like rats from the walls of an antediluvian castle.

First off, the guy LOVED to use and reuse particular turns of phrase and descriptive terminology that is hard to find outside of his work. While I’ve read him before, I have never in-taken so much back-to-back-to-back, as it were, so the repetition is heightened more than it would be if I was taking the stuff in pieces- or according to a logical ordering- which this collection (at least how it appears on my e-Reader) is lacking. If all the Cthulhu stuff and all the Dream Cycle stuff were together as their cohesive-ish wholes, then the recurrence of themes and wordplay may be less jarring. Hard to know. He was a writer of his time- so the somewhat formal and pointedly archaic language is to be expected (as is the racism and classism- although I’d avoided a great deal of the worst of that in past readings).

Nonetheless, I’ve always been interested in the guy- as much for what he influenced as for his creations themselves. The Cthulhu Mythos is pretty damn brilliant when it comes down to it, with its incorporation of mythological themes and responses to the tensions between the realities of scientific and technological advances, and ‘tradition’ and religion.

From the Wikipedia:

Lovecraft himself adopted the stance of atheism early in his life. In 1932 he wrote in a letter to Robert E. Howard: “All I say is that I think it is damned unlikely that anything like a central cosmic will, a spirit world, or an eternal survival of personality exist. They are the most preposterous and unjustified of all the guesses which can be made about the universe, and I am not enough of a hairsplitter to pretend that I don’t regard them as arrant and negligible moonshine. In theory I am an agnostic, but pending the appearance of radical evidence I must be classed, practically and provisionally, as an atheist”.

He got it. I’ll say it again, atheism ain’t some new, dangerous social phenomenon. Old as the hills, it is. Or at least as old as the gods.

Lovecraft was a weird little dude, in many ways. But his influence is undisputed in certain literary circles. Neil Gaimon loves him (and I love Neil Gaimon). As does the aforementioned Mr. King. I have to admit that revisiting his stories has been eye-opening.

Ever since I can remember I’ve had recurring dreams that feature the odd angles and geometry that Lovecraft uses to describe the architecture of the mysterious and forbidden cities of the ancients. So many of these dreams take place in parts of Toronto (the town closest to my heart) but with subtle differences that lend a sinister aura to the dreamscapes.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been out for a ramble and come across a building that seems somehow off in real life- since I’m used to seeing it in dreams with its structure somehow altered.

Arguably, the guy has crept into my psyche through the myriad stories his writings influenced and which I read/heard without knowing that they were Lovecraftian in origin. He’s created archetypes that we don’t even acknowledge as being as archetypal as they are.

I have something of a similar relationship with some of Ray Bradbury’s tales. His October Country and Dark Carnival resonate heavily with my childhood memories and, well, things I like. Oddly, perhaps, since I haven’t spent much (any) time in the Midwest of the US.  I first read Something Wicked This Way Comes when I was in Grade 6. It was fall (it might have been October), and the atmosphere of the novel suited the melancholy of the season and set the standard for my love of macabre carnivals (like the ones found in Carnivale and, recently, the Freak Show of the most recent iteration of American Horror Story).

Through Bradbury’s autumnal settings and investigations of the mélange of good and evil found in each of us- and the awareness that self-centered desires are the basis for human malice and unhappiness- his stories teach us that supernatural forces (evil coming from outside- from something that is other than human) are most easily defeated by the most human of tools. Things like sincerity of heart. Things like love. Because those non-human influences are easily dissipated when faced with human strength of character and conviction.

Reminds me of a song…

When I was a young boy,
My father took me into the city,
To see a marching band,
He said, Son, when you grow up,
Would you be the savior of the broken,
The beaten and the damned,

Sometimes I get the feeling,
She’s watching over me,
And other times I feel like I should go,
And through it all, the rise and fall,
The bodies in the streets,
And when you’re gone we want you all to know,

We’ll carry on, we’ll carry on,
And though you’re dead and gone, believe me,
Your memory will carry on, we’ll carry on,
And in my heart, I can’t contain it,
The anthem won’t explain it,

And while that sends you reeling,
From decimated dreams,
Your misery and hate will kill us all,
So paint it black and take it back,
Let’s shout out loud and clear,
Defiant to the end we hear the call

Many of Bradbury’s tales were published by Arkham House- founded to preserve, in hardcover, Lovecraft’s voluminous fiction.

Like Lovecraft, Bradbury’s imagination influenced those same later writers. Neil’s latest short story collection contains a poetic homage to Ray that highlights his importance to the weird  genre of literature. Something Wicked also greatly impacted the story behind my favourite of his novels -one I used more than once in courses I taught over the years- American Gods.

Ordinary people fighting the influence of supernatural beings- frequently, the gods themselves. Recurrence of theme…

I used Gaimon’s wonderful novel as an illustration of the ways in which we, as humans, make up gods as originators and jurists- and how these creations need us. Without our worship and acknowledgement they fade, or die, or are forced to take jobs as taxi drivers and prostitutes (or, as did my very faves, run a funeral parlour in Cairo, Illinois- not all that far from Bradbury’s native Waukegan, Illinois).

The first time I used American Gods in a classroom setting was for a course called Religion, Illusion and Reality- a survey course describing how we create and study religions. The novel offers a vivid illustration of the fundamental need the gods have for us, their creators, and how they fade as newer gods- those of media, technology and, even, celebrity take focus and worship away from them and cause them to disappear into obscure uselessness.

I love this theme. And it runs through all this weird fiction. Those things to which we stop paying attention draw back into the abyss of imagination where they were created- but remain dormant yet dangerous, waiting for the opportunity to influence the credulous among us and regain their power over those seeking to gratify the self above all. It is there that the weird gods find their acolytes.

