The hand, writing on the wall

Hello there strangers… Been a while…

Between the extended recovery time that followed an awesome holiday (more on that to come), and a laptop that is down (and pretty much out- hoping to find a replacement this weekend) for the count, logging blogging time has been a little tricky of late.

So… again with the reblog.

While away, I had the opportunity to take in the British Museum and to hang out with a whole bunch of ancient things and peeps I’d been reading about for decades. They have an outstanding collection from Mesopotamia and Assyria, and visiting my ancient friends called this post to mind.

We are less than two weeks from a very important municipal election here in TO- one that I referenced way back when I originally wrote the post. The circumstances have changed a little- our current ‘mayor’ is unable to run again, so his brother has stepped in to drive the Ford Nation bus in its headlong rush to oblivion. If the rhetoric- from all three ‘viable’ candidates- since my return is any indication, I’m not sure that this election will institute the sea-change that is required to get this town onto the necessary footing to remedy the missteps that have been the norm for the past number of years, and to move forward with making the city livable and workable in the future. Sigh.

So… Let this be a reiteration of my Mene Mene. Positive forward momentum, while looking backwards and acknowledging our mistakes. THESE are the things that need addressing. Let’s DO this thing, TO.


The Hebrew Scriptures have some pretty cool stories that contain some really cool characters and memorable lines.  I’ve been studying the texts of the OT and NT and the Apocrypha, and Pseudipigrapha, and the literatures of neighbouring countries (Egypt, the Ancient Near East, Greece, Rome, and etc.) for so very long now, it’s tricky trying to single out what (and who) makes my absolute top of the pops of ancient literature.

I have resolved my love-hate relationship with the particular text(s) that served as the focus of my doctoral thesis- and I’m back to hanging out and having fun with my gnostics, in all their ‘heretical’ glory.  I’ve neglected the Egyptians and Mesopotamians a bit lately- after teaching about them for a few years running and visiting with them at the ROM on a weekly basis we all needed some time apart.

The NT and I remain estranged- there are still some residual hard feelings left over from my Master’s thesis…

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Contrary (to popular belief)

Yes. Another reblog. As I eagerly follow along with Cosmos- and reflect on the opposition to science and rational discovery and discourse that seems to be EVERYWHERE lately (politics, religion, anti-vaccers… to name but a bare few examples), it pains me to note that the equation of ‘evil’ and ‘science’ that we have inherited through the dispensation of our mythological traditions YET persists and is rearing its ugly head in extreme ways lately.

As I think on the origins of the personification(s) of evil that we have created- and the fact that too many among us still employ ‘the devil’ as a means of laying blame without assuming any communal/social culpability- I’m feeling a little ‘contrary’ today. It can be exhausting- standing in constant opposition to the views of the vocal power-players and/or just-plain-ignorant (who seem to be granted an INORDINATE amount of media exposure) and in defence of advancement rather than the obscene need to hold on to obsolete metaphorical constructs. But this necessity is something in which I believe. Strongly.

So, call me contrary. I’m okay with that. And I’m okay with reiterating and reinforcing my belief that we need to take a hard look at how we are being manipulated by our myths- and those who are using/misusing them.


Ever have one of those days?

It seems as though EVERYone I encountered today has been all about the argument.  (Interestingly this phenomenon of contrariness is confined to the real world.  The interworld has been a kinder, gentler place today- LOVING my interworld peeps extra-specially hard today).

If I say ‘up’ it is, in all actuality, ‘down’- or so I’ve been told.  Black?  Nope.  Gotta be white.  Happy becomes miserable.  The good is really the bad.

So let’s go with that last one shall we?  If I’m to be contrary, let’s go all out.

In my continuing defence of all things Devil-ish, let’s flip that dichotomy on its head and view that contrary-ist of all contrary creatures from a slightly different mythological perspective.

