Bread and Circuses

Sticking with thoughts about calliopes*- in particular, their ability to draw in the listener, their encouragement of us rubes to come and join the fun of the midway- and the chasing of said music machines, I’ve noticed a certain thematic recurrence featuring circuses and such like things ’round these parts.

It’s partly the time of the year. Any day now- with the summer spectacle of the Pan Am and ParaPan Am Games a fading memory (a hearty ‘well done’ to all the organizers, volunteers and athletes, by the way)- the ads for the CNE will begin to dominate the airwaves (if they haven’t done already- I’ve mainly avoided the airwaves lately. More on that later) marking the end of the summer.

It’s not feeling like the summer is anywhere near its end right now- we’ve had a stretch of crazy hot-and-humid sort of days (all fine with me)- but there is a shift in the type of energy- and a definite sense that back-to-school and the winding down of all things summery is in the air.

It’s hard not to get caught up in a new energy. My next door neighbours are creating quite the sensational fuss, what with being (currently) two games behind the Yanks in the AL East and turning up the heat as contenders for the first time in decades. There were 40+ thousand people down around my house every day last weekend as the Jays hosted those guys from NYC. That’s a whole lot of people creating a whole lot of buzz (I’ll refrain from stating the obvious- that more than a few were certainly ‘buzzed’- on expensive SkyDome beer…).

Please don’t think I’m hopping on a bandwagon here. I’ve never, really, jumped off. Not fully, anyway. Some of my fondest memories are of shivering in the cold at Exhibition Stadium in the days when the Jays first arrived in town- and before they moved to the Dome (sorry Rogers-types- it will ALWAYS be the SkyDome, as far as I’m concerned), with its ability to shield us from the elements somewhat.

1985, for example, was a banner year for the club- marking the first time we won the division championship- and the accomplishment was marked on the weekend with a celebration of the players that made that happen. The nostalgia was pretty phenomenal. Good to see all the faces that marked the shift to the Jays becoming contenders and welcome them back with some big love.

And then there was ’92 and ’93. I was in the early years of my exile in the Nation’s Capital (what was I thinking?!? Hindsight and 20/20 and all that), so I missed the electricity that powered the city as the Jays won back-to-back World Series- led by some of the greats of the game (Joe Carter remains a personal hero of mine- for reasons that go way beyond his ability to swing a bat and catch a ball- but, oh, that home run and that catch…). But I yelled and screamed my support from various couches and sports bars in Ottawa and cried with the rest of my hometown when the boys of our northern summer brought home the Canadian bacon (as I laughed at the ineptitude of the folk in Atlanta who hung the flag upside down. Ah, ‘Mericans. Gotta love ’em).

And I’ve attended a few less-than-stellar outings since I came home and moved in next door. Even bought a cap with their ‘new’ logo a few years ago (although I really like the one with the Maple Leaf a whole lot better).

I’m getting cautiously optimistic. Torontonians are wise to temper their sports enthusiasm with some caution- our teams are notorious for their shared ability to trounce all over our raised hopes and dreams. But I am getting a little caught up in the excitement- while yet holding on tight to my oft-broken heart.

I’m also a little distracted, and I’ve now distracted you with my talk of my local sports heroes… Let’s bring it back to the point, shall we?

The late-season surge in energy and hope for contention is also indicative of the fact that we will be setting aside our summer-dreaming (for those of us privileged enough to have been able to take breaks from the norms associated with ‘making a living’ and all that adulting-type stuff) as the cooler practicalities of the fall start to set in. A last hurrah, as it were.

Although I’m now five full years out of the classroom, I still feel that back-to-school pull- the nervous energy that comes from course set-up and the preparation to meet all the new minds that I might be permitted to influence. A new year- in a sense that is more real, somehow, than the changing of the calendar that we mark in the dead of Canadian winter.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been suffering from a significant pulling-back and sitting-out of late. Through an (on-going) process of introspection and general examination, I’ve isolated some of the reasons behind this ennui. One cause that keeps rearing its head is a need I’m feeling to distance myself as much as possible from the calculated distractions that are offered up everywhere we turn. It may seem a tad hyberbolic, but I really think that my recent avoidance of things of import is a reactionary and somewhat unconscious recoiling from the nonsense on television and elsewhere in the media these days.

The lead-up to the election is a big source of disgust disquiet- and I’m certain that our soon-to-be former PM is not unaware of the general public malaise that is sure to be the foregone result of a campaign lasting eleven freakin weeks.

Which calls to mind that wondrous old Juvenalian concept of ‘bread and circuses’. He used it to denounce what he saw as the self-involved nature of the ‘common people’ and their willful ignorance about wider concerns and matters pertaining to things like civic duty. Not one to pull punches, was Juvenal.

Master of satire that he was, he employed the metonym to describe the unwillingness of 2nd century CE Romans to understand, or even acknowledge, their history and the need for their political involvement in order to ensure the health and well-being of the system. He said, essentially, that the People have abdicated their duties, in favour of sitting on their butts hoping that they will be handed bread and invited to circuses- state-provided food and entertainment.