This worldview hearkens back to that whole order vs. chaos dichotomy I’ve talked about before. Back to the beginnings- to our creative origins as we developed written language and began to institutionalize our attempts at explaining the unexplainable.

Rather than looking to the knowledge we’ve gained, we’re allowing the long-buried Cthulu-types to reassert their hold over our intelligence and call to us from the sunken depths or distant stars to which they had been banished by the light of humanity.

Prompted by a recent post by my friend Audrey, I’ve picked up some of Algernon Blackwood’s short fictions as well. Lord Dunsany is next. Perhaps by delving into these writers who recognize the dangers posed by those gods (and religions) we create, I’ll gain some perspective on why we are letting ourselves be drawn irretrievably back into the dark ages of credulity and superstition.

Creepy stories about weird gods are fantastic for fireside tale-telling, or while curled up in a blanket with a dram of something warming while the unseasonably cold winds from the Great Lake seep through the glass of a modern condominium building (that will be the remainder of my evening, I think).

They don’t belong in our schools or our places of work. Or in our governments and the policies they institute- on behalf of all of us.

If we’re going to insist upon such a return to darkness in our daily lives and overarching culture, why not go all the way?

Or 2015- for those of us here in Canada…

‘Who Told Tomorrow Tuesday’s Dead?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I just. Don’t. Get. It.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But. Those songs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So.

One more time.

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

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

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

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

‘4am in the morning’

A day to myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But…

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

I’m sort of at a loss.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then there’s this song.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The good, the bad and the really really bad.

A very mixed-kinda-weekend just passed me by, seemingly quicker than I could blink.  We got more snow, the colder than usual temps are still upon us, I picked up a couple of new books to read, mainly stayed inside and caught up on some stuff I’d let go for too long…

But I also woke up Saturday morning to find that the lovely Ursula at An Upturned Soul has nominated me for a blog award.  Her posts run an interesting and diverse gamut, writing about things such as narcissism and personal relationships/interactions that are always both informative and illustrative of her talent for communicating the intricacies of such complex subjects in well-reasoned and -researched, yet still approachable and understandable, articles.  A recent post, Personality Disordered, was especially resonant for me, given the fact that I am also inclined to run off on tangents.  More than a little.

This morning, wonder of wonders, I discovered that Kim over at Let Me Reach with Kim Saeed has also been so kind as to nominate me for an award.  She, too, writes about narcissism and surviving its abuses, and her insights regarding identification and recovery are enlightening and valuable resources for surviving the toxicity that such relationships create.

I greatly appreciate the respect for my own writing that spurred the nominations, and I value the reciprocal relationships we have developed through our mutual followings.  I encourage my readers to visit with them and explore the many valuable things they both have to contribute to our WordPress World.

I love this World.  As I’ve mentioned before, the most wonderful and surprising thing I have discovered since starting this blog a little less than a year ago is the community that is there to support, entertain and challenge me as I gain footing and change some things up in the development of my online presence.  Rather than restrict the pass-on nominations as suggested by both awards, please have a look through my blog roll- and click on the avatars of those friends who thoughtfully leave comments- and discover for yourselves the variety and engaging intelligence that I’ve been privileged to find in this neck o’ the woods.

Unfortunately, all this loveliness has been disrupted by the increasingly business-as-usual abuses of those who hold power and influence in the wider, outside world.

I referred to this the other day.  Harper’s conservatives are doing their best to ensure that this country becomes a democracy in name only.  Since a democracy can only be as strong as its weakest link, we MUST work to strengthen those links that are inclined to let this sort of thing fester and continue without notice or comment or attempt at rectification.

This is the primary reason behind my goal for 2014- to search out a new type of classroom that is based on the dialectic and exchange of information based in facts and experience, rather than rhetorical reliance upon emotion and belief.

Since my appearance (still reeling a wee bit from the experience- radio geek that I am) on The Current a couple of weeks ago, education and our educational system has been back on my personal radar bigtime.  I’ve joined/re-joined a number of discussion forums dealing specifically with post-secondary education and teaching and this popped up in one of them on Saturday.  I had comparable experiences, upon occasion, but I am extremely distressed that they seem to be growing in frequency, and extent of damage to the learning experience.  I’m not sure that I will ever comprehend the close-mindedness that drives people to enroll in a course in an institution of higher education solely in order to maintain the supremacy of their own unexamined beliefs.  Stories like this are among the things that make me miss the university classroom less and less.

My pal Booksy over at Lost and Found Books brought this back to my attention this morning.  Again with the gradual dissolution of democracy under our very freakin noses by this government and its agenda.

And in local news: this idiocy is about to air beginning today.

I have to admit to feeling a bit nostalgic today.  As such, this tune popped into my head while thinking through all this stuff and the Voices Carry movement that I’m encouraging of late.  And Mark King’s bass playing is always something to witness…

The spirit of the people
The spirit of the people
The spirit of the people
The rhythm has begun …

Old men with their protocol
Lead us off to war
Sometimes we don’t even know
What we’re fighting for
Marching to the beat of their drum

Leaders we no longer trust
Told too many lies
The promises they made to us
Were never realised
Hear me now the chant has begun

Nowhere left to turn
No-one left to turn to
Voices raised in anger
They don’t have the answer
Our whole world’s in danger

Oil slicks on the ebbing tide
Progress out of hand
Blind men choke on swallowed pride
Heads down in the sand
Don’t wanna see the damage they’ve done

Trees destroyed by acid rain
Falling from the skies
When our children place the blame
Who will tell them why
Hear me now the chant has begun

Why is love so rare
All this talk of warfare
Voices raised in anger
They don’t have an answer
Pass the word along
We can wait no longer
Too much blind destruction
Follow love’s instructions
Now the chant has begun

(chant)

Make your choice there’s no escape
Add your voice, the chant has begun

This song was written and recorded in 1984.  1984.