If you’ve seen television shows set in NYC or holiday photos on Instagram, chances are you’re familiar with this sculpture that graces Rockefeller Centre:

Paul Manship’s gilded…

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Escape goats

I sincerely hope that I will have the time to communicate new thoughts on the whole concept of the externalization of evil soon- this weekend perhaps?- but I have been otherwise occupied of late (with incredibly positive stuff), so I’m re-posting this discussion of the concept of the scape goat in the interim. It is very much connected with the problem- that I keep emphasizing- regarding the projection of our human tendency to lay the culpability for our actions on something outside of ourselves, and therefore another manifestation of our conceptualization of the ‘devil’. Just in case you missed it the first time ’round….


Given my great love of myth and symbol as expressions of what it means to be human, it should hardly come as a surprise that I love language in general and the origins of words and phrases in particular.  We take words for granted- use and misuse them without too much thought about where they came from and, sometimes, what they really mean.  So many words and phrases that are part of our (relatively) common parlance have origins in the language of myth.

One such term has been hovering on the edge of my consciousness a lot lately- not because it is all that out of the ordinary, but because I heard it spectacularly misused in conversation not long ago- although, to be perfectly fair, both words have the same root and have been used interchangeable historically.  Still, the speaker calling herself an ‘escape goat’ very much summoned images of a…

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Pots and Kettles

‘Kay- I’m more than a little swamped at the mo’- between the thank you cards and starting the new job and all. But I’ve been looking back over some of my earlier (earliest) posts (dating from before I realized that all posts should have a musical interlude or two) that had to do with this whole conceptualization/personification of evil as an external force.

This one was one of the things that had me hitting the books anew- searching for origins of this propensity we have to blame all the bad stuff on ‘something’ outside of ourselves. So, since time is at something of a premium for me right now, here’s a bit of a revisit of the subject of the tension between the idea of a ‘god of goodness’ and the way in which the character(s) is/are actually described in the stories.

People are as good- or as bad- as we grow them to be.  We need to be addressing that rather than looking for outside sources to blame.


“Evil, they said, was brought into the world by the rebel angels.  Oh really?  God sees and foresees all, and he didn’t know the rebel angels were going to rebel?  Why did he create them if he knew they were going to rebel?  That’s like somebody making car tires that he knows will blow out after two kilometers.  He’d be a prick.  But no, he went ahead and created them, and afterward he was happy as a clam, look how clever I am, I can even make angels… Then he waited for them to rebel (no doubt drooling in anticipation of their first false step) and then hurled them down into hell.  If that’s the case he’s a monster.”

Umberto Eco- The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (pg. 349)

No one writes like Umberto Eco.  His language- even as translated from Italian- is beautiful beyond belief.  He seems to see…

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‘Every single one of us’

Apologies for the hiatus.  It was both unintended and longer-lasting than I’d have liked.  I’ve had a number of things of a personal/familial nature going on at the mo’ which have taken priority, but I felt the need to take a little time to get some thoughts out there into my favourite part of the ether- my little corner of the WordPress.

This morning I was once again inspired by the thoughts of Beth Byrnes, and the issues that she discussed in her erudite and thoughtful post almost led me to write something as a follow-up to some of the things I had to say in the comments section.

But I had already started working  on something- the latest in my ongoing examination of the ill-advised tendency we have to define evil as something external and non-human (or sourced in humans that are somehow labelled as other than we are)- and was loathe to divide my attention.

Then I realized that we are really talking about the same thing anyway.

The vilification of that-which-is-not-me.  Those we consciously decide to label and demonize.

I’ve been thinking about this guy a lot lately.


To be honest, he’s never really far from my thoughts (seriously- check out the categories and tags over there to the right >>>>> he’s all over the place), but lately he seems to be popping up every which way I turn.

This has been a most interesting week.  I was Freshly Pressed (!)- that little thing I wrote about chaos/order– and as a result a whole lot of new folks have come by to visit.  Thank you new folks!  Welcome!  I passed 10000 views- which, while I didn’t set goals regarding viewership when I started sharing things on WordPress a little under a year ago, is pretty freakin’ cool.

I also hit 666 followers shortly after the Fresh Pressing occurred.  Even more lovely people- and a number of bots, I’m sure- have joined the ranks since then, but I was really inordinately excited to see who follower 666 might have been.  Unfortunately I missed the notification, so remain unable to identify colemining’s own personal antichrist.

Pure silliness.