Were the people culpable for their anomie and disengagement? You betcha. But the fact of the matter is that even wayway back in Ancient Rome (one of the cornerstones of the democratic/republican- using both terms in their original senses-systems that we hold in such vaunted esteem), leaders opted to give the people what they think they wanted as a means of garnering support.

Plus ça change. The satisfaction of shallow desires- for free refreshments and hollow entertainment- remains the biggest tool in the kits of contemporary politicians. And the owners of media conglomerates. And heads of national and multi-national corporations.

If they all, together and separately, keep us diverted by the next big show streaming on Netflix (or by a story about a wonderful show- one that was produced with the intent of making early education accessible to children from all socioeconomic backgrounds- moving from a publicly-funded broadcaster to a pay-for-service cable channel), encouraging support for the local college football team (as we funnel money into such programs while things like actual educational standards at the same college suffer from lack of funding), or just by being a buffoon that appeals, inexplicably, to the ‘real’ people, then we mightn’t be inclined to delve deeper into the issues that are driving the continued inequities and flat-out wrong directions in which they are attempting to take us.

Bread and circuses generate support that is not based in silly things like exemplary service or concern for the good of society in its entirety, and to distract us and take our attention away from what is really going on. Large corporations and banks and politicians and religious institutions- anyone, really, who has been given power under the social structures that these groups have contributed to building- can continue to throw shadows to disguise their underlying intent of self-promotion and the furtherance of personal agendas.

The other day a friend posted a link to an article talking about how a developer is planning on building a hotel on the grounds of the CNE (former home of those Blue Jays). Jaded as I am by the state of development in this city, it didn’t really surprise- although it did appall more than a little since that place is sort of sacred ground for a lot of Toronto-folk. When I thought about it a little more, though, the symbolism of such a thing seemed insidiously apt- building towers so that the populace can actually stay overnight ON the circus grounds? Why didn’t someone think of this before?

Of course, all these ‘leaders’, public and corporate alike, will claim that the distractions are well-intended and meant to protect us and our best interests.

Sure.

In one of my favourite books by one of my favourite (Canadian) authors, one of the primary characters, a military leader and soldier (among other things) entertains two small children in his care by casting shadow hand puppets on a wall. The show is meant to divert the children’s attention from the assassins that have been sent to their house to kill them- and to cover up the sounds as the men in Ammar’s command dispatch the ‘bad men’ and keep them safe.

As in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, the shadows on the wall are meant to distract from the reality of circumstances. In the situation in Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Lions of Al-Rassan, the attempt is well-intentioned- they were protecting children from political machinations, after all- but ultimately doomed to failure. Though young, one of the children understood the puppet show for what it was- and asks, at its end, if the bad men have gone.

We are not children- and yet we seem to be more than willing to let our leaders distract us with shadows on the wall, with bread and with circuses, rather than to pay close attention and free ourselves from the cave of superficial perception.

The light of the fire that is the source of the shadows may be hard, and uncomfortable, to look at, but we need to stop shying away from those things that are ‘hard’. We have to accept our responsibility, as citizens who participate in the structuring and furtherance of our societies, to weather the discomfort of escaping the cave and the pain of the initial exposure to the sun and its light, in order to clearly see it in all its truth- and to take that truth back to those who remain entranced by the shadows on the wall. They will resist- Plato had that much right (and how little has changed)- since the journey is full of challenges and inconveniences and we have become intellectually lazy-beyond-belief. But we still have to try.

I needed to re-learn that piece of Socratic/Platonic wisdom. When chatting with my wee sister on the way to Sunday dinner, I admitted that I have had to ‘unfollow’ certain friends on the facebook, what with the lead-up to the federal election. I’m having issues with seeing posts in support of certain soon-to-be-former PMs and the rest of his merry misfits.

Wee sister commented that she keeps such peeps around in her feeds- since she likes to examine arguments from all angles. Ouch. That one stung. I like to think that I am past-master of hearing all sides before deciding my own perspective, but I have to say that certain attack ads and the front-and-centre-ness of a whole lot of rhetoric on the parts of all of the federal political parties has made me want to turn off the tv and tune out of the written articles permanently.

That, combined with a little article I saw in the New York Times yesterday morning, have reminded me that the examination of the whole has to be taken in consideration, regardless of how obvious our own conclusions might seem to be. Overcoming confirmation bias- when we aren’t even aware of it- is a trickytricky thing, sometimes. It’s easy to see all those places in which we are right. Identifying the wrong bits… that involves looking at things from all sides- and in all lights.

Which means checking back in. I’ll have a look at and listen to all the posturing and politicking- whether or not it reinforces what I already think is the right answer- and re-engage in the process. Looking beyond the shadows on the wall isn’t always fun, or easy, but it beats becoming blindly subject to the bread and the circuses that they use to mollify us and keep us quiet. And maybe, just maybe, by doing so I might manage to drag a person or two out of the cave to join those of us who aren’t satisfied with what the mollifying shadows might be selling.

(Yes, it’s that Mike Oldfield guy again)

Treat me like I’m evil
Freeze me ’til I’m cold
Beat me ’til I’m feeble
Grab me ’til I’m old

Fry me ’til I’m tired
Push me ’til I fall 

Treat me like a criminal.
Just a shadow on the wall

The plan: ignore the shadows on the wall- flailing desperately, as they do- while they try to convince of their ‘truth’, and head back into the light, and reality. Pulling whomever I can grab along with me.

