Regarding mislaid hats and passing realisations

“ummm — I just checked and — wow — just — wow. The Monkees Good Times is Number One on Amazon — solid 5 stars — and I’d just like to say — wow — and ummm just — you know — thanks. no kiddin’. Played a song and someone’s listenin’. I gotta find my hat.”

Michael Nesmith, Facebook post (May 28, 2016)

For those of us who love music, 2016 has been, thus far, a rough year. After sharing some thoughts about the loss of David Bowie and Glenn Frey, I couldn’t bring myself to do the same for His Majesty, Prince. I just couldn’t.

I started to do so – there’s an abandoned draft in the folder – but the words I could come up with didn’t seem adequate descriptors of the talent and impact of the man. He was of ‘my’ generation in a way that the other two weren’t. Whilst David and the Eagle(s) were always and forever a part of my awareness of things that are good and wondrous about this life I lead, I met Prince at about the same time as the rest of the world did so.

I can remember the first time I saw him so distinctly…  and every little bit of the video for ‘Little Red Corvette’ remains highly detailed in my memory (oddly-functioning encyclopedia that it is).

There is, and can be, no one like him. I know that I wrote that about Bowie, too. Two icons – lost to us (save through the catalogues they left us , and the impact of those songs and their other, myriad, contributions) months apart.

He visited my hometown (a place he loved and where he lived, for a time) shortly before we lost him. I was in the midst of the move and setting up house so took a pass on the show. Chatting about it with a friend, we both agreed that we’d catch him next time he comes through town.

Sigh.

And then, just a short time later, Gord Downie announced to the world that we are losing him too. The Tragically Hip will tour one last time – in support of their latest studio album and to give all us Canadians a chance to say farewell to our most Canadian band. Ever.

(Don’t agree with my assessment? I’m happy to discuss. But I’ll win. Certain things are inarguable. This is one of them.)

I’m not going to talk about the whole debacle surrounding ticket sales to said concerts – although I loathe the giant ticket conglomerates only slightly less than I despise those vultures who cry ‘free market’ and are benefiting from Gord’s illness – and the loyalty and love of his fans – and reselling the tickets at exorbitant prices.

Instead I’ll say a little something (in passing, since I’m not going to eulogize someone who remains amongst us) about my deep affection for this band and all that they have meant and represented to me over the manymany years I’ve had the good fortune to be part of their sphere of influence.

I hung out at Queen’s University in Kingston a fair bit when I was a younger me, so I got to see the Hip, on more than one occasion, in bars and small clubs as they began their climb to dominance over cottage-and-campus playlists across this country of ours.

I saw them in large venues, too. A couple of nights in that place in Ottawa where their hockey team plays, (they keep changing its name), for example, the second of which featured nothing but B-sides and a 20-minute version of ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’ that was classic Gordie.

Since I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a fair bit of time with them, I’ve decided not stress too much at my inability to see them on this last tour. I’ll happily pay for the album when it is available, and hang out with them on my own, and in carefully-chosen company (non-believers in their status as our national band need not apply), whenever I have the chance. On my back deck, or in front of a fire or down by the lake at the cottage.

I’ve mentioned before that, for me, in many ways, ‘Last American Exit’ remains the definitive Hip tune. It very much speaks to their unconcern about the development (or lack thereof) of a huge fan-base in the States, and their eternal presence in their home and native land. It’s also the first song of theirs I heard – and the first Hip vinyl I purchased. Still love it (and have it back in my hot little hands after the years in storage).

Lately, though, the sentimental/nostalgic tune that keeps hitting me in the heart is this one:

(WordPress won’t let me insert videos any longer. Unless I want to pay for the privilege. Not going to happen.)

First thing we’d climb a tree and maybe then we’d talk
Or sit silently and listen to our thoughts
With illusions of someday casting a golden light
No dress rehearsal, this is our life…

You are ahead by a century (this is our life)
You are ahead by a century (this is our life)
You are ahead by a century

And disappointing you is getting me down

Like all their songs (there’s an entire history of Canada in their lyrics to be learned, if you listen closely), ‘Ahead by a Century’ speaks to a particular time-and-place, while being – simultaneously – universal in theme and scope.

(I can see that hornets’ nest. Been there, been stung by that.)

It’s hard not to feel that his voice – a voice I’ve known and loved for almost 30 years – is speaking to me directly. Through this song (through all their songs, all their talent) and through the reality of the health situation that may rob us of Gord.