That number is just so resonant with me- given all the apocalyptic literature I’ve spent much of my life hanging around- I can’t help but claim a pretty strong fascination with that number of that there ‘beast.’

When I first moved back to Toronto and commuted to Ottawa once a week to teach classes (crazy as that was), every time I passed the 666 kilometre marker (in either direction), I identified it out loud (‘the mile marker of the antichrist’- even though it properly measures kilometres not miles).  It was a way of marking the time and telling myself that I was almost at my destination or on my way back home, depending on which direction I was travelling.

I like the mythology surrounding the devil.  I like the apocalyptic literature that inspired the concept of the antichrist.  I also like the myths of all the other worldviews/religions/cultures that attempt to reconcile good gods and the presence of evil in the material world.  These are some of the richest and most interesting stories we’ve managed to come up with from the deepest mines of our creativity.  The motifs and the characters recur throughout our histories- literary and otherwise- because they are so interesting and complex.

I can honestly say that I love the devil/satan/Lucifer.  As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t believe in the/a devil, but his various iterations are among the most colourful, enduring and often-endearing literary characters out there.

Where would Western culture be without him?

Seriously.  Think about it.

No Divine ComedyParadise LostFaust/Doctor FaustusThe Exorcist would never have (repeatedly) scared the CRAP out of me.  That opening line- Please allow me to introduce myself… I can’t imagine a world in which I’d never sung along to the brilliance of that song.  The list goes on…

He is us.  In all his (and sometimes, her) manifestations.  This is the thing.  THE thing.  All the versions of the devil that we have are representative of potential inside of us.  Us.  HumansNot some supernatural excuse for evil as a means of reconciling another supernatural being who is supposed to be GOOD.  And omniscient.  And omnipotent.

I find your theodicies unconvincing.

To say the least.

So I’m going to start a periodic conversation about our pal- call him (the) Satan, Lucifer, Mephistopheles, call him what you will (just don’t call him late for dinner).  I’m so very sick of this vilification of the other as we continue to externalize evil and abrogate our own- collective or individual- responsibility for the wrongs that are done and perpetuated against one another.  So very sick of it.

And since I am a cheerleader (Head cheerleader, it sometimes seems) for the need to examine the origins of our recurring motifs, the reasons why we think the way we do, and how we come up with the metaphors we come up with to shift the blame away from ourselves rather than face the internal propensity toward darkness we must continually and actively choose to turn from as we seek to live together peacefully on this ol’ globe of ours, there’ll be a whole lot of hanging with the devil ’round these parts in the next while.

I’ll be extending him ‘a little sympathy’.  Tastefully, of course.

Hope you’ll join me.  Let’s discuss.

‘Here come the world
With the look in its eye
Future uncertain but certainly slight
Look at the faces
Listen to the bells
It’s hard to believe we need a place called hell…

Every single one of us.’

Chaos is my enemy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Order vs. chaos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But c’mon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know he’s right.

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

PS- So much for being succinct…

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

Promised you a Miracle

So.  Been away for a bit.  Got most of the place packed up and moved over the weekend (note I say most) despite a badly sprained ankle, largely because of our AMAZING helpers, who lifted and organized and- perhaps most importantly- kept my optimism and sanity at reasonable levels.  Good friends are wicked awesome.  To an heroic degree sometimes.

This was one of those times.

The  new place is shaping up and feeling like home, and there’s really only one more medium-sized load of stuff to get to storage, and I still have 9 days until the end of the month, so I’m taking a bit of a break and resting the ankle (and other assorted muscle aches and bruises.  I am waaaaaay too old for this moving stuff.  There WILL be professional movers next time.  I think my hair actually hurts) and rebuilding the energy levels somewhat.

What better way to chill out and relax and recoup than to go, with some old friends, to visit with some old friends at that grand old barn we call Massey Hall.

Simple Minds are here tonight.

Simple.  Minds.

I saw them at Massey Hall in 1984.  Sparkle in the Rain Tour.  Then Maple Leaf Gardens in 1985.

