It’s beginning to look a lot like…

Toronto Christmas Market in the Distillery District

Actually, it’s not. Looking anything like Xmas. At all.

It’s 9 degrees at the moment. NINE degrees. Going up to a high of 11. On Xmas Adam (I call it that since Adam came before Eve. Little biblical studies joke…). My City by the Lake isn’t looking all that traditionally-Canadian-Xmasy, to be honest.

I’m okay with it. Really I am. After the years of the ‘Polar Vortices‘, I’m pretty much done with ridiculous cold and snow, so the unseasonable warmth isn’t to blame for the spirit of the season taking more than its usual sweet time to arrive on my doorstep.

There are any number of factors contributing to my lack of festive feeling – as evinced by most of what I’ve written ’round these parts lately (when I’ve written anything at all) – but it’s hard to lay full blame on the existential ennui caused by our world leaders and the (in)actions that they’re taking, when we, here in Canada, have seen such a positive shift in attitudes in such a short period of time.

We are welcoming new Canadians, driven from their former homes by the conflict in Syria, as other places stand steadfast in their faulty reasoning and seek to prohibit such humanitarian outreach. My hometown is getting back on its feet after the initial hangover period since that idiot was ousted from the mayor’s office a little over a year ago. There’s good stuff happening. As often as not, lately, I find myself in tears while watching the evening news – not because of the crimes we commit against one another, but due to demonstrations of kindness, for a change.

The bad is still there – all over the world, certainly, but all-too-significantly in evidence south of the border as moronic, xenophobic fear mongers seek the leadership of that country (and as credulous, fearful people support their inflammatory and disgusting rhetoric) – and the uncertainty I feel as to how to understand and work to change that badness continues to hang over me like a Damoclean sword.

So there is that. Distracting, for sure. But I think the real struggle to find my merry lies in the merciless commercialization of the season that I’m feeling around me this year. Is it worse than in years past? Perhaps not, but, for whatever reason, the in-your-face grab-and-greed of the season has me disconcerted more than usual.

My emotional links to the time of year are all sentimental – it has nothing to do with religion/belief (obv), it isn’t about giving gifts for the sake of getting gifts (the exchange of lists of stuff is something that I will never truly comprehend), and the corporate push to make us buy stuff according to economic schedules and forecasts makes every fibre of my being rebel. It should be all about family and friends, taking a few days here and there to relax and hang out and spend the one thing that matters – time – with those I love best.

I’ve been feeling pulled toward too much of the former and nowhere near enough of the latter this year. There aren’t enough hours in the day to get things done, yet the things needing doing aren’t really those things I want to be doing, if you get me. There have been a whole lot of feelings of obligation floating around for the past few months. I’m okay with obligation- provided it’s to a person/cause/idea that is important. Fighting crowds out buying stuff and running like a headless chicken to cross things off lists? Yeah. I can do without that sort of obligation.

Still. To paraphrase a wise, baseball-playing ghost (as opposed to one of those spooky, judgemental-if-helpful ghosts of past, present or future), ‘if you build it, it will come’. The spirit of the season, that is. It will come to be housed in a place built with things like tradition and quality time with important peeps.

I got a start on that last Friday night. I know I mention the Skydiggers Xmas show at The Horseshoe Tavern every year. There’s a reason for that. It’s something we’ve done for years and years and years – since the very first year, in fact. My presence was sporadic in the years I spent in exile in Ottawa, but I have perfect attendance since being back where I belong. 8-years running, as of last Friday.

We were a small group this year; three of us, compared with last year’s turnout of 17 (getting those tickets was fun- I had to go to TWO locations to pick them up, since the 20-something-year-old hipster at Rotate This wouldn’t sell me more than 8. I get that there’s a policy to prevent scalping… but seriously. While I’m not sure I know what a scalper looks like, I’m pretty sure it ain’t me. Plus it was a show at the HORSESHOE. A SKYDIGGERS show at the HORSESHOE… but I digress…), and 15 the year before that.

Which might have made the evening’s importance that much more pronounced, when I think about it. Will (the originator of the tradition) and I have been there – more or less, as I mentioned – since the beginning, and I can’t imagine a Skydiggers Xmas without him. Shawn is a relative newcomer (he’s only been coming for the last decade or so), but he finds as much importance and meaning in the get-together as any of us oldtimers.

It’s a big deal, but a big deal that, as is generally the case with these guys of mine, isn’t often articulated. There’s an underlying understanding of the importance of the night, and how, for many of us, Xmas isn’t Xmas until we’ve seen those guys take the stage on that dive bar on Queen Street.

And oh, those guys (and lady- can’t leave out Jessy). It was fullest complement this year – Peter Cash seems to have remembered how much he loves hanging with them and playing those tunes since he joined them on their 25th anniversary tour last year, so he spent the whole show up on that stage where he belongs, singing songs that never sound quite right without his voice.

We three agreed that the set list was the best it’s ever been. Ever. The whole playlist (minus ’80 Odd Hours’- but even mentioning its absence seems petty in the face of all that was included) from 25+ years of being the band that represents a good chunk of my favourite associations with my hometown.

I’m rediscovering Toronto lately. Looking for a house means that I’m spending a lot of time visiting neighbourhoods I haven’t seen in a long time. It’s cool to find myself on a street that is so familiar-yet-different, and realizing that I haven’t been down that way in many a moon.

But the memories are there. My grandfather, in particular, and then my parents after him, made sure that we saw a lot of the city when we were kids. They ensured that we visited its neighbourhoods and landmarks. When I first moved back, I led walking tours as part of my volunteer gig at the ROM.

I know this town pretty well. I love this town a whole lot.

The band is as much a part of that love and that history as is the tavern in which they entertain us every year (the Horseshoe will have its 70th anniversary next year…).

Perhaps because we were a smaller designation – and perhaps because we consumed fewer 50s than is the norm (Will was getting over a bout of food poisoning, Shawn had to work in the morning, and I had houses to go see) – I paid closer attention to the band, and the tunes, than is usual. As much as we love to see them, the night is about spending time together and, to be honest, the music can sometimes be a bit of a backdrop to catching up with the peeps.

Andrew Cash made his usual appearance – with a great version of Elvis Costello’s ‘Pump it Up’, and some good-humoured jokes about having a fair bit of time on his hands since October 19 (Andrew lost his seat as the NDP MP for Davenport in the Liberal shake-up that was the last federal election) – but it was Jessy and Andy singing a Andrew-penned tune (co-written by Charlie Angus- another NDP MP) that, in retrospect, had the biggest impact on me this year.

Odd, that a bittersweetly plaintive song about someone who feels far from home while in the city is so resonant with me. This city is my home.

Still, as I walk down Dundas Street every night after work, I can feel some of the disconnection that they’re talking about. It’s inescapable in a place this big and this diverse.

I also know that Xmas Eve snow (though it’s unlikely that we’ll see it this year), and wandering the streets – all alone, thinking about yesterday, and regrets – as it falls, and hearing the bells – from St. James’, from St. Patrick’s, from St. Andrew’s – when the lights are lit, the roads are quiet and this city of over 6 million people feels like a small town.

Even when there’s an edge of sadness to the wanderings and the thoughts, my town grounds me and reminds me of the people who came before me and helped to shape the person I am now. I am Toronto – even when I’m disconnected and a little dysfunctional.

Hear the church bells ringing down Dundas Street

Calling the lost, and calling the weak

And the angels singing ‘come home’ 

I’m so very happy that I did. Come home. Finally.