30 years.  And we still haven’t grown the chant into the roar it needs to become.

‘To everything there is a season’

Where to begin?  A little while ago I was feeling kind of frozen with the inability to come up with stuff worth writing about.  Oh, what change a couple of weeks can bring…

I’m still frozen- since this stoopid polar vortex (those are rapidly becoming my two least favourite words) thing refuses to release us from its icy grip- but the words, they are a’ flowin’.  New problem?  I just can’t keep up with them all.

So many directions and so very many events of significance.. and yet I’ll have to just let a few of them go without more than a passing nod.

There’s this guy, though.  And he deserves FAR more than a passing anything (except maybe an awed handshake or hug as I stand speechless at the greatness he embodied).

Pete Seeger.

Strange that he’s actually gone.  I can’t remember a world without his songs.  They are such a part of the soundtrack of my life, it’s hard to separate out separate out specific tunes for mention.  I’ve spent so very many summers by lakes here in Ontario, and every single one of them was accompanied by songs that Pete brought into our lives.  Songs we could sing- vocal abilities or lack thereof notwithstanding- and songs that MEANT something.

He’s been so ubiquitous that I honestly can’t even decide which of his songs I heard first, or, really, which one I love best.  Except… He adapted and then arranged words from one of my fave books from the OT, written by one of my fave characters from the OT.  So, even if the tune itself remains most associated with some other very cool cats, I have to say that Turn, Turn, Turn is right up there in the cole-appreciates-Pete department.

Since I have so much floating around in my head and attempting to escape through my fingertips, I am not going to be able to even approach doing justice to the memory of such a pivotal character in our (popular) culture.  There have been a lot of wonderful remembrances- in the mainstream media and here in the WP World- and I happened across this one at Shaunanagins yesterday.  Yep, yep, yep and yep (seven times over).  So well said.  Most resonant with me, right now in this head space I have going on, is the whole ‘music isn’t just about entertainment’ thing.  Pete taught us that.  People like Neil Young, who I wrote about here, reminded us of that reality recently.  It’s an easy thing to forget- when the throw-away pop that seems to be everywhere these days is the ‘music’ of first exposure for a whole lot of young people.

There are too few people, when you examine their lives, about whom you can honestly say that 94 (!) years wasn’t enough time here among us.  Pete was one of those ‘voices’ I spoke about.  And his is still out there carrying in ways that leave me entranced.

About that.  The whole ‘Voices Carry’ thing.  And my assertion, stemming from outrage, that we HAVE to be looking for dialectic rather than debate.  And about the whole synchronicity element- and winds of change seemingly headed in my general direction.

It’s been quite a week.  That radio show that I mentioned?  It happened, and people are talking.

#NotYourAdjunctSidekick is generating discussion all over the place in the Twitterverse, and groups of contract/part time/adjunct academic faulty are banding together to raise their voices as one.  Some of the stories are terrible- situations far more extreme and representative of the true systemic inequities than anything I ever experienced before I gave up on the system.  There are stories popping up everywhere Even if some of them- like the last speaker on The Current’s presentation of the issue- seem to be missing the point entirely, and using the discussion as yet another forum in which to bash the Humanities and deemphasize their importance in education (I’d like to continue to vehemently dispute that perspective by offering up an article, by Tom Nichols- a professor of national security affairs in the US- about the tendency to dismiss experts in the field due to the inability to use rationale and reason to examine all sides of an issue- and at least entertain the advice of those who know stuff about stuff before reacting emotionally and erroneously to any given topic).

All this talk of universities and teaching and communicating has my mind looping through all sorts of the topics that I’ve been thinking, and writing, about lately.  I’m finding myself missing the classroom.  This is an ever-present feeling- since I LOVED being a teacher- but talking about it over the last few days, and coming up with ideas and plans about affecting change have me realizing that it’s time to get back to the classroom.  But all this talk of the university system and its institutionalized problems has also reinforced the reality that I might have to come up with my own concept of ‘classroom’.

So this is leading to more talking and more sorting things out.  Some concepts are more appealing than others- so a few proposals/projects/blueprints need to be worked out in the next while.

I do know that the ‘classroom’ for me is not Toronto City Hall.  Not at this time, anyway.  The ‘how to be a candidate’ meeting was interesting and very informative.  The City employees who organized and ran the thing did so with professionalism and respect- something that is seemingly lacking in many of the politicians with whom they are required to work.  That is part of why it isn’t the venue for me.

As I sat in Karen Stintz’s seat in the council chamber, one of the organizers commented that the room was much more decorous and composed than is usually the case.  It was a joke, but it’s also all too much the truth.  There were a lot of people present at the meeting who were there in obvious search of change- and some of them spoke with passion and eloquence and without the narcissistic posturing of the people who usually sit in those seats.  It gave me some hope that positive change may be possible.  (There was at least one extremist crack-pot there (I’m not actually talking about ‘the mayor’, this time), of course, but the rest of those gathered chose to ignore his rantings and continue on with the business of actually learning something.  Hope indeed.)

There’s a great article in this month’s Toronto Life about those who maintain some level of faith that Ford is the guy to remove the City from its current quagmire.  They’re wrong, of course, but I now sort of understand why they might think that.  The article highlighted this systemic problem we have with polarizing our opinions to the extreme.

Us vs. Them.  It’s everywhere.  And that has to change.