And now they’re back.  On a ‘greatest hits’ tour.  Playing relatively small venues- hence the Massey Hall location again- that old timey concert hall, one of the most comfortable venues in town (as in, it feel like you’re in your living room- if it was a living room that hold 2500 people), and the starting place and storehouse of some of my most memorable concert-going experiences.


Since they are keeping this tour small- and since the promoters obviously underestimated the strength of Toronto fandom when it comes to a band like Simple Minds- what few tickets remain are selling for exorbitant prices.  Not quite the secret-Arcade-Fire-in-Brooklyn-show prices (apparently someone was selling tickets to those shows for $5000– THAT’S insanity), but steep nonetheless.

I’m going because one of those amazing friends I was just mentioning got me a ticket as a birthday present months ago.  With the craziness of the move and all I had sort of forgotten about it.  Not that it was happening- too psyched for that- but the when of it sort of left the conscious part of my brain.

It’s back.  I’m getting no work done today- just eagerly anticipating hanging with Jim and Charlie and the boys- and those of my peeps who managed to score tickets to the show.

I have promised another not-so-lucky bud that I will provide a full review post-show, so I will keep this one brief and less-gushy than it might otherwise have been.


Promised You a Miracle.

Miracles are an interesting phenomenon.  Ascribable to the supernatural, they are events that are filled with wonder and most religions see them as divine intervention in the lives of us human-type people.  The mythological systems of the religions of the world have many examples of stories of the miraculous: communications with the deity (burning bushes and the like), revelations through human vessels, icons weeping blood, the taming of wild beasts… Myriad are the tales and the means through which the divine deigns to speak with and guide his/her/their creation.

My favourite biblical story of the miraculous?  Hard to choose, but I think the story of Balaam and the talking donkey in Numbers is right up there among the crazy amazing tales of the supernatural interfering in the real world.

MY main memory of Promised You a Miracle dates back a number of decades, and isn’t really about the song itself.  We were on a camp out- a whole crowd of us.  And, as part of the silliness of the day, we were playing a somewhat manic game of charades.  Guido (nicknamed for the killer pimp in Risky Business, despite the fact that he looked disturbingly like Eddie Haskell from Leave it to Beaver) was up, and furiously acting his great heart out- trying SO hard to MAKE us guess the clue.


4 Words.

But really, all he kept doing was making the sign of the cross and looking heavenward.  Over and over again.  As the clock was about to run out someone finally yelled out the correct answer.  Not coincidentally the person who got it is also my benefactor for the show tonight.  And one of the other peeps from that particular camp out will also be joining us at the concert.

We laughed for a long time about the repetitive nature of the clue.  Guid made us laugh a whole lot- on that cookout and so many other times over the years.  He was my first sailing teacher- he taught me to love the sport for itself and for the lessons that controlling a small boat on a big lake can teach you.  Lessons I spoke about here.

He died, in a freak skiing accident, the following winter.  But I still picture him, looking all Haskell-esque while emphatically gazing skyward (when he wasn’t glaring at us for our obvious idiocy), whenever I hear that song.  Which I will tonight.  Surrounded by friends and memories of concerts past.  And with one missing friend who yet remains in the forefront of my mind at certain specific times.  When certain specific songs are played.

I’d like to think he’s with us, somehow.

‘Belief is a beauty thing.’

Have a great evening.

I’ll get back to you when I recover from celebrating with the Boys in the Band.

Ob-la-di Ob-la-da

I’m trying reallyreally hard to follow the advice I gave myself the other day (while channelling two of my mentors- Cat Stevens and Papa Kaz).

Just sit down and take it slowly.

Breathe.  And let it go.  All of it.

But, somehow, expectations are among the things that we seem to cling to.  Sometimes these expectations can get all mixed up with something that is thrown around as a negative descriptor a lot these days (I used it myself recently)- entitlement.

‘The belief that one is deserving of or entitled to certain privileges’ = entitlement

‘The act or state of looking forward or anticipating… a prospect of future good’ = expectation

The differences are subtle:  that which we think we deserve vs. that which we feel it was reasonable to anticipate.