There isn’t enough time, folks.

2016 is bringing home that message in a bigbig way.

Recently I realized (and expressed the realisation in an email exchange with one of my oldest buds) that I am doing the absolute wrong thing with my life (and that is saying a whole lot, given that I have spent most of my life avoiding subscription to most of those things that many people would deem ‘absolute’).

Part of that realisation stems from frustration and feeling under-appreciated and under-utilized and, simultaneously, over-burdened, to be sure. But more of it – most of it – comes from the awareness that we are sinking, as a species, and I’m not doing much of anything to help us swim.

I need to do better. I need to use the talents I can call upon to impact and influence as best I can.

I’m not doing that right now.

I’m trying to figure out how to change that.

I need to stop disappointing. That’s something that’s most certainly bringing me down.

‘When it starts to fall apart, man it really falls apart.’ True dat, Gordie.

But. In the midst of all that dissolution, we don’t always have to look that hard to find the inspiration to (re)build.

When Davy Jones passed away in 2012 he took a big piece of my heart with him. I love The Monkees. I always have done. (I’ve written about them before, too, but I’m not even going to try to link the posts. Not enjoying the ‘updates’ to the composition page here in WP).

So when rumours started that the remaining three guys were thinking about a 50th anniversary album… Be still my holey heart.

With contributions from all kinds of interesting peeps (including XTC’s Andy Partridge, and my beloved Paul Weller), and recordings from back-in-the-day that let Davy’s voice yet be heard, this album makes all of me smile in a reallyreally big way.

Suddenly, everyone seems to be talking about The Monkees. I couldn’t be happier about that. They’re getting some much-belated and well-earned props (not that they’ve ever felt the need to bemoan their heretofore lack thereof), which is awesome. More than that, they’re demonstrating the power of well-crafted songs that can transcend genre and era, both.

In a world of increasingly-auto-tuned ‘musical’ acts, I can’t help but smile at the irony that the original ‘manufactured’ band of the 60’s is topping the charts in 2016. I. Love. It. I’m gloating and glowing, all at the same time. And getting shivers listening to songs like this one:

While I do love them all, Papa Nez has always been a personal hero of mine. He has invented and reinvented himself so many times (invention must run in his family) – always pushing against whatever envelopes he might encounter – creating new and different means of expressing those things he feels some examination.

His innovation and refusal to be categorized or compartmentalized are inspirational to the Nth degree.

In a recent interview about all this, Michael was asked about his thoughts on what, exactly, might be driving this particular resurgence and receptiveness to what a bunch of old(er) guys have to offer a somewhat jaded and superficial music-buying public (forgive my admittedly-biased editorializing).

His response? Well, the real answer is, “I don’t know.” It’s obviously plugged into something that’s very deep. People who come to it at an early age get impressed by it in a way you wouldn’t if you discovered it when you’re older. But it certainly speaks to a kind of innocence, something that does endure. Those are spiritual qualities that don’t go away. You may lose your innocence, but you don’t lose your sense of innocence, is what that means. It’s a nice thing to revisit.’

(The whole chat can be read at: http://www.soundandvision.com/content/new-sounds-and-good-times-michael-nesmith-monkees#OHyg02rLMKQQdds8.97)

That depth of which he speaks? For me it’s about a connectivity, linked to an appreciation for and understanding of the absolutely (there’s that word again) required role of art and craft – and the important, if not always tangible or quantifiable, vitality and progressiveness that inform and permit the appearance in our world of the ensuing results, given to us by those who have the courage, and the innovation, and the talent, to show the rest of us how they see things.

I won’t, likely, have an opportunity to see, live, this most recent demonstration of a lifetime of that art and craft as presented by my remaining Monkee-dudes. I won’t see the Hip that last one more time, either.

Instead, I will get back into the world of music and its magic when I go to see Lord Huron next month. Tickets for their show don’t require taking a second mortgage on the house (or putting cash into the hands of scalpers), and, after more than a year of loving their flavour of creative input, I’m looking forward to participating in its appreciation, as they bring their tour to Toronto.

(check out this one – my current fave from their most recent album – if you’re curious about them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TGld4a5Mb4)

When I showed him Michael’s Facebook post about the success of their new album, my friend, the incomparable Len, said: “FIND YOUR HAT, MIKE. STAT.”

