Voices Carry: Next Steps

Well it’s been an interesting few weeks since I first started trying to articulate what I hope to do with this project. I have, already, had some great conversations that will, I hope, lead to larger ones that will focus positive attention on the change-seeking that should come with the restructuring that will be required as a result of the pandemic. Change that can come if we isolate and analyse the inequities and shortcomings of our societies and their will to address those dark places that have been exposed.

It was a rough week, personally, as my family lost one of its members. This was not unexpected – but that doesn’t make the loss any easier. It has lead to a whole lot of soul searching (or soul mining) as I come to the realization that the number of people who have known and loved me since I was born is rapidly dwindling.

Uncle Ken was Dad’s best friend – and we spent a whole lot of time with his family while we we growing up. Even once we were well into adulthood, he and Aunt Marcia took their roles as godparents to me and my sisters very seriously. When a long-term very toxic relationship came to an end, Aunt Marcia acted in Mum’s stead as comforter and provider of hugs and sweets, while Uncle Ken said one of the things that shocked me in its starkness at the time, yet has proven to be a reality that continues to be a source of strength and purpose. He said, “you are not a victim.”

This assertion seemed abrupt and almost harsh in the state I was in – I was still in the wallowing stage of things, I guess – but, as was usual for him, he cut through to the heart of things and reinforced his belief that I would move beyond the situation with the help of my own strength and the support that I could call upon from family and friends. He was a keystone of that support in the years that followed – as we saw Dad through his last illnesses – and I haven’t fully integrated the fact that we will no longer have that support. That’s going to take some time and some focus that I can’t command right now.

Still, the sadness and reflection has helped to shape my thoughts on some potential next steps for this project. I think that these conversations will likely take the form of podcasts  on a series of the necessary changes identified. It is still early days, but the recruitment process has begun, and I’m drawing up some questions I’d like to start sending people to think about in advance of really setting the stage for the chats to begin.

One of the things that wants examining – and one of the proposed topics of discussion – has to do with our unhealthy cultural obsession with celebrities – and those who hold a public spotlight, in particular the propensity to think that said celebrities can do wrong and don’t need their words and actions examined with a critical eye, if they are to be held up as exemplars to which we should aspire.

As is so often the case, reflection on this issue got me thinking about a story – a biblical story (unsurprisingly – I’ve been returning to my research roots more and more lately) that talks about the perils of investing too much unexamined faith in others – especially those who are only superficially worthy of such reverence.

My fave Babylonian king (you know his name. Say it – ‘Nebuchadnezzar’) once had a dream that both baffled and disturbed him. None of his own courtiers or wiseguys were able to interpret the dream for him – since doing so required the input of the gods.  And they didn’t seem to be forthcoming with any guidance – much to the distress of the wiseguys. Distress that grew, quite significantly, when it became clear that Neb was going to execute the bunch of them for their inability to help him sort it all out.

As they were being rounded up (as I re-read the passage I had an image of the Brute Squad clearing out the Thieves’ Forest in The Princess Bride, for some reason), Daniel asked the Captain of the Guard what was up with all this. Once answered, Daniel then asked Arioch to hold off on the whole executing-the-wiseguys thing, and to give him some time to figure out the troublesome nightmare.

Granted the time, Daniel and his Judean buds prayed to their god for mercy, and the meaning of Neb’s dream was revealed to them. Daniel was taken to the king and recounted it fully, before beginning his interpretation – which, he noted, he was able to do because of the guidance of his god. Who was better than Neb’s gods. Just a BTW.

Nebuchadnezzar had dreamt of a great figure – with a head made of gold, upper body of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet made partly of iron and partly of baked clay. A stone – uncut by human hands – came along and smashed the feet of clay, causing the entirety to topple and shatter – with the precious metals being blown away by the winds, as the stone became a mountain which then filled the whole Earth.

Daniel tells Neb that he, the king, is the head of gold. He has been given his dominion by god and is great among men, in his power and glory. After his time, another kingdom will arise – one inferior to his. And then another. And another. Then will arise a kingdom that is divided – and the weakness caused by this division will lead to its downfall – by another kingdom, established by god, that will smash all the others to bits.