Likewise two terms that are connected with the collapse of expectations:

‘The feeling of dissatisfaction that follows the failure of expectations or hopes to manifest’ = disappointment

‘Dissatisfaction focused primarily on personal choices that contributed to a poor outcome’ = regret

These feelings, as overlapping as they are, come out of the cultural scripts that we studiously follow in an effort to ‘get ahead’.  Modern parents often comment that they want ‘better’ for their children than what they grew up with.  As noted by that maven of truth telling, Bill Moyers, that expectation is less likely to be realized these days.  Especially, at least in the United States, if you are not white.

Interestingly, this particular cultural script is one that is relatively recent.  The culture(s) that produced that Big Book of Myths that has shaped many of our Western mores and ways of approaching the world (and the afterworld, for that matter) were, generally speaking, societies of something called ‘Limited Good’ an anthropological/sociological (please don’t tell the PM of Stephen Harper’s Canada that I’m committing sociology here) concept that suggested that there was a limited amount of the ‘good’ to go around.  If some people suddenly appeared to have ‘more’, the assumption was that someone else must therefore have correspondingly ‘less’.

In biblical times, there was small percentage (about 10%) of the population- the nobility, military, priesthood and a small group of artisans and tradesmen- that was relatively well-off.  Everyone else expected no perceptible change in fortune from generation to generation.

If someone wanted more, that increase in fortunes meant that someone else HAD to have less.  So any improvement of one’s status and increase in possessions was greeted with suspicion.

But it was more than an excess of money or stuff that was viewed as problematic to the larger society.  Having more than one’s fair share of pleasure and happiness was deemed questionable.  This limiting of material and emotional goods in this life also served to make conceptualizations of the afterlife more precious and attractive.

Biblical (and extra-canonical) myths about the afterlife were built on this culturally pervasive theory.  This life may suck- or, at best, be mediocre enough so as to not garner suspicion from one’s neighbours- but the rewards will be plentiful in the next world.  Riches and happiness were to be found in abundance- for those who followed the rules while alive.

The Industrial Revolution shifted the ideology significantly.  Goods were no longer perceived as limited once they could be mass-produced at little cost.  With this change came the development of the middle class and the eventual rise in consumerism.

Goods could be, and were, purchased for reasons of luxury and display by those who could newly afford them.  Spending for the sake of spending, and waste of resources that were previously seen as precious and valuable, became the norm.

‘Conspicuous consumption’ became the new goal in Western cultures, as people were encouraged to keep up with the Joneses and demonstrate perceived superiority through the trappings they were able to display.

Part of this drive lead to the development of the idea that each generation could do better than the previous ones- through the increased availability of educational opportunities and by following the new cultural scripts (arguably based in the concept of the Protestant Work Ethic) that suggested that things like ambition, entrepreneurship and ruthlessness in business were demonstrative of the potential for everyone (dependent on racial background, of course) to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and become one with the nouveau riche.

Generations have now been taught that following certain paths will lead to success and security.  Things like education, social connections, hard work, volunteerism and general experience of the world are held up as models for:

‘the favourable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavours; the accomplishment on one’s goals’ = success

When the attempts and endeavours don’t turn out quite the way we’d like, or in line with our expectations (based in our cultural stories that claim such things are not only possible, but probable when we do as we are told) our disappointment can lead to regret– about the paths taken (or not taken)- or to a sense of entitlement based in our beliefs in the myths.

As societal models move increasingly toward ones that share a fair bit in keeping with those of Limited Good (the divide between the veryvery wealthy 1% and the rest of the 99%- including a rapidly shrinking middle class), suspicion- usually justified- about the disparity in wealth distribution grows and leads to societal anomie and/or activism.

We can look to our history and examine these models as a way to help figure out ways in which the disparity can be moderated, if not eradicated (given the fact that Marxism/communism looked good on paper, but hasn’t worked out so well given that little reality of humanity’s propensity to give in to greed and self-serving actions).

Hope and optimism are also learned behaviours derived from our myths and the cultural scripts they create.  At the moment I really have to just calm down and remember that disappointment can be overcome without resorting to unfounded feelings of entitlement OR debilitating regret that doesn’t allow for forward momentum.  We can keep our expectations, a little battered and shopworn though they may be, great whilst weathering the storms of current realities.