Len’s plea, that Papa Nez might be able to navigate his competing responsibilities and commitments (his explanation about his inability to join Micky and Peter for the tour’s duration involves a deadline to be met for his most recent novel, among other things) and provide us with the opportunity to be a part of something new and old and complete just one more time, resonated more than I can explain.

If Michael Nesmith, with everything that he does already to improve and inform and entertain us all, can find some time in his schedule… I need to step up and sort myself out.

So I’m going to have a look for my missing headgear – such as it is, and set aside for too long though it may have been – with an eager ear tuned to the sources of dedication, inspiration and example upon which I can call.

Not enough time for disappointment and disengagement.

Where did I put that hat?

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Number One (without a bullet)!

There’s been some negativity ’round these parts lately. I’m not, constitutionally or by preference, a negative sort of a person- in the normal course of things.

But when stuff happens, I find it very difficult to remain silent. Doing so would abrogate my responsibility as a citizen of the planet and member of this human race. Still, I think I need to lighten up every now and again. Now would be a good time.

So, prompted by a couple o’ things…

I gotta say, this made me smile quite hard late last week.

8th safest city in the world, numero uno in North America. And when you look at the “index of indexes” (shouldn’t that be ‘indices’?) we’re NUMBER ONE overall.

I love my hometown. I talk about it quite a lot. Here, for instance. Or here.

I also love that, in spite of the fact that we have been the focus of the world recently not for our greatness but because of the ignorant, self-aggrandizing buffoon who sat in the mayor’s chair for four years, we are being recognized for all the things that make us pretty damn fine. Not perfect- there is much room for improvement- but pretty awesome.

I’ve touched on the question of multiculturalism a bit recently- specifically alluding to all of the challenges that it can bring. Growing up in this town, awareness of and exposure to different cultures was part of the scenery, part of the experience. It remains one of the things I love most about my city by the Great Lake. On any given weekend in the summer months, one community or another invites the rest of the town to come pay a visit and experience a little slice of their take on food and music and art and dance and culture.

We have work yet to do- there is always work to be done- but I think we are better than most at recognizing that, along with its many benefits, our town’s diversity means that we need to address challenges head-on when they arise.

Sure, our public transit system is a HUGE mess (that’s getting messier by the day), but we have a good foundation with which to work- provided we can get people (especially those who insist upon driving cars everywhere) on board with some of the initiatives that have been tabled to make movement around the city better for everyone.

We’re still dealing with some of the fall-out from years of City Hall mismanagement- and our heritage programs are underfunded and disordered, permitting developers (mainly condo developers) to get away with destroying century-old buildings in order to raise even more glass towers…

Coincidentally, hard upon the heels of our international validation last week, a friend of mine gave me a copy of a novel by Michael Redhill. Consolation is an interesting read about the ways in which we need to wake up to the reality of history in our lives. Set in Toronto- in 1855-57 and 1997- he presents the less-than-auspicious origins of the town and demonstrates the ways in which we bury that history in our financially-based drive to ‘development’.

In very many ways, he has the pulse of the city down pat. And his love of the town comes through as he warns of the dangers- personal and otherwise- of keeping things hidden- or allowing them to be destroyed- for the sake of expediency and/or ‘progress’.

One of his characters notes that ‘neglect of the past is a form of despair‘, while another spells out the reality of politics and planning in the city:

… anyway, it’s not even up to the city. This is the Heritage Act- it’s a provincial bill. It sets out what’s protected in the province, whether it’s on provincial, municipal or private property, If you want to know the truth, it’s a toothless bill and most of it’s about how many appeals you get if you really, really want to tear something down. March of progress and all that, good luck if you’re an Indian burial ground or a nice old house standing on some expensive dirt… I doubt a four-foot piece of the True Cross would be enough to stop work on a site in this city. You find a three-week old potato chip in Montreal, they raise a velvet rope around it and have a moment of silence. But here, no. If you’re hoping for a work stoppage, you’ll need a lawyer.’

Closely following that little bit of truth, Redhill presents a conversation with local councillor- the one in charge of Heritage- that outlines the opinion that most municipal employees (and all-too-many citizens) seem to have about historical preservation in this town: development, and the potential tax money that might come out of development, is ALL, and it is to be encouraged regardless of environmental impact or historical preservation.

That sort of thinking is what permitted this sort of travesty.