And what the hell. What’s life without a little hope?

Go Jays Go!

*Another indication- should you need more- about that whole interconnectedness thing about which I tend to go on and on and on… Having eschewed television (for the most part- baseball games don’t count- and they lost to the Phillies (!) last night- I popped on my rally cap and everything!- so I might have to rethink my optimism a little. Although it was an interleague game, so it doesn’t really count…) I’ve been reading a whole lot lately- and that reading has been focused on authors who create great characters.

Since Mr. Stephen King is pretty unmatched when it comes to introducing us to people who leap off of the pages, I decided to give ‘It’ a go. I thought I’d read that one- years ago, actually- so I was expecting a re-read (I definitely remember the cover of the novel- with Tim Curry as Pennywise) but this is my first immersed visit to the town and its folk. My memories of the story come from the miniseries- which starred EVERYBODY! What a cast that was!- so getting to know the characters through King’s written words has been excitingly brand new.

Anyhoo… one of the characters first encounters the big nasty that plagues the town of Derry after he follows the sound of a calliope playing ‘Camptown Races’. Fortunately, Stan manages to escape the manifestation of the festering source of all that is wrong in Derry, but the incident marks him for the rest of his life. Calliopes- with their associations with the liminality that has always been a feature of the carnival and sideshow- can draw us to things better left unvisited. Mr. King is wise in his warnings. Stray tunes, carried on the wind- or drawn from memory- can be harbingers of a great deal of trouble.

Figuring out which song is safe to follow can be dangerous business. Yet taking a risk has to be better than stasis and stagnation…

 

 

‘4am in the morning’

A day to myself.

It’s been so long since I’ve had one of those…

All day yesterday- truly one of the longest days of my life (that whole ‘time is relative’ thing again)- I kept thinking that ‘if I can just keep standing until tomorrow…’

I have a day off.  I’ve given it to myself- and firmly told myself that I needn’t do anything today that I don’t want to be doing.  I have the rest of the week to get things done and to gear up for the start of my new job (!) next Monday.  Today is for quiet and rest and the beginning of the recovery of my resources- which are a little tapped out right now.

We hosted a lovely celebration of Dad’s life yesterday.  So many wonderful people coming together to speak about him- either as part of the ‘formal’ celebration (it was hardly formal in any traditional sense) or during the reception afterward.  So very many wonderful people.  Friends, family.  People I hadn’t seen in, literally, decades– yet who took some time out of their day to share their memories of Dad- and of Mum- and of my sisters and I when we were but wee things.

I am quite drained.  Emotionally, certainly, but physically as well.  I’m not sure what that’s about.  I feel like I’ve been running marathons or something- and I sure as heck ain’t no runner.

But I don’t do idleness well.  After sitting on the couch this morning- catching up on local news (why do I DO that to myself?), I’m itching to get something accomplished.  There are lists to be made (oh, how I love lists)- of thank you cards to be sent, tasks that need accomplishing as a means of getting going on the realities that require attention after such a loss (the legal, the financial, the day-to-day things that need de- or re-constructing)… so much still to be done.

I’m not sure I have the requisite concentration level at the moment.

But this time of transition is about more than the great loss of Dad.  That’s the biggest thing, of course, and the one that it is hardest to wrap my brain around.

But…

For the first time in over 5 years I am not looking for a job.  I am not checking the myriad online job boards I have bookmarked on the laptop, or researching potential employers to better explain my suitability to join the organization in a tailored cover letter, or adapting my CV yet again to better convey the reasons why I would be an asset to the company.

I’m sort of at a loss.

Those who say that looking for work is a full time job know what they’re talking about.  And, for years, I was doing so whilst working a full time job.  And volunteering at my Museum.

Did I mention I don’t do idleness well?  Especially enforced idleness- even if I’m the one acting as the enforcer.  I told myself that today is just about chilling.  Not sorting through papers, not catching up on chores, not taking things to the dry cleaners.  Just vegging on the couch.  With a book.  Or catching up with my WordPress peeps.  Or a movie.  Or some music.  Hanging with the cats and with me.  With no one else around.  There hasn’t been much of an opportunity for that in the past few weeks.

I know this is a temporary thing.  I will be kept on my toes once the new job begins- lots to learn, people to meet- and I hope to pick up the volunteering again- slowly, and possibly in different ways than before- as I settle into a new routine.  I’ll be back running and feeling like there aren’t enough hours in a day in no time- of this I have no doubt.

So today is supposed to be about time for a little reflection and to catch my breath and sort through my own head a little.  Even though I was there when it happened- peacefully, and with the three of us at his side- I still have moments when I just can’t believe that he’s gone.

There is much to be taken on board.  Much of the ground beneath my feet has been rendered somewhat treacherous for the gaps in the foundations.

Ever since the Shuffle Daemon managed to shake me out of the total lack of clarity I was feeling after Dad died (as least insofar as I claim any real return to clarity.  I remain in more of a fog than is usual- even for me) I’ve been letting Mike Oldfield help soothe the jangled nerves.