After all.

Life goes on.



‘Look Skyward, Moron’

It’s not enough that the Shuffle Daemon is predicting the weather and sensing my mood, now the television is starting to read my mind…

Last evening I turned on the free preview of Comedy Gold (aka the Wings Channel- it seriously showed nothing but Wings for three straight days over the holiday weekend.  What programmer anywhere thought THAT was a good idea?) just in time to catch a Viewer Discretion advisory.  The tv guide said that an episode of Kids in the Hall was up next.

I love Kids in the Hall.

As the warning was being recited (those Kids- gotta watch out for the ‘Adult Content’, tsk tsk tsk), ‘I’ve lost my Indian drum’ popped into my head.  So, of course, this was the first sketch:

Man, how I love the Kids.  And, for some reason that sketch- from their first season- tickles my funny bone in a bigbig way.

It isn’t the only one.  Not by a long shot.  The Kids provide a trip down the Old Lane called Memory that is at once the same and completely different than the music and music television that I wrote about the other day.

They are uniquely Canadian and representative of our uniquely Canadian sense of humour- and the freedom that was permitted on our airways waaaaaay back in the late 80s-early 90s, at least on the CBC.

When the Americans imported our Kids, they censored edited a whole bunch of stuff that obviously didn’t play as well down there.  Especially this one:

I love that sketch.  CBS did NOT.

The Kids didn’t pull punches in the name of political correctness or religious sensitivity and never shied away from telling it like it is.  Scott Thompson has always been openly gay, and his characters played with stereotypes in a comfortable way that was pretty far ahead of its time.

They were sublime AND ridiculous.

Some sketches were more memorable than others, but I know a whole crowd of people who can quote sketches the way aficionados of other great comedy troupes like Monty Python can cite their greatest hits.

I personally know at least one ‘Girl Drink Drunk’ (no names mentioned to protect his professional reputation), and years ago, on one memorable Hallowe’en, another friend dressed up like a box of Tampax with “I’m a guy with a good attitude toward menstruation” written across the front (picture not included to protect his professional reputation and because someone seems to have stolen it from the photo album….).

Since they didn’t rely on political themes, current events or topical discourse for their comedy, the sketches truly transcend time and generations.

A couple of years ago, while waiting for a friend outside Betty’s on King Street, I overheard a conversation between a couple of early-20-somethings who were out for a smoke.  They had obviously just discovered the Kids, and listening to them run through favourite characters and sketches was like flashing back two decades.

We called it ‘the fastest half hour on television’ and waited for Thursday nights to come around.  It was a time in which we all stopped, had a meal and spent some time together (usually followed by my having to witness Blue Angel competitions.  Boys are weird).

The Kids helped nurture a bond and brought a sense of home in a foreign town (the sketches were unabashedly ‘Toronto’- and the locations provoke a nostalgia all their own- the Canary on Cherry Street, long gone to make way for ‘development’ was a part of my personal landscape for as long as I can remember, and was often where Mark McKinney and Bruce McCulloch, as the OPP officers on ‘Police Department’, spent their coffee breaks).

That picture at the top of the post ^^^ immediately gets the theme song, ‘Having an Average Weekend’ by Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet, running through my brain.  Individual lines and catch-phrases can bring back the entirety of the sketch and prompt a smile in an instant.

“Mind if I swoop?”

“Evil!” (as exclaimed by Sir Simon Milligan)

“Neutral Ninnies!” (“He’s sick of the Swiss!”)

It’s always good to end a working week with a laugh.

“30 Helens Agree” that some time spent with the Kids in the Hall is always a great way to start the weekend.

Happy Saturday!

‘Oh Life…’

I’ve written about loss before.  The sudden death of a loved one, and the slow, painful withdrawal of the personality that was the beloved long before the inevitable loss of life.

You’d think it would get easier with years and experience.  It doesn’t.  Losing someone rips a hole in the fabric of the universe that never completely closes.

The clichés and platitudes notwithstanding (man, am I ever against the platitudes this week), it doesn’t always get easier, and letting go can feel like betrayal and lead to guilt that is even harder to shake.