Neb was so happy to have his dream interpreted, he made Daniel his chief wiseguy and lavished rewards upon him and his friends (Daniel wasn’t one to forget his buddies…).

There are all kinds of interpretations of this dream and what Daniel had to say lay at its root. The separate sections of the figure are generally thought to represent specific nations – Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome, as one example – and, as such, is more of the same sort of social commentary you find throughout the narrative of the Book of Daniel.

But… as is often the case with such things, strong mythological images develop nuances of their own outside of the context of their creation.

‘Feet of clay’ is colloquially used to reference a character flaw – usually one that is pretty darn significant. The fragility of the feet – the flaw – caused by the hubris or ego of the figure – endangers the whole. Up to and including its wondrous head of gold. The (self-) perceived beauty and wisdom and charisma cannot remain standing under its own weight when any sort of stone shows up to smash into that problematic and fragile underpinning.

We invest so much in our public figures – in those personalities who keep us entertained or informed, or those who seek to lead us in our day-to-day lives. When their clay feet are (often inevitably) revealed, we tend to react with either 1) hostile doubt and by lashing out at those stony accusers who dare to imply anything less than golden about the figurehead they love, or 2) with knowing self-assurance that the idol was always destined to be toppled from his lofty height.

Those who make of themselves a cult of personality do so at their own risk. We like them, until we are presented with reasons to despise them – or their behaviours. But sometimes we cling to the illusion, regardless of the weight of evidence, and maintain the defence long past all logic or rationale (I could cite so many examples of this right now, but I’m sure they wouldn’t scratch the surface of the daily demonstrations that prove that this is a pervasive social issue), hoping that the object of reverence will remember the loyalty when returned to power.

I actually hated this song when it came out. Although, really, that largely had to do with the fact that one of my uni housemates played it All. The. Time. (Until Fletch stormed downstairs and turfed it far out into the snow of the backyard, that is. I think I need to buy him a drink in remembered thankfulness for that…). I’m still not sure I like the song all that much, but its lyrics stand up as well today as they did back in 1988.

Neon lights, Nobel Prize
When a mirror speaks, the reflection lies
You won’t have to follow me
Only you can set me free

I sell the things you need to be
I’m the smiling face on your TV
I’m the cult of personality
I exploit you, still you love me
I tell you one and one makes three

You gave me fortune
You gave me fame
You gave me power in your god’s name
I’m every person you need to be
I’m the cult of personality

And that title.

The song is about psychology and politics. And ‘cult’ is a loaded term that is, generally (i.e., not academically), used negatively. A cult of personality happens when a person uses things like the media to construct an idealized image. It is based in charismatic authority and has connections with narcissistic leadership.

So. If the shoe fits… Perhaps it can be used to cover up those fragile tootsies. Although my recommendation would be that we cease the irrational adulation that permits the rise of such cults – and let them crumble as they should.

It’s time to end our cultural obsession with the lives of people who proclaim their importance and expect us to fall into line to worship based on their self-assessment and the media’s assistance in the development of the construct of their false narrative.

I’m confident that we will have some interesting conversations around this topic – and perhaps come up with some solutions – from journalists and other members of the media, along with those who find themselves in the role of ‘celebrity’ – as to how we can change the narrative and crumble some clay feet – and those who walk around on them – in a constructive way.

Send me a message if you’re interested in participating in the project. Enjoy the sunshine this weekend, stay safe and please stay home as much as you can, and keep your distance and wear a mask if you need to be out. The trends around here are becoming more alarming each day.

 

Voices Carry: The Project

My all-time most-read post, years later, still gets the hits due to the super-distinctive lyric I used as its title. Everyone knows the song, it seems. And it’s one of those that winds and weaves and takes the listener through a complicated journey that winds through time-and-space with a cast of characters that rivals those in that all-time favourite of mine, The Weight.

I originally wrote that post because one of my BFFs had been spending a summer night reflecting upon a park in New Jersey and she posted a line from a particular little ditty as her status on the facebook. It got the song running through my head, of course – the super-rhyme-scheme is catchy as all get-out – but the version that popped in there was Manfred Mann’s cover of the tune, rather than Bruce’s original.