As I walked to the subway this morning there was just the barest hint of warmth in the brutal wind that has been screaming around the buildings in the downtown core this past while.  Time for a change of season, paradigm, perspective and approach.

A time to build up, a time to break down

Or vice versa, as the case may be.

Stories with Stuart

Here in Canada we have a wonderful, and distinctively Canadian, thing called the CBC.  Sure, other countries have public radio/television, and they certainly do tell the stories of their nations in myriad ways, but our CBC radio programming holds a very special place in my heart and mind.  (The television programming is also good, but I admit I spend more time with the radio shows than the tv, generally speaking).

Our current federal government is attempting to dismantle this national treasure a little bit at a time.  But the producers and presenters of our unique (though often very different, regionally speaking) way(s) of looking at our country and the world continue charging forward- and looking back- telling our stories and creating little pieces of wonder as they keep on keeping on.

One of these incredible people is Stuart McLean.  His Vinyl Café stories have been a fixture on CBC radio for close on 20 years.  His variety show highlights Canadian singer-songwriters- artists whose work might otherwise not get a whole lot of airtime- and intermingles music, humour and an almost nostalgic sense of Canada and its people- in all our often-messy glory.

Stuart is a rarity these days.  He’s a born storyteller- his distinctive voice and presence make you feel like you’re sharing a drink with a close friend.  Who just happens to have a never ending supply of amazing tales to recount.  Tales about characters that have grown in familiarity to the extent that they become like members of the family.  Relatives that you are pleased you only have to visit a few times a year, perhaps, but continuing sources of hilarity and well-learned life-lessons.

At the heart of the show is Stuart’s primary literary comic foil- Dave, the owner of an independent record store in Toronto, and the trouble he seems endlessly able to attract.  In abundance.

Dave and his family- his long-suffering wife, Morley, children Sam and Stephanie- along with an incredible cast of neighbours and friends, find themselves in some pretty far out situations.  But no matter the extremity of the circumstance, those of us familiar with Dave and his antics easily, and willingly, suspend our disbelief in our awareness that ‘it’s just Dave.  Of course such things can happen to him.’

Every year the great folks behind the Vinyl Café take their Christmas show on the road and make a stop here at home.  A visit with Stuart and his compatriots has become an annual holiday event for me and some of my peeps.  Friday night they rolled into the Sony Centre and, as usual, had us rolling in the aisles.  My face still hurts from all the laughing.

Audience participation is encouraged, and the way that Stuart feeds off the energy of his audience helps guide the shape of his shows.  He allowed as how they were genuinely happy to be home after 24 days of taking the show across the country (and down into a few select towns in the States)- a sentiment he reinforced when a part of his first story- the part about kindergarden children tumbling off of the stage during the school holiday pageant- brought down the house- anticipatorily.  Apparently that part of the tale was met with shocked silence in more PC towns like Vancouver.

Toronto has a slightly more irreverent sense of humour, it would seem (we must.  Look at our mayor.  HE made it into the show, too.  Not in a flattering light- go figure).  We love the old favourites, but one of the best things about attending the Christmas shows live and in person is hearing the new stories, freshly minted, and Stuart gave us two on Friday.

But we also revisited ‘Morley’s Christmas Concert’ and the discombobulated, but completely intact, tumbling children who were left in the dark when Dave’s sound system took out the school’s power grid.  And after Intermission, Stuart had a sit down with us, and together we remembered the highlights from all our favourite holiday stories.  ‘Dave Cooks the Turkey’, of course.  And ‘Dave on the Roof’– about the perils of the Canadian winter and the ways in which our slightly defiantly perverse instincts can get the best of us.  Despite the fact we know better (DO NOT stick your tongue on anything metal- especially while up on the roof repairing the tv antenna.  Really.  Just don’t.)

The musical guests this year were a wonderful trio of ladies called The Good Lovelies, whose harmonies and hauntingly beautiful rendition of Sara Bareilles’ Winter Song very much reflected the quiet and the melancholy of the snow that had covered the city that day.  Yet we were warm, inside, and with friends, so the plaintiveness of the song could be felt at a remove rather than with its full, sad immediacy.

A night with Vinyl Café is always enjoyable on many levels, but one of the things that makes me most appreciate our annual visits is the fact that so many children are present to participate.  In this day and age.  With all the visual and technological interfaces available to them, the fact that there are children who can still appreciate the wonder and the value of a storyteller, coming to them over the radio (or via a podcast), without anything flashing or shaping their images of the characters or the settings other than Stuart’s description alone.

Every year I applaud those parents who have raised children that can be engaged by the sound of his voice, recounting the most recent adventures of a bunch of crazy Canadians (or flashing back to earlier stories), as they use their own imaginations to fill in the blanks- and people the stories with their own variations and appearances.

Storytelling of this sort is both communal and very personal.  I know what Dave and his family look like to me.  They’ve changed- grown older- as I’ve gotten to know them over the years of listening to their life- often in kitchens, as dinner preparations where underway.  Would I recognize them, if I passed them on the street?  About that, I’m not sure.  But I’d know them by their actions- both the silly antics and the wonderful, well-meaning heart that lies at the centre of all their interactions with their friends, family and neighbours.

They have taught me lessons.  They have made me laugh.  And tear up from time to time, too.  Stuart has made them fully realized.

He ended our evening by returning to the stage with his long-time touring musical director, John Sheard.  Together they sang a song. that John wrote, about the holidays- and what they would really like for Christmas.  This wonderful, wonderful tune contained references to Harper’s prorogation of Parliament, the Senate debacle, Rob Ford, Don Cherry, the federal government’s actions re. the CBC… Straight minutes of nothing other but laughter.  Canadian laugher.  FOR us, BY us.  We were still laughing as we headed out into the cold of Front Street.

