Regarding the inherent value of creativity and art

That first couple of days back to the grind after a long weekend can certainly be, well, grinding.  This is sort of where I’m at right now- feeling like there are gears rubbing together to their detriment rather than as an effective means of propulsion.  It’s likely not helping that we got MORE FREAKIN SNOW yesterday, but today the sun is shining and the temperature has crawled above the freezing mark, so I’m trying to let that inspire me to get some work finished up.

February is my least favourite month- for any number of reasons, but most of all because- despite the fact that it has the least number of days- it seems to be the lo-o-o-o-o-o-ngest by far.  And it’s generally cold.  And slushy.  And overcast.

I know.  Complaining about the weather is a particularly futile exercise, and I’m really trying hard to get off the complaining-to-no-purpose train.  If I have a complaint it should be about something tangible, and about which I should be able to do something.

2014 is the year of change and action, after all.

Anyhoo.

I saw two movies at the theatre this weekend and finished a couple of books- so I admit to having had more than my fair share of leisure time mixed in with the usual running around and seeing to responsibilities and proactive measures to affect the change I’d like to see, both in my own life and in the world as a whole.

As it turned out, both films very much jibed with the way my thoughts have been cycling lately.  Creativity and art and expression and music and magic and wonder… we NEED more of these things.  And yet, those who undertake these most important human constructions and creations (and those who pursue studies about these most important human constructions and creations) are told- over and over and over again- that there is NO PRACTICAL VALUE in doing so.

Really?  Really!?!?

The first movie was just for fun- but turned out to be more than that.  The Lego Movie featured a pretty cool message- about the need for creativity and the desire to work outside of pre-ordained and restrictive societal norms.  That cookie-cutter buildings, ‘reality’ television shows about the banality of life and prescribed over-priced coffee may resonate with the lowest common denominator, there remain those among us who strive to create things of beauty and value- and that those things can be at least as practical as those that are mundane and conformist.

I loved it.  It was fun and it was clever and it hit all the right notes.  I can’t get that freakin Everything is Awesome song out of my head, but this is incidental.

On Monday we opted for something a little more serious but, interestingly, along the same lines.  The Monuments Men tells a mere slice of the story of the quest to recover art and artifacts stolen by the Nazis over the course of World War II.

I’ve seen a lot of not-so-great reviews of the film and, honestly, not one of them remotely deterred me from checking it out.  For one thing, how do you not love that cast?  And the idea behind it (the movie and the real life events that the movie is based on)?   That crushing the Nazi onslaught and ridding the world of the repulsive ideology that drove the power and land grab- evidence of some of the worst of humanity- would have been an incomplete victory if they had been able to destroy the art that is an expression of the best of humanity?

That.  Exactly that.  How AWESOME and inspiring and affirming is that?!?!

Some have called it ‘preachy’ (ineffectually preachy, actually).  Others suggest that no work of art is worth a human life.  Those who lost their lives (or risked imprisonment as collaborators) in the pursuit of the preservation of some of the greatest art known to humanity begged to differ.  They understood that destroying that which defines us as human- those creations of beauty and insight and appreciation of our world and history and stories- leaves us bereft of a vital element of our shared experiences.

The movie also served to pique my curiosity about the subject and the events and the history of this group of scholars and artists, who, like me, see incredible value in the great works we leave behind us.  The Monuments Men website offers all kinds of resources for education about the men and women of the MFAA (Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives) who succeeded in saving so many of Europe’s great cultural and artistic achievements.

I am, primarily, an historian.  I learned about World War II- mainly about Canada’s involvement and through my studies about the Holocaust (from a Religious Studies perspective, for the most part), but the story of the preservation of our art and culture- and the ideology and spirit behind those who successfully emphasized the NEED for the preservation of the art and culture?  This is a new and wonderful lens into an important battle that was fought and won through sacrifice and determination.

In a society that is increasingly determined to insist that everything is disposable commodity, the actions of these men and women- scholars of art and architecture and literature and history- as presented for the popular media in the form of a Hollywood movie (a sincere thank you, Mr. Clooney) is incredibly timely and important.

With every ongoing conflict and new outbreak of violence in the world we are in danger of incrementally losing our shared humanity.  Not just through the egregious and shameful disruption and taking of innocent lives, but through the destruction of our shared history and its important remnants- be they literary, artistic, historical or architectural.

I cried when the Buddhas of Bamiyan were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001.

Syria’s ancient treasures- along with its people- are being systematically destroyed, just as happened in Iraq over the course of that ‘conflict’, in the name of political and religious ideologies that are all about power, influence and economics.  Please note that the ideologies driving these wars and atrocities are being enacted IN ALL CASES for the benefit of the few without consideration given to the lives and heritage of the many.

I loved the movie.  I’ve bought the book.

Some reminders for those who persist in refusing to see the necessity of the Humanities.

I have some reading to do.

Giving Thanks, Canadian Style

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

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

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

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

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

The pride.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Metric.  Emily just has one of those voices…

Talk like an open book
Sign me up

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

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

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

And now from the vaults…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

of closing time

Have a fantastic weekend!

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