My thanks to my Skydiggers for helping me to recapture a seasonal awareness of that which is best about the world and my life. You’ve been doing it for decades. I hope you’re around to do so for decades to come. To my two guys: love and thanks for your company at the show and the opportunity to, once again, get the season started in our own, traditional, manner. May it continue. Always.

And I hope that all of you, my friends, my family, are in a place – or with the people – that you call ‘home’ as we celebrate the ending of another year on this planet of ours. Whatever your traditions or definition of quality time, best wishes for the holiday season and for the year to come. 2016 will be a year of positive change and progress – I can feel it. And I look forward to sharing it with you all.

xo

 

 

Increasing the Nones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which isn’t good.

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

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

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

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

What a thing to behold.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘You know it’s dark…’

Photo: Toronto Star

That’s what the big, pointy thing in my backyard looked like last night.

I’ve turned off the television and I’m avoiding social media as best I can. Once again, hatred is coming to the fore and demonstrating the depravity and delusional depths to which we, as humans, can sink. I can’t handle the speculation and the voyeurism that is the norm when things like this happen. I’m not sure that I have anything at all that I can add to any sort of dialogue about why we, as humans, continue to do these things to each other. This blog is full of posts (here’s one), and my life is full of ghosts of discussions-past, that strive to address underlying causes and the nonsensical clinging to anachronistic and out-of-context ideologies that suborn these types of horrors. I’m exhausted from re-hashing my dialectic around why we must address- and enact- the complete separation of world statecraft and politics from any and all mindless adherence to mythologies and social controls that are out of place and time.

If you really want to, you can search back through the catalogue and find far too many reactionary posts that arose out of tragedies of this sort. Before the first indicators of the events of yesterday started in my feed, I was toying with an idea for a post- a break from the fiction I’ve been trying to write lately- in the form of a belated experiential slice-of-life sort of a thing that spoke about the goodness of the life I enjoy. Given that it was going to be a post about a music show, in a local music hall, the subject’s poignancy has taken on a new dimension. Going out of an evening to share the connection that music brings to those of us who value such things above the irrelevancies of constructed divisions and preconceptions is something that I hold to be a sacred (for lack of a more appropriate term. Yes, I get the irony) part of being a human that shares this planet with other humans.

So I’m writing it anyway. I’ll take comfort in memories of some of the real, tangible, good to which I have been a privileged party. I welcome anyone who might like to join me, but I understand that many of you are glued to the incoming messages and the pain associated with the images and realities of the situation. I will return to despairing over the crimes we commit against each other when we have more than speculation and in-the-moment reactions with which to deal. Especially since, once again, the soundbites and commentaries are fanning the flames of racism and xenophobia and demonstrating, yet again, wrong-headed thinking that stems from positions of privilege. If you want to read some excellent insights into that reality, have a look at this op-ed. Totally jibes with my thoughts on the subject of the day-presented more clearly than I can manage at this point.

Outrage and grief are understandable, and certainly warranted. I’d be the last to suggest otherwise. But what is, per usual, missing (for the most part- the essay linked above is a welcome exception) is perspective, and rational response. Enough. On to some regularly-scheduled programming…

——————————- 

For Canadians, Thanksgiving comes early (relative to our neighbours down south, that is). I had booked some vacation time around the October holiday- hoping to get some things done and have a bit of a break from the workaday normalcy. Those Blue Jays were still in the running and providing us all with some awesome post-season excitement. It was a warm weekend in this City by the Lake, and, after a lovely dinner with the fam, I’d arranged to meet an old friend up at Lee’s Palace (not the ‘Shoe, but probably my second-fave live venue in town) to see a guy who feels like an old friend.

The Wheat Sheaf Tavern had set up tvs outside- for smokers, people passing on the street and those, like me, waiting for streetcars. I witnessed another of those amazing Kevin Superman Pillar catches before the Red Rocket whisked me north. As I walked over from Bathurst, every bar on Bloor was playing the baseball game, and I was reassured that we were solidly in control of the game. Since all was good with the Boys in Blue, I was ready for some high octane rocking and rolling (admittedly, there were text updates throughout the evening- no disrespect to the star of the show at all, but it had been 22 years since the Jays were in the post-season. 22. Long. Years).

Jesse Malin has come up in my WordPressWorld discussions a time or two- he’s one of the most engaging live artists I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a few) and he never fails to entertain. The holiday and the Jays’ game pretty much validated my concerns about the timing of the show- there weren’t a whole lot of people on hand. But my friend had rearranged his family dinner plans to make the show, and we tend to celebrate big dinners early in the day, anyway, so we were there, wearing our proverbial bells and hoping to make enough noise to make up for the poor turn-out.

We got there in time to see most of the opening act- Matthew Ryan, a dude out of Philly who writes and plays solid story-songs that offered important messages that were lovely, lyrically and musically, both. Between songs, he spoke of the importance of engagement- political or otherwise- words that rang especially vividly leading up, as we were, to that federal election. We got to have a quick chat with him- and snap a few pictures- between sets. Always a bonus to meet the person behind newly-discovered music.

By the time Jesse hit the stage the crowd hadn’t grown significantly, but it didn’t take long for him to entice us all down to the dance floor for a sing-and-dance-a-long that turned into one of my favourite nights of live music, ever.

In the last year he has released two albums of new music (yes, I said TWO). The most recent, Outsiders, had dropped the previous week. I admit that I hadn’t had much of a chance to listen to the newest stuff (the lack of real computer means that I remain hesitant to download the albums- and I like, whenever possible, buying CDs from merch tables at shows- so I’d relied on streams from various sources and some YouTube viewing to catch myself up), but, having seen the guy three times previously, I knew that the live versions of the new stuff would be the stuff of which memories are made.

I was right.

Jesse’s been at his craft for a few years decades now (he started performing at CBGBs when he was 12. Yes, that says 12), and his live shows are things of beauty. He’s a consummate professional- the voice, the backing band, the energy… and the lack of crowd deterred him not-at-all. Within a couple of songs he had joined us on the dance floor- belting out his new material (with a few older standbys in the mix) and showing just how classy working musicians can be. A few people came close to being clothes-lined by his mic cord as he moved among us, but great music- and its appreciation- is about taking chances, and should be riddled with the potential for a little danger.

Man.

I’ve tried to isolate some of the highlights in my mind. It’s difficult, though. His shows (even the one that packed the ‘Shoe because the TIFF glitterati thought the Boss might show up- I wrote about that one here) always seem more like a kitchen ceilidh- hanging with friends, sharing some stories and dancing ’til your feet hurt and your cheeks ache from the smiling and singing along.

I visited the merch table- of course- and bought both New York Before the War and Outsiders. Since the show I’ve had them both on repeat pretty constantly.

Hard as it is to choose favourites, this one stands out from New York Before the War:

I love the references to Dee Dee Ramone (clarification: turns out I got my musical allusions wrong. I checked out a YouTube clip, ‘Live at Vintage Vinyl’, today, and Jesse provided some background on the tune. In Addicted he’s actually referencing the life and death of Arturo Vega- the close friend and artistic director of the Ramones, who, among other things, designed that iconic logo of theirs. LOVE the stories this guy tells about his experiences and travels. Check out the performance if you have an hour- his story about Shane MacGowan- as a lead-in to his version of If I Should Fall from Grace with God… so awesome)- who has to be a personal hero of Jesse’s (he pops up in earlier tunes, as well), and the NYC atmosphere that resonates throughout. The themes of tearing things down (bookstores for condos, for example) and moving on- or being forced to move on- are visited throughout the album, which is a working-out of all kinds of things that have been floating around his head since 2010’s Love it to Life. It’s about how quickly things are changing, without requisite time or sensitization to get used to all the dramatic shifts in paradigm that we experience nowadays. The album reflects on the disposable culture we’ve created, the prevalent apathy and mindless following of trends, and addresses the realities of having to deal with horrible, terrible things- but still manages to find a spark of positivity that keeps us keeping on. And dancing while we do so.