Which, while not surprising perhaps, got me thinking some interesting things about creativity and muses and suchlike and the fact that sharing and interpretation and reinterpretation are one of the best things about music.

Before she became a brightly-coloured musical instrument (usually associated with circuses) Kalliope/Calliope was the Muse in charge of cool things like epic poetry and eloquence. Capital-M Muses were the Greek goddess-types who provided the inspiration for all those things I like best – art, literature, music, history – you know, those things that we create that connect us as humans.

Shrines to the Muses – museums – are pretty much the closest I tend to get to entering places of worship on anything like a regular basis, and as anything other than a tourist. I like museums. A lot. They are places of reverence to me. And they feel like home. The Muses are definitely ladies after my own heart – even if their influence has been spotty at best lately.

The Romans picked up on the idea of the daughters of Zeus (the Big Boss) and Mnemosyne (Memory- in goddess form) and assigned them particular roles. Historian that I am, I’ve always been a wee bit partial to Clio (with her scrolls and all), but all props need go to Kalliope for inspiring the epic-ness of Mr. Springsteen’s well-rhymed song.

Kalliope is generally pictured with a writing tablet – reflective of her importance to those who wax poetic – and was called, by peeps as important as Ovid, the Chief of all the Muses. She was mother to Orpheus, and the inspiration and whispering Voice in the night that drove Homer to write a couple of well-known ditties – about a guy named Odysseus and about a conflict in a town called Troy – of his own.

My beloved Dante spoke well of her: But, since I am yours, O sacred Muses, here let dead Poetry rise again, and here let Calliope sound, a moment, accompanying my words with that mode, of which the Pierides felt the power, so that they despaired of pardon…’ (Dante references the first Battle of the Bands- won, natch, by the Muses, who then turned the upstart Thessalonian daughters of King Pieros into magpies for their extraordinary presumption in challenging them to a sing-off. Think Pitch Perfect, but for keeps).

Kalliope is usually described as the eldest of the sisters – something I know a little something about. She’s also considered the wisest… but I’ll leave that one alone, lest my own wee sisters take offence.

I’ve been more than a little short on the inspiration and harmony lately. I’ve mentioned all that in more posts then I can count, and the current circumstances are making it hard to focus on productivity of any kind. I can usually prod through a work day with something to show for it by the end, but none of it seems to hold much value, if you get what I’m saying.

I’ve given some thought to sources of inspiration and creativity- and, funnily enough (that interconnection thing again), I flippantly referred to a friend as my (small-m) muse, since he has been more than a little responsible for a number of posts – and for exposure to a whole lot of the music I’ve been listening to as I shelter in place. I used a winky-faced emoticon when I said it, but some emoticons hide truth, sometimes, methinks.

Bruce wrote Blinded by the Light because his record company insisted that Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J, his debut album, needed something a little more single-y, more hit-esque, than the songs he’d already come up with. He wrote the lyrics first – unusual for him – using a rhyming dictionary. The result is pretty damn clever, indeed – especially for someone like me who loves playing around with words and who can recognize mastery of the craft. The language-play is full of images and stories that leap at the listener as the song unfolds, reminiscent of some of Dylan’s coolest poetry-set-to-music.

For all Bruce’s undeniable prowess, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band’s version is arguably better-known – and contains one of the most frequently misheard lyrics of all time. Interesting how certain things translate well, while others can become indecipherable when the origins are messed with. The piano line(s) – and the interlude of Chopsticks – are instantly recognizable.

The steam piano that, with unpleasing sneezing and wheezing, crashed to the ground in both versions, is noted for its volume. Powered by steam or compressed air, calliopes were primarily used on riverboats and circus carousels and the music carried for miles, suggesting that listeners should come closer. Check it out. But, since pitch is affected by the steam, they are almost always out-of-tune on the higher register.

So. Loud and off-pitch. And associated with circuses and all the, uh let’s say down-homey, atmosphere that they can conjure. Sort of totally the opposite of that other Kalliope- what with all her wise, grand, poetic harmony… Yet the instrument entices, and encourages, and draws us in, as it rasps across great distances.