While that system is pretty damn broken, we are seeing some developers who seem to be about more than the money, and who are enthusiastic about maintaining our heritage gems- and incorporating them in the plans for improvements in our downtown core.

This story, in particular, warmed my cockles significantly. In case you aren’t from around here and mightn’t know, the Matador was immortalized in Leonard Cohen’s 1992 song/video Closing Time.

How much do we love Leonard? Our National Bard. He’s from the number 2 town in the world, but we’ll forgive him anything. (It’s also cool that Montreal came second overall. I’ve always maintained that if I couldn’t live in TO for some reason, la belle Montreal would be second on my list. Apparently the world agrees with me.)

I have never met Paul McCaughey, but he quickly became one of my very favourite people when I discovered that the Matador will stay a music venue- rather than becoming a parking lot, as planned.

I also have to like our safety numbers. We do see incidents of violence (and policing problems that blacken our collective reputation) but our comparative safety record speaks for itself (as far as the people at The Economist see it, anyway). While gun violence happens, it remains rare enough to be shocking when it does.

We might not be located on the extreme of gun avoidance that Michael Moore suggested in Bowling for Columbine, but we tend to have a healthier view of arms and armaments than do our neighbours to the south of us.

We have some truly fantastic cultural spaces and events: Grandmaster Flash is going to be at the Art Gallery of Ontario on Thursday night (the party is sold out)- which is pretty cool- even if you aren’t a fan of old school rap. And Friday Night Live at the ROM this week is all about Carnival- and will highlight all kinds of goodies- musical, culinary and otherwise- from our various Caribbean communities. (I’ll be attending that particular party). Then there are our great restaurants and fun pubs and bars. You can shop like a star- if you’re inclined to do that kind of thing- or enjoy an evening of laughter at one of our comedy clubs (we are the hometown of people like Mike Myers, Dave Foley, Will Arnett (who went to my high school, actually), Catherine O’Hara, etc. etc. etc.). Take in a band (we have LOTS of great ones of those, as well) at one of our fantastic music venues (I’ve written about a few of them before). Or cheer on a sports team- even a hockey team (if you’ve got something of a masochistic streak. In case you weren’t aware, our professional hockey team isn’t very good).

There is, quite honestly, always something to do in this place. For just about everyone.

Whether or not the weather gods are being kind…

Redhill’s 19th century apothecary aptly noted ‘had Simcoe* or his wife set foot ashore in weather as unsuitable for human habitation as this winter had offered, he had no doubt there would be no Toronto.’

(*John Graves Simcoe was our first Lieutenant Governor- who founded York- now Toronto- as the capital of Upper Canada .)

Okay. So our weather is a little unpredictable. I, myself, can’t stand winter, and we got a pretty strong blast of that sort of nonsense yesterday and the night before.  The snow that fell has now turned to slush, and the sidewalks and roadways are grey and icky. We’re supposed to see more snow- and even colder temperatures- tomorrow.

But. Today the sun is shining and the wind off the Lake isn’t as bad as it could be. On days like this I can actually remember- and look forward to- the warm breezes and return of the green spaces that make up so much of this town.

Eventually things will start to look like this again…

Green and warm and Lake-shore-y.

I do love to travel- and there are other places in the world that have captured my attention and heart in one way or another (looking at you, Glasgow), but today I’m a proud Torontonian. In spite of the below-seasonal temperatures.

We might like ourselves somewhat overmuch (if you listen to peeps from the rest of the country, anyway), but I think we have a whole lot to be proud of, here in Hogtown.

Pop on by for a visit.

And remember, when you do- the second ‘t’ is silent. Welcome to Torono. You’ll feel like a local in no time.

Shattering Illusions

So ends the first week of the new school year and, as usual, it has me doing some thinking and reflecting as I try to put some thoughts and words together into something approaching a cohesive whole.

It’s also the first weekend of TIFF- so the city has exploded in celebration of the science of illusion-creation.

As the temperature soars (40 degrees when you factor in the humidity today) I’m doing my best to keep cool and carry on (amidst the insane crowds ’round my neck o’ the woods), so I’m thinking that the first part of the weekend will include watching the mini-series about the master of illusions that is hanging out on the PVR awaiting my gaze.

Happy weekend!

colemining

This time of year is always one of reflection for me.  I think it has to do with the whole ‘new beginnings’ thing that comes with the start of a new school year.  This is the fourth September that I won’t be heading back to the classroom- either as a student or a professor- after manymanyMANY years of it being the norm.