Outsiders is darker, but also playful and full of tongue-in-cheek humour than demonstrates his masterful use of language and lyric.

At Lee’s, he talked a little about filming the video for this one. About how it was sweltering that day in New Orleans as they made their way around town to gather the images to accompany the lyrics- capturing NOLAs ‘away-ness’ in his song about the eventual return to his home- where his heart remains.

I can’t stop listening to it. Seriously. Non-stop. It’s my new  get-up-and-deal-with-the-day tune. Naturally, the title resonated quite personally. Sort of foregone, conclusion-wise, that I’d be intrigued. The song is so full of allusions and references and well-connected turns-of-phrase… I’m gushing, I realize. And if it doesn’t make you feel like dancing… you might want to get that looked at.

After the show wound up, still feeling kind of breathless, I thanked Jesse, as he passed on the way to merch, for coming to see us again, and for giving us such a fantastic night. He signed my new CDs, and posed for some photos with us, while chatting away about past shows at the ‘Shoe and other visits to TO.

Loved it. All of it. (Many thanks again to Mr. G- for the company, and the ticket, and the long-ago intro to Jesse’s music).

Nights like that demonstrate the best of us human-types. People making art, sharing art, connecting with strangers and reinforcing the reality that those things we create to share with love are much more important than the things we create to feed divisiveness and hatred.

We need that message on days like yesterday- and today. Thank you, Jesse, for your long-term and ever-developing role as messenger.

——————————-

“Hey man, whatcha doing,

All along the road to ruin

You know it’s dark when atheists start to pray.”

The crimes committed in France yesterday are bringing out the hashtags and the superficial demonstrations of engagement and encouragement. One of them, #prayforparis, is generating backlash, as others post things about there being too much prayer- and asserting that prayer is the origin of the problem. While I understand the sentiment behind the hashtag, I have to concur with the naysayers who are pointing out that fighting against hateful ideology- supported by religions and political systems, both- is what we should be doing.

Charlie Hebdo’s message to the world (cartoon by Joann Sfar)

As a concept, I’ve always thought that prayer, the way it’s generally defined by western religions- as an intransitive verb that addresses god(s) with adoration, supplication, thanksgiving or confession- is the ultimate cop-out. Asking a deity- any deity- to intervene in problems of our own making, horrific acts performed by humans against other humans, removes us, in a way that is criminal, from taking responsibility and proactively working to make things better.

It is dark. In the City of Light, in Lebanon, in Kenya, in too many other places on this globe.

But there’s another definition of the term- one that is distanced from overtones of religion and belief- and the abrogation of human culpability. As a transitive verb, ‘to pray’ means ‘to entreat or implore’, often used as an introduction to a question, request or plea.

I can get behind that last bit. Pleading. With all of us, as human beings, to mourn, to punish the guilty who seek to end or disrupt the lives of others for reasons that can never suffice. But vilifying and scapegoating entire groups while blaming and further victimizing those who are fleeing the terror… I implore us all to think before we act/react/speak.

That’s how this atheist prays.

Nomenclature

Image result for picture worth a thousand words quote

There’s an old nugget of wisdom that talks about a picture being worth a whole bunch o’ words. Its origins are disputed- claims of historical (that it originated with the likes of Napoleon Bonaparte, for example) and religious (Confucius) authority have been attempted to lend weight to its message- but it first showed up in the context of journalism and/or publicity (Frederick R. Barnard used it to convey the importance of graphics in advertising). Overall, that’s unsurprising.

I don’t know a whole lot about PR and/or marketing. Not my wheelhouse- and I find the concept behind such things uncomfortable, to say the least, what with their raisons d’être of manipulation and control.

A lot of us saw a picture last month. That picture rendered many of us speechless. With shock, with sorrow, with the reality of a tiny face given to millions of people who have been, for years now, fleeing chaos in their homeland.

I have my thoughts about how we, in the west, have been dealing with the issues that have created and exacerbated the strife in that area of the world. I’ve grieved for the people, as I’ve mourned the loss of their personal histories and the loss of the collective history of all of us humans as precious monuments are destroyed alongside lives yet uncounted.

Visuals are important- and it’s impossible to imagine our current (popular) culture without them. My generation was the first to see a war on the television- and the images of that war helped shape a response- from our parents and communities and governments- when the refugee crisis it prompted hit our shores, far away from South East Asia, in the form of people seeking asylum and relief from the chaos.

Pictures are invaluable- and can be, as we’ve seen this week, the tipping point toward enough awareness that change may actually be effected.

But me? I deal in words (I don’t even have a camera, tbh)- I find comfort and strength and expression through their effective use.

Something that has been bugging me for the past while has become uncomfortably blatant with all of the press coverage and political rhetoric that stemmed from the fallout after that picture appeared. Even weeks on, it’s framing our dialogue about what is happening overseas.

Since April or so the media has been talking about something called the ‘European Migrant Crisis’. Not that there was all that much real dialogue about it out there- but, when the news outlets chose to mention the influx of people into Europe everyone referred to them as migrants.

I have a problem with that. There are connotations associated with that particular term’s definition that belie the reality of what has been happening. In its common usage, there is an implied sense of choice associated with the word. Migrant workers, for example, have opted- for a variety of reasons- to work outside of their home region or country.

Here in Canada, we have temporary, seasonal agricultural workers who come from places like the Caribbean and Mexico to help farmers during periods of planting, cultivating and harvesting. And, once the harvest is in, they head back where they came from.

Migrant, as a categorizing term, implies an eventual return to the home country/region. A ‘temporary foreign worker‘ by another name.

Migration- in human terms- is simply defined as physical movement from one place to another with the intention of settling elsewhere- either temporarily or permanently. When they move, voluntarily, into a new area they are called immigrants. Sometimes they are called illegal immigrants (I’ll set aside the absurdity of applying a descriptor such as ‘illegal’ to human beings for another day. Acts are illegal. People should not be categorized as such)- when the country to which they migrate isn’t particularly open-arms-welcoming of them.

Involuntary human migration usually involves horrific things like human trafficking and slave trading: people who are taken, against their will, elsewhere for the economic benefit of other people.

It seems that, thankfully, I’m not completely alone in my distress about the irresponsible use of inflammatory language when we’re dealing with human beings in crisis. This morning I found this article, emphasizing the need for “accurate and well reported media coverage (that) will contribute to a balanced debate and will assist in fostering real respect and calmness in the face of deep human suffering. Refugees – all people actually – deserve to be treated with dignity and respect; in our public discourse as well as through our actions.”

There has been response from politicians and editorial writers (I found that opinion piece in the facebook feed of one of my childhood- and now, adulthood- heroes, Raffi), and, of course those journalists who have found evidence aplenty to lay the blame for our continued national inaction at the feet of our former federal government. Now the conversation is turning toward assessments of whether or not our new PM-elect can fulfill his promises to expedite the process of accepting refugees into the country.

