On a Train Bound for Nowhere

I am trying to stay off the news today because the last week has been a little overwhelming with the constant updates and rapid changes. The chyrons on the local news station are giving me headaches unless I un-focus my eyes and look slightly to the side. Our 24-hour news cycles mean that every update – however minor – is given priority of place.

It comes as something of a surprise that anything not virus-related can really stand out in the constant bombardment of new cases and new lock-downs and new warnings.

This morning when I got up it was out there everywhere already. Probably because so many of the people I hang with on social media (and IRL when we’re allowed to do that) have similar tastes and experiences and memories, and the presence of Kenny Rogers in our shared world was basically a given. A randomly-cited lyric from The Gambler needed no explanation as to its origin. It is a rare person in my life who doesn’t know the song and won’t start singing along when provided with the opportunity.

That song has been played at pretty much every house party I have ever hosted. One of my bffs (now a semi-responsible financial advisor and father of two) performed an interpretive dance while wearing my mother’s wicker hanging planter on his head as he belted out the tune. I have pictures, if you doubt me. Another friend and I managed to get it into rotation in the post-meal singsongs at our camp when we were first year staff. Visiting years later, it was heartening to see that it remained a favourite – alongside The Ship Titanic and Charlie’s inability to get off the MTA. It still receives a ritual playing when certain friends come to visit, as a final wind-down to an evening of beers and talk.

The loss of one person – and a person who had a long, fruitful, impactful life at that – at this point in time, as we deal with uncertainty and anxiety and, in some cases, more immediate losses, might seem negligible in the overall scheme of things. But so many people have already left fond memories and feelings up and around the social medias I feel like I’d be irresponsible if I don’t add my double pennies.

I grew up in a house in which we were fortunate to be surrounded by grandparents and older relatives pretty much all the time. When we were very young both sets of grandfolks lived within walking distance – and they were all very much part of the fabric our of regular lives. I wrote about one of them here (back in the days when I will still pretending it wasn’t me that was writing this blog). Gramps loved Hee Haw. He loved the country music of the time – and the stories the songs told. They were closely aligned with his way of seeing the world and his own deep love of a great tale, well-spun.

I’m not sure when Kenny really hit my radar in a big way but I do know that I received his Greatest Hits record for Xmas the year I turned 10. I knew that record start to finish. I know that record start to finish, actually.

You see, I have this thing I do when I’m anxious or stressed or, as is increasingly the case, when I start getting concerned about my memory with the whole aging thing – a panic that can easily turn to paranoia about incipient dementia, given our family experience.

I’ve always had a thing for lyrics – I remember them easily and pretty much forever. Even songs I don’t like much get stuck in there. It’s a mixed blessing sometimes (looking at you Achy Breaky Heart). But it provides me with a fantastic stabilizing exercise – one that comes in very handy in weeks like the past few have been.

I run through certain songs more frequently than others – I have my standbys: I wrote out the words to Tears for Fears’ Mad World before every exam – high school to doctorate – and two from that regular playlist came to me from Kenny.

The Gambler, of course (a song as celebrated for its catchiness and sing-along compliant nature as it is underrated for the overall philosophy of life it presents) but Coward of the County has long been another of my go-to head-songs (since 1980!) in times of stress. I ran through it all while in the shower this morning, as a matter of fact. And I cried. Which, I understand, is at least partly in response to the stress all around us. Except that it always makes me cry. Always.

The words run through my head, but I hear Kenny’s voice singing them (I wouldn’t want to hear my own) and the emotion and authenticity with which he imbued the lyrics resonates completely. Still. I never doubted for a second that he had a nephew named Tommy whom folks called ‘yellow.’ Never. Just like I never questioned his chance encounter with the old gambler on that train. It happened. All of it.

Kenny – and others like him – helped shaped my musical taste in a very real way. I remain drawn to those singer-songwriters who speak to life experiences and general states of being on the planet, while reflecting on weightier issues of good and evil and love and hate. Small stuff to the very large. Basically all aspects of our interactions in the world with other humans.