But I still find that the self-analysis and evaluation happens more at this time of year (and on Christmas Eve as well- pagan that I am) than at any other.

Heavy thoughts, sometimes, as the summer winds down and the last days of warm weather and relative quiet in the neighbourhood persist.

The other night I got to thinking about illusions- those we hold dear and those that we suddenly seem to discover either have been or are in desperate need of being shattered.  Not just quietly set…

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Epistle

Happy Long Weekend!  As we ease into the last 3-day holiday of the summer I’ll be highlighting every bit of that little three word phrase.  Happiness, the weekend and, most especially, loooooooong.  I’d recommend you crack a beer before delving in…. (seriously, longest post EVER- and that’s saying something hereabouts)

Is it possible to have a Happiness Hangover?  If so, I’m almost 72 hours into one of epic proportion.

What a night.

Some of you might be looking for a proper review of that little show I spoke about with anticipatory giddiness a few days back.  That had been the plan, but then my bud Len threw a little something together describing the first three shows of the tour and there’s just no way I can come close to topping his take on the wonderment.  If you want the playlists and a bang-up overview of his enthusiastic take on the tour-to-end-all tours, please pop over and visit him at Battery Kill Corner.  You won’t be disappointed.  The guy knows his way around music like no one else.

I don’t claim to be a reviewer (let alone one of Len’s caliber).  I tend to be a little more (shall we say) stylistically informal (at least when I’m not doing the day job) than is traditionally called for when reviewing books or concerts or what-have-you.

I also don’t love reviews (generally speaking).  I prefer to form my own opinions about things- uncluttered by the responses that others might have had.  I read one post-show review in a local source and was incredibly disappointed by the writer’s lack of real engagement with the artists and their ability to hold the crowd so tightly together.  I guess I want everyone to have had the same experience I did.

What I do write is a whole lot o’ letters (especially when I’m doing the day job), and figure I’m pretty good at that sort of thing.

So let’s not call this a review.  Let’s call this a thank you epistle.  A reallyreally loooong thank you epistle.

Back when we were youngsters, Mum insisted we learn to write proper letters of gratitude and acknowledgement when people took the time to gift us with something- be it a material offering or a granting of time and attention.  Much as we grumbled and tried to get out of it, the lesson- and habit- was one that stuck with me.  It seems to be a rapidly-disappearing social nicety, so here’s my stab at changing that.

From cole davidson, the pseudonymous blogging handle of a citizen of Toronto the Good, grateful lover of music, to the assembly of musicians and supporters who collectively demonstrated the wonder of our shared humanity at Kool Haus on Tuesday, August 26, 2014. 

I am thankful for your presence in the world- for the songs and the wisdom and the fun that you have shared across decades and in far-reaching places.  I thank you for returning, one and all, to this city that loves you- a congregation that has hosted you before and that will continue to welcome you whenever you choose to return.

First, though, an apology.  I admit that I was somewhat less than enthusiastic about the inclusion of Katrina (ex-of the Waves) Leskanich in the tour de force that is Retro Futura.  I never looked beyond Walking on Sunshine (which was, let’s be honest, somewhat overplayed- back in the day and on retro radio stations in more recent times).  I’m also (as I’ve mentioned before) not big on the girl singers.  I admit this.

So I was pretty blown away by just how hard that lady can rock and roll.

Mea Culpa.  Her rapport with the band and the crowd was pretty spectacular, especially given the fact that most of the audience was there, primarily, to see one (or more) of the acts to follow.  She was a class act all around, and in fine voice, as she got us all warmed up.  I definitely have a new appreciation for that sunshiny song.  And this one was pretty kick ass live:

Then my old friends started to take the stage…

I’m not sure just what was up with Gary and the caftan (although Len says they had a convo about that- something to do with keeping cool and hiding his middle-aged paunch- but that’s just hearsay), but he and Eddie (who, as Gary quipped, “still wears the pants”) came on out and chatted with us all as if we were hanging in the living room.  Or at Hugh’s Room.  A show which was referenced when he asked who among us had been with them there.

They included the song that really started it all for them- their 1982 tune about the insidious evil of Apartheid in African and White.