Loss. Decisions.  The human condition.  These are the foundations of all the religions of the world.  Once upon a long ago time, with the development of self-awareness, and given our nature as social animals, when those we love left us, we humans created hope that we will meet them again- or that they are, at least, in place where the suffering has ceased and there is peace and happiness.

People often make the hard decisions- CAN make the hard decisions- with this as an underlying hope or belief.

But what happens when one of the things that gets lost is the religion that we create in an effort to moderate our sadness and help justify the pain and its eventual lessening?  And lessoning?

The song is 22 years old. Where has the time gone?

(More losses- of both the time that has passed and the place with which I most associate the tune)

Losing my Religion’ is really a Southern US colloquialism for losing one’s temper, flying off the handle, behaving in a manner that is less than civilized (gotta love the Southern equation of ‘religion’ and ‘civilized behaviour’.  Ack!).

Subject-wise, the song is more about unrequited love and obsession (Michael Stipe has actually compared its theme to Every Breath You Take– that exemplar of obsessive songs about stalking restraining orders love from the Police’s 1983 wonder of an album, Synchronicity) than about the loss of religious faith.

But it’s a good song.  And it fits my mood and the paths down which my slightly disordered and sleep-deprived mind is traveling right now, faced as I am with another potential loss.

I was, nominally, raised in a religious tradition.  Attended services, participated in the community, was taught the mythology.

Frustration with the blatant abuse of power in the Institution and, especially, my absolute lack of comprehension about how, in any way, the theodicy behind the myth system can be justified, marked the finality of the decision to ‘lose’ it.

Millennia ago a man wrote a treatise that encompassed all kinds of aspects of the realities of life.  It became part of the collected wisdom tradition of the people behind one of the most influential mythological systems in history and spoke to the realities of life and the nature of the godhead.  The questions he expressed- alongside a recounting of his own experiences- were answered by the theodicy of the day- ‘because the god wants it that way.’

It could have been written yesterday.  Plus ça change

Abuse of power: Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun.  Look, the tears of the oppressed- with no one to comfort them!  On the side of their oppressors there was power- with no one to comfort them.  And I thought the dead, who have already died, more fortunate than the living, who are still alive, but better than both is the one who has not yet been, and has not seen the evil deeds that are done under the sun. (4.1-3).

The ever-repetitious cycle of life: “A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.  The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises.  The wind blows to the south, and goes around to the north; round and round goes the wind and on its circuits the wind returns. (1.4-6)

Death: ‘For the fate of humans and the fate of animals is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and humans have no advantage over the animals, for all is vanity.  All go to one place; all are from the dust, and all turn to dust again.” (3.19-20).  (N.B. the lack of anything approaching the idea of heaven/hell in that little statement.  He finished that thought: ‘Who knows whether the human spirit goes upward and the spirit of of animals goes downward to the earth?’ 3.21)

That Qohelet guy found the faith in the plan of his deity to make the terror, the repetition, the inequity, the futility and the rest of the realities of morality manageable.  He, like Job and the Prophets and the authors of the Psalms, trusted the justice of the god in spite of infinite examples of injustice and pain in the world.

Me?  Can’t do it.

My faith is based in this world and in my fellow humans.  Which means that I have to do my best to act against those inequities that can be changed and roll with the punches dealt by those that can’t.  Including the deaths of cherished loved ones.

It’s a different kind of faith, and one that offers no easy answers or comforting visions of angelic choirs and waiting La-Z-Boys at the right hand of an Elder of Days.  It requires reliance on others who share our lot in this here world, and the strength to endure and to ask for help from those others when our own reserves run low.  The cultural and social realities of today, combined with our collective experiential learning, have rendered the created, absent, inscrutable, unjust godhead obsolete.

My religion may be long lost, but my civility is intact and as ready as it can be to face coming inevitabilities.

But I can still find comfort in Qohelet’s musings +/- 2500 years after they were first written down.  Not for his conviction about his god, but because of the beauty and humanity of his questioning and honest examination of the world as it was still is.

‘For in much wisdom is much vexation, and those who increase knowledge increase sorrow.’  (1.18)

Truer words…