They’re callin’ all the shots, they’ll call and say they phoned
They’ll call us lonely when we’re really just alone
Like a funny film, it’s kinda cute
They’ve bought the bullets and there’s no one left to shoot

Watching the local news channel this morning as I breakfasted, the anchor spoke repeatedly of the ‘refugee crisis’ and how awareness has increased since the photo appeared. At the same time, the teletype headline below her referred to violence between migrants and guards at railway and bus stations in various places in Eastern Europe.

We seem to be in a period of extreme dissociative identity disorder. But with the voices that found government-sanctioned support of their racism and irrational prejudices tempered (for the moment, anyway) by the election of representatives that promise to end such detestable divisiveness, perhaps we can make the conversations- and actions- more in keeping with the human rights concerns of the majority of this county.

Hope for a new day.

(I actually kept this post to 1000 words!)

I fear we won’t see her like again…

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or woman.

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

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

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

False Narratives

I don’t like liars.

I’m not talking about those little white untruths, the glossing over of things that most of us do from time-to-time in order to save feelings or avoid engaging in discussions that we know will circle endlessly around on themselves.

I’m talking about deception for deception’s sake- that primary tool in the arsenals of the majority of those who are seeking leadership roles. The false narratives being created to drive soundbites and ad campaigns are repugnant to a shameful degree.

I voted last week- one of more than 3.6 million Canadians who took advantage of the advance polls over the long weekend. Some of us- 71% more of us than voted in advance polling for the 2011 federal election- were likely weary of this never-ending campaign- running, as it did, throughout the summer- but I know that I did so in order to legitimately be able to tune out the fabrications and falsehoods that seemed to increase with each passing day.

Done with that. My die is cast. I can only hope that others see past the prevaricating and patronizingly paternal posturing of the past few months (and past decade, for that matter) and chose progressive change.

Thinking about the false narratives our leaders insist on feeding us gave rise to some personal reflection, and I realized, that while I’m not running for public office, and therefore not beholden to a reasonable degree of personal scrutiny, I’m not sure I have the moral high ground to be calling out kettles of any particular hue.

I’m sort of a fraud, myself.

Since I was off work this past week- taking some time to ‘catch up’ on stuff that too often falls by the wayside in the regular day-to-day of it all- I’ve been trying to focus on getting some writing done. Working on narratives that haven’t seen much action, of late, and feeling a little like a neglectful parent as I’ve done so.

We all have stories, and we all choose to communicate those stories in different ways. I’ve always had an inclination for the written word, so the stories that fill my head most often take the form of fictional narratives.

Around these parts, I tend toward the ‘essay’ or ‘opinion piece’, and I logged my fair share of hours researching and writing non-fiction, in the form of academic papers and that one big book that languishes on the shelf behind me, but my main hankering is for making up stuff- people and places and things that happen.

Even in the non-fiction, though, my voice comes through clearly, I think. When I started this blog, as a newbie- looking for a way to write about things that move me (myths, religion, music, social justice- you know, all that stuff you’ll find if you pop around the past posts)- I was a little daunted by the public nature of the forum. Since I’m a generation (or two) older than those who were born with iPhones clutched in tiny hands, I was suspicious of the potential exposure that might come with putting it all out there.

I was, at the time (and currently- but that’s another story), looking for a new career- having left the academic world following a whole lot of soul searching and self-evaluation. I read all kinds of horror stories about people who were black-listed for opinions or photos shared, a moment’s lapse, the ‘publish’ button accidentally tapped… You know- lives changed in an instant by the judgmental, under-educated trolling types that thrive on the Interweb.

Also, I had concerns about compromising any potential future academic roles (no use burning even hypothetical bridges) by spouting off about the state of post-secondary education, as I see the situation, and so I erred (if erring it was) on the side of anonymous caution.

I made the decision to write pseudonymously. I thought that doing so would afford a measure of security, and offer the opportunity to write in a different voice. Cole Davidson is the name of the narrator of a fictional piece of something I’ve been working on for a very long time.

Interestingly, although I never confirmed or denied one way or another, most of my return readers- many who have become friends over the years- assumed that I’m male, which, given the name, is, I guess, not surprising. Reading some of the earliest posts (and some of them make me cringe, so if you’re feeling curious, please tread lightly) I, at least, can see the struggle between first- and third- person, vying for the post of narrator. Telling my own stories, but doing so as if I’ve told them to someone else who is now recounting them… yeah. That got old fast. Though perhaps not fast enough.

I quickly discovered that this blog had the potential to be an on-going conversation– and the discussions that I’ve had here never cease to amaze me. In order to fully engage in this dialectic, I let go of all traces- save the pseudonym- of the literary conceit that even possibly prevented me from speaking authentically as myself.

A little while ago, one of my former students sent me a PM commenting on one of my posts (since they are linked to my Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter pages- I also have a Tumblr, but I’m rarely over that way, these days- posts are connected to my not-so-secret identity, as well), talking about what I’d written and asking why I assumed a male voice in communicating my ideas. Having listened to me over the course of a year of lectures and study groups, she was quite convinced that the voice was mine- and a little confused as to why I’d assume a male persona while writing about the stuff I used to teach about.

She wasn’t critical- just curious. She is a great writer, and has adopted different voices herself, so was looking to chat about my experience doing so.

I’ve been writing as Cole for long enough now, that I sometimes forget that’s it’s not ‘really’ me putting ‘myself’ out there. If he ever had his own voice (and I hope he still does- in the novel, at least), then he’s been over-shouted by mine, hereabouts.

The fact that I don’t use my real name is the only fictive part of my existence here at colemining. It’s all me- so very much so that I long ago left behind all hopes of sorting out the character whose name I assumed, with all good intentions, in this particular outlet.

Which means, that if the real Cole Davidson is to see the light of day (and I think he deserves to do so- especially since some usurper stole his identity more than two years ago), it will have to be in a different place- the one he was ‘born’, if you will, to inhabit. So I’m working on the fiction again. Stealing time (and who has enough of that, these days?) away from my peeps in this WordPress world, in order to spend some in one that I have created in its entirety (insofar as anyone ever creates anything whole-cloth. That world is recognizably similar to our own, after all).

Divided loyalties, of a sort. But no one ever said that paying attention to all the voices in my head was supposed to be easy.

Those of you who visit regularly, might have noticed that I posted a photo a few months back – and ‘outed’ myself, to a degree, at least. That I didn’t hesitate to do so is an indication that the dividing line between me and Cole has disappeared, assuming there ever was one. Going back over some older posts, I noticed that when I refer to myself it is often in an e e cummings-esque lower case sort of manner – although even that little editorial nuance isn’t terribly consistent. Cole fighting cole, for ascendancy or something Regardless, cole is not really Cole. And never has been.

I’m starting to think, despite our seeming estrangement, we have become a little co-dependent.

I did hang out with him a bit this week. I feel like we’re on the road to re-acquaintance, but it will take some more quality time to really renew a sense of one another and figure out what has changed since we last chatted. It’s been a long time. I think he’s changed – become more like me than I thought possible- but some of that will remain to be seen as we continue our discussions. Despite what some superstition-loving-deniers may think, we humans continue to evolve. And so, too, should our creations.

From one way of looking at things, it shouldn’t matter who I am. If something I’ve said resonates, then groovy. Let’s chat about it. But, as I’ve said before, context matters. A lot. And identity is part of context.

That doesn’t mean I’m unmasking completely. There are even more horror stories out there than when I started this thing. Atheist bloggers are targeted and murdered in parts of this world (not Toronto, admittedly, but still), and writers who speak against established norms lose livelihoods and freedoms under elites who seek to cling to power.

I currently live in a country in which, I’m ashamed to say, scientists are muzzled and unfunded for speaking truths against the government’s agenda and policy-making machine. I’m not confident that civil disobedience and speaking out against social injustice won’t end up getting my name on a CSIS watch list.

I’m hopeful that these things don’t come to full fruition- that the citizens of this nation will vote against politics of fear and division so we can regain our status in the eyes of the world- and, most importantly, live with ourselves.

We’ll find out tomorrow. In between innings of the baseball game. I’ve set my current priorities, and the Jays are top of that heap at the moment. I’m loving the story they’re creating, this Blue October. I’ll re-engage with the political reality once it is actually realized.

Demonstrating, once again, that we seem to share a brain, my lovely Glaswegian friend, Anne-Marie, posted about her decision to, once again, sign up for NaNoWriMo- that interesting social media phenomenon that is supposed to help writers get it together and crank up their word counts.

I did that a couple of years ago. I think it was a good exercise, but here we are now, and the novel of that November is no closer to being finished. Not really. So rather than signing up, I think I’ll just commit to spending more time with that other Cole- and all his friends- as a way of focusing my writing for the next while.

After I finish up an entry to the CBC Canada Writes short story contest, that is. While keeping things short isn’t really my forte (note the word count of this post, for example), if I’m going to diversify as a way of focusing, I might as well go all out.

So I might be around even less, for a little bit (I know, I’ve hardly been here, lately, as it is). My drive to survive- and thrive- through the telling of some stories will be changing direction.

I’ve gotten all fan-girl over Umberto Eco a number of times. He is an inspiration in so many ways. But as I looked for a pithy little saying/graphic to top this latest piece of something, I was torn by the number of quotes out there for the picking. Writers I admire, writers I just plain love. All those creators of stories that make the world a little better.

There’s a difference between narratives that are fictional and those that are intentionally false. The latter are designed to influence the credulous and further the agendas of their creators, orators and those who are complicit in the perpetuation of the lies (no names mentioned certain Canadian media outlets…).

The former, written with best intentions, add insights and truth to our on-going human dialogue.

I’ve set the record straight, at least a little, regarding my own participation in this here narrative space. I go back to work tomorrow. I’m hoping that through the self-evaluation of this mini-break I’ve figured out a way to spend the day fulfilling my work responsibilities, while still retaining enough creative impetus to come home and spend time with Cole et al- for at least a space of time each evening.

The elections results tomorrow will be a distraction (as will the debrief following the whole, sad business), and those Jays have a couple of weeks of baseball left to play (first two games in KC notwithstanding, As I keep reminding myself, there’s no crying in baseball, and we’ve come back from this type of deficit before), but, moving forward, I need to work at drowning out the irrelevant hindrances that serve to do no more than raise my blood pressure and existential ire.

Whatever masks we might wear, as writers or as people, I really believe that our best stories come from places of sincerity and honesty. In them, we can find our best reasons for engaging with the world and our fellow humans. If we cut out all the white noise.

So, a new beginning for me. Perhaps by moderating my propensity to preach to various choirs- both here and in my current day job- I can figure out a way to tell the stories I’ve been wanting to tell for as long as I can remember. Which requires tapping into the voice of my namesake for a time, and seeing what he might have to say about it all if I give him (back) his narrative lead.

There’s a quote (attributed to Charles Darwin but stemming, in all real likelihood from a synopsis of On the Origin of Species presented by some guy named Leon C. Megginson. Ah, misattribution. Hurts my historian-sensibilities) that goes something like this: It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

I think a change would do me good.

What’s it worth to you?

I am reallyreally angry that I’m having to write this. Really.

As of this afternoon I am officially on ‘staycation’- some time off work that was booked ages ago, before the Canadian dollar started its slide downdowndown and made us re-think a US holiday, at this time. Even though I’ll be taking some work home with me, it’s the first more-than-an-extra-long weekend I’ve had off since last years’ trip to the UK (which included my meet-up with the incomparable Anne-Marie, who lovingly and poetically remembered our pub night last week).

I’m okay with the ‘stay’ part. Especially since at 3:37 this afternoon my home team began its ‘Hunt for Blue October’ (whatever ad company came up with that little gem deserves a round of applause) and 3rd run at becoming World Series Champs. Some might think I’m jumping the gun, since they still have to win the AL, but if the atmosphere in this town has any effect on the Boys in Blue then they’re going all the way. All. The. Way.

It’s electric around here. You can feel it in the streets. And, apparently all across the country, as even those who purport to hate Toronto (obviously people who have never spent any time here. Obviously.) rally behind our one Canadian Major League ball team.

It was a rough and scary Game 1- Josh Donaldson (soon to be known as ‘MVP Josh Donaldson’) got knocked in the noggin on his way into second, and Joey B- after a lovely home run- left the game with a strained hamstring- but we will rally and come back in full force tomorrow (Josh WILL be medically cleared and good to go- keeping the faith).

Baseball angst notwithstanding, here I was, looking forward to a bit of a break from dealing with the day-to-day, serious stuff, while watching my Jays and getting some things done ’round the house and ’round the town. It’s Thanksgiving weekend, so there will be time with family, and one of my favourite musical dudes is paying us a visit on Sunday night at Lee’s (unfortunately conflicting with a Jays game, but I’ll miss that one to hang with Jesse – interesting that I first wrote about him in the context of some concerns I had with the federal bureaucracy), some spa time, a little wandering around and enjoying the change of the season (and storing up memories of relative warmth before the horrors of winter set in. I don’t like the cold, have I mentioned that before?).

I talked a bit about our federal election last week – and emphasized the importance of everyone getting out there to cast a vote. Preferably a vote against our incumbent government and its leader. I thought I was done with yelling about the dangers of maintaining this particular status quo.

Yeah no. Evidently not.

In the realm of dirty politics- a place that is a second home to our current PM- he is hitting new and ever-more egregious lows. I’m not being rhetorical or alarmist when I use that word- or any of its synonyms. Words like shocking, appalling, abhorrent, terrible… All of the above are applicable.

His always-borderline misogyny, racism and xenophobia has crossed the border. He is vocally demonstrating that he lives in the heartland of overt racism and elitism, now. He can’t even see the border any more. And I say that as someone who is pretty ‘old stock’ (4th generation Torontonian, on Dad‘s side).

I’m not even talking about C-51, or his unwillingness to investigate the disappearances and deaths of scores of indigenous women in this country (and I certainly won’t mention the former Tory MP who said that they had it coming), or his inexplicable hesitancy reevaluate his policies about refugees – even in light of the humanitarian crisis that is happening in Europe (that is a whole other rant in itself- one that sits, temporarily languishing, in the drafts folder until I can achieve some level of relative coherence about it all).

With indicators that his ‘popularity’ is sliding (hard to measure the true popular vote in our outrageously out-dated ‘first past the post’ electoral process- THAT’S something that needs to be overhauled by our next government… but I digress), Harper is looking to reiterate and maximize his politics of division- especially in parts of Quebec, which, as we have seen, has its own issues with xenophobic and racist policies.

He is focusing his attentions on an issue that affects such a small proportion of the population that I’m amazed (and, frankly, dismayed) that it is being given any airtime at all. Yet, for some reason, his ongoing emphasis on wearing the niqab is dominating discussions and has escalated to the extent that he has declared that, if he is re-elected (avert!), choosing to do so would not be permissible for federal employees. Even though it has never been raised as an issue in the public service. Ever.

Didn’t work so well in Quebec, but hey, I’m the last person to suggest that he not shoot himself in the foot by alienating more members of the public. His proposed ‘rat on your neighbours‘ policy? THAT should go over well…

As Justin Trudeau said in the preamble to the Current, women are being attacked in this country for wearing the hijab and niqab. ‘This is not Canada,’ he said. You know I’ve had my issues with Mr. Trudeau, at times, but that point is indisputable.

Especially since women don’t have to be wearing an outward manifestation of their faith in order to come under attack, apparently. This reality became personal to me this week, as my dear friend, Farah, was subjected to an Islamophobic verbal attack in our city’s main downtown mall. In, irony of ironies, that most-quintessential of Canadian stores, Roots.

In addition to being a brilliant and caring friend, Farah is an inspirational social activist with an impressive history of using her powerful voice in support and effective aid of those who are, often, voiceless. She also has a pretty big Twitter following. That social media presence- active since her quest to have the Iranian government release her friends from illegal captivity – and her fearlessness, shine a light on the disturbing effects of Harper’s policies and rhetoric- including the ‘uptick in anti-Islam sentiment since the niqab became an election buzzword.’

Ya’ll know I love Stevie Stills. I write about him a fair bit. Back when he was with a band called Buffalo Springfield he penned a little ditty.

The title is taken from an idiomatic statement that is, generally, used to moderate an opinion that may differ from the opinion of its audience, and to emphasize humility while prompting the audience to provide their judgement of worth against the statement being made (my thanks to Wikiwords for helping to parse the phrase and its origins).

A whole lot of people- myself included, once upon a time- thought that the song was sourced in anti-war sentiments. It was certainly adopted by those who protested American involvement in Vietnam, and it became inextricably linked with the events at Kent State in 1970 (odd, since the song was written and recorded in 1966. I’d be the last to argue that Stephen isn’t prescient, but I don’t think he’s quite that good).

It was about civil disobedience in the face of prejudicial lobbying and ordinances against a portion of the population. Young people, who regularly gathered on the Sunset Strip (where Buffalo Springfield were the house band at the Whisky a Go Go) protested the actions of local residents and business groups who successfully worked to have curfew laws imposed, in what began as a series of peaceful rallies. As is too often the case, the unrest became violent as clashes between the protesters and police escalated.

It’s an assessment of a lack of social justice.

There’s something happening here
But what it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop
Children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking’ their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
Step out of line, the men come and take you away

Perhaps Stephen (Stills, not that other guy) is more prescient than I credited, earlier. His song transcends time and is as applicable now (sadly) as it was in 1966. Harper’s Conservatives are drawing battle lines, inciting paranoia and repeatedly telling us we need to beware. Of our fellow citizens.

None of that has a place in MY Canada.

So. In the midst of celebrating- Thanksgiving AND Blue Jay wins (I’ve got your backs, lads)- we need to take the time to stop, listen and look at what’s going down.

Rick Mercer came back from his summer holidays this week and, unsurprisingly, had a few things to say about this election campaign. The words of the immortal Sam Gamgee stand true, and, as Rick said, the main job we have, as Canadians, is to show up and vote for those good things we want to see enacted.

Which doesn’t include men coming to take us away if we step out of line. Especially since that line, as they draw it and cross it, is becoming increasingly un-Canadian, in the way in which I measure such things.

It certainly doesn’t include a PM whose leadership example encourages racist and xenophobic behaviours that destroy safe spaces for all Canadians. Instead, I will follow the example of one I’m privileged to call friend and use my voice to shout, without breaking for ‘vacation’ if necessary, in order to ensure that we preserve and enhance that which is good.

For what it’s worth.

A change in the weather

It’s raining here in TO. It’s also raining at Camden Yards, a reality that caused the cancellation of my plans for the evening. As much as I loved the last double-header my Jays played (suck it, Yankees)- and will enjoy watching two in a row tomorrow, I was looking forward, after a day that saw me quite comprehensively flattened by a migraine, to watching the wonder continue tonight.

This team. My favourite player changes daily- I’m not usually fickle- so I’m saving all the love for the squad in its entirety. Although the one-on-one with Joey Bautista they showed before the Royals’ game started had me leaning toward right field. I love how he has embraced Toronto as his hometown- and stuck it out through the lean years (oh-so-many lean years) to finally receive his just desserts for the loyalty- and the always-solid performance he, at least, has given us. The thought of his free-agency, still a year away, is more than a little concerning.

Anyway, since the weather- at least partially complicit for the on-going pain in my head- has further conspired to keep me from watching some ever-increasingly-engaging baseball, my thoughts have turned to the transfer of seasons that this particular front is bringing in its wake. Temperatures are set to fall- after warmer/more humid-than-usual days over the past little while.

For the first time in years, my annual September camp-buds cottage weekend did not require layer-upon-layer of winter-type clothing to prevent perishing from hypothermia- so that was nice.

The warmer temps served to extend a summer that was a mixed-bag of positive and negative. There’s the stellar entertainment and together-bringing energy that my next-door neighbours are providing- this is nothing but good.

But I had to make a hard decision a couple of weeks ago and say goodbye to one of my beloved cats. I miss him- and still wonder if I made the right call. He’d been through a lot- we’d been through a lot, together- and prognoses did not support recovery.

He was a good boy, my little Dude.

His name was Enki- after the Mesopotamian god of, among other things, wisdom- a vain attempt to counter-act some of the attributes of the self-fulfilling name I’d given his sister, Tiamat. If she was chaos embodied in the body of a princess (and she is), then he was supposed to balance the crazy, somewhat. But, instead, he was just silly. And loving. And with such a good nature tempered by just the smallest soupçon of wildness, that I adjusted his name somewhat. To Enkidu. The Wild Man. The beloved of Gilgamesh- that imperfect-yet-searching king-above-all-other-kings.

But even that adjustment didn’t seem quite right. So, in time, he became, simply, The Dude. Not necessarily in homage to that Lebowski guy, but not completely dissimilar in character, either. Laid back, goofy, and always in search of new friends.

Small things, perhaps – in the overall, larger chaos which the world, as a whole, seems determined to continue to suborn while permitting credulous, superstition- and fear-based insanity to flourish – but markers, like the rain outside my window, of change.

And change can be hard. Even when it’s reallyreally necessary.

Following the footsteps of a funeral pyre
You were paid not to listen now your house is on fire

Our house IS on fire- and a little September rain isn’t going to help significantly. Whether or not we want to be awake to that little fact. As mentioned, I’ve been, admittedly, distracted. So I haven’t weighed-in much – around here, at least – about the federal election race that has been going on now for what? Six months? Feels as if. It has been the longest in modern Canadian history. Thanks to our current-but-soon-to-be-former (if people are paying attention) PM, the mud-slinging has been going on for weeks upon weeks now.

No surprise we feel sleepy and disengaged after listening to the same ideological soundbites for the entire summer.

Harper’s latest tactic, now that the polls (useless, all things considered, as they may be) seem to indicate that he won’t be running away with anything, is to delve further into his dirty-tricks bag to expand upon the politics of division and hyperbolic rhetoric that have been the hallmarks of his too-long tenure as leader of this country.

He is sticking to ‘issues’ that emphasize our need to ‘protect’ ourselves from the Other– as he, and his speechwriters and lackeys, define that term. He is extremely concerned, for example, about the clothing that Canadian (or soon-to-be-Canadian) women choose to wear. CHOOSE to wear.

I won’t even attempt to illustrate the hypocritical and alarmist elements of his immigration policies and the complete and contemptuous disregard of the human tragedies playing out as refugees struggle for survival and escape in Europe. (Okay, so he’s not as bad as Trump – but I still can’t bring myself to believe that THAT guy is anything like a serious contender for political leadership).

The systematic deconstruction of those elements that have brought us, as a nation, global respect, continues unabated through the attack ads and inflammatory language he has employed over the course of the leaders’ debates and interviews with various news outlets. The damage he has done over the last decade or so has tarnished our image – and we are letting him get away with it.

For the price of some savings come tax time and an illusion of ‘national security’.

‘Paid not to listen’, indeed.

We are a little over two weeks away from a day of vital importance to all who call themselves ‘Canadian’.

I’ve seen an encouraging ramp-up of pleas pitched to those that are too-frequently under-represented in the voting booths. There are movements afoot pushing for voter presence from among our indigenous peoples (and what group, as a whole, have been treated as dismissively by this government?) and our young people (despite the fact that residency regulations make it difficult for those university students, away from their regular places of residence, to vote while at school).

A Canadian expat, unable (like Donald Sutherland– one of my favourite Canadians) to vote since he lives outside of Canada, has registered to run against Harper in his Calgary riding. While the ridiculous rule has been in place since 1993, Harper is the first to require that Elections Canada actually enforce it. Seems like even some from among his traditional power base aren’t completely happy about that particular policy…

Wake me up when things get started
When everything starts to happen

It’s happening. And we’re running out of time.

My features form with a change in the weather
Weekend, we can work it out
My features form with a change in the weather
Weekend, we can work it out

When the wind blows, when the mothers talk
When the wind blows
When the wind blows, when the mothers talk
When the wind blows, we can work it out

It’s not that you’re not good enough
It’s just that we can make you better
Given that you pay the price
We can keep you young and tender

Following the footsteps of a funeral pyre
You were paid not to listen now your house is on fire

Wake me up when things get started
When everything starts to happen

My features form with a change in the weather
Weekend, we can work it out
My features form with a change in the weather
Weekend, we can work it out

Some of us are horrified
Others never talk about it
But when the weather starts to burn
Then you’ll know that you’re in trouble

Following the footsteps of a soldier girl
It is time to put your clothes on and to face the world

Don’t you feel your luck is changing
When everything starts to happen
Put your head right next to my heart
The beat of the drum is the fear of the dark

My features form with a change in the weather
Weekend, we can work it out
My features form with a change in the weather
But in the weekend never, there’s a change in the weather
We can work it out

When the wind blows, when the mothers talk
When the wind blows
When the wind blows, when the mothers talk
When the wind blows, we can, only we can work it out 

Roland Orzabal said this about his lyric: “The song stems from two ideas. One is something that mothers say to their children about pulling faces. They say the child will stay like that when the wind changes. The other idea is inspired by the anti-nuclear cartoon book When the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs.”

Mothers’ advice and a cautionary tale about the destruction that comes with war and war-mongering. Timeless themes, really. The song retains its status as a clarion call.

It’s October. Historically, not one of my favourite months. I’m looking for that, among other things, to change. We are post-season-bound for the first time in over two decades. We have a federal election in a few weeks that I have to believe will mark a shift in the direction that this country has been dragged.

Please. If there was ever a time to listen to the wind blowing, now, for Canadians, is that time. We have a decision to make- and a new direction to establish. In 18 days.

I saw a silly meme earlier today:

Some of us ARE horrified. So we’d best be putting on our grown-up clothes and make the effort to acknowledge the realities of the world- and those in whom we put our trust to lead us as a national and global community.

Unlike too many other places on our shared planet, we have choices. Please take the time to make sure you’re making one that best represents our shared vision of Canada.

Editorial note: the migraine I referenced waaaay up there ^^^ returned full force- rendering me unable to complete the post a couple of nights ago, and I spent last night well-engaged in the double-header that saw my Jays clinch the AL East (for the first time in over two decades) and then celebrate that reality (after a joke of a second game- Baltimore felt the need for some redemption, I’d guess, and the Boys in Blue were just eager to get to the party), so I wasn’t able to complete this little piece o’ something until tonight (after another Baltimore win- not that it really matters, now).

The evening has leant itself to writing- especially since I’m avoiding all media at the moment, not feeling capable of coping with the latest horror to stem from an American gun culture that is a nonsensical and it is repugnant.Especially since the last thing I saw about it seemed to indicate that the shooter was interested in the religious beliefs of those who were slaughtered. Politics of division+accessible weaponry? As that admirable POTUS said, ‘prayers’ ain’t gonna cut it (I’m paraphrasing).

The change in the weather has happened- I could have done with mittens this morning on my walk to work. Let’s hope it marks those political changes we NEED to see made manifest hereabouts over the next few weeks.

We can

Only we can work it out 

Time and Place

 

Context.

In my years teaching undergrads about ancient religions, history and literature, I spent a good amount of time talking about the relativity of origins of belief, doctrine and social norms. When I was, myself, an undergrad and then grad student, one of my beloved mentors, Kaz, had a distinctive way of using the German term Sitz im Leben as a way of emphasizing that we cannot- CAN. NOT.- begin to read or understand a text- let alone try to do anything as tricky as interpret the thing- without a thorough knowledge of the time/place/situation in life in which it was produced.

Context.

I’m starting to think we’ve completely lost this vital awareness. Assuming that we, as a connected grouping of human beings, ever really realized its importance.

What the Hell, people? Come on. We are rapidly ceasing to act in ways that demonstrate the beautiful and limitless potentiality of humanity. We are focusing so much on the divisiveness that keeps us tied to a status quo- one that is nostalgic-yet-fictional, at best, and deliberately-and-maliciously-constructed, at worst. And one that benefits the veryvery small proportion of our population that wields the political and/or economic power and doesn’t do much for the rest of us.

Petty* clerks who refuse to do their jobs (a job to which she was elected) because of a narrow, context-less, rote, and erroneous reading of a series of social controls written for a Bronze Age civilization?!?!?!

As much as I’d love to say that that particular episode of willful idiocy is symptomatic of a seeming US-wide epidemic of willful idiocy (Don’t get me started on her biggest supporter, that Huckabee guy…), the reality is that those that live in Canadian glass houses should not be tossing rocks around the joint. As much as it pains me to say that.

I have to admit that I do submit to certain form of Canadian-born schadenfreude at those times when the apparently-de facto pig-ignorance that is employed, permitted and/or supported by certain portions of the American population becomes overwhelming in its ridiculousness. Increasingly, though, doing so comes uncomfortably close to pots and kettles exchanging insults across the International Boundary.

Back-to-school week here in the Centre of the Universe north of the 49th parallel (Toronto, for those non-residents who deny our awesomeness) has brought back an issue to the media spotlight after a summer hiatus (even irrational and deluded Ontarians head to the cottage, apparently). For the first time since 1998, our provincial government, after years of consultations, has updated our public school health curriculum- including what we, as a society, have to teach, in our public schools, about sex and sexuality.

Since Ontario is clearly run by a secular, elected, governmental body, non-Ontarians might find the outcry over the institution of this curriculum somewhat bemusing. Even I did a fair bit of resigned head-shaking and minimizing of the ‘protests’ that took place before the last school year ended. I had my own opinions about those who might nay-say imparting undisputed facts and realities to our children. Some of those opinions were less-than-flattering, to be sure (there’s one in the paragraph above, in fact).

I keep trying to hope that we have put aside our reliance on adherence to Bronze Age, (Ancient) Near Eastern values and cultural mores that jibe not-at-all with those of Canada, in 2015.

That small spar is fast-disappearing.

The ‘debate’ rages. And not just about this (non)issue, but about too many other things of import that have portions of our population running back to their fairy tales and to the strictures that were put in place to maintain social controls over populations from long ago and far away.

As I’ve said before, I don’t like debate. Debate, by definition, polarizes– and suggests that someone will ‘win’. Which, of course, means that there will always be a loser. And it also means that there is no opportunity for respectful discussion- a dialectic, if you will.

This drawing of lines and taunting of the ‘other side’ has reached proportions of absurdity to such an extent that I find myself beginning to lean ever-more frequently toward the dark side of those who greet differences of opinion with juvenile name-calling and instant-and-absolute dismissal. I’m starting to ‘get’ the approach of some of those New Atheist-types who refuse to so much as acknowledge any way but their own, particular highway.

After decades of learning and teaching about different approaches to the way we humans create reality and culture and society, I’m getting a wee bit too much up on my own high horse of opinions about what we need to codify as our societal- and legal- values.

Holding onto my meliorism has been harder and harder. What’s meliorism when it’s at home, you ask? At its most basic, meliorism is a concept that allows for the fact that the world can be made better through human effort. It’s tied up with the pragmatism proposed by peeps like William James and co. It’s kind of central to my way of looking at things.

Except… That foundation has become shaky, lately. Trust and belief in my fellow human beings isn’t especially strong at the moment. I’m having a whole lot of trouble accessing any level of respect for whole lot of people who are making a whole lot of noise, lately.

Then this morning I saw an opinion piece in our local Star.

Timely as all get-out, IMHO.

Respect. It’s severely lacking in our discourse these days. And, contrary to the assertions of certain talking heads, respect is not some hackneyed, airy-fairy, super-left-leaning-liberal, nebulous concept that posits that everyone is, in some way, ‘right’.

I’m ashamed I needed that reminder.

None of this is to say that I’m faltering in my firm stance that we need to work toward complete civil, legal and societal secularization. I hold the truth of that necessity to be self-evident.

People don’t seem to get that there’s a distinct difference between working for social justice for all people and being ‘politically correct’. Yes, everyone is entitled to their opinion- regardless of how backward-thinking and based in tenuous, misinterpreted, anachronistic apologetics such thinking might be. But no one is entitled to expect such opinions to interfere with the larger, overriding and instructional societal rules and standards that guide us in living together as equitably and respectfully as is possible for a country/province/county/city of humans from different places and with different levels of education and different ways of looking at the world.

We are, thankfully, not a theocracy. Nor, for that matter, is the US- although it’s getting harder and harder to remember that little fact. We are not governed by laws that discriminate based upon things like race, gender or sexuality. Not anymore. These over-arching laws aren’t perfect- not by a long-shot they aren’t. But they are demonstrative of forward momentum- the correct direction- away from past distinctions that were established- and supported- by distressingly out-of-context ideologies and institutions.

It is becoming increasingly necessary to remind ourselves just where and when we are. Not where and when we think we are- or wish we were. If you are committed to retaining adherence to the strictures and social norms that were dictated by things like the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Scriptures, the Qur’an, or the standardized version of Manifest Destiny-driven North American history that many of us grew up learning, you must needs seriously sit down and actually learn something about the times and places in which those things were codified. Seriously.

If you do, and still think things were better back then, I’ve got a time machine for sale, cheap (it’s a DeLorean, so it’s a bit dated retro, but still functional).

Knowledge of history does more than help prevent its repetition. Knowledge of history illuminates our awareness that there were no ‘good old days’. Not compared with the situations in life that the majority of us can claim here in North America now.

Again, things aren’t perfect- or even great- for too many of us. Relative economic stability and lack of equitable opportunities remain elusive for too many people in countries that command unprecedented access to resources such as food and shelter (and even many of those numbered among our most vulnerable can still claim more than, when compared with too many others elsewhere on this big blue marble of ours. Exhibit A: the current global refugee crisis. But more on that another day…).

Human progression and evolution may experience periods of reactionary reversion now and again (I cite the fact that that Trump buffoon has anyone taking him seriously as a contender for leadership as proof of that), but our drive to dispel ignorance as we seek understanding and justice for all trumps (pun totally intended) the backsliders every single time. Every. Single. Time.

The past should not, CANNOT, govern us. We can must learn valuable lessons from the wisdom that came before our time, certainly, but we are not beholden to the limited thinking of people who had significantly less information and leisure for reflection with which to work than we have achieved- and continue to achieve- as a human race. We can hear and respect the values and knowledge of people from places that seem far-flung (even as communication causes the world to shrink), but those values that we have instituted, through our agreed-upon system of governance, will always take precedence. In 2015. In Canada.

We can stand around (or go for a troll on the internet) calling others ‘immoral’ and ‘blasphemous‘ and ‘against god(s)’ and ‘idiotic’ (I’m guilty of that one) and ‘stupid’ (okay, that one too, sometimes) or we can keep to the forward momentum that promotes the values of “mutual tolerance (although I’ve noted my concerns with that term, previously) and respect for each other’s dignity and humanity”, as Edward Keenan so wisely stated in his editorial.

Our time and place demands that we do so. We know so much more than we did 4500 or 2000 or 1400 years ago. We are ever-evolving and better than we were even a century ago. Although I’d personally prefer that they didn’t, those who wish to hold onto the ideas that came out of those bygone times and places are welcome to do so. “Diversity of practices and beliefs… (and a) social and legal framework of mutual respect… (are enforced) through government institutions that acknowledge our differences, and insist that we respect each other despite them.”

Those ideas are out of place and time, though. And, as such, need be weighed reasonably and evidentially against our current societal values.

I think that’s a pretty fair summation of forward thinking. Secular forward thinking. We’re not there yet, but we’re on a solid heading. It’s hard to remember that, sometimes. But it’s true.

As a (nameless, female) character in that Big Book O’Stories found out, there is never value to be found in looking backward– to a time or place- with longing.

To do so is risk her fate. And pillars of salt are eventually worn down by unstoppable forces like waves and winds of progress.

Don’t look back
A new day is breakin’
It’s been too long since I felt this way
I don’t mind where I get taken
The road is callin’
Today is the day

I can see
It took so long to realize
I’m much too strong
Not to compromise
Now I see what I am is holding me down
I’ll turn it around

I finally see the dawn arrivin’
I see beyond the road I’m drivin’
Far away and left behind

It’s a new horizon and I’m awakin’ now
Oh I see myself in a brand new way
The sun is shinin’
the clouds are breakin’
‘Cause I can’t lose now, there’s no game to play

I can tell
There’s no more time left to criticize
I’ve seen what I could not recognize
Everything in my life was leading me on
but I can be strong

I finally see the dawn arrivin’
I see beyond the road I’m drivin’
Far away and left behind**

*I use the term ‘petty’ in this case not as a descriptor of her duties as a representative of the county, but because her so-called reasoning behind her unwillingness to do her job are ‘of little importance and trivial’. Contextually-speaking.

**I hesitated using anything remotely Boston-related after the trouncing their hometown team gave MY hometown team last night (sheesh guys. What was THAT?!?!), but the song just sort of lent itself to the topic…

Bread and Circuses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Jays Go!

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

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

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

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