Sometimes this is a little counter-intuitive.  Much of music is pretty much the opposite of ‘soothing’.  His hugely elaborate Tubular Bells (1, 2, 3 and the Millennium Bell) and Hergest Ridge albums feature movements that can shock you either awake or into awareness with their power.  The guy- and his talent (he plays all guitars- bass and otherwise- organs, glockenspiel, mandolin, bells- tubular and otherwise- and timpani.  Basically all the instruments)- are pretty staggering at times.  He was 19 when he recorded Tubular Bells.  19.   NINE-bleeping-TEEN.

But, in addition to the wondrous orchestral masterpieces, he has a number of songs that are more in keeping with the ‘singles’ that you might hear on the radio (radio still exists, right?)- with vocalists and everything.

The Shuffle Daemon seems sort of stuck in the way in which it is rolling out these songs for my listening pleasure.  In addition to the song I wrote about the other day- and included in the post I wrote about Dad, which I managed to read at the celebration yesterday- two others keep popping up, both featuring the wonderful vocals of Maggie Reilly.

Family Man tells the tale of the unsolicited attention that a gentleman receives whilst in a bar one evening- and his insistence that he isn’t ‘that type of guy’.  Nothing, really, to do with any of the memories I have of Dad, of course (but, as I noted the other day, our parents were people before they were parents, so who knows…) beyond the title.  Dad was certainly a family man.  We were the centre of his world- of that there was never any doubt- and my Mum was the love of his life.

Hall and Oates did a cover version of this song- which changes its tone quite completely.  At the end of their version the family man in question succumbs to the lure of the ‘lady of the night’- although it was too late to manifest his illicit choice.  And the quintessentially 80s video is so endearing in its cheesiness.  The clothes.  The production values.  That moustache!

And then there’s this song.

This lovely live version of the song- while lacking the crashing Oldfield-esque guitars of the album version- highlights the sense of loss that the lyrics evoke so beautifully.

It’s hard to choose a favourite from amongst the works of this guy.  Heaven’s Open is up there- for many of the reasons I discussed the other day- and for all the new associations that it has brought to me this week.  His artistry makes it reallyreally hard to pick one song above the others.

But Moonlight Shadow.  Moonlight Shadow.  I can remember the first time I heard it- and the many many many nights I’d sit in my bedroom listening to it on repeat.

‘The last that ever she saw him, carried away by a moonlight shadow,
He passed on worried and warning, carried away by a moonlight shadow,
Lost in a riddle that Saturday night, far away on the other side,
he was caught in the middle of a desperate fight, and she couldn’t find how to push through.

The trees that whisper in the evening, carried away by a moonlight shadow,
Sing the song of sorrow and grieving, carried away by a moonlight shadow,
All she saw was a silhouette of a gun, far away on the other side,
He was shot six times by a man on the run, and she couldn’t find how to push through.

I stay, I pray, I see you in heaven far away,
I stay, I pray, I see you in heaven one day.

Four a.m. in the morning, carried away by a moonlight shadow,
I watched your vision forming, carried away by a moonlight shadow,
Star was glowin’ in a silvery night, far away on the other side,
Will you come to talk to me this night, but she couldn’t find how to push through’

Some have suggested that it was written in response to the murder of John Lennon (despite the lack of correspondence between the timing of the events of that tragedy and those in the song), and Mike has allowed that it may have had some level of influence.  He had arrived in New York the day of the murder, and was staying a short hop away from the Dakota where Lennon’s profound voice was silenced.  Mainly though, he was thinking about a film he had loved about Harry Houdini (starring Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh), particularly about attempts to contact the late illusionist after he had died.

Like Mike, I am fascinated by the life and times of Harry Houdini- particularly by his attempts to expose false spiritualists who made money from the pain and loss of others.  I loved that about him.  That, and the close connection the guy had to his mother, and the loving relationship- which encompassed both the business and the personal- he and his wife Bess shared throughout their life together.

This song resonates, for me, personally, on a very specific level.  Years and years ago, my grandfather (Dad’s Dad) was staying with us while Dad was out of town on business.  One night, very late, I woke up and heard someone moving around in the kitchen.  Grandpa was down there, opening and closing the refrigerator door and wandering pretty aimlessly.  I asked him what was up, and he admitted to feeling restless and if something was wrong.  I put the kettle on and sat with him at the kitchen table.  In my memory of the event, I glanced at the cuckoo clock my parents had brought back from Switzerland, noting that it was 4 am, just before the phone rang.  The phone call informed my Grandpa that his youngest brother had just died.

A couple of years later, my Mum woke me up to say that she and Grandma (who was staying with us while Grandpa was in the hospital- Dad was out of town with work again) had to go out for a bit.  I was in charge- although my sisters were sound asleep.  I dozed off again, but startled awake not long after, feeling as if something was wrong, but also overcome by the feeling that my Grandfather was with me.

Unable to fall back to sleep, I went upstairs (I was sleeping in the basement, since Grandma had my room) and turned on the tv- catching the late night replay of CBC’s Video Hits.  A little while later they came home- surprised to find me awake in the middle of the night- and told me that Grandpa was gone.  It was 4am.

After Dad was moved back to hospital from the rehab clinic where he had seemed to be making solid progress, I found myself waking up in the middle of every single night.  Each and every time at 4am.  After the first couple of nights I didn’t even bother checking the clock.  I’d settle in on the couch, cell phone beside me, awaiting the phone call I felt would inevitably come.

When the call did come, it wasn’t at 4am.  For the first time in weeks I had slept through my own personal witching hour, until the nurse called me at 5:30.  As I called my sisters and arranged to pick them up to head to the hospital to be with Dad, a big part of me was honestly thinking that this couldn’t possibly be it.  It wasn’t 4am.  We had passed the ‘danger time’.

I don’t know why Mike Oldfield chose 4am as the pivotal time in his most wonderful of songs (I also don’t know why he included the redundancy ‘4am in the morning’– but I’ve tried to let that go in the name of artistic licence and lyrical metre) but it has always served to very personally connect me to the song.

4am is random- even when I look at my own experiences of that particular time of day/night.  It does serve to reinforce my awareness that we are all connected- to those we love and to those in the larger world who have had the same types of experiences- of family, of love, of loss- and that we all seek to share those experiences in the best ways we can.

Mike Oldfield is a musical genius.  He expresses and shares that genius through his songs.  My family and friends contribute their own forms of genius on a daily basis- sending their strengths and insights out into the wider world, and teaching me as I am touched by their examples.

So, even though it is my ‘day off’, I can let myself get away with ‘working’ since I am still taking my own prescription to chill and try to absorb all that has happened lately.  Writing, for me, can be work, certainly.  But it is also therapy- and the way I sort through my own feelings and experiences as I attempt to make manifest the gift of my life- and share the things that I have learned at the feet of teachers greater than myself.

PS- Even though I have run on more than long enough (even for me, this post is extremely long-winded), I need to thank all of you- here in my WordPress world- for the beautiful messages of condolence that you have offered in the past few days.  Anyone who claims that the online world is lacking in humanity or any sense of real connection certainly isn’t hanging with peeps like you all.  The messages are lovingly received with gratitude.

And a special shout out to Rachel at Rachel Carrera, Novelist for her kindness in nominating me for a couple of lovely blogging awards.  As usual, please, if you are so inclined, take some time to browse her site, and those of the other wonderful writers that I am lucky enough to interact with regularly here at colemining.  People are awesome.

Dad

He was my first ‘follower’.

When, after thinking and talking about it for ages, I finally started this blog as a way of writing about some of the things that I deem important, my Dad was the first one to subscribe to colemining.  Even though the blogging world was a bit of a terra incognita to him.

He always encouraged us- me and my two sisters, and pretty much anyone else who came into his charismatic sphere and stayed for any length of time- and he knew that I had things to say that needed to be said.

He was my biggest fan.

Always.

We were so very fortunate- growing up and now, as adults- to have been raised by parents (and an extended family of grandparents and aunts and uncles- biological and otherwise) who encouraged us to find our own way in the world and pursue those things that most resonated with us, personally.

You see, they knew that they had raised us to be concerned about things larger than just us, that they had instilled in us the reality that we are part of a community.  They trusted us- and they trusted themselves- enough to know that they had created three responsible, independent and thinking citizens of the world.  Individuals who learned the most important lessons that can be taught- and who will hold firm to the mandate that shaped both their lives: that we are all required to do our best to leave this world a better place than we found it.

Our own paths- guided by intelligence (both inherited and nurtured) and kindness- perhaps kindness above all else- are the legacy of two wonderful people that anyone who ever met them feels privileged to have known.  Being supremely lucky, I got to have them as my parents.

When Mum was diagnosed with a form of early-onset dementia, Dad became her constant and always-doting companion and care-giver.  We often forget that our parents were people before they became our parents, but, through Mum’s long illness until her eventual death, we got to witness the playing out of a love story that Hollywood couldn’t come close to imagining.

One of their oldest, dearest friends sent this memory to me- all the way from Australia:

It is always so sad to lose one’s parents, regardless of their age or yours. It is the end of an era. Take comfort in the fact that he had a great, happy, long and useful life. When we were young and used to go out together, it was such a joy to see your parents — a couple so very much in love — I think your Dad beamed from ear to ear during the whole of their wedding ceremony! It was also the very first time that they had ever met or even heard of (her boyfriend at the time, now husband of many decades) as I was otherwise engaged, so the invitation did not include his name. Whilst other friends heartily dispproved, when I contacted your parents, they graciously said, “whoever you choose and want to bring to our wedding is alright by us. We want you to be happy and you both will always be welcome in our house” and they certainly stood by their word and the rest is history. We have never forgotten their kindness and generosity over the years.’

And this:

 ‘How time flies — it seems like yesterday when your Mum would call home to see if Rick had written and if there was a letter, she’d fly home during lunch hour to get it. So all of us knew that it HAD to be serious! Your paternal grandmother said she KNEW it WAS, as she didn’t think that your Dad was capable of holding a pen in his hand, let alone producing a letter as he had never ever written to HER when he was away so Betty HAD to be very special to get even one line from him!’

That last bit was news to me and is so veryvery ironic, I can’t even tell you.  It has become a running joke- in our family and beyond- that Dad must be on the no-fly lists of a whole bunch of countries- starting with our own.  He LOVED to write letters.  To politicians, especially.  And had NO problem AT ALL spelling out exactly where they are falling short of his expectations of them- and the responsibilities of the job to which they were elected.  (See?  I come by it honestly.)  I guess all those love letters he wrote Mum served to loosen his pen…

I lost my Dad this week.

We lost my Dad this week.  My sisters and I, and everyone who knew him.  The condolences and memories that are flooding in a constant stream into inboxes and voicemailboxes are markers of the impact that this man had on his world.

You may not be aware of it, but those of you who are kind enough to spend some of your precious time hanging with me here in the WordPress World also lost him.

All the words I write, all the truths I seek to discover and all the stories I try to tell, they all have a kernel- and sometimes a great deal more than a kernel- of my Dad at their heart.

Another of his lovely friends wrote this in an email to me today:

‘When I think of your dad I always think of him as a seeker of knowledge and truth.   I see him with his beloved books reading passages to us that he thought needed to be read aloud and discussed.

I think of him in the middle of many and varied lively conversations holding us accountable for our opinions…

I don’t need to tell you how proud he was of the three of you. He wanted you all to find your own path and pursue it with zest. He would tell us all about what was going on in your lives. (Don’t worry he didn’t divulge any of your secrets).  He loved to read your “colemining” blog and was especially touched when you wrote about your grandfather.’

Yes.  I definitely come by it honestly.  I am my father’s child.  Of that, there is no doubt.

He was proud of us.  There is, truly, no higher praise.

I was proud of him.  All my life.  The person he was filled me with constant pride and amazement.  His ethical conscience and concern with social justice was unmatched.  His life was spent in service to others- to ideals that are bigger than any one person, certainly, yet, somehow, seemed summed up in his very being.

He led by example, instilling in us the reality that boundaries- of race, religion, socioeconomic situation- are human creations– and, as such, subject to constant examination and re-evaluation.  Prejudice- of any kind- is unacceptable.  Unexamined beliefs have no place in rational discourse.  People matter.  Outdated ideologies do not.  Except as cautionary tales and reminders of how far we have evolved and developed as civilizations.

The Shuffle Daemon hit me hard, on the way home this evening.  It does that, sometimes.  Picks up on what I’m thinking and figures out just what I need to hear.

This is that morning
It’s waiting for you
The face of destiny
Standing before you

This is zero hour
Now is for you
Can you feel that power
Inside of you?

Through this priceless moment
In your possession
Answers to mysteries
Stand in succession

This is zero hour
And there’s no way back
Can you feel that power?
In its arms you’re wrapped

All through the night-time
‘Til the sun comes in
Now heaven’s open
Just to fly right in

Now you stand in that garden
This is that vision
Out on the world’s edge
It’s your baptism

This is zero hour
And your hands are free
Can you feel that power?
It’s ecstasy…

There is irony, I realize, in including a song called Heaven’s Open (the version isn’t the best quality, TBH, but it’s the only one I could find) in a post dedicated to my father.  Dad didn’t believe in heaven.  He was all about the importance of this world– and about living a life that positively affected this world.  If he believed at all in destiny– it was about the need to create and fulfill one’s own goals- schooled in experience and education and awareness and engagement with the world around him.

You gotta know that I don’t believe in heaven.  But, as I wrote in the post I reblogged yesterday, the idea of heaven, as a metaphor, or archetype, drawn from our shared mythology as a means of dealing with loss and pain, is beautiful, and so very human in its hopefulness.   So that, along with the evocative power of the lyrics of that song…

The Shuffle Daemon knows.

Mike (or, in this case, Michael) wrote the song in 1991 as part of the final album he was contractually obligated to provide for Virgin Records- with whom he had something of a contentious relationship (after he pretty much ensured the success of the label for that Branson guy with the success of Tubular Bells).  It’s a kiss off.  A lovely and elegant kiss off, but a kiss off all the same.  It’s about new beginnings- and it’s about finding the power within oneself to move past the things that have kept you stagnating.  Or imprisoned.  Or confined in any way at all.

I love Mike Oldfield.  He is a musical master.  And an interesting character.

I love my Dad.  Dad loved music.  It was a significant part of his life and he made sure that it was a significant part of ours.  He was also an interesting character.

He spent much of the last few months imprisoned by his own body, laid low by various infections that the doctors couldn’t quite seem to get a handle on controlling.

He’s not imprisoned any longer.

Thank you for giving us the tools to create our destinies, Dad.  Wrapped in the arms of the power you gave us, we will try to live up to your example.  We will leave the world a better place than the one we inherited.  Just as soon as we figure out how to navigate a world without you in it.  Which we will.  Eventually.  You taught us well.

Heaven’s Open, Dad.  Fly right in.

Exorcising Some Daemons (with help from the Shuffle Daemon)

I’m not especially good at writing while in the midst of crisis.  I tend, by nature, to shut down completely, totally unable to communicate effectively- or even terribly coherently- when I’m preoccupied with things that are weighing me down.

This has been a problem in the past- having to meet deadlines while trying to cope with stress (like completing the re-write of chapters of my dissertation when, three months before the thesis defence, I lost someone very close to me)- but I am trying to push myself to keep up the work output even at those times when stringing words together seems pretty impossible.

