‘Only to Surrender’

I’ve been called naïve before.  More than once, actually.  A LOT more than once, if I’m honest.

I’m okay with that- because the criticism usually comes as I discuss a person or an idea that I admire/appreciate but that may not quite fit with the ‘common wisdom’ (such as THAT may be) that is floating around out there.

Those of you who have been hanging out and listening to and chatting with me hereabouts are aware that I’m in the (ongoing) process of trying to figure out an appropriate and workable way to make my voice- and the voices of other likeminded people- heard about things that I deem extraordinarily important.  Things like education.  And fairness.  And decency.  And accountability.  And doing away with ‘expediency’- political or economic as a cure-all, default motivation.

I’m also in search of a more rewarding job (more money would be nice, yes- but my primary goal is to find something more philosophically/existentially rewarding).

Most of the job postings I see these days are sales positions.  They may not call them that, but that’s what they amount to.  ‘PR’.  ‘Communications’.  ‘Community Coordinator’.  ‘Community Outreach’.

I don’t want to sell people stuff.  I don’t want to be ‘marketed to’- so the thought of marketing to anyone else really makes my skin crawl.  I can’t stand the minutiae involved in choosing one inane option over another inane option.  I really don’t want to be the person gathering the info about inane preferences, nor the one trying to influence anyone in deciding which inanity to go with.

I’m over the commodification of this here society of ours.  I don’t pay attention to commercials (unless they’re funny or have cute animals in them- and even then, I can rarely tell you what they are advertising) since I tend to make my buying decisions based in information I can glean for myself- rather than that which is fed to me by the marketing companies and advertising agencies.  I do take advice from people I trust, but please believe me when I tell you that people who call me on the phone or accost me on the street/inside stores are not members of that particular group.

Competition drives the economy.  I get that.  So having people around who are willing to shill for the various sides in all these day-to-day competitions is a necessary function of industry and society.

I can opt out of that.  I don’t feel pressured one way or another to buy anything these days.  If I like something and see a need for it- or just find it beautiful or interesting- if I can afford it, I will make a purchase.  No biggie.  Having someone tell me that I HAVE to have this ‘next big thing’, or paying any sort of attention to celebrities who are paid to advocate certain products… Yeah.  No.  Thanks but no thanks.

I’m not easily influenced.  And once I like something, I tend to stick with it until something happens to shift my loyalty.  And that something generally has to be fairly cataclysmic.

None of this is to say that I don’t appreciate nice things and that I’m not interested in getting value for money and something that is going to serve me well for a long time.  All those things are important aspects of being conscientious consumers.  And if we must be consumers (since I’m not about to go off-grid in the wilderness somewhere, I’ve resigned myself to that reality) I do my best to be as aware as I can about the impact of the choices I make.

I quite firmly draw the line at the concept behind making ideas- and the sharing of those ideas- a commodity.  While I realize that I should be able to command some sort of monetary recompense for the knowledge and experiential application of the learning that I have received and achieved, when educational systems are being designed according to business models, I have to protest.  LOUDLY.

This was a key aspect of the discussion to which I contributed on The Current a few weeks back.  As happens in radio, full interviews are edited for time and content (and to ensure that the participants stay on point- as much as possible, anyway.  Producers/editors aren’t magicians), but part of the conversations not heard in the broadcast dealt with this very matter.

Dr. Elizabeth Hodgson discussed programmes that she has been instrumental in implementing at her university (UBC) to help doctoral candidates gain ‘real world/practical’ experience in advance of graduation, demonstrating the ‘marketable’ skills that are gained through the work involved in the pursuit of a doctorate in the Humanities.  This programme was instituted, in part, because of the dearth of tenure-stream positions being offered as universities- particularly North American universities- are placing increased emphasis on the importance and value of those in administrative roles in the university system, over those doing the actual teaching and research.

Dr. Lee, on the other hand, seemed to see no issue at all in this move to make universities all about the business of profit rather than the business of education, or the manner in which university teaching has been commodified.  And, with his own background originating in the business world, he seemed quite intent on placing the onus for the lot of the adjunct professors in their own hands- seeing as they chose to study the Humanities, rather than something of ‘marketable value’.  That he is also a politician shouldn’t have surprised me.

I might not be directly part of that world any longer, but since the broadcast I have tapped into a number of groups that are attempting to raise awareness and work toward change.  The issues have done some trending on Twitter and the subject is being discussed on news groups in any number of forums.

Still, as I noted yesterday, I’m pretty sick and tired of defending the ever-increasing NEED to study the Humanities- especially to those who will never get it.  That doesn’t mean I’ll stop doing it, of course.

It’s too important.

I’m honestly not sure how best to do so, though.  While I could listen to the siren call of marketing advocates the world over and resort to those sales tactics that seem to guarantee persuasion and purchases, I’m not sure I have it in me to do so.  Since my preferred modus operandi is discussion rather than debate, I wouldn’t be all that adept at polarizing the issue(s)- a requirement, evidently, if you’re looking to catch the attention of the masses these days.

See, my lifelong-and always continuing- studies have taught me to think critically and to examine situations and arguments from ALL SIDES before forming opinions.  And that forming an opinion requires work and analysis as opposed to blind adherence to a talking head and/or the denigration of dissenting views and those that hold them.

On a wonderful- and very much under-valued– album many many moons ago (Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd., 1967), the Monkees sang a song (written by Craig Vincent Smith) about the transient life of a travelling salesman.  It remains one of my favourite songs from the album- with Mike’s folksy voice at once celebrating the life of the traveller and yet hinting at the underlying sadness of his existence.

‘Salesman, as the years go by,
People changing every day
Hey, salesman ’til the end of time you’ll be livin in the same way
You always wear a smile, you love ’em fast and you live wild
Short life span, but ain’t life grand?’

We shouldn’t have to sell the importance of a balanced and experiential education.

‘Sales’ isn’t for me.  In any of its forms.

But neither is this:

‘I’m going to be a happy idiot
And struggle for the legal tender
Where the ads take aim and lay their claim
To the heart and the soul of the spender
And believe in whatever may lie
In those things that money can buy
Thought true love could have been a contender
Are you there? 
Say a prayer for the pretender
Who started out so young and strong
Only to surrender’

P.S.  I know what I said about the whole Olympics-as-soporific thing, but HOLY CATS!  THAT HOCKEY GAME!  The maple syrup is flowing rapidly through THIS proud Canadian heart right about now.  SO many CONGRATULATIONS to the Ladies.  And fingers crossed for a repeat tomorrow, Gents!

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.