‘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.

Boo!

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.’

’tis the season

Trust me, I am reallyreally not one for in ANY way supporting the whole ‘Xmas begins as soon as the Hallowe’en candy is put on sale’ thing.  I think it’s especially shameful when stores and the like start putting up decorations before Remembrance Day.  Don’t like that at all.  Respect for our veterans should not be too much to ask.

It’s only November 22.  I have yet to do anything as my token nod to the season- as far as shopping/decorating/cooking/baking goes.  That will likely start next weekend (a couple of friends always host an American Thanksgiving dinner and I will be bringing dessert)- although, other than the baking (which I do kind of love.  Most of the time) I’m not sure I’m looking forward to the preparations all that much.

Partly because the decorative stuff is all in storage, which necessitates a trip to the storage place to get it all, and then another trip out there to return the empty boxes…

All right.  I’m being lazy.  I get that.  I could make excuses about the residual effects of the move, being behind in the proactive searching for employment, NaNoWriMo (closing in on 40 ooo words- even if the story isn’t even half told), this cold I can’t shake (seriously- week two and counting)… But honestly?  I think that the real reason I’m not feeling a whole lot of the old peace on earth/good will toward fellow humans thing right now has to do with the build up of cynicism and existential despair that current events have instilled down deep in the very core of my being.

But.

Over the last couple of days I’ve seen a bunch of posts suggesting attempts at rediscovering some joy amongst the jaded negativity that seems to be prevalent lately.  My blogging bud, Beth Byrnes, spoke about her attempts to change the course of recent spates of judge-y behaviours, including some seasonally-inspired therapy in the form of light-hearted Hallmark movies.

I had to agree that one of my personal favourite things about this time of year is the annual showings of wonderful feel-good classic films.  It’s a Wonderful Life, the original Miracle on 34th Street (seriously, who is more beautiful than Maureen O’Hara?), the Sound of Music (and I’m NOT talking about some new-fangled live version with some country star- Julie Andrews IS Maria, and Canadian treasure Christopher Plummer IS Georg.  That’s all I have to say about that), and even newer films like Elf (how do you not LOVE Will Farrell in that role?  And Bob Newhart- and Mr. Grant as SANTA?) and Love Actually (fave ensemble cast film in years) really contribute to the overall suspension of Scroogery- even in the face of political skullduggery run rampant and the disasters (natural and otherwise) that seem to be affecting the world with increasing regularity.

This is use of story– and enduring characters- at its most wonderful.  When a time-tested tale can generate viewership- across generations, beliefs and borders of all kinds- and allow a little bit of hope for the realization of goodness to creep into the day-to-day… That’s kind of freakin miraculous.

So today I took my first step on the road to some celebrating of the season.  First annual tradition well on its way?  Check!

I picked up our tickets to the annual Skydiggers Xmas show at the Horseshoe Tavern (which I referenced here, when discussing some of our city’s FANTASTIC live music venues) this evening.  Every December- for years beyond counting- a group of us (the core remains the same but we welcome additions/cast changes dependent on circumstances- including inclement weather or last minute cancellations) have gathered to see these Toronto stalwarts- and whomever else might be floating around and wanting to play a song or two- sing their classic tunes and share a little holiday cheer.

The show feels like a visit with family.  The band has been a fixture in my life since forever it seems (1988, anyway).  I have seen them in any number of venues, in any number of cities (and on subway platforms- ran into Andy on Hallowe’en, actually) over the years, but the Xmas show at the ‘Shoe is a traditional gathering that can’t be missed.  Be assured that there will be more on this topic once the show actually happens.

If you’re going to be in Toronto the weekend of December 20th and 21st, come on over and join us.  Well worth the price of admission.  And I’m sure that Andy (and frequent guest/collaborator, the Member of Parliament for Davenport, Andrew Cash) will have some insightful commentary on our current political scandals, in case you’re looking for more of that sort of thing.  We’ll be set up by the sound dude, drinking 50 (the one time of year THAT happens.  Horrible beer.  But part of the tradition), if you want to come say hello.

I left Soundscapes (my fave record store and source of tickets in town), not only with the tickets that were the focus of the trip, but with a copy of Ray Davies’ new book Americana (finally picked it up- after finding out about it MONTHS ago). DOUBLE SCORE!

Since it is (for now) unseasonably warm, and since I was feeling somewhat energized for the first time in weeks, I decided that a walk was in order.  The winter will arrive in earnest soon enough.

Strolling back along College, then through Kensington and down Spadina, past the venue itself (which waits, like a loyal friend, for our appearance in a few weeks), then through the ED (long before the arrival of all the 905ers) and down toward that giant spire in the sky (lit up in red tonight), I remembered just how much I LOVE this town.