Most artists rely on touring and merchandise sales to support themselves and ensure the continuance of their wonderful contributions to the world of art and music and storytelling – something that has been interrupted at the moment.

Spotify and the like are all fine and well and good for exposure to new music, but these platforms doesn’t do enough to support the artists who are creating the music. As we look for things to fill the days as we distance and isolate, this is something that we can actively do to change things for the better.

One of my very very favourite guys has a new album coming out on March 27. The songs he has pre-released for us are beautiful, heartfelt and representative of incredible growth in his songwriting trajectory. Brian Fallon was supposed to visit us at Danforth Music Hall in early April, but we’re not going to get to see him just now. We’ll make sure we’re there when he is able to reschedule, and I’ll make do with multiple playings of the new album in the meantime. Please check him out and buy Local Honey – and his other records – directly from his website.

Then there’s this other guy, who I’ve written about before. He was out on tour in support of his latest record (we saw him here in the fall) – but it seems likely that it will end sooner than anticipated. He released a new video this week – along with a remarkable article in Rolling Stone about the subject of the song – that notorious and remarkable songwriter, Shane MacGowan. Follow Jesse on his website for information about his tour and how to get Sunset Kids.

While I’m talking about Jesse, the opening artist at that show I talked about in the post was a singer-songwriter named Matthew Ryan. Since seeing him that night – and having the opportunity for a quick chat – I’ve followed him on twitter and the fb, accessing new tunes as he brings them to us and appreciating his thoughts on life, the universe and everything, He posts lovely reflections about his favourite songs – definitely a kindred spirit – and he sings about things that can break your heart. Give him a listen. You won’t be disappointed.

I can’t consider complete any reference about the overlap between story and song without noting that Mikel Jollet has a memoir coming out in May, concurrent with the release of The Airborne Toxic Event’s first record in five years. He was on the fb yesterday, live streaming and talking about favourite tunes and concept albums, and playing bits from the new record alongside some old favourites. He has been a significant and important presence on Twitter since that 2016 election – calling out all the things that need calling out, but it was wonderful to listen to him talk about the healing that music – and the completion of his story in order to share it with all of us – has brought to his life. I wrote about the band what seems like ages ago. Even then, I was reflecting on memory and the tricks and trials it can bring. Plus ça change, as they say. You can pre-order the book and the album here.

I love a good concept album (there are Pink Floyd records that make me shiver just to think about them), and there is no one, these days, better at that than Lord Huron. If The Gambler is a poignant short story, then albums like Strange Trails or Vide Noir are epic novels in which you can lose yourself completely. Ben Schneider, the driving force behind the band, trained as a visual artist and the tangible storied imagery of the settings comes through like individual paintings in every song. I can see the scenes and the characters as he sings about them. I wrote about the band, along with another guy you might’ve heard of, when I was hoping to get back into the habit of writing – and when I was searching for inspiration in the face of too much loss. Again with the plus ça change… Lord Huron is planning to produce a movie based on Vide Noir. I don’t know where those plans might be sitting, given all that is real right now, but you can buy the album – and lots of other fun merch – here.

It sort of feels like this train we’re all riding together right now is bound for nowhere. Or nowhere we’re going to like and want to stay, anyway. As I wrote the other day, regardless of what happens in the next weeks and months, change is going to be our new and continuing reality for the foreseeable future.

We might not be able to get out to see the musicians we love right now, but this time should be teaching us about our continued reliance on the artists that make the hard times less hard and who celebrate the good as it comes right alongside us. The best ones teach us something about ourselves as they tell us their stories. They deserve to be fairly compensated for all that they bring into our lives.

Support them directly, however you can, and spread the word about the songs and the stories that are keeping you going. Start playlists with friends – recommending and linking those musicians you can’t live without.

Stop taking for granted that their hard work and inspiration will always be there to get us through, and acknowledge the important role they play in providing entertainment, and inspiration – and in keeping anxiety in check when things are really hard and uncertain. Make sure they get the appreciation they deserve.

Pay the creatives.

We need them more than ever now, as we think about what is important to throw away, and what is important to keep.

Go gently, and with thanks, Kenny. I’ll keep those aces you dealt me held as tightly as I can.