My fave lyric from the original doesn’t appear in the single version – or the cover – of the tune:

‘Yes and Scotland Yard was trying hard, they sent a dude with a calling card who said, “Do what you like, but don’t do it here”
Well, I jumped up, turned around, spit in the air, fell on the ground
Asked him which was the way back home
He said, “Take a right at the light, keep goin’ straight until night, and then, boys, you’re on your own”‘

The play on light and darkness, and the implied aversion to creative expression in the person of the police officer, evoke so many cool things that resonate with the paths down which my thoughts have been traveling.

Inspiration can come from any number of sources. I tend to find mine, most often, in other people. With our contemporary state of communication being what it is, social media can be, for all its faults, a sometimes-useful tool to catch up with the important peeps and tap into those things that are driving them forward. Or just keeping them going when we can’t meet face-to-face.

Our muses can be myriad – if we take the time to pay attention. I’ve been bad at that lately. But I’m working on it, and listening to those Voices I love. Even if the things they say are off-hand, or ‘thrown-away’, or representative of nothing more than a current playlist – it’s a pretty fruitful place to start.

As is memory – that Mother of all Muses – perhaps especially when the memories seem to be placeholders of regret. The ‘way back home’ does, at times, require treading in the darkness of night, but we shouldn’t be hanging out there, eschewing the light, for too long.

‘Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun
Whoa, but mama that’s where the fun is’

What sights does our sun see when it looks down upon its third planet, after all, but the wonder that is us, and all our human potential? Whether it involves cutting loose or revving up (though not, hopefully, ‘wrapping up like a douche.’ Never that…) it’s time to listen to those shooting stars, sitting in sidecars, humming their lunar tunes, and realize that they can point us in the right direction. And, perhaps, make things all right. Even when those boulders on my shoulder have us all feeling older.

Bruce knew what he was talking about. It starts with sticking together and being sources of inspiration and creativity to one another. All runners in the night – chasing our Kalliopes, and calliopes, wherever they may lead.

It’s a hard time. An unprecedented time. There is a lot of noise out there, serving as distraction – not that we don’t need some of that right now. I feel like we spend each and every day looking for an end – all that apocalyptic thinking I’ve been talking about. But I’ve been feeling this week that what we should be talking about is starting things. Not prematurely REstarting stuff – but shaping new beginnings and new approaches and new thinking into tangible expressions of lessons we have learned.

I’m trying to ignore those infuriating noise-makers who have nothing to contribute beyond vitriol, out-dated/ill-informed rhetoric or toeing of party lines that are working to the detriment of all of us. Focusing on the trolls (internet or otherwise) is doing nothing more than raising my blood pressure to dangerous levels. So I’m instead going to focus, on rallying the cries of those who are speaking the about the good and the progressive and the positive and take the time to invest thought and time in their actions and reactions to the world around them and start some discussions – dialectics, if you will – that can lead us to positive change.

Dialectic is not synonymous with debate. The latter involves a measure of persuasion – and, often, an emotional investment in the perspective – that is required in order to ‘win’. Dialectical methods search for truth through reasoned argumentation. They involve discourse between two or more people with differing points of view but who wish to use logic and rationality to work toward the common goal of gleaning the best possible truth of a matter.

It’s not about who yells loudest or most persuasively. Unlike debates, dialectics do not require an external judge to determine a ‘winner’. Consensus is reached through discussion rather than hammering the other side with talking points and statistics.

Politicians use debate and rhetoric to inflame the emotions of those who bother to listen to them. They appeal to the often-base desires of voters in order to motivate that electorate to continue to support them – since they suggest that in so doing ‘the people’ support themselves (and not necessarily the despised ‘others’). There’s a lot of that happening as people politicize the pandemic and most of us seek slow and reasonable re-starts. The lies and self-interested bullshit abound – as the privileged call for sacrifice (of others, of course) so that petty discomforts can be resolved.

As all of this plays out on screens around the world, many of our politicians seem completely disinclined to participate in any sort of reasoned discussion with those who hold opposing views. Those of us who wish to approach this world of ours with reason and fairness have to wonder what it is they are trying to hide as they avoid discussions and favour more insidious forms of rhetoric. Some of them, evidently, aren’t capable of listening to anything more than the sycophantic soundbites that support their own mandate and position.