Recent events have cast us in a darker light- and created some of that angst I was talking about.  But Toronto remains a great place to live.  Our downtown core on a Friday evening is alive with people moving about- setting plans for the evening, heading to dinner/after work drinks, picking up groceries (or bubble tea, or a slice of pizza), and doing some early holiday shopping.

I could almost feel the gently falling (hopefully gently falling– 5 years ago it took hours to get home after a couple of feet of white stuff fell on the city while we were inside singing along) snow that will likely set the scene outside on Queen Street in a few weeks, as we begin to really ring in the season, with some of my favourite peeps in the widewide world.

I let the Shuffle Daemon set the playlist, and he (she?  It?) didn’t disappoint.

Forgot how much I love that video.

A steamy Skydiggers song- memories of summer AND of Xmas shows past.

Another song about the heat of summer- and levies and such- but a FANTASTIC tune about walking about kind of aimlessly yet winding up in the same places again and again.

The Daemon seemed determined to evoke warmth (holidays and ice cream and such)- perhaps knowing what’s forecast to arrive this weekend (plummeting temperatures and snow).  I think it’s trying to tell me that summer WILL come ’round again… Gotta love The Beat, regardless of season.

Now THAT’s a weekend-starting song, if I ever heard one.  And love the classic MTV clip at the start.  I DARE you not to smile.

After a long absence, Genesis has been popping up on the SD a lot lately. 

Some bitter-sweetness here.  Michael Hutchence died 16 years ago today.  A definite waste- of talent and promise.  But he left us with songs like this…

With these songs echoing through the headphones, a Skydiggers reunion to look forward to, a great book to read, and a football game (a Canadian football championship) to watch on Sunday (notwithstanding the fact that the hometown Argos were jinxed by the halftime arrival of someone who shall remain nameless.  What the hell.  Oskee Wee Wee or whatever.  Ontario is still there to represent.  Go Ticats.  I suppose), I’m starting the weekend with a happier outlook than has been the norm of late.

I’m thinking that it will be an unplugged weekend (except for the writing I want to get done), so the tv will remain off (suggestions from Genesis notwithstanding) and the news groups will remain unchecked.  The world can carry on without my input for a couple of days.

Bring on the holidays.  I think I just might be ready to face the madness.

Bon weekend!

Songs for this long weekend

I realize that it isn’t an official long weekend, but I’m making it one by taking Monday off, so I’m getting a real head start by thinking about its soundtrack.  Got lots going on over the next few days, so I will need some good tunes to keep the energy level high and raring to go.

The temperatures are starting to drop (not that they’ve been all that up there this particular summer) and the evenings and mornings are starting to have the feel of August Camp.  You know, those mornings when you were a camp counsellor and would have to force yourself out of your warm cot and the many layers of clothing you were wearing to avoid hypothermia and go down to the lake to swim laps in order to avoid having to put $2 in the swim jar?  You know what I’m talking about.

Since 1879 the Canadian National Exhibition, on the shores of Lake Ontario, has marked the winding down of summer here in T.O.  When the Ex came to town you knew autumn was just around the very next corner, school was starting soon and it was time for one last piece of Summertime.

There are rides, of course- until the 1990s, visitors would risk life and limb riding the Mighty Flyer (‘rickety’ doesn’t begin to describe it) on Conklin’s Midway and the Polar Express still blasts its rock n’ roll songs (in my memory it was always Aerosmith) as you spin past the big white bears and answer the barker’s call of ‘Are you ready to go backwards?’ with a resounding ‘You betcha!’

The Horticulture Building beckoned, as something slightly more educational/in keeping with the agricultural origins of the Fair, with its wonderful blooms that would make my sinuses close and eyes swell up within a matter of minutes.  That’s actually where I first discovered that I’m pretty violently allergic to lilies.   Good times.  It’s a cheesy, douche-baggy club, now, but the building is still lovely.

Every summer the Princes’ Gates on Strachan Ave. welcome visitors in impressive Beaux-Arts style, with a triumphant Winged Victory atop the main arch.  She holds a maple leaf in one hand to assert her Canadian identity and role as greeter to one of the best traditions of the town.

I won’t make it to the Ex this year- though not because people seem to be getting sick from something they’ve been eating (the cronut burger seems to be the most likely culprit, but nothing definitive has been discovered as of yet).

The Food Building was a dreamy destination back in the day.  Everything was super-cheap and they had treats on offer that we never really saw at other times of year.  Sure, there are still all kinds of crazy varietals of interesting foodstuffs to be had, but they’re no longer cheap.