We need your faith and hostility
To be certain of a change
And could you ever recover from
Forever recover from this prejudice

Life is a fever we create

I’m not sure I understand why they left Working With Fire and Steel off the playlist this time out, but the inclusion of Arizona Sky made me happy.  It had fallen off the Shuffle Daemon’s playlist.  It’s back again.  Forgot how much I loved it- and love seeing them do it live (last time would have been at Canada’s Wonderland in ’80-something).

Decorate, paint it for the union
No reason to give up on the illusion
Take confident possession of yourself
No reason to give up on the illusion

Eddie got to sing Wishful Thinking– a change from the playlist of the previous shows.  Full of chat and cheek, as usual, the Liverpudlian Lads built on Katrina’s energy and led us into the next set…

Mr. James Ure.  (Can I call you James?  During one of our many discussions/debriefs about the shows, I mentioned something in passing about Jim Ure- to which Len remarked that there are probably only about 114 people in the world who know that ‘Midge’ is a nickname stemming from the reversal of ‘Jim’).

That voice.  That powerfulpowerful voice.  While I still regret missing him when he passed through town earlier this year (and last year- he’s been around a lot, actually) to play Hugh’s Room (there’s that place again- all the cool people play there) for a pared down, acoustic show (not unlike Gary and Eddie’s visit) I’m pretty damn happy I got to hear him plugged in and with the support of the fantastic house band (who did an incredible job handling all three of the first courses in our musical prix fixe menu)…

Opening with Hymn, in all its fullness and glory, Midge reminded me how much I love that song.  And how much I have missed that song.  My copy of Quartet is vinyl- and has been in storage for far too long.  Midge belted out the sermon- ‘faithless in faith’– clearly demonstrating that his pipes retain a depth and strength that you just don’t hear all that often.  Mores the pity.  I’d try to describe it, but why deny you the pleasure of hearing it for yourself…

It almost made me forgive him for not playing Reap the Wild Wind– my absolute fave Ultravox song- and one of my fave songs of all time full stop.  But he played Vienna… and Fade to Grey… and If I Was.  So much greatness.  Jim ended his fierce set with Dancing With Tears in My Eyes (probably his best known hit- after that little Xmas song, of course)- a song full of the haunting echoes of that era- and my generation.

We were the children of a time period in which 3-or-4-minutes-to-midnight was an ever-present reality.  We felt the shadow of nuclear destruction in all facets of our life.  There were constant warnings that the clock was ticking down- that two old men had their fingers hovering over buttons that could end the world as we knew it (my thanks to Nik Kershaw- who would have fit right in among this august company- for that particular image).

We were an apocalyptic generation (and we’re still feeling that ennui and uncertainty ripple through the subsequent years).  The Canadian War Museum in Ottawa has (had?  Haven’t been in a few years) a section that deals with the years of the Cold War.  In the early 80s, as Reagan escalated the arms race and advocated the positioning of guns in the sky to keep democracy safe from the Soviets, the music reflected the reality that the Doomsday Clock had us teetering dangerously close to the edge of a politically-driven global catastrophe.

Ultravox’s Dancing is one of the videos that plays in the Museum as a reminder of the underlying nuclear threat that was ever-present in those years (although we’re hardly in better shape now- the Clock continues to hover around 23:55- mainly due to concerns about global warming.  No wonder we’re all about the apocalypses again lately…)

That video still makes me shiver with remembered fear that goes bone-deep.  In its sadness and desperation as the end comes with the meltdown at a nuclear power plant there is still a love of life and the transcendence of inevitability that wends its way through all of Midge’s songs.

And then there was Howard.

I admit that I spent some time trying my hand at being one of the cynical few– a member of the Doom Crew, if you will.  Part of growing up is getting all angsty, all ‘the world is against me’, all ‘nothing can save us now’ about things.  I like to think that I left that negativity behind me a long time ago (teenage angst is highly unattractive in people no longer teenaged), but, things in the world as they are, I have been feeling a creeping return of negativity, and overall frustration with the unwillingness of people to critically assess situations and work toward affecting positive change.

Leading up to Tuesday night, listening to Howard again, the reasons why he is a man to admire and to emulate came through loudly and clearly.  And I realized that he played a pretty big role in helping to shape the way I approach the world- as an adult, now, but also as a young’un seeking a path in the world.

His voice is all about the positive.