Changed, changed utterly

It’s hard to know where to begin, here. It’s been so long. Those who haven’t seen me around these parts much lately but who remember the days in which I was far more prolific in my thought-sharing and voice-raising about all those things that unite and sustain us as human beings might also remember that today marks six years since we lost my Dad.

Six years.

There’s been so much change over that time. It might seem trite – and like I’m quickly becoming one of those oldsters who rails about the ‘good ol’ days’ – but a great proportion of that change hasn’t been positive. Please keep in mind that, although I might legitimately be approaching antique status, I’m also an historian – and therefore fully aware that there is no such thing as ‘good ol’ days’.

As an historian – and more importantly, as a human being – these last years have demonstrated a distressing level of social regression that has left me feeling impotent to do anything other than shout into the void of self-serving greed and insular politics that widen divides that had been diminishing as we became aware that there is more that unites us – one to another – as people living together on this planet than the opposite.

Shouting into the void is exhausting, and, I’ve found, serves little purpose.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m well aware that there has been change for the better. We started listening to voices that had gone unheard for too long. #Metoo, we cried. And perspectives from POC, First Nations, Inuit and Metis communities and commentators in this country, at least, are gaining exposure (if slowly, and not without a huge load of push-back from those who see their inherited privilege being threatened).

But.

Too long a sacrifice/ can make a stone of the heart.

When I look back over the posts I’ve put up here over the years – and all the wonderful interactions I’ve had with the valued friends I’ve met through this forum, I can trace a rise in the existential angst I was feeling in the lead-up to the conservative back-slide that has marked the time that we’re currently navigating.

It started, for me, with the mismanagement of my hometown by an unqualified populist who somehow ended up mayor. We are still dealing with the results of the inaction and pull-back from his time in office and the lack of progressive change under his replacement – who is more competent, certainly, but still unwilling to address the concerns and needs of anyone outside of his base of support.

And then…

Since November 2016 it seems as if a terrible tide turned, and all subsequent attempts at progress have been greeted with hostility and manufactured narratives designed to hold tightly to a status quo that protects the very very few while leaving the rest of us worse for wear. I need not identify the source, but I’m sure you’d agree that the consequences of that event started an acceleration of negative repercussions around the world (looking at you, in particular, Brexiters) and permitted hatefulness to flourish unchecked.

Continuing to contribute to my little piece of the internet became an exercise in futility and repetition. I was saying the same things over and over. And over. And screaming at my friends in the choir, for the most part. We all need to be careful of not falling into echo chambers – even if our intentions are well-meant. Writing about the world necessitated paying a lot of attention to the world, and the world was increasingly an unrecognizable and frightening place to me.

My particular privileges had kept me blind to aggressions – micro and those that are anything but – that are a constant fact of life for great swaths of our population. Suddenly, it seemed, no one was keeping the prejudices and biases and hatred in check. Rather, they were given free reign and were encouraged by those at the very top of our leadership structures and by people who should have known, and done, better.

I went underground. I admit it. Historically, I have had significant issues coping with anxiety – especially when it arises as a result of things over which I have no control. In reaction I started social distancing long before this health crisis mandated ‘staying away’ for all of us for our collective good. Sure, I was out in the world – interacting with others, maintaining connections and, even, from time to time, giving a good long shout into that there void about those things I find most egregious and upsetting. But none of those reactions have been productive. Not in any real, helpful way.

And certainly not in ways that live up to the example of my grandparents, my extended family and friends, my mother, and especially my father – who left us six years ago today.

But I’ve been noticing something this week. The enforced distancing and isolation (and maybe even self-reflection) that is accompanying responsible responses to the pandemic is producing a movement of support and positivity that I feared was buried beyond recovery in the rhetoric and intentional polarization that has been the norm over the last few years.

