Giving Thanks, Canadian Style

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

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

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

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

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

The pride.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Metric.  Emily just has one of those voices…

Talk like an open book
Sign me up

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

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

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

And now from the vaults…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

of closing time

Have a fantastic weekend!

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

‘Sleeping is giving in’

Funny thing about getting older.  The first day after a long weekend is hard.  Getting back into any kind of groove is tiresome and tiring, and today I reallyreally didn’t feel like making much of an effort.

I spent the evening- post-work- alternately napping and watching whatever random shows happened to be on the station that was on.

(You know the laziness quotient is pretty high when I can’t even be bothered to change the channel to find something that claims some level of interest.)

I finally dragged myself off the couch to do some work and some chores, but kept the tv on in the background.

In addition to the ongoing craziness in Egypt, debate about intervention or non-intervention in Syria, more dire news about the real state of the economy and the horrific incidents of children killing other children that seem epidemic of late, I caught a commercial for the new season of ‘Survivor’ (that show is still on?  Seriously?!?).

The ad asked whether or not you, the viewer, would betray someone close (parent, sibling, partner, friend) for a million dollars (hard to type that and not hear Dr. Evil’s voice in my head- for a number of reasons), the implication being that one (or more) of the participants will certainly do just that.

How is it we are still producing/watching programming that celebrates the most base and repugnant aspects of our human nature?  How is it that such things are not only encouraged but rewarded– with cash money and with ‘fame’ (or infamy- depending on perspective)?

Can someone please explain?

And can someone also shed some light on how, in a society that applauds such reinforcement of the most heinous of actions, there are people that still hold onto the belief that evil is something that is in any way external to this propensity that we humans have to show off just how very terrible we can be.

*Heaving sigh*

Betrayal is a motif- and polemicized sin- that recurs throughout our myths and history.

The assassination of Julius Caesar, betrayed by his (former) friends/allies due to differences of opinion regarding the ways in which Rome should be governed (specifically whether Caesar, as an individual, or the Senate, as a governing body, offered the best possibility to maintain freedom from tyranny while still upholding the power and supremacy of the Empire) on the Ides of March is a classic(al) example of political betrayal.  The root of the betrayal was power- at the highest level of government- because of the misuse of that power for the betterment of the few over the best interests of the many.

According to Christian mythology, Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus to the Temple Sanhedrin- and ultimately the Roman authorities- for 30 pieces of silver.  His name has become synonymous with betrayal- he is the archetypal traitor.  Although the Gospel accounts of Luke (22.3-6) and John (13.27), blame Satan (who ‘entered into Judas’), the fact that he was paid for his crime against his friend is what makes the betrayal all the more resonant and despicable.

*N.B. Of course this is just a quick, superficial mention of an extremely complicated character and motif- one that has been interpreted and reinterpreted and used to justify the unjustifiable for thousands of years.  Judas was a complex cat- but the motif of betrayal- for money- is the part of the transmission and interpretation history that is relevant for this particular discussion.

The dude most associated with betrayal in the annals of American history is Benedict Arnold- a general in the Continental Army before he switched sides to join the British.  By most accounts, his decision to do so was more financially- than ideologically-driven.  Regardless, he has come to epitomize treason both in the States and beyond its borders.  Even us Canadians use his name as the idiomatic descriptor for a traitor.

Betrayal for money and power.  Just like that which is on offer as entertainment on the new season of ‘Survivor’ (and every season past, for that matter).

There has been a lot of talk of treason- or national betrayal in the news lately.

Chelsea/Bradley Manning was recently convicted of violations of the Espionage Act after releasing restricted military documents to the public through WikiLeaks.

Edward Snowdon has likewise been charged with espionage for his leaks of information concerning mass surveillance of the public by the US government.  He has variably been called a traitor, a whistle blower, a true patriot and a dissident.

The label depends on perspective- he (and others, including Jimmy Carter) certainly doesn’t think he did anything wrong and he did not want any of his colleagues to be exposed to the inevitable scrutiny when his actions came to light (which is why he made no attempts to hide his identity).  His disclosures were made as a result of his concerns about the level of scrutiny and pervasive surveillance undertaken by those in (elected) power against the citizenry.

Opinions about his actions remain pretty well split down the middle.  But it IS refreshing to see that people are actually expressing opinions on this matter- and on the larger issues of the governments’ use of surveillance and the right to privacy in the age of information technology- rather than ignoring the story and plodding along as if nothing is happening.  Snowdon has been discussed- and parodied- in the media for months.

According to Wikipedia (or Pythia, as I prefer to call her), Rebellion ‘is a refusal of obedience or order.  It may, therefore, be seen as encompassing a range of behaviours aimed at destroying or taking over the position of an established authority such as a government, political leader or person in charge.  On the one hand the forms of behaviour can include non-violent methods such as the (overlapping but not quite identical) phenomena of civil disobedience, civil resistance and non-violent resistance.’

Using the wonderful metaphor of children refusing to go to sleep when they are told, Arcade Fire (some proud Canadian props for the CanCon) point out the dangers of complacency- of listening to our elders and believing the stories they tell us to get us to behave– in their 2005 song Rebellion (Lies).

There is often an extremely thin distinction between perceived betrayal and rebellion with a cause, depending on perspective.  Betrayal, that unequivocally negative human tendency- employed for one’s own selfish ends, is a label that can be misapplied to those who challenge the status quo and refuse to keep to the company line in the face of injustice.

Maintaining vigilance- staying ‘awake’- as our elected leaders engage in practices that often become problematic is our right and responsibility.


Sleeping is giving in,
no matter what the time is.
Sleeping is giving in,
so lift those heavy eyelids.

People say that you’ll die
faster than without water.
But we know it’s just a lie,
scare your son, scare your daughter.

People say that your dreams
are the only things that save ya.
Come on baby in our dreams,
we can live on misbehavior.

Every time you close your eyes
Lies, lies!

We have to keep those eyes open against the lies and fear-mongering – even when doing so becomes tiresome- or personally dangerous.

Such is the price of freedom from betrayal.