I’ve been waiting for so long…

This is a song to all of my friends, they take the challenge to their hearts

Challenging preconceived ideas, saying goodbye to long-standing fears…

That New Song of his spoke volumes to me as a 13-year-old.  It resonates even more now.  He taught me that it was okay- nay, that it was necessary, to question things and to look for, and then thoroughly evaluate, the answers that we find.

In songs of less than five minutes.  He taught me that.  And this.

What is love, anyway?

And maybe love is letting people be just what they want to be, the door always must be left unlocked.

To love when circumstance may lead someone away from you, and not to spend the time just doubting.

He seemed genuinely happy to be back with us- he even referenced the fact that he was Canadian for a time (and can sing the National Anthem with the rest/best of us).  These songs…  All of these songs… This one hit me right where I’m living right now.

 We’re not scared to lose it all
Security throw through the wall
Future dreams we have to realize
A thousand skeptic hands
Won’t keep us from the things we plan
Unless we’re clinging to the things we prize

And do you feel scared, I do
But I won’t stop and falter
And if we threw it all away
Things can only get better

Treating today as though it was
The last, the final show
Get to sixty and feel no regret
It may take a little time
A lonely path, an uphill climb
Success or failure will not alter it

If you hang out with me hereabouts you know that I’m in the process of thinking through and working out the ways in which I can translate my particular view of the world in a way that can be shared vis-à-vis the corporate realm and the larger community.  That song sums up so manymany things for me.  And man, does it make you smile.  I DARE you not to smile as you listen to that song.  I didn’t want him to leave us.

Except…

Tom Bailey.  I spoke about my sentimental connection with the Thompson Twins- about Dad, and 30 years, and how the nostalgia is, in itself, healing.  But the reality?  Whoa back.

As soon as he took the stage he led us in a conversation– starting with some needed filler to cover for a technical glitch at the get-go.  Tom chatted with us as the issue was resolved- talking about his appearance on Jimmy Fallon- how weird that was since he’s not one for the ‘show business’ stuff.  He strolled the stage- looking comfortable and extending random thoughts and off-hand comments until the machines were up and running again.

That song I spoke about the other day- You Take Me Up– was one more in a string of sing-a-long opportunities over the 4 hours we were all together.  His updated version of a song from a movie that was part of the canon of 80s teendom got everyone remembering (those who were behind the curve) what it was like to be 16.

After more than a quarter century not performing (or even listening to) these songs, it was pretty remarkable how comfortable he was on that stage and with those words- that are ingrained in my memory- as he made the whole shebang look effortless.

I loved Lies, missed Lay Your Hands on Me– although I understand his reasons for leaving that one off the playlist- and rediscovered my appreciation of King for a Day.  And then it was time.

When I was 14- and on that road trip with the family that I told you about, listening to the tape over and over and over again- every time I heard that song I had the visual of the video that was getting tonnes of airplay on the video shows back home, with Tom, redheaded and at the piano, belting out a song of love.

A love song that acknowledges that all is not always long-stemmed roses and boxes of chocolates.  That communication is vital- but that misunderstandings will happen, nevertheless.

While on the Walt Disney World portion of the road trip, we spent an evening at what was then Lake Buena Vista Village (before its Downtown Disney iteration).  As the lake lit up and my folks and sisters moved in and out of the stores, I stood on the shore of that lake, Walkman in pocket, listening to Hold Me Now, and just being almost-14 and in love with Tom Bailey.

4 years ago, after an emotionally brutal divorce and challenging upheaval and relocation home to TO, Dad and my sisters sent me to Disney for my 40th birthday.  One evening, as my sister slept, I went out for a walk down by another of the Disney lakes.  This one, looking across at a Magical Kingdom, had a beach that was completely deserted at that time of night.

I popped in the ear buds and chose the last song of the night on the Shuffle Daemon.  I remembered being almost-14 and in love, feeling the intensity of that adolescent emotion, while I counted my blessings and drifted back into that innocent affection for the duration of the song.

Mr. Jones’ Everlasting Love, indeed.

In an interview with Ryan White in the Sacramento Bee, talking about why he chose, after 27 years, to return to playing and touring with these songs of my youth, Tom reflected on what those songs were all about.

“I kind of suddenly grasped it was about a nostalgia for a lost honesty about ourselves and about our optimism for the future.”  Bailey said.  When he thinks about the 80s, he thinks about that optimism, and the way the years since have been marked by disappointing and discouraging events.  In some respects, cynicism has been normalized.  “I feel like it would be a contribution to lