Rehumanizing

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Pay my respects to grace and virtue
Send my condolences to good
Give my regards to soul and romance
They always did the best they could

And so long to devotion
You taught me everything I know
Wave goodbye, wish me well
You’ve gotta let me go

-The Killers

As one of my favourite troubadors/political commentators tweeted today (check him out on Twitter if you want some keen reflections on WTF is happening in the Bizarro World @Mikel_Jollett), “the idea that your political rivals are inhuman is the core idea of Nazism.” Responding to a criticism of that assertion, he also noted that “fascism is a PROCESS. Dehumanization of rivals is a step in that process. By the way, ignoring the SIGNS of fascism is also part of (the) process.”

Mikel Jollett (I’ve talked about him before. He wrote the single best song about regret ever. In all of history. You think I’m exaggerating, but listen to it and try to tell me otherwise: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYPoMjR6-Ao) was referencing the situation that is unfolding south of the border – specifically, on this occasion, the ignorant rantings of the son of the IMPOTUS, who suggested that those who stand in critical opposition to his father ‘aren’t even people’.

Yeah no.

So it seems that, once again, I must call attention to the myriad dystopia-creating patterns underlying the election of that guy to the highest office in the land (and to the former leadership of the Free World – I say ‘former’ since it was made clear-as-crystal, after his recent European holiday, that no one outside the US regards him as fit to lead anything at all), epitomized in that insidious little ‘Again’ that follows ‘Make America Great’.

That one word advocates for a return to something that those of us who know anything about history know wasn’t, in fact, the best of times – as such things can be determined by any sort of measure. I’ve written about the fallacy of the ‘good ol’ days’ before. Yet the perpetuation of such idiocy is being taken to the nth degree by the nutbar now sitting in the IMPOTUS’ office.

Leaders like Trump (and Hitler) are allowed to rise to power because they legitimize ideologies that are ugly – and promotional of a group psychology that encourages complicity to ever-larger atrocity – by beginning with a mandate that reactionary simpletons can get behind. Trump’s uneducated (or self-serving) masses want to hear that someone is willing to return them to a gilded time when they held some level of ascendancy over some ‘other’ types of people.

Essentially, the social identities of those who voted for him have been shaken by progressive movements advocating crazy things like social justice, equality and equity.

Othering is nothing new. I talk about it a lot (seriously. There are a lot of posts here in the wide world of colemining that deal with Us vs. Them, scapegoating, the personification of Inhuman Evil … I think I’m stuck on a theme). It is the basis of all institutionalized Western religions (and some that aren’t so institutionalized). It is the justification for the enslavement of those who are not identified – in a specific temporal or geographic context – as ‘one of us’. It is the manifestation of a pattern of dichotomy and polarization that permits the rise of fear-mongers and seekers of illicit power.

It is representative of a continuing trajectory of the legitimation of hatred.

I’m an historian. I know too much about that level of complacent culpability and othering, and the acceptance and/or dismissal of the banal wrongness that comes along with it.

Entire communities of people are still being told that they are less than – because of the colour of their skin, the place they left in search of a safer/better life, their gender, their sexual identity or orientation, or the fairy tale deity in which they choose to believe (in a country that, supposedly, trumpets the separation of Church and State).

A significant part of the failure of education that has led us, as humans sharing a planet, to this place in time is the mis-remembrance of history. The ‘Again’ word, as part of the IMPOTUS’ sloganeering, permits the continuation of an illegitimate portrait of world events as they really happened. It helped to create the false narrative that he presented throughout his campaign and persists in dictating now that he is in office.

Coincident to the mess that is unfolding in the US, I’m dealing, currently, with a situation that represents that whole inter-connectedness thing that I go on-and-on about. It’s kind of Platonic – ‘as above, so below’ – or representative of a demonstration of the whole micro-macro paradigm.  People in my little workaday world are being taken for granted and stretched to ever-increasing limits by unreasonable expectations driven by something that the higher-ups keep calling ‘resourcing issues’.

I hate what is happening for many reasons; there is a lot going wrong. But the key thing that is sticking in my craw today is the use of the term ‘resource’ to describe actual human beings. Commoditizing people is wrong on manymany levels (see above, especially that whole bit about enslavement). But, at its worst – in this context, anyway – it reduces inherent value and person-ness in support of fiscal/economic expediency/excuse-making.

Yet, for some reason that continues to escape me, this is common parlance in the world of so-called ‘human resourcing’. Humans, while resourceful, are not resources. They are people.

As of today, I am refusing its use and testing more acceptable alternatives. At the moment I’m going with ‘under-peopling’, as in, ‘a decline in the quality of the stakeholder engagement is a direct result of a continuing trend toward under-peopling.” We’ll see how that goes over.

The process of dehuminzation remains a surreptitious go-to that permits the villainization/dismissal/subjugation/murder of other people. We accept it, unthinkingly, in certain contexts – like the one at my day job. We have a human tendency to call people names that serve to keep separate those we perceive to be different from us, or to express displeasure at the thoughts/words/deeds of someone else.

I have a tendency to call the IMPOTUS by anything other than his name (since he loves that name so much, I take perverse pleasure in not contributing to any further development of his brand) but I do not deny his humanity when I do so. In fact, I frequently point to him as an exemplar of humanity. An exemplar of the worst of humanity, but still people.

Tomorrow should see the beginning of the end of this most recent failed experiment in regression and anachronism. Whatever comes out of the US Senate hearings (let’s hear it for impending impeachment!), we have to acknowledge that words matter. Engendered violence has no place in evolved society, and history has demonstrated, too many times to count, that dehumanization is, by definition, discriminatory, and the first step on the path to institutionalized injustice and genocide.

Time to start watching our language. And the ideologies that drive it.

 P.S. If you’re in need of some music therapy after Comey’s testimony, have a listen to The Airborne Toxic Event’s album ‘Songs of God and Whiskey. It’s wonderful.

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‘And it starts sometime around midnight’

 

At times my mind takes me curious places. Ever since I was a small child I’ve had this inclination to make connections between things- however disparate they may seem to be on the surface. It’s my particular way of making sense of the world- and it reinforces my deeply-held belief that we are all connected and essentially alike- by virtue of our shared humanity.

I’ve always been an observer- taking note of and carefully storing away experiences and memories and information- and the fact that I have a well-developed ability to retain information and images sometimes leads to a fair bit more introspection than may be completely healthy. Those ‘curious places’ can be more than a little dark and dangerous, at times. Remembering often leads to regretting. And that’s a slippery slope, for me.

Venturing into some of the darker realms means that I’ve been absent lately. From life in general, and certainly from around these parts. The drafts folder is full-to-overflowing with false starts that will likely never see the light of day.

I have mixed feelings about that. This forum, here in WordPress World, has become, over the past couple of years, one of my favourite places. I’ve had some really interesting conversations, read a whole lot of eye-opening and thought-provoking essays, and made a number of good friends – I’ve even had the opportunity to meet some of them IRL (looking at you, A-M. You know it’s feeling like 40 degrees Celsius with full sun and a breeze from the lake here today, right? If you’re thinking of heading out of Glasgow- although you know how your hometown stole my heart- may I suggest Toronto as an option? We’ve definitely had a summer the past few weeks!).

But something is off. I explained my lack of recent posts to one of my oldest-and-dearests last night, mentioning that, lately, I look at the drafts- or start working on something that catches my fancy- only to feel an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. The windmills are forever and always the same- and the tilting isn’t getting me anywhere other than frustrated and feeling completely ineffective and  ineffectual.

Not good. The act of writing has become counter-productive. It frustrates, rather than frees. Which sucks. Bigtime. I’m a writer. I write. Not writing is not good for cole’s soul (using the term irreligiously, of course).

Ironically, this means that more introspection is required if I’m to get to the heart of ‘what’s up with that’? (Cue visual of Kenan Thompson as Diondre Cole telling Bill Hader’s Lindsey Buckinghan that they are, once again, out of time, and he won’t be interviewed this week. The SNL sketch is oddly apt, actually…)

Over the past few months I’ve attempted to re-focus my energies- spending time with fiction, rather than struggling to articulate essays/commentary about those things that reallyreally bug me. The ultimate themes and messages- such as they are- are echoed, regardless of form. I am who I am, after all. The way I think- and the things about which I think- stay pretty much the same whether I’m writing a blog post or a novel. I write as a way to suss out answers. To get my thoughts straight on a given topic, and to provide those thoughts something like coherence and exposure to the world outside of my brain.

None of that is happening right now. I’m scattered and disengaged- pretty much all around. I’m in a holding pattern of lackadaisical ennui (how’s that for some purple prose?) that is both out-of-character and concerning.

But I’m working on it.

Per usual (for me), that involves a lot of reading, and listening to music, and paying attention to what smart, talented people have to say about things that interest and/or concern me.

While working on a presentation for the day job, I came across this TEDTalk (I DO love the TEDTalks):

Tattoos? I have none. Regrets? I’ve had a few. And, unlike Mr. Sinatra, I can’t call mine ‘too few to mention’.

Kathryn Schulz’ talk was personally interesting in many ways. I tend to move beyond the denial stage fairly quickly. I generally get that I’ve made an irrevocable, regrettable, decision pretty much right off the bat. The alienation and self-punishment? Those things sound more like me. And they last.

Perseveration? Oh yeah. That one is a biggie. The soundtrack of error runs round and round and round in my head. Ad nauseam. The memory of the action that caused the regret gets set on endless repeat. It becomes a one-song iPod that I can’t turn off.

So, illumination! Making peace with regret? You can do that?! As a fellow-perfectionist, I share her struggle. I rarely balk at forgiving others their trespasses against me (unless they are especially banal and/or heinous) but I have an inordinate amount of trouble cutting myself any slack at all. At. All.

‘Learning to love the flawed, imperfect things we create? Forgiving ourselves for creating them? Regret doesn’t remind us that we did badly- it reminds us that we know we can do better.’

I like that. I like all of that.

It’s a far more human approach to looking at ourselves- our lives, our actions, our fallibility- than a lot of the ‘mindfulness-speak’ that is out there in the ether of ‘holistic health’ and the push for ‘positive culture’ that dominates our social media soundbites these days.

Funnily enough (although I tend to see it as another one of those connectivity things), the whole regret-thing (and the absolution of said regret-things) has been circumstantially at the forefront of my mind these past few weeks.

Been thinking about choices a lot as I try to figure out next steps. For example: What, exactly, do I want to be when I grow up? How do I define happiness? Has that definition changed? If my goals/wants/needs have changed, what do I need to do make those things manifest?

I have a birthday coming up next month (all being well- shouldn’t count chickens/tempt fate and all that)- it’s not a biggie- no zero at the end or anything. But it’s been a while since I last really thought about those questions.  It was around the time of my last zero-at-the-end birthday (funny how those markers tend to make us take stock)- which puts it few years ago. Five long years, to be specific. So it’s past time to revisit the questions- and see where I’m at- existentially speaking. Especially since that last round of questioning led to some decisions that ended up being rather regretful, in retrospect.

Adulting and First World Problems. Ick. It’s whiny and ridiculous- in so many ways. I get it. I’m a good feminist- aware of all my intersections. The choices are myriad- a reality that is a product of my privilege. Everyone should be so lucky to have to the choices I have had- that I continue to have. I get that too. But the sources of that privilege- my family, my friends, my opportunities- keep hitting me with the insistent realization that I need to keep on striving to do better.

Which I can’t do if I’m locked into the perseveration of regrets.

There are these songs (I know- there are always some songs- as I said, I am who I am)… two of them. They speak of regret- in very different, yet complimentary, ways.

The first is a cover version of an older song, performed by a guy that I love so very much. I’ve talked about Midge before. A few times, actually. And he more than deserves all the positive print I can offer up. This song most definitely helped me through some rough times over the years.

It’s over. It’s done. It’s for the best. No looking back.

Healthy, right? Yet melancholy-as-Hell in tone, and speaking to the truth that even that which is the right thing doesn’t necessarily come regret-free.

I had the opportunity to see Midge live (again! Twice in less than a year!), playing a pared-down and fabulous acoustic show- just him and his guitar- back in March, and took the opportunity to meet him after the show and express my thanks for all the years of music and lessons and wonder that he has brought into my life.

(And made my bud, the incomparable Len, take my picture with him. That is an example of whatever the absolute opposite of regret might be).

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This other song, though…

It’s the one that keeps on running through my head. That whole self-punishment and ‘what the hell did I do’ sort of thinking that Kathryn spoke about. That’s much more my style.

And this song makes my heart hurt with the physical weight of such regrets…

Regardless of how often I listen to it, Airborne Toxic Event’s (I’ve talked about them before, toorage against the regret of the loss of love sends my stomach all butterfly-ish. Every time. That’s power– sourced in the fact that our human-ness means that we’ve experienced that depth of self-excoriation about decisions made or roads not traveled- and react to the memory of the regret.

It’s a big deal, regret. A big, messy, complicated deal.

So. Starting last night (interestingly it actually was sometime around midnight), inspired by a great, if much-delayed, conversation with a too-long-absent but ever-important person in my life, I’m working on annotating and embracing my regrets. Perhaps that evaluation will lead me out of my current stasis and back into some positive directions. Even if those directions end up being transitional- or transformational- and even if some of them are regrettable.

I can do better.

Past time.

Cottage on the Bay: Postscript

So I’m home.  Been home a few hours, finished the laundry and chores and some of the work I didn’t get done before I left town.  The temperature has dropped, even here in the city, so I’m sitting, wrapped in a blanked, thinking about the weekend, and wishing I was still on the Bay.

It was COLD- as expected, yet you never REALLY expect just how cold cold can be when you have no windbreaks between you and that farfarfar shore of the Great Lake, and the temps fall rapidly as the sun disappears.  I swear I only survived Friday night without freezing because I lucked out and the dog decided to sleep with me rather than her lord and master (there was some bitterness about that, let me tell you).  Thank you Scout!

But it was beautiful.  Clear nights- star filled with a half moon and even sightings of Mars setting on the horizon (although it might have been Venus, or not a planet at all- even with all the astronomy apps at our collective command we couldn’t agree just what it was that shone so brightly before being extinguished in the lake as the earth turned to hide its flashy sparkle).

There was a UFO sighting Friday night.  No seriously.  It can’t have been a plane.  It zigzagged crazily across the sky and remained visible for quite some time before disappearing completely.  Was a little freaky, actually.

My cottage reading material, Jian Ghomeshi’s 1982, was thoroughly enjoyable and gave me more than a few laugh out loud moments as I related, or at least remembered friends who certainly could have related, with the slice-of-life stories he had to tell about growing up in a northern suburb of Toronto at the beginning of the New Wave era, with an abiding love and respect for Bowie- and music in general- and how the seeds were sown and began their development into the musical and cultural career path that he has earned and enjoyed in subsequent decades.

I especially loved his story about sitting outside of a suburban studio every day for weeks as Rush prepared for their tour of the then-newly released Signals album (practicing, among other songs, Subdivisions, their iconic tune about life in Canadian suburbs).  Young Jian and his friend listened to the rehearsals day after day, clutching valued albums to their hearts in the chance that the band members would appear and be gracious enough to sign them.

They did.  And, of course, they were.  They are Canadian after all.  And incredibly classy dudes by ALL accounts I have ever heard.  So Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson acknowledged their devotion in hanging out there every day and offered to sign the albums when the 15-year old fans were too overcome to make the request.

Great story.  Solid memoir/creative non-fiction and very evocative of that particular time period.  The backing music of the weekend frequently fit nicely with the words I was reading.  Nicely done, Jian.

The Bay Cup was played- we have a new Champion (congratulations Shawn!)- and there were no casualties over the course of the fairly decisive victory.

The temperature actually began to rise through the day Saturday- although the wind also picked up, adding the music of the winds and waves to the soundtrack of the weekend.  I was able to remove at least a couple of layers of clothing as the evening progressed, and didn’t need Scout to survive the night (although she again chose to hang with me.  Good judge of character, that dog).

There were some moments of disagreement the first night as we realized that our host (whose hospitality was most appreciated) was attempting to contravene the rules of song choice and repetition.  He had a new bluetooth gizmo that was hooked into his iPhone- and therefore only HIS music- and he wouldn’t give us the code.

Fortunately we had an IT guy along, so this was remedied relatively early on (thanks Shawn!).  But Will retained control of the music for much of the weekend regardless.  Since it didn’t become a Phish-fest (all Phish all the time!), the rest of us let him get away with it.  He was also playing good and/or highly amusing selections.

In addition to the great food, games, leisure time and liberal napping policy, we had lots of great conversation, including the requisite debates about politics and religion.  Some will say that these are topics best avoided in polite company, but despite all of us being Canadian- polite by definition- we don’t tend to shy away from expressing our opinions.  The conversation does grow heated at times, but we all truly do have the courtesy to respect each others’ views and hear each other out.

After we discussed atheism vs. theism and the comparably humanist ideology behind the specificity of our individual beliefs regardless of whether or not we added supernatural players into the equation, our host (a theist, for lack of better definition) had this song for us:

I had never heard it before, and boyohboy did it make me laugh.  I was previously completely unaware of the John Butler Trio, an Australian band that Will discovered on an extended trip Down Under years ago, but I WILL be looking further into their catalogue after this weekend.

Interestingly, John Butler started his career as a busker.  Jian Ghomeshi’s band Moxy Früvous similarly spent some time busking as they developed their repertoire of political- and locally-themed folk-rock satirical tunes.

Butler is an advocate and activist for causes that embrace environmentalism and global harmony, and his musical influences include bluegrass, celtic, roots, funk rock and alternative rock.  And that song is hilarious.  The part about ‘knowing the sheep biblically’ seriously had both me and Matthew (two of the atheists among us) in tears of laughter.  Awesome- and accurate- description of the vengeful deity of the OT tradition.

Another contribution to our ongoing musical education was this song by Bobby Darin.

A lovely, and simple, song written in reaction to the Vietnam war.  Given the recent events in the world- and the push of certain world leaders to get involved in international conflicts- the song had a pretty emphatic poignancy.

‘Now no doubt some folks enjoy doin’ battle
Like presidents, prime ministers and kings
So let’s build them shelves where they can fight among themselves
and leave the people be who like to sing’

There is always room for Jack White.  Always.  But one song in particular- Shawn’s choice- very much spoke to the atmosphere of the weekend, and the reasons why we were all there.

Another simple, lovely song about the innocence of childhood friendships- and their potential for longevity.  So in keeping with the decades-long relationships that continue to bring us together at that cottage on the Bay.

There was lots of music- old and new.  There was this surprise choice from Nick:

Surprising, not because it isn’t a great song, but because Bob Seger is somewhat outside of the norm of his usual choices and tastes in music, which tend toward the shoegaze-y.  As he explained, he wants to be remembered as ‘surprising’.  Wants it on his tombstone, actually: ‘Here lies Nick.  He will surprise you’- in the hopes that it will freak out unsuspecting visitors to his grave.

But, under Will’s insistent tutelage, the weekend really belonged to The Airborne Toxic Event.  He introduced me to this band years ago- right after the release of their first album in 2008, but they had fallen off the playlist somewhat of late.  They’re back up on top- especially since they have a relatively new album that most certainly needs a thorough listen.

There were a number of ATE selections played (repeatedly, I might add.  Nick frequently asked- ‘Why do I know this song’- with the response being ‘Because you’ve heard it 7 times in the last 24 hours.’  But, by consensus, we let this go since we were all jamming to the selections.  And since it wasn’t Phish).  These two got the most airplay:

Between the incredible prowess behind both the lyrics and the music and the sentimental yet borerline bitter edgy subject matter, this is a band that deserves more exposure than they have received (here at least.  Conan O’Brien, for one, appreciates them greatly).

As we sat and watched ‘Grandma’s Sitting Log’ (a HUGE chunk of wood that our host, somewhat ill-advisedly- due to its size- added to the fire at around 2 am) struggle to burn, we all appreciated the songs- likely for different reasons- but as a group, joined in sharing- our stories, our songs, out experiences and our enduring love, respect and friendship.

(All while Matthew complained about the ‘ironic potato chips’ we were also sharing- ‘Grilled Cheese and Ketchup’ one of Lay’s ‘Canadian selections’- limited time flavours.  We have yet to really figure out exactly where the irony lay, but the chips honestly weren’t that good- despite the fact that Marty Short is acting as the advertising spokesperson for the chips- and Marty can usually do no wrong at ALL.  We were all too afraid to even OPEN the ‘Maple Moose’ flavoured ones).

That’s a pretty good synopsis of a fantastic weekend.  My reserves have been restored and I feel better able to face the week ahead than I have in quite some time.

Big thank yous to all those who made it possible.

Same time next year.