And some of the offerings are just plain insane.  Deep fried butter was the go-to trendy item a few years ago.  This year the popular ones are (or were- food poisoning fears and all) the cronut burger- approximately a billion calories and a strange (to my mind anyway) combination of savoury and sweet; the peanut and bacon milkshake (when did bacon become the ubiquitous food that everyone insists is their favourite thing in the world?  Not that there’s anything wrong with bacon, I quite like bacon, but it has become an Interworld meme food of choice.  I think the Pig farmers/marketers are behind it all); and the s’mores-covered hotdog.

THIS is a cronut burger.

None of that really appeals, TBH.  Not because I’m a health nut or anything.  I’d just prefer not to harden ALL my arteries in one afternoon at the CNE.

Anyhoo.

The Grandstand (or the Canadian version of the ‘Mistake by the Lake’) was the stomping grounds of the Toronto Argonauts CFL team and the first home of our Toronto Blue Jays before the Big Dome got built.  Our often-intemperate climate made the sports a tad problematic at times (snow on the field during baseball games that had to be cleared by a Zamboni borrowed from the Leafs, for e.g.  Seriously.  That happened) and the wildlife and wind from the lake offered their own share of challenges (Dave Winfield- while with the Yankees- was arrested for killing a seagull with a baseball.  Again, I kid you not).

Most of my associations with the Ex have to do with the Grandstand and the great (and the not-so-great- looking at you Bon Jovi, 1989.  We went because we had free tickets- a guy we knew had bought a whole passel of them because he figured it was the big ticket show that year and that he would make tonnes of cash scalping them to all those unfortunates who didn’t stand in line for them.  Like he did.  Apparently he misjudged the appeal of those particular Jersey Boys, so he ended up giving them away.   We went as a joke, I swear!  Although Skid Row- and taunting the Jon-loving rocker chicks sitting in front of us- and all around us, for that matter- was pretty amusing.  There was A LOT of hairspray and spandex in evidence that night.  Wow, this was a really long tangent.  Getting the train of thought back on track now) shows I saw there over the years.  It was a pretty great outdoor venue, and the tickets were cheapcheap, for the most part.

I saw SO many bands there, and the playlist on the Shuffle Daemon this weekend will be a stroll down memory lane paying tribute to some of those shows played at the grand ol’ Grandstand (whether or not they happened during the Ex proper, the Grandstand was all about the open air and the music by the lake.  Something about great tunes and lake breezes and a sky full of stars.  Heavenly).

September 4, 1983.  Bowie.  Serious Moonlight tour.  Sublime.  That’s all I have to say about that.

September 3, 1987.  Double bill.  Echo and the Bunnymen and New Order (and Gene Loves Jezebel, but I think we got there after their set.  Don’t remember it anyway).  Brit-tastic.

May 26, 1987.  The Cult.  And Billy Idol.  Wow.  The energy could have rendered Toronto Hydro obsolete (except for the electricity needed to power the show, so never mind.  Failed analogy).

October 3, 1987.  U2.  Joshua Tree tour.  This one was extra awesome- we had obstructed 1st-level seats and ended up moved to the floor!  Bono had dislocated his shoulder and performed with a sling.  My friend’s Mum got us the tickets.  You had to get a bracelet one day and go back the next.  One bracelet was good for 6 tickets.  She had her infant daughter in a stroller and someone in line suggested she get a bracelet for baby V.  We ended up with 12 tickets!  Great crowd of us.  Perfect Autumn night.  Although there was a tragic suede cowboy boot/peach schnapps incident, if I remember correctly.  The only fly in the otherwise flawless ointment.

June 9, 1988.  Depeche Mode.  The fourth (?) time I’d seen them.  They thrive in outdoor venues.  They’re at the Amphitheatre next weekend.  Sad I’ll be missing them.

August 6, 1988.  INXS.  Perhaps not quite as special as the show at Massey Hall the week that Kick was released, but Michael Hutchence was always on fire onstage.  An amazing showman.

I’ll finish the playlist with this one:

Thompson Twins Into the Gap tour.  It remains one of my favourite shows, and one of my sentimental favourite songs.  August 24, 1984.  29 years ago tomorrow.

Soundtrack of summers past.

I’m going to make the most of what’s left of this one.

Happy weekend!

Moving On

Every once in a while I take a weekend and unplug completely.  This past week was pretty much the epitome of ‘working for the weekend’ (ah, Loverboy.  Where would we be without that particular concept?) and I honestly couldn’t watch anymore as the grief of the citizens of Lac Mégantic was broadcast across all news outlets while the owner of the train company not only refused to take responsiblity, he sounded like an arrogant sociopath once he finally deigned to comment on the situation.

As of Friday evening at 5pm, I turned off and tuned out for the duration.

Nice to have the break, but I missed a whole whack o’ news- little of it good:

The Zimmerman verdict down there in the States represents yet another violation of anything resembling justice.

A young Canadian actor was found dead in his hotel room from a (likely) drug overdose.

The waste of youth, talent and potential in both cases is tragic- if for different reasons.

Both will prompt all kinds of discussion in the coming days. On Moyers and Company Lauren Feeney and Eric Boehlert discussed the media frenzy around the trial, how the story went from being about the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin to the ‘Zimmerman Show’- and the conservative ‘news’ groups that viewed him as some kind of persecuted innocent (!).

I imagine that greater minds than mine with more knowledge of the American system of (in)justice will try to make some sense of the travesty.  I can do little more than add my dismayed voice, in whatever small way, and shake my head at the ‘one step forward, two back’ social reality evinced by the US over the past month.

I admit that I watched the first season of Glee.  There was an energy to it that was attractive- and the flashback song selections were pretty fun.  Sort of lost the plot as it went on- and as we started to see less of Sue (who was awesome)- but I appreciated the talents of the actors/singers on the show.  In comparison to the endless selection of ‘talent’ competitions, Glee offered some real musical theatre in an entertaining one-hour format, and Finn was at the heart of the whole shebang.

Not being all that tapped into much infotainment, I wasn’t aware that Cory Monteith struggled with addiction.  31 is too young to exit this world- especially for someone of talent and support.  Sad.

All this waited to be discovered when I turned the computer/tv back on this afternoon.

But before I did so… as part of my hiatus, I went for a good long walk yesterday.  It was a glorious weekend- especially after the, um, extreme weather we had last week.  We took the storm- and the clean-up and aftermath- in relative stride.

The Indy was in town- always interesting for the crowds it brings to the downtown core.  And there were the usual festivals, community parties and special events that make Toronto such an awesome place in which to hang out in the summertime.  LOVE this place in the summer.

Anyhoo.  While out for my walk, the Shuffle Daemon was at it again.  This time it seemed to be anticipating the fact that I’d need a reminder that sometimes the bad stuff- even when it’s really really bad- has to be put behind us and we just need to keep on keeping on.

Perhaps the iPod was tapped into the fact that I had just been thinking about story and song, and Papa Nez, because the first song to come up was a country/southern-rock classic:

That song never ceases to put a smile on my face.  The idea of just rolling with things and moving on as the spirit takes you… something that I find so very hard to do.

Then:

Running on Empty.

Same type of message, but Jackson Browne describes one of the key things I try to keep in mind in my life:  “Gotta do what you can just to keep your love alive- trying not to confuse it with what you do to survive.”

The frenetic pace that he describes in the song reminds us that we need to both keep moving on and stop every once in awhile and appreciate those things that are most important.

Further good advice from Billy Joel came next:

Working/worrying oneself into heart attack (ack ack ack ack ack)- so not worth it.  It’s all about priorities and perspective.

This one hurt my heart:

Although it was in keeping with the whole keep on moving theme that the Daemon had going, and despite the fact that INXS remains one of my fave bands, the tragic death of Michael Hutchence (also too young) always casts a bit of a cloud over their fantastic songs.

Still, Just Keep Walking, from their first album, when they were (ridiculously) young and hopeful, frequently reminds me to keep my head down and move forward regardless of the difficulties thrown in my path.

U2 always seems to weigh in:

Walk On is about Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the more than 20 years she spent under house arrest as a result of her fight for her country’s freedom.  On a universal level, it talks about leaving behind baggage while taking only what is most important as the fight requires a change in locale or perspective.

And, because the Shuffle Daemon has a sense of humour (and because I have rather strange eclectic taste in music):

Who better than Kermit and Fozzie to demonstrate that moving it along is about adventure and companionship- and those we might chance to meet on the way.

Sometimes you just have to let things go and shift gears/change scenery/take a break from the known and breathe in the new.

These six story songs illustrate the concept wonderfully.  Although we can, and should, get caught up in the dailies and the important issues of the world, sometimes we have to shake it off and go in a different direction.

It is important to be aware of and engaged with the terrible stories that happen with way too much frequency.  Our access to communication requires that we not ignore the injustices and atrocities.  The stories- well-examined and evaluated- must spur us into action to counter the wrongs that we find contained within them.

Sometimes, though, it’s necessary to move on.  Becoming mired in the negative leads to anomie and apathy.  Being bombarded by the bad, it is hard to find the good.

And there is very good to be found.  Our stories continue- regardless of how some might try to silence the inspirational voices among us.

Malala knows- and our songwriting storytellers remind us (through the medium of ‘possessed’ iPods)- that the status quo is always subject to change.

A hopeful note on which to start a new week.