I have a whole bunch of podcasts of the show to catch up with.  Somehow there aren’t enough hours in the day to do/read/watch/listen to everything that needs to be done/watched/read/listened to- especially at this time of year.  But the next hour I have free (or make the time to have free), I will decide to just sit, and listen, and fully experience Stuart’s incredible gift with story- its creation and its delivery.  The holidays ARE supposed to be about time spent with friends, after all.

Please allow me to introduce you to my friend, Stuart McLean.  I trust you will get along famously.

‘We might still have a way to go’

December.  Already.  How did that happen?

It seems that the New Year arrives more and more quickly with each one that passes.  I swear, it feels like it was August just two weeks ago.  And I am brutally behind in just about everything I turn my hand to these days.

I did manage to complete my personal NaNoWriMo challenge.  Finished with 52 768 words as of November 30, 2013.  I didn’t actually participate in any of the local events or conversations or communal support- really I just used their word counter as a way of marking progress.  I discovered that I can, in fact, get that much written in a month (I actually wrote more than those 50-some-thousand words, given the fact that I did manage some posts here at colemining as well), even if the final 30-day count has not necessarily brought me that much closer to completion of the project.  There is still a lot of story to be told, and the organization, editing and substantial re-writes is the next hurdle to overcome, but the characters are beginning to develop nicely, and the story progression is reasonably mapped, so progress was made.

It’s nice to know that I can still set a goal which can be met, even while keeping up with the rest of my responsibilities.  So yay for me.  A side effect of all that productivity is that I can step back for a bit, and I do have to say I’m glad that I can take a bit of a break from that particular outlet to give me some time to view it with fresh eyes.

As we rush headlong into the holiday season I am realizing, as is usually the case, that for the next few weeks there will not be enough hours in the day.  Feeling pulled in all these different directions was making me more than a little irritable over the weekend (despite having attended an incredible American Thanksgiving dinner in friends’ new and wonderful home on Saturday- great food, fantastic company- good times indeed).

This irritability was not helped AT ALL by the fact that city was locked in gridlock- were you foolish enough to attempt to drive anywhere- while the TTC seemed to be operating on some arcane schedule that required initiation into some sort of transportation cabal if you actually wanted to know when a streetcar might actually arrive- and not randomly change route numbers or short turn to nowhere on the whim of some Grand Poobah of the Red Rocket.  And don’t get me started on the road closures to accommodate the Buffalo Bills being in town…

Jebus.

‘Grouchy Cole’ is not my favourite character manifestation.

Starting the work week- with deadlines looming and conflict in the workplace- hasn’t helped to dissipate the negative vibes, so I’ve had to look for some external sources of inspiration to get me back on track and looking forward with anticipation rather than anxiety.

cfef6-9781402778919m

This guy.

I picked up the book over a week ago (after first learning of its existence months ago) and, under normal circumstances, would have had it long devoured by this point.  It’s representative of my two very favourite things, after all- music and story (and storytellers).

Shamefully it has taken me this long to write about Ray’s wonderful memoir- using his tours of the US as the core and starting point for his story.  In his lyrical style (everything the guy writes sounds like his music- conversational yet clever, and as if there is a subtle background riff that has been familiar forever supporting his thoughts and emotions as they ring off of the page), he tells the story of life on the road- through the early lean years with the Kinks, and, more recently, as he attempted to rediscover/remake himself in his own image as a solo artist.

First off, I have to say that apparently I was sleeping in 2004, since I had no idea at all that he had been shot.  Believe me, if I had heard a news report that someone raised a gun at Ray Davies in New Orleans, I would have recalled it in the way that those who remember JFK’s assassination can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing.

He looms that largely in my life.

And this book has just reinforced that presence.  Seriously.  It was hard to keep reading because there was just so much inspiration being thrown at me on each and every single page.  I was itching to take that inspiration on board and get back to work.

Although they were part of the British Invasion of the 1960’s, the Kinks have never held the same place in the North American popular imagination of those days as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.  There are reasons for this- some of which Ray discusses over the course of Americana– but I think he nails it quite concisely remarking that, as a lyricist, in those early years he was unwilling to play at being anything other than himself- a working class lad from suburban London, who never lost his accent or stopped singing about things that resonated with him, personally.  Regardless of how inexplicable such things might be to an American audience.  The Kinks remained true to their roots, and, especially in their early years, their songs were very reflective of their native environment.

Still, as a child, Ray romanticized the US, based in impressions gleaned from Hollywood and music that spoke of roots and depth of connection to places that were foreign in every manner of speaking from his own life experience.  As their following grew, and again after the break-up of the Kinks, he sought out those roots in an effort to figure out the next directions his creativity might take.

Shifting between recollections of the early tours- painfully recalling the loneliness and boredom of time on the road- and moving forward, in his personal and professional lives, Ray offers insights into his creative process that are at once illuminating and daunting.  Here is a guy with no formal musical training- beyond the fact that he has been playing and writing songs since he was a teenager- who has created a catalogue of some of the most memorable characters and stories in popular music.

He tells the stories of the nascence of songs like this one:

It talks about the tension- ever-present since the band began- between Ray and his little bro’, Dave, and the decision to keep the band together despite the sometimes seeming irrelevance of rock ‘n’ roll.  He created the character of ‘Dan the fan’ to illustrate the impact that music has, even against the backdrop of the time- and the death of Elvis Presley (which came the day after the insomnia that saw the seeds of the song first-formed).  It is a personal and cultural marker of time and place.  We’ve had the song for decades, but to someone like me- for whom story and its creation is an endless source of fascination and wonder- reading about how the song came to be is a new gift to be savoured.

The Shuffle Daemon hasn’t been shuffling anything other than Kinks and/or Ray Davies tunes as I wend my way through his written words.  As Ray revisited his process and the events that spoke to the process, I listened to the songs that resulted, rediscovering old favourites, or hearing those that didn’t top my personal pops in a new light which added a level of appreciation.

This one retains relevance to a prescient degree:

I switched on the radio and nearly dropped dead

The news was so bad that I fell out of bed

There was a gas strike, oil strike, lorry strike, bread strike

Got to be a superman to survive

Gas bills, rent bills, tax bills, phone bills

I’m such a wreck but I’m staying alive…

I’d really like to change the world

And save it from the mess it’s in…

Ray writes so well and so prolifically, it is hard to imagine that he has experienced writers’ block of any kind.  But he has.  And since this is the bane of the existence of any and all those who dare to self-describe as creative-types, knowing that the feeling affects a master of his caliber helps us mere mortals feel a little reassured…

‘In a creatively non-productive phase, my body almost mirrors my emotional state and I can become uncoordinated and risk to myself and others as I bump into tables and walk into closing doors.  When it gets like this I forget which side of the Atlantic I am on.  I invariably trip up on the pavement, drive on the wrong side of the road, and generally become a danger to anyone who happens to be walking near me.  I become a cause for concern among all those who care for me… Sometimes the inspiration gene kicks in early in the morning like a randy rooster crowing a new beat.  That’s the time when it’s important to start writing.  When the dum-dum explodes it is usually accompanied in my head by the ‘William Tell’ overture, that tells me I have to write- which I do at maniacal speed, stopping only in response to exhaustion or physical pain.  A period of nonproductivity, on the other hand, can sometimes necessitate a jug of coffee before I can even put on my dressing gown and get out of bed.  That’s the creative curse.’  (pg. 150-151)

Destroyer is, in many ways- in my opinion anyway- the ultimate Kinks song.  Combining the instantly recognizable riff from All Day and All of the Night and the reappearance of that inimitable character, Lola, it’s about self-destruction as a result of self-involvement.

Silly boy you got so much to live for
So much to aim for, so much to try for
You blowing it all with paranoia
You’re so insecure you self-destroyer..

Self-destroyer, wreck your health
Destroy friends, destroy yourself
The time device of self-destruction
Light the fuse and start eruption

Over the past week and a bit, as I’ve worked to complete a self-imposed exercise in productivity- one that leaves me filled with vacillating analyses ranging between ‘that’s pretty good’ and ‘oh man, does THAT ever suck rocks’- Ray has provided some illumination and even a kick in the pants or two and helped to draw me back into focus.  And helped me regain some of the optimism that is generally second nature, but which has been missing in action over the last while.

He remains a work in progress- one who is still (at almost 70 years of age) producing works filled with inspiration and enduring characters.  He went searching for himself in an America that was partly an amalgam of the pictures in his head, and found out a whole lot about himself in the process.  Americana seems to have provided him with some perspective- and it has provided me with endless moments of delight.  That I will certainly revisit over and over- the way I need to keep listening to his music.

As he notes in the epilogue: ‘Songs are like friends who comfort you so you don’t feel alone.  Believe in them hard enough and they come true.’ (pg. 296).

With that bit of wisdom, I can’t help but agree- wholeheartedly- and look forward, with hope, for a day when I can believe in my own creations enough that they, in turn, become realized enough that they might just one day befriend someone the way his music and lyrics have been constant companions to me for years and years (and years…).

I could go on (how did this creep up to almost 2000 words?!?  Although many of them are Ray’s…), but will instead recommend that you check out the book for yourself.  Spending time with old friends is always good- especially at this time of year.

Cheers, Ray.

‘Looking for Satellite(s) of Love’

Getting back to writing after a hiatus- brief though it may have been- should be easy.  Ideas and things to write about just keep popping into my head (sometimes they pop out again pretty quickly- a function of sleep deprivation, but these things happen) so there is SO much to draw from.  I have even more just-started drafts in the dashboard than I did a few weeks ago, and I’m feeling a little bit like I’ve come down with a case of the distractions.

Which isn’t good.

Not on the eve of NaNoWriMo (I’m going to attempt to divide my focus and get some work done on the fiction, in addition to keeping up with my peeps here at the WordPress.  Might be overly-ambitious, but never know ’til you try and all that) and not when I have a newly-minted-and-purchased novel by one of my fave mystery authors (Elizabeth George, if you’re curious) which is just perfectly timed for curling up away from the Autumn chill with a cup of tea and just getting lost with Lynley and Barbara for a bit.

So.  Where to start?

Amid all the chaos of the move, it was a FABULOUS period of music/reminiscing, this week just past.  There was the reunion with Simple Minds last Tuesday, and then on Saturday one of my best buds took me to see David Bowie Is at the AGO.  Phenomenal.

In the way that everything seems to be connected (that synchronicity thing again), after wandering through the wonder-and-constant-innovation-that-is-Bowie all afternoon Saturday, I caught Iggy Pop on the radio (I rarely listen to the radio these days- too much commercial crap IMHO) not once, but twice.

While taking a breather from the packing/unpacking I started a post lauding all that Mr. Jones has contributed to the world- ripples (and sometimes tsunamis) of influence that have shaped our (popular) culture as we know it.  The characters, the costumes, the bending and breaking of rules of identity/gender/art… the beautifully curated exhibit really brought home just how important the Thin White Duke remains.

And man, can the guy write songs.

Once upon a time a veryveryvery long time ago, I wrote a stream of consciousness piece called ‘Talking to Ziggy’, about a protagonist who is in constant contact with the spirit of Ziggy Stardust.  It was about what happens to a fictional character who becomes fully realized and then left to fade as newer characters take priority.  Might have to try to find that…  In any case, Bowie has been an everywhere influence in my life.  It was wonderful to reconnect with him in my hometown art gallery.

But my loving chat about Bowie- and the characters that have become parts of our contemporary mythology- will have to wait for another time, because Sunday night another one of those connections showed up, and this one broke my heart a little…

Lou Reed.

Two days later, I’m still kind of at a loss for words.  He’s always been part of the fabric of the background soundtrack of my life.  Not necessarily the song that opens the film or plays as the credits are rolling on a particular period of my life, but a voice that is continually popping up here and there when the action is about angst, or disillusionment, or visiting NYC… and his underlying influence reaches even further into the music that constantly surrounds me.

Simple Minds did a cover version of Street Hassle (Waltzing Matilda/Slipaway) on Sparkle in the Rain.

Emily Haines, from our local wonder of a band, Metric, had some incredible things to say about the man and his influence on her own music.

He contributed his distinctive voice to Little Stevie’s movement against apartheid in South Africa.

He was a poet/novelist all his life- his writing was set to music rather than bound up as ink and paper.  His words remain at once timeless in way that is seldom seen any longer and pictures of specific periods in history that inform about experiences and mores and the evolving technologies that changed the way we perceive and appreciate art and music.

Lou Reed and David Bowie overlap so often it’s almost ridiculous.  Andy Warhol.  All the co-productions/cross-productions/collaborations over the years.  Bowie was London to Lou’s NYC.  They were all about experimentation and pushing the boundaries of discourse.

The three dudes in the pic up there ^^^ have always been interconnected in my brain (admittedly, in part, because of Velvet Goldmine, but I digress…)

Iggy’s Lust for Life (written and produced by Bowie) is like Lou’s Walk on the Wild Side.  Story songs about people- living on the edge and doing the best they can while dealing with demons and changes and societal conflicts.

Bowie’s Looking for Satellites (from Earthling– his first self-produced album since Diamond Dogs in 1974) is like Satellite of Lovefrom Lou’s Transformer album.  Bowie produced and provided the background vocals.

Neil Gaiman, with his wonderful way with words sums things up in a way that completely resonates with my own feelings (as is so often the case):

“His songs were the soundtrack to my life: a quavering New York voice with little range singing songs of alienation and despair, with flashes of impossible hope and of those tiny, perfect days and nights we want to last for ever, important because they are so finite and so few; songs filled with people, some named, some anonymous, who strut and stagger and flit and shimmy and hitch-hike into the limelight and out again.

It was all about stories. The songs implied more than they told: they made me want to know more, to imagine, to tell those stories myself. Some of the stories were impossible to unpack, others, like The Gift, were classically constructed short stories. Each of the albums had a personality. Each of the stories had a narrative voice: often detached, numb, without judgment.”

If there were ever two exemplars of the point that I am constantly trying to make here at colemining about the importance of story and the many ways it impacts all aspects of our lives, as human beings with card-carrying memberships in communities, David Bowie and Lou Reed are the winners and still champions.

In the fog/fugue state of packing, I squirrelled away all my CD sets into storage- including Bowie’s Sound + Vision, and my boxed set retrospective of pretty much everything Lou Reed has ever done.  Right now I’m wishing I’d labelled the boxes better so I’d have some kind of idea where they might have ended up.  Will have to settle for the YouTube and those songs in the iTunes library/on the Shuffle Daemon to take me through this newest period of reflection and remembrance.

Travel safe, Mr. Reed.  Somehow I thought you’d always be here.

I’m out of words right now, and ‘thank you’ seems overwhelmingly inadequate, but I’ll say it anyway.

Oh, it’s such a perfect day

I’m glad I spent it with you

Oh, such a perfect day

You just keep me hanging on.

Giving Thanks, Canadian Style

There I was, all exhausted with the tilting and complaining and angst and concerns about the direction of this here world and us humans who are managing to keep messing it all up.  And the packing.  Always with the packing.  And the job search- while dealing with the current day job…

Then… Surprise!  Honest to goodness GOODNESS shows up out of nowhere.

What a wonderful way to start the day.  Yesterday morning Heather Hiscox was practically dancing with excitement on the CBC News Network.  I have to admit that I came close to a tear or two of happiness my own self.

Alice Munro has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.  She is the first Canadian- and only the 13th woman- to do so.

(Saul Bellow, who won in 1976, was born in Canada but raised in the US- so he’s harder to claim and the US leapt all over calling them theirs anyway.  Not so our Alice.  She’s as Canadian as maple syrup and poutine).

The pride.

Alice has a particular way with characterization and definition of place that is astounding.  The more so since she manages to convey the people and places she writes about in short story format.  No wasted words- just succinctly beautiful stories about small town Ontario and the people that live there.

She has not been overlooked for well-deserved accolades in the past, having received three Governor General’s Awards for fiction and the Man Booker International Prize for her body of work, but the Nobel Prize… Wow.

I think most Canadian students are exposed to her work at one stage or another.  High School English classes like to support the CanCon wherever possible, and Alice, along with Maggie Atwood, are two of our literary staples.  But I’m not sure that I really began to appreciate Alice’s stories until I re-encountered her in the university classroom in a course on 20th Century Literature (it actually was still the 20th century when I took the class).

Alongside the Yeats (and you know I love that guy), the Beckett, the cummings and the Morrison was Alice’s 1990 collection Friend of My Youth, which reemphasizes her recurring view of a world that is not shaped by faith or reason, but by chance or fate.  Her stories offer snapshots of particular times in small town Ontario, as the characters (mainly women) of the farming communities come to terms with changing mores and expectations.  She is not afraid to write about the darkness of the human condition as it is expressed in the day-to-day lives of ‘regular’ people, at different times in history.

I have tried to write short stories- without much success.  Not because I’m overly verbose (although I am, admittedly, at times, long winded.  The other day I got a text from a friend who kindly follows my blog and is diligent about keeping up with those things I decide to rant about.  He had been on holiday- so was catching up with the posts he’d missed.  He asked that I try to keep them under 5000 words.  He was being facetious- I do try hard to keep them around 1000 at most, but sometimes I do get a little carried away.  Particularly with long asides.  Like this one…), but because I just can’t seem to effectively convey what I’m trying to convey in so few pages.

(Which is somewhat odd- since my professors- throughout my undergrad and graduate schooling- uniformly lauded my ability to succinctly discuss the things I was looking to discuss, without wasting words or paper.  Seems like I’ve lost that ability.  At least here at colemining.) 

Alice beautifully conveys entireties– of characters, emotions, events, thoughts, actions- in very few pages.  It’s an enviable skill- and she has very much raised the bar on what defines successful storytelling.  I compare her to those rare (these days) storytellers I was privileged to see, as a child, every now and again.  In a short interlude of time they were able to spin tales of wonder that left me enchanted or wondering or questioning a closely-held certainty.

Alice’s stories do that too.  Although I love novels, the ability to completely devour a slice of life on a lunch break or subway trip, or drift away into another reality without completely messing with the schedule of things that need to be done (I have a habit of just forgetting about anything else- people, work, food- when caught up in an engaging story) makes a well-written short story appealing.

Alice Munro ‘does’ the short story like no one else.

And she now has the Nobel Prize in Literature, so people all over the world will get to know and love her, the way we’ve been able to do here at home for decades.

Her books are flying off the shelves.  As suspicious as I can be about the commercialization of literature, the exposure of the Nobel will introduce new readers to both Alice and parts of our home and native land.

(She’ll show the world that we aren’t just about our horrible mayors and imported filibustering junior GOP Senators, for example).

It’s the Friday of a long weekend (phew!) as we Canadians prepare to celebrate our Thanksgiving on Monday.  It’s our last long weekend of the year- and the last stat holiday until the Christmas season rolls around.  It was a beautiful day today and the sun and warmth should stay with us at least through tomorrow.

The folks south of our border have a long weekend too- celebrating an evil villain of history (at least according to The Oatmeal– who knew you could learn so much history on the facebook?  Love that guy.  He’s some funny!)- while we up here will be giving thanks for those things we sometimes take for granted over turkey and all the trimmings.

I’ve complained somewhat over-much about the goings on here at home lately.  I’m frustrated with the current political and social situations we’ve created for ourselves.  So I needed the reminder that we remain a pretty spectacular country, with some pretty spectacular citizens who contribute to the continuing betterment of the world and our culture.

Alice has been recognized for doing so in a reallyreally big way this week.  She is one among a whole crowd of Canadians who bring positive creativity into the world.

So this weekend’s playlist on the Shuffle Daemon (as I continue finish the packing and organizing) is all about the CanCon.

Metric.  Emily just has one of those voices…

Talk like an open book
Sign me up

USS- or Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker.  A great band name (always seeking synergy, me), playing a song with an equally great title (‘Hollowpoint Sniper Hyperbole’)– which contains lyrics from that Newfoundlander traditional folk tune, ‘I’se the B’y’ (CanCon²).  

Bowie singing backup to Arcade Fire.  What can be better than that?  (Going to see the the Bowie exhibit at the AGO in a couple of weeks- can’t wait).  I don’t think I could love this song more.  And lyrics in both langues officielles (CanCon², again).

Entre la nuit, la nuit et l’aurore.
Entre les voyants, les vivants et les morts.

And now from the vaults…

Lovely song.  And all that hair!  The song was produced by another fairly popular Canadian dude by the name of Tom Cochrane (that’s him singing backup.  He had a bunch o’ memorable tunes himself).  (2X the Canada in that one too.)

BNL singing a classic Bruce Cockburn song while driving around Toronto in the back of a truck (well, Scarborough, to be precise).  So, that’s actually CanCon³.  (A friend and I were out for dinner last night and recalling a stretch of time when Steven Page seemed to be everywhere she was.  We decided he was stalking her.  But in a friendly, Torontonian sort of way.)

You’ve got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight.

The Hip- singing about coming home on the last American exit.  For all those road-tripping home to see the family.  This was the first Hip song I ever heard (Gord had SO much hair) and it remains my sentimental favourite.  All of their songs are Canada, somehow.

In case anyone is planning on spending the long weekend over-imbibing, a cautionary tale from Spirit of the West.

Since this post has grown to monumental proportions (verifying my friend’s earlier complaint about my ‘wordiness’), just one last offering to close the evening while opening the weekend of celebrating.  From our very own bard of Montreal.  About a little tavern in Toronto (CanCon²).

…and I lift my glass to the Awful Truth
which you can’t reveal to the Ears of Youth
except to say it isn’t worth a dime
And the whole damn place goes crazy twice
and it’s once for the devil and once for Christ
but the Boss don’t like these dizzy heights
we’re busted in the blinding lights,

of closing time

Have a fantastic weekend!

P.S.  There are so many songs that could have/should have made the Shuffle Daemon.  I think this post will require a musical sequel (or more) down the road.  Canada Rocks.  We just do.