We need to talk. But we also need to listen. Some of that means returning to stories we’ve already heard – and interpreting them for today’s environment.

I started this post referencing a song and its best-known cover version. The Weight is one of the most interpreted songs that I know of. Playing for Change‘s version – with contributors from around the world – hit deeply before I’d even heard the word ‘Covid’. It’s a tangible example of the ways in which we can come together from different backgrounds and disciplines and cultures and share in the experience of being human.

As I’ve mentioned in a many recent posts, as a way of coping with lockdown and distancing and uncertainty some of my favourite musicians are inviting us into their homes and their processes and demonstrating that music, at its best, can be a powerful force for change and awareness-raising – and can tell stories about particular times and particular ways of viewing the world, while leaving us with themes and tunes that resonate regardless of time or place. They continue to create. Musicians gotta music.

Last week, Matthew Ryan released a cover version of his own.

Although I am, of course, familiar with Belinda Carlisle’s version, I was well into the first spin of Matthew’s iteration before I connected the two in any way. His revisiting of the song, in light of the sadness that is the frightening and frustrating nowness of 2020, offers the same optimism and light – and the video shows us examples of perseverance and history and continuity.

Music gives – comfort and insight and entertainment – allowing us to take what we need and leave the rest for the next person to enjoy and use as they might require.

In a speech accepting the MusiCares Person of the Year Award (2015), Bob Dylan had this to day:

All these songs are connected. Don’t be fooled. I just opened up a different door in a different kind of way. It’s just different, saying the same thing. I didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary. Well you know, I just thought I was doing something natural, but right from the start, my songs were divisive for some reason. They divided people. I never knew why. Some got angered, others loved them. Didn’t know why my songs had detractors and supporters. A strange environment to have to throw your songs into, but I did it anyway.

Last thing I thought of was who cared about what song I was writing. I was just writing them. I didn’t think I was doing anything different. I thought I was just extending the line. Maybe a little bit unruly, but I was just elaborating on situations. Maybe hard to pin down, but so what? A lot of people are hard to pin down and you’ve just got to bear it. In a sense everything evened itself out.

Music shouldn’t divide. Not when it’s reflective of the best that it can be. I’m feeling like we need some evening out hereabouts these days. Some equatable sharing of the load – whatever that load might be. A lot of us carrying pretty heavy, right now.

All of this is to say that I’m hoping to start something – something small, but in keeping with these themes – of connectivity, dialectic, interpretation and re-interpretation, history and story. But most of all a discussion about those things that unite us and how we can work really hard to make manifest our collective knowledge and innate, emotional connectedness, based in those things we all, as humans, share.

I don’t, yet, know exactly what this will look like, but I’m leaning into my own strengths – perhaps rediscovering some of them after a period of disuse – and counting on some help from friends who can bring their own talents and approaches and wisdom to the table. I’m confident that we can share what Matthew calls our ‘intelligent generosity – both intellectual and emotional.’ And maybe contribute to the necessary reshaping of the world as we come through this latest re-volution.

I write this on a day on which one of the most distinctive and innovative voices of the 20th century has been silenced. Little Richard changed everything. It’s not hyperbolic to say that that the music we listen to and love now wouldn’t sound the way it does were it not for Richard Penniman.

There’s no one like Little Richard. But if we follow his example – which included openness, innovation, humour and mentorship, among so many other things – we can shape our own changes.

Please watch this space – and send me a message if you want to join in the conversation.

 

Ordering Chaos

It doesn’t seem like there is anything else on the menu, lately. Everything is in flux and new and different and not in a good and exciting way.

All of us are struggling with the reality of Covid-19 – and the ways in which we deal with the chaos are as myriad as our personalities and life situations.

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

But the laws are all about 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. Our rules are set out to ensure 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? 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.’ 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 was named for the embodiment of chaos herself.  was thinking along the lines of ‘naming something robs it of its power’. Didn’t quite work out that way.  My Tiamat was 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 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-) thinking about of late. For a long time now we have been letting our community 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. Too many of the people who want to make the rules (especially in that country to the south of us) are basing them on interpretations of those ancient documents in complete disregard of their – or our – cultural and historical contexts.