All of this socializing media is turning a corner, it would seem. Writers are sharing their work – reading from novels and engaging with their audience in impromptu book clubs to discuss the stories and their origins. Musicians are treating us to tunes recorded in their living rooms – since they can’t get out to come see us in person right now. Teachers are offering parents suggestions of in-home learning they can share with their children as their regular school routines are disrupted – and critics may even be starting to understand the important role that our teachers play in ensuring that our children are able to cope with the world in an informed and responsible way. And cats have retaken their rightful possession of all things interwebs. Okay. Dogs, too. Animals of all kinds, really (and don’t get me started on that sock puppet eating the cars…).

We are seeing communities come together – while remaining at a safely mandated distance – serenading from balconies, offering to drop groceries outside the doors of people who aren’t as mobile or who are at greater risk of exposure if they venture out for necessities. The pulling together stories seem to be outnumbering those that are about the endless tearing apart that has dominated feeds on the twitters and the fbs and the instas for the first time in forever.

Those still seeking to divide are increasingly being ignored – when they aren’t being shouted down in concert.

Resilience is a human characteristic that has been low in its visibility as we deal with people and governments and ingrained systems that remain determined to have us toe a line that continues to benefit those who hold the power – to the detriment of the rest of us. This time of trial that has us all caught in its grasp at the moment seems to be letting us bounce back into an understanding of the importance of community and support of one another as we live together in social groups both – IRL and online.

It’s leading me into something I haven’t felt in a while. Despite the anxiety and concern for those who are most affected by this pandemic – whether in increased concern for the continuing health of those at risk, or as a result of the economic impacts that are coming along with it, and the measures we need to have in place to stop it in its tracks – I’m feeling actual optimism, if cautious (under the circumstances, caution is called for in all things), that we can come back together and find the terrible beauty that is life on this planet with all of our human family.

We seem to be using this time to push for changes that benefit the many. We are offering support where it’s most needed. We are stopping and actually listening to one another when all those around us use voices to discuss experiences and perspectives that might differ from our own way of living in the world.

I realize I am fortunate to be in a country that is showing sincere and reasoned leadership. Even the unqualified brother of the unqualified mayor (who is, inexplicably, premier of the province) is listening to the people who actually know stuff and behaving like a responsible adult who understands the importance of aligning vision and action in this situation. I know that other people don’t have our safety nets – those extant, like our healthcare system, and those newly-created to offer assistance in this unprecedented global situation. I also know that other countries – some really close by – are hampered but the gross incompetence and rank corruption of their ‘elected’ leaders.

But I feel like that might be changing, too. Adversity can bring out the best in us – and, despite the toilet paper hoarders and the hand sanitizer re-sellers, we’re starting to see an increasing amount of good overall.

It’s not Easter, and this isn’t, exactly, a revolution that we’re fighting, but yesterday was the traditional day of the wearing of the green (if celebrated less publicly and enthusiastically than is the usual case) and Yeats’ words resonate through time, regardless.

Hearts with one purpose alone   
Through summer and winter seem   
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream. 

Social structures – with all their benefits AND problems – that we take for granted may well crumble under the new reality that this virus is creating. The lessons of the last years can – if we have been paying attention and if we act in accordance with the better natures that have been on display the last couple of days – lead us to rebuild with a conscious awareness of all the highlighted gaps in equity and fairness and community solidarity that have come to light in the face of this global emergency.

There’s going to be a long haul ahead – with new challenges and picking up the pieces once we are through to the other side, but, if we work at it, we can institute a new world order that builds upon these early glimmers we’ve been this week. It won’t erase the negativity and hatred that became somehow acceptable before we were hit with this, but perhaps we can take a lesson from this history (since it’s so recent and doesn’t involve reading texts written by the winners) and ensure that it doesn’t repeat.

Make music. Or buy it directly from the artists you love, who can’t tour at the moment. Read books – or get back to that writing project you’ve been putting off forever. Check in on one another – and take care of one another. Take this time of enforced social distancing to reflect upon the world we want to see when we can all come together again – following the examples of community support and working together for a common goal, in defiance of created political divisions and antiquated ideologies that are happening right now. Stay home and monitor the clouds and keep watch for their eventual dispersal – and think about how we can maximize the changes we are sensing and enacting as we weather this storm together.

Be the stone. Be the change. Stay safe and well.

A shadow of cloud on the stream   
Changes minute by minute;  
 
Minute by minute they live:   

The stone’s in the midst of all.*

*It occurred to me as I tried to sleep last night that I didn’t cite my source well at all – that should tell you how long it’s been since I’ve written anything. Bad form. The poem cited throughout is Easter, 1916, by my fave poet-dude, W.B. Yeats. He wrote it in response to the unsuccessful Easter Uprising against British rule in Ireland. Most of the revolutionaries who led the uprising were executed for treason. The poem is a reflection of Yeats’ support for Irish nationalism – even though he disagreed with violence as a means to that end – and his disbelief at the actions of the British following the uprising. It is an indication that the powers of the time (the British government) started – rather than stopped – a movement that continued to grow and develop through the act of executing the Irish republican leaders. The shock and horror of that act gave the revolution new life – and birthed the terrible beauty that would forever affect the course of Irish history and Irish-English relations.

‘The world spins, I’m part of it’

‘But I cannot make no sense of it…’

(this line, and the title, borrowed from Eddie Lundon and Gary Daly, from a song I have on a playlist I called ‘September Tunes’)

It’s true. I can’t. If there is sense to be found in most of what is happening around me right now, I’m sure as hell not seeing much evidence of intelligible reality. What I am feeling is lost – amongst the credulous, self-serving, soporific-imbibing portion of the population that saw/sees the current POTUS and Premier of Ontario as viable candidates for leadership. I don’t like feeling lost. It makes me angry.

I don’t think I’m alone in that since the world of social media is mostly vitriolic ranting these days. Some of it, to be sure, is justified. We need to rage against inequity in all its forms and the normalization of criminal behaviours and the spread of hatred. Most days it feels like demoralizing shouting into the void. Evidence piled upon evidence that we remain in the Age of the Selfie – encouraging the priority of the few – those who continue to control the narrative and the purse-strings – over the well-being of the rest of us.

This paradigm – and its trickle-down effect (strange how that works, when the economic theory named as such decidedly does not) – keeps the fires of society-wide narcissism burning as fiercely and destructively as the wildfires that are not, we are told, the result of climate change, yet continue to burn through California, B.C, Northern Ontario…

But this post is not, really, about how loathsomely inexplicable I find those who maintain their support of the jackasses-in-question – and I admit that our local jackass has been garnering the lion’s share of my focus lately. The ‘Murican jackass is a danger to us all, there is no doubt about that, but I can focus on only so much soft-headed tomfoolery and criminality posing as government policy-making without needing a good long lie-down. The DoFo ‘administration’ is poised to do irreparable damage to my city and my province and the 40% of the population that voted for him and his ilk are still buying the soundbites, petty proclamations, and bread-and-circus routine that are the only tools he can command in light of his complete lack of talent, insight, sincerity, and experience. He needs to be the focus of my complete opposition right now.

And it’s not about the horror I feel about the latest revelations regarding the cover-up of abuse in that anachronistic institution of equal parts illogical doctrine and outdated power structure OR the outrage against those that are spinning Apologetics that suggest fabrication and exaggeration, calling the evidence ‘myth’ – ‘fake news’, if you will – and saying that no institution has LESS of a problem with the sexual abuse of minors than the Catholic Church… I feel like I’m the embodiment of the rage emoji.

These things – serious, deleterious, and potentially-irrevocable as they may be – along with some others that are less-atrocious but annoying, nonetheless, have been causing me to react rather than act, lately. I could blame Twitter (and too much time spent watching that feed certainly is somewhat responsible), but the reality is that having so many things coming at me at once is contributing to a bone-deep anomie that has been hard to shake.

This time of year is always reflective for me. I can’t avoid the back-to-school/new beginnings ideation that comes with the winding down of August. I’m sure it’s partly to due with the timing of my birthday (the start of my own, personal New Year), but, despite having not set foot in a classroom in 8 years, I still feel the pull of the new start that defined my life for so many years. That 8 years thing is also interesting. 8 years ago was a milestone birthday, and, on a lovely celebratory getaway with one of my sisters, I spent a lot of time assessing my life as it was and contemplating next steps. The upshot of all that evaluation was a full-on change in career, along with some other life-altering decisions that are still rippling back at me now.

Cycles and such. 8 strikes me as less-symbolic a number than, say, 7 or 3, but I’m sure that some numerologists out there attach a divine importance to 2X4. Regardless, here I am again. Change. Decisions. New directions. I’m starting a new job – on yet another career path – right after the long weekend. I’m excited and hopeful and feeling that the challenges will be good for me. I’ve been stagnating for too long. And I’m thinking, in general, about all those things that aren’t working. Some of the things requiring assessment are the same as they were 8 years ago. I can be a slow-learner, at times. This is not always the most pleasant of exercises, but, if it helps me shift from reacting to acting in my life, it will be well-worth the self-examination.

Change can be hard. I think my Virgo-nature (or, if you don’t believe in horoscopes – full disclosure, I don’t – my tendency to stubbornness) makes change even more difficult. But, if I’ve learned anything about myself over the past decade or so, I can roll with punches. I don’t like it, but I do it. Change and chaos – that foundational element of human understanding of the world – are inextricably linked. I think that’s why we struggle with it so much.

Chaos gets a bad rep. I lost my own little personification of chaos – my Tiamat – back in June, and I did not enjoy coming to terms with that change at all (Canaanite kittens are helping with that, though). I know, because of all those years studying the stuff, that chaos is necessary. Without its latent presence there exists nothing but stasis. Too much is problematic, of course, but we need that trickle of unsettled alteration to drive progress and our work towards better things.

I think change is most difficult when we are in a situation of instability that permits chaos to seem on the ascendent. As the Mesopotamians told us over-and-over, the balance needs to be maintained. For that to happen we need to have clear standards of order. Right now? We do not. Those systems to which we cling for stability – our governments, religious systems, social organizations – they’re the very things creating the anomie and imbalance.

So what do we do when we isolate ourselves – behind phones and screens and pseudonyms – and our social structures fail to support our ideals and expectations?

Order and chaos is an important foundational dichotomy – more effective and representative of human nature than its later interpretation as good/evil. Not all dichotomies are bad. Some are, though. Good/evil is not useful at all. The narratives that one drives are ALL problematic, as I see things. And even worse than that one is us/them. I hate us/them. Us/them is creating far too many narratives in our dysfunctional governance and social-interactions.

We’ve lost all sense of the importance of caring about one another. Community is a concept that seems archaic – unless it is insular and exclusionary. Then we’re okay with it. We are so self-consumed that the thought of providing support to those who need it most is displaced by the selfish (and ridiculously unsustainable) desire for cheaper gas and beer. Relationships – created and dissolved online – are as disposable as the lives of people seeking sanctuary from war-torn places (despite the fact that we are culpable for the origins of those wars). The dynamic has shifted – rapidly and unfortunately. And if we do not feel supported by those around us, the waves of chaos are hard to navigate.

The feeling of disconnection is, if I’m honest, at the heart of my current self-search. Dissatisfaction is often isolating. One feels like one can only complain so much – before becoming burdensome or dismissed or just plain boring.

This week I was part of an example of the opposite of disconnection, though. And it has taken my reflection in a different direction in a matter of days.

I was privileged to grow up in a village in the heart of the country’s largest city. Decidedly (at the time) middle class, it was a wonderful environment – generally speaking. We had multiple parents looking out for us, close friendships that persisted from JK through high school and beyond, and a sense of safety that permitted us to run loose in adventures that rarely ended in injury or other harm. I will refrain from discussion of the sprained ankle and broken arm, both of which I blame on one guy in particular.

That guy grew up around the corner from me. We were in the same class every year from K-8, shared multiple classes in high school AND spent summers together at camp – as campers and on staff. He is a featured player in a ridiculous number of my best memories. And some of the worst ones, too. Maybe not quite a brother, but certainly more than a friend – in spite of the aforementioned injuries. To be fair, I was present for some pretty serious ones that he sustained, as well.

He moved to California a couple of decades ago, so we haven’t seen all that much of each other in the last while. One morning this week I woke up to an email from him. He’s been up at his folks’ cottage on Georgian Bay and came across three boxes of stuff marked ‘do not throw out’. Photos, letters, year books. I was on the receiving end of much of that discovered bounty three days running this week.

He’s not on social media – can’t say as I blame him when it’s as much a burden as a benefit lately – and he was hesitant about how/if to share some of the things he was finding. I made the decision for him – and posted two class photos from our primary school days. I added to the initial two as he forwarded more. That thread now has 163 comments and has spawned early plans for a reunion in September.

As he said, in an email when I told him what I did (easier to apologize than ask permission, and all that) “If it gives 1 person (or a bunch of people) an ‘excuse’ to reach out and connect with old friend/s… long lost friend/s… a brief escape to happier & NO RESPONSIBILITY times… then we’ve done a good thing”.

He also said “I am occasionally asked ‘what’s the toughest thing about leaving’ and the real answer (which I never give) has a lot to do with amazing roots and foundation of growing up in XXX in that era… unlocked doors, friends in every direction 2-4 blocks away, no social media/electronics etc… buddies & buddyettes who loved spending time together in person doing things, looking out for one another, covering for each other etc. Maybe it’s where I am, but have spoken to my older bro about this too… just don’t see kids having the same ‘code’ as we did… certainly weren’t angels- Jesus, far from it… but we were good kids, good morals, good sense of right & wrong and looking out for one another…”

His assessment might be a tad more idyllic in retrospect than it was in reality, but he’s not far off. Right/wrong is another of those dichotomies that serves a purpose. The response to the pictures demonstrates how lucky we were – and how we all seem to know that. We were, then, part of a community, and we remain, now, connected because of that community.

Another old friend posted on the thread: “It’s weird, I was driving home with my son the other day and we took a detour through XXX so I could show him my old schools, houses we lived in, etc. Was feeling nostalgic already, then I got home and went on Facebook to find all this.”

Perhaps it’s that time of year for everyone. I know I needed that reminder, in a week in which I lost the last of the ‘old folks’ who helped raise me, and as I contemplate changing up some personal relationships that sit in a stasis that is disallowing change and growth and/or just plain hurting my heart.

The world does, for the moment, continue to spin, and I am – we all are – part of it. The only way to balance the chaos of the world is to establish – or re-establish – those connections and communities that lead to stabilizing order. We need to remember that we all have to have look out for one another. There is no them, there is only us. Maintaining our connections is work – but it is worthwhile work.

Thanks for the perspective, JAS. Maybe brother is the right word.

 

 

Praying for Time?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou

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

But this post isn’t about George Michael.

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

So that’s not what this is about.

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

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

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

Plus ça change, and all that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Historically and sociologically, apocalyptic thinking develops as a response to the perceived disparity between expectations and societal realities. When we are unhappy in our current situations, we project a better, more hopeful scenario at a future date.

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

Especially when you consider that, in historical literary and religious traditions, the better scenario generally comes after a cataclysmic and status-changing event of some kind that trashes the social or cultural system that is causing the disconnect between expectations and reality (I suggest a recent example: the POTUS-elect actually, beyond all that is reasonable, getting elected). The new reality is posited to be one of justice – as perceived by the person who is unhappy with the current status quo. Religious apocalypses promise salvation as the aftermath of the period of trial and unhappiness. Provided you do the things that are mandated and follow the right order of things. No speaking out against the rules and regs or anything remotely rebellious in nature is permitted. Wait. Now wait a little longer, and the god will set things to rights. Just keep on doing what you were doing. Eventually the winds will shift in your direction.

Puh-lease.

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

And that makes me want to bite something.

For all that I love the myths that have been created in accordance with this particular worldview (some of the best stories are apocalyptic in nature), from a philosophical and personal perspective, it’s my least favourite literary construct. Apocalypticism, by its very nature, negates the life we are living now, promotes complacent acceptance of the status quo, and ignores the lessons of the past in favour of a better tomorrow that might come along at some point in the future. If you let the god/leader/narcissistic reality tv star do what s/he’s going to do.

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

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

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

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

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

Way to shatter illusions, Hollywood.

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

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

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

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

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

We do have time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But he also wrote this:

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

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

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

It’s what George would have wanted.

 

Stories

Stories and Scottishmomus’ wonderful poetry. Two of my favourite things – and perfect for a snowy April afternoon.

scottishmomus

the stories that need telling fall clumsily

on trails where tributes lie in winding lanes

on cobbled streets of needle-darkened alleys

in shop doorways where sad stories lurch in pain

the stories to remember stumble onwards

resistance plied while truths they serve to give

truths that need the hearing and the telling

giving voice to thoughts of those who barely live


the stories that need telling cause much grieving

these stories they are mourned while others dance

on bloodied, bended knees scarred stories whimper

begging, fighting, pleading, one more chance

the stories we’ve forgotten haunt our dreamscapes

filling us with fear that those we love could be

a story on the corner there but for graces

someone’s child or parent, you or me


the stories sprawled on walls are unenchanting

apoetic in their prose and permanence

these monuments that matter, disassembled

the humblest stories lost to prominence

unhinged of wing they travel like their namesake

foiled phoenix burnt to ashes must reform

soul stories scattered, littered, on rough pavements

barred temples to the place where freedom’s…

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Can We Rebrand the Humanities? (Spoiler: Yes. And we need to.)

An insightful overview of the necessity of re-branding to emphasize the importance of the Humanities.

Shaunanagins

As someone who studied both marketing and history (and who finds her history degree a super valuable part of that mix) the question often crosses my mind: “How can I sell my history degree?”

It shouldn’t be that hard, really. As a history undergraduate student, I just came out of a program with intensive research and written/oral communication training. I can mine through data about almost any topic, large or small. I can draw conclusions. I can organize the information. The list goes on and on. I have already gone over that.

When I see the words “B.A. in History,” I see all that.

I just don’t think employers always do. That’s a problem.

Employers often have no understanding of the transferable skills embedded in the discipline. It’s like they see my degree and the only thing that comes to mind is their boring high school history teacher from 1971…

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passing in the night

Some words of wisdom and inspiration from my friend, Anne-Marie. It’s been a day filled with inspiration from wise and talented women. A breath of fresh air.

scottishmomus

I have awakened from a dream of you at this ungodly hour

With words upon my lips and in my mind,

Declarations pending, liminal in style

But yours to me and these are what I find.

Words upon the surface with a core that runs below,

Unhallowed, but hollowed from a mine,

Checked for flaws and riddled

But diamond in their worth,

Hesitant but sight-giving to one blind.

In darkness of the pits and night,

Stars call to the soul,

Dazzle first, cause disarray

Then guide as days of old.

Sought among the heavens

Above, seven plough’d beneath,

Expressed in words that sigh with guilt,

Extend such brief relief.

Buried deep in grounds around

And painted in the skies

The words are writ in diamond dust,

Sparkled in the eyes.

Such are those that woke my sleep

And furnish here you see

But spoken not from my lips,

Such were…

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Power To All Our Friends…..

Please have a look at this wonderful post by my friend Anne-Marie. She hits on so many of the things that I’ve spoken about in the past and that have led to dialogues between the two of us. The need for effective education- including the humanities- and the necessity of holding our politicians accountable for all action are worldwide concerns that require our immediate attention. If scottishmomus doesn’t get you thinking about these things, I don’t know who will.

scottishmomus

So I ‘do’ poetry and fantasy and sensuality. A little eroticism goes a long way for me too. I ‘do’ family and politics. And pretty much anything that comes up my humph if the truth be told. And I’m partial to the truth. Even though it hurts sometimes.

There’s something of a crisis occurring on this little planet of ours. And all the sex and romance in the world can’t nullify its presence.

Huge stuff.

Stuff that puts matters of shagging and candlelit dinners into the shadows. Stuff that affects us all. And our kids.

There’s a power battle going on. Yup. Let’s call it evil and good. Devil versus God. Call it what you will. Well, no. For the sake of argument and clarity let’s call it what it is.

It is the battle between selfishness and the well-being of humans as a species.

Have I got that quite…

View original post 1,400 more words