I am learning from my fellow bloggers.  I have seen multiple examples of writing-as-therapy that I find both inspirational and enviably well-presented.  Check out the ‘blogs I think are groovy’ section (look to the right and then down- under the Meta info).

Some great stories to be found here on the WordPress.

The recent sources of angst in my life have got me to thinking about the purging and letting go of things, even when those things are held dear, even ‘sacred’, in some cases.

Exorcism is generally associated with the removal of something malevolent or demonic. Yes, even here in the 21st century, we retain enough of a fascination with externalized forms of evil that exorcists are still in high demand in certain places in the world.

I have written a number of posts  (this one most recently) about the idiocy associated with the belief in externally manifested evil, but the fact that industrialized, seemingly rational and modern nations still see a ‘need’ for specialized practitioners to rid the possessed of demonic influence remains incredibly hard for me to wrap my brain- over-extended though it may be at the moment- around.

A family I knew long ago actually experienced tragic loss at the hands of a purported exorcist, as a family member- with a history of mental illness- died in the course of a church-mandated healing ceremony intended to rid the ‘victim’ of a demonic presence.  This all took place in the environs and under the aegis of an internationally respected college in the centre of Canada’s largest city, and not so long ago that we can pass it off as ‘back in the bad old days’.

It’s still happening today.  I recently mentioned a television show that featured exorcism-gone-wrong as the crime requiring solution by the program’s protagonist.  The current Il Papa has allegedly performed exorcisms.  There is a movie in theatres right now that is ‘based on a true story’ about the possession of a family and the house in which they live.  Only the intercession of the powerful mediums- who provided the story that became the film- offered the family any hope of salvation.

There aren’t any ‘magic words’ that can miraculously exorcise demons- of the mind, of circumstance, of illness or despair (or a combination of any of these).  Change and healing require support (therapeutic, psychological, medical, pharmaceutical, a friendly shoulder- the varieties are myriad), time and a sharing of words rather than a recitation of formulaic chants and cantrips meant to drive out the evil that has taken up residence in the unsuspecting victim.

These shared words can help us understand that we need not be victims (regardless of experiences that may be victimizing in nature*) and that others have experienced the same troubles- and those much worse- than we are now going through, and have come through the dark times and returned to contribute beauty and goodness in spite of the darkness that entered their lives for a time.

(*During one of the worst periods in my life, a person that I love and respect emphatically reminded me that although I had, indeed, been victimized, I was NOT a victim.  The distinction is important- partly about attitude and partly about an awareness that I had resources and support I could alwasy rely on.  That said, I realize that not everyone is as fortunate as I am and I therefore would never presume to judge degree or perception of victim-hood.)

Don’t get me wrong.  I love William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist.  In so many ways it is a beautiful film (green pea soup notwithstanding).  It is more about the redemption of Father Dimi than it is about a victory over some ancient Mesopotamian demon (Pazuzu is the demon of the southwest wind) who found a toe-hold into Washington D.C. in the 1970s through a child who played with a Ouija board.

The movie is visually stunning, and presents a sense of menace and terror far greater than the shock and gore offerings we tend to see these days.  And Oldfield’s Tubular Bells is the perfect haunted song to accompany the ominous sense of fear and foreboding that pervades the film.

The mythology behind The Exorcist and its sequel, Legion, along with the prequels that were made (I won’t even discuss The Exorcist II– even with the cool shots of James Earl Jones and the images of the Ethiopian rock-cut churches.  Where the heck did that story come from anyway?) deal with the archetypes of evil and the fears we are forced to face.

Bet Gabriel-Rufael Church- Lalibela, Ethiopia

(House of the (arch)Angels Gabriel and Raphael)

Being scared- by a book or a movie- can be fun- and sometimes exhilarating.  Stories that scare us serve an important purpose in human societies (think about those stories collected by the Brothers Grimm, for example).  That doesn’t mean that there really are demons out there, or that we need a whole union of priest/shaman/charlatan-types who remain on call to rid us of those demons we innocently attract to ourselves.

Fears of Madonna and ‘Vampire-Culture’ aside, the brotherhood of those who market themselves as capable of removing demonic threats by chanting, tossing magic water and dead languages around HAVE to be viewed as an obscene anachronism in 2013.  Don’t they?

But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t perform a little bit of self-exorcism every now and again.

It is healthy- and cleansing- to periodically clear out the corners of our hearts and minds and remove all that is plaguing and possessing each of us.  We can do so through some good ol’ self-examination (perhaps following a bit of a wallow in some temporarily-gratifying self-pity), perspective, the wisdom of our fellows and a little help from our friends.

And if that doesn’t do the trick, there’s always Mike Oldfield.

‘I Sing Myself to Sleep…’

Insomnia.

Sucks.

Not a new thing, or even something that’s all that rare, but frustrating nonetheless.

Likely stems from the fact that I took a mental health personal day and spent it doing ‘me’ things.  I DID have an appointment in the morning, but I spent the bulk of the day doing little more than reading and writing.

Once upon a time that was how I spent pretty much every day- with time for social interaction and long walks in between.  It was a pretty ideal workday.

Reality (horrible, stinking reality) dictates that I don’t get to do that anymore.  While I still spend the bulk of each day reading and writing and interacting with people, it is no longer on my own terms and with subjects and people of my choosing.

I know- tiny violins of sympathy playing all around me.

Whining about days of yore isn’t actually what this post is about (although who doesn’t love a good whine every now and again?) so I’ll stop the wallowing tangential train and get back to the point.

I did a lot of reading.  Mainly online stuff; friends’ blogs (like this one, and this, and this one too), some articles of academic interest that I’d saved ages ago and never got around to- but I also picked up a novel that I’ve read a number of times before (I do like the re-read) for the TTC trip to the doc and got caught up in the story- even if I know it practically by heart by now.

I finally set that aside and got to some serious writing- work on this blog (hence the back-to-back posts), an academic article, and that book that somehow never seems to get finished.  Every time I look at it I hope against hope that the writing angels (or daemons- I’m not prejudiced) have completed it for me, but so far that hasn’t happened.  So far.

Regardless, it was a productive and highly enjoyable day.  Setting my own pace and moving from one thing to another at will is a wonderful luxury.  I know I have weekends in which to do that sort of thing- and some weekends I DO do that sort of thing- but there is something decadent about being able to be both dissolute and industrious on a weekday.

It felt like playing hooky.

Everyone else was at work.

It was as hella hot and steamy as Hades in the summertime outside, but the house was cool and quiet.

I ran all kinds of things through this ol’ brain o’ mine over the course of the day.  My reading brought me ideas for potential new writings and the writing reminded me of more things I’ve been wanting to read…  Not enough time.

Usually getting things on paper (figuratively- I have given up the ink and paper for the computer pretty much exclusively now) helps me sleep.  Once it is out of my head and preserved for posterity I no longer need to think about it.  All those ideas and issues that have been circulating for the past while have been swept out of the corners into which they were tucked when I had others things on my plate that were taking priority.

I sorted out a plot point that had been plaguing me for weeks, sketched out two additional chapters, linked a couple of draft posts together for further examination later, finally wrote out a dialogue that has been eluding me AND took on board some of the wisdom that other writers have had to offer- about the state of the world of late, the wonder of discovering new people, places and things… all kinds of good stuff that helped to quell some of the existential anxiety being fed by some of the world’s most current of events.

So the brain should have been all calm and ready for some rest.

Instead, I tossed.  And I turned.  I had that appropriate (and hilarious) ad for Tylenol PM for company (“Why is the word ‘abbreviation’ so long?  What if the hokey pokey really IS what it’s all about?”  That’s some GOOD copy!) as it cycled endlessly through my head over and over and over…

I resisted getting up and grabbing the Shuffle Daemon.  Listening to music actually keeps me awake (unless I’ve had a couple of beers.  THEN I’m usually out like a light before the first song has ended).  I can’t help paying attention to the lyrics I love so much and the words get in the way of drifting peacefully into slumber.

I’ve never been a big fan of the non-vocal music (despite many trips to Massey- and then Roy Thomson- Hall to see the TSO) so I don’t have much lyric-free music in my collection.

Except Mike Oldfield.  Who I love (Opening Ceremonies of England’s Summer Olympics?  Spectacular!).  But his symphonies alternate between the quiet and the bombastic (or spooky, as the case may be- Tubular Bells, anyone?) so the lulling is often interrupted by the demon voices and such.

As I lay there considering getting up to try the ‘couple of beers’ remedy, THAT song (up there ^^^^) popped into my busy brain.

James.

James.

Love them.  All their stuff.  This one reminds me of an old friend I haven’t seen in way too long and always makes me feel better about things as I run through my memories of him.

So I tried to take their advice and ‘sing myself to sleep’.  Then the words got in the way (why is Gloria Estefan sneaking in?  Can’t stop the musical infiltration- whether or not it’s something I actually like–  it seems).

They’re just SO GOOD.

As always, when I listen to James, I choose to ignore (editor’s prerogative) Tim Booth and Jim Glennie’s affiliation with the, um, sect (yes, let’s call them a sect.  Cult makes people squirmy.  Even if there is some reason to be squirmy in this case…) LifeWave.

Yes, this affiliation seems to make it into the songs (‘I believe this wave will bear my weight so let it flow’) but again, choosing to ignore…

As the lyrics chased themselves through my head I had to appreciate how well they suited my overall mood this week, and reflected some of the things I’d been thinking about and focusing on:  Letting go, feeling crazy/down/defeated- then okay again- then back to crazy/down/defeated, and, most of all, that no one is ever alone in feeling that they’ve been to ‘some far out places’.

Those who:

Feel the breath of sadness

Find they’re touched by madness

Find themselves ridiculous

(who are)

In love

In fear

In hate

In tears

Sit down next to me

We can all sit together in the awareness that we share these things in common.  All of us.

And when those ‘secrets I can’t keep’ and ‘insights of the day’ prevent me from sleeping, I can always hear some James in my head, telling me they’ve been there too.

At some point the words reassured me enough that I slept- and got up ready to meet the new day.  Even if it wasn’t a save my sanity personal day and I had to get to work.

James.

Love them.