If we take the time to weigh all sides/voices/contexts we can see that we have, in fact, progressed from the city states/nomadic/monarchic civilizations that came so very long before us. We have evolved.

There is a devolution of society that seems to be happening here and there that 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 – two of my current feline besties are named for Canaanite deities) 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.

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. We can stop with the evil. It is a purely human construct.

There are things beyond our human control and creation. Yep. There are indeed. The way we react to these incursions of chaos in our lives is completely in our hands.

In citing the historical tradition of leaders who created laws as a function of control, please don’t think that I’m saying that there aren’t leaders who make rules for the preservation of their people then or now.

We are in a period that is completely outside of our usual experience – most of us in the West, anyway. Rules have been put in place in efforts to keep us – as individuals, families and societies – safe and healthy, and to keep us from overwhelming our health care systems. Most of us seem to understand the origin of and continuing emphasis on the need to maintain physical distancing. These conditional rules have an origin and purpose that should be pretty easy to comprehend.

Unfortunately most is not all. There are ongoing murmurings – which are getting louder the longer this goes on – regarding the need to reopen the economy and get everyone back to work and producing and consuming at pre-pandemic levels.

I get the concern. Except that there can be no economy without society – and we are still in the process of ensuring the maintenance of that last part. The narrative of the ‘need’ to get back to working/living as ‘normal’ is being dictated by those who have financial mandates – rather than ones having to do with moral or ethical considerations. As has always been the case – in spite of how far removed we might be from the Bronze Age Near East – the most adamant supporters of movements dedicated to opening it all up right now are from the privileged strata of society, and those they persuade (or pay) to wave their flags of consume consume consume.

Sacrificing those in the most tenuous economic positions is a tactic that is much much older than capitalism, to be sure. It’s at play right now, though and it’s a manoeuvre that the kings and priests of the Ancient Near East would recognize and applaud.

We have the unique opportunity to create right order through all of this. We are recognizing the gaps that could lead to the failure of all of society – something that some of the powers that be seem to be willfully ignoring for the purposes of financial expediency.

Public health care, accessible education, fair wages for those who provide us with our food and safety, support for those who keep us entertained and informed. The struggles of these groups (and many others, of course) are demonstrations of the innate failure of capitalism as an equitable societal model.

The tension between doing what we’re told for our own safety and that of others and being forced back into dangerous situations under threat of not being able to eat, or pay rent, or provide the basics of living, requires a great deal of balancing between the dichotomous actualities of our present-day order and chaos.

Messages about continued vigilance and new statuses quo for the foreseeable future are daunting and, frankly, depressing for those of us (all of us) who want to be back out in our communities, supporting our neighbours and contributing responsibly to the economic health of our shared society. When placed beside the narratives coming from people who seek to gain all while sacrificing nothing themselves through forcing a premature return to previous states of consumerism, the former need to be our ongoing priority.

We have to trust in the people using educated and evidence-based forecasting to set the rules which will keep the chaos in check for us all. Listening to those who want the bucks off the backs of the rest of us will lead to a complete disruption of the order that comes with society.

We have no control over what is happening right now – and that is really really hard for a lot of people. Me, for one (see above, re. Virgo-Nature). We, here, are fortunate (for the most part, there are outliers, to be sure, and don’t get me started on the embodiment/s of chaos in the States) that the rules around vigilance are the ones that are being enforced – and, as hard as it has been (and it’s not getting easier by any stretch of the imagination) are the responsible, human response to the situation at hand. It is not our natural state to live in isolation – we are social beings and the entirety of our societal interactions and institutions are structured based on that reality. But we are also rational, thinking beings – and we are able to weigh the necessities of the current situation against the sometimes-bigger voices who are shouting for their own benefit to the detriment of those of us not part of the 1%.

Those who would rather we rush to open in spite of the subsequent chaos such orders will produce might want to consider the source/s of those directives and ask if they are, really, suggesting such steps for anything other than their own mandates and for their own selfish desires.

Order happens when choices are made – and we are having to make some that are really hard right now. There is much to be weighed and measured in order to strike the best balance possible. We have the unique opportunity right now to make the choices that can reframe our society in ways that lead to more equity, equality and inclusion. The voices of chaos might be louder – and they might be persuasive – but we have the power to ensure that our leadership is listening to the rest of us as we work together to get through this crisis and figure out how we go on living together once we can truly be together again. We can change the menu to one that is more varied and palatable for the entirety of our community.

‘I had a vision tonight that the world was ending’

It’s a weekend for stories – in particular ones that have, historically, shaped beliefs and ideologies and provided guides for living life. Of necessity, the sharing of those stories has a different form right now as the rituals that accompany them have to be amended for our safety and the safety of all of those out there dealing directly with this virus on behalf of us all.

We lost a great storyteller this week, so my thoughts have been straying in the direction of how and why we create the tales that keep us entertained and provide us with models for living this life – or help to point us in the direction of things that we can do to make it all better.

I’m listening to one of my fave contemporary storytellers right now. @thebrianfallon’s album was released two weeks ago, and since he can’t get out to present it to us in person, he’s been streaming from home and sharing his thoughts and stories on all the social media. He’s overcoming the strangeness of playing to an empty room so that we can participate in some check-in time and share feelings about the physical distancing that will be our collective situation for the foreseeable future. It’s a lovely indicator of the ways in which we can maintain our connectedness in this time of enforced disconnection.

John Prine was a master of the story song. He created characters and embodied and expressed their individual voices when he told us about their lives. Brian’s songs are likewise relatable – and hit hard and close to home because we can see ourselves in some element of the slices of life he presents in his lyrics. There is an optimism and comfort even in the mundanity and loss and the day-to-day struggles presented in the songs that may not have direct equation in everyone’s life, but which share the commonality of being human and the joys and pain that accompany that condition. I don’t think I’m alone in my feeling that stories like this need airing more than ever at this point in time.

For those who might need a reminder (or who might not have known), I deal in apocalypses. Most of my adult life has been about reading them, and interpreting them, and putting them into appropriate historical, geographic and cultural contexts. I’ve been writing one of my own for the past couple of years, as a matter of fact. As far as literary genres go, the apocalypse ranks among my personal faves and takes up an inordinate amount of my head space.

That’s creating some issues for me right now. This global pandemic we, as humanity, are enduring as part of our shared experience is more than disconcerting in its scope and uncertain outcomes, so thinking about the end of days… that’s a bit of a slippery slope if I want to keep myself from depths of despair and the inactivity that accompanies that condition.

Since I can’t let go of the apocalyptic thinking, I’m going back to my primary sources and thinking about what we can learn from it – as pattern of thought that arose from the need to cope with circumstances that are less than ideal (to massively understate the severity of the here-and-now. It’s a rhetorical device I’m using as way of keeping panic at bay).

Apocalypticism, as a literary genre and as an ideology,  is a reflection of societal discontent and disconnect – something called anomie, if you want to get all sociological about it. The stories that come out of this discontent – often presented as dreams or visions of future events and an undoing or redoing of the world – are creative revelations about what will happen if things continue along a particular trajectory of wrongness.

The Wikipedia insists upon a religious connection – and yes, most apocalyptic envisioning accompanies a particular mythology – incorporating its motifs of good vs. evil (angels, demons etc.) and all the various players in the dramas that make up the foundations of belief systems around the world.

In more contemporary times, the players in the end of days dramas are just as external as angels and demons – aliens, AI run amok, zombies and the like – and still set one group – ‘us’ – against another – ‘them’.

Apocalyptic ideation is a way of coping the world that is an inherent part of Western interpretations of experience.

Intrinsically – if not always consciously – we are conditioned to think about ‘next things’. We are told that in order to get this job, or to earn that reward, or make it through a global pandemic, there are certain steps that need to be taken.

As human as this inclination may be, it’s symptomatic of the fact that we slip into the habit of striving exclusively for the future and neglecting to acknowledge the moment in which we are, right now, living. This creates a certain tension that leads to a great deal of personal discomfort, if I’m honest with myself.

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

In historical literary and religious traditions, the better scenario generally comes after a cataclysmic and status changing event of some kind that trashes the social or cultural system that is causing the disconnect between expectations and reality. The new reality is posited to be one of justice – as perceived by the person who is unhappy with the current status quo. Religious apocalypses promise salvation as the aftermath of the period of trial and unhappiness.

We still think in these terms in our secular environments, even if all religious underpinnings are removed. We are the product of millennia of this approach to dealing with societal realties – and it has become part of our inherited way of approaching our world and managing our existential discontent.

For all that I love the myths that have been created in accordance with this particular worldview (some of the best stories are apocalyptic in nature (go reread that one about The hand, writing on the wall, if you doubt me) from a philosophical and personal perspective, it can be a problematic construct. Apocalypticism, by its very nature, negates the life we are living now, in favour of the life that might come along at some point in the future.

It can be a very useful coping mechanism – when things are stressful and deadlines need to be met, or when we are told to hunker down and remain isolated for an indeterminate amount of time. It’s a well-used and generally effective management technique – we’ll get through this period of uncertainty and then things will quiet down and get back to normal.

We’re all experiencing this kind of anxiety now. We are conditioned, on some levels, to think that we need, sometimes, to suffer in the moment so that the next things will be better.

Those who fully accept this paradigm may be handling all this better than I am right now. I tend to want to appreciate and be thankful for those things that are of the moment – so the future-striving as central tenet is distasteful to me. Simply enduring the right now with the hope of something better coming along seems both wasteful and somewhat lazy.

Time may be a construct, but as we’re seeing all too frequently right now, it isn’t endless and we don’t have much of a say as to when ours will come to an end.

I need to reach a happy medium between the acknowledgement that whenever we come out the other side of this pretty much everything is going to be different and using the time confined to the house to some purpose and level of productivity. Sitting and doing nothing but waiting for this to be over is not going to be sustainable for me or for my health.

One of my favourite bands has a song that’s all about visions of the literal end of the world that strikes some of that balance. Spending whatever hours might be left in conscious awareness of the minutes passing, with gratitude for what we have. I love listening to this song as the sun sets over the Big Lake on that rock at the Cottage on the Bay.

I had a vision tonight that the world was ending
Yeah the sky was falling and time was bending
We spent our last night in the moonlight
Baby it’s so bright we’ll be up all night
I got a helluva view for the end of the world
I’ve got a bottle of booze and a beautiful girl
If I’m a’­goin to die I’m gonna go in style
What if the world dies with the sunrise?
Baby it’s all right we’ll be up all night
What if we’re unmade when the stars fade?
Keep me going ’til the night turns into the day

 

Until the Night Turns is one of the connected story songs on Lord Huron’s Strange Trails album. It’s a loosely-woven series of fairy tale-esque interactions with the other, supernatural, world and its impact on those it touches. It’s my kind of mythology – and in keeping with the direction of my thoughts and the ways in which I’m coping with things right now.

For me, listening to Lord Huron, and to Brian, and John Prine as I mourn his passing, permits a means of reflection and appreciation of the past, a method of coping with the present, and acts as guidance as I engage in some future planning – and hopes as to what might take shape as we re-evaluate what is important as we live in society and in community.

It is clear that things will be very different on the other side of this. Taking lessons on board – about inequity, and struggle, and anachronistic biases and prejudices – as taught by our storytellers can help with the reshaping of the world if we don’t turn away from the evidence of disparities that this crisis is highlighting.

We speak in apocalyptic terms without giving it much thought. One of my Dad’s favourite things to say when I was making mountains out of emotional molehills (i.e., being a drama queen) was ‘it’s not the end of the world.’ Right now it feels like we’re as close as we’d care to come to it being, in fact, the end of days. Instead of dreading the inevitable changes, we need to take this time to build our true apocalyptic vision of what those better days to come will look like.

Whatever stories you are celebrating this weekend – whether of deliverance from destruction, rebirth and salvation, or the return of the fertility of the land that keeps us fed – I hope you do so in safety while maintaining whatever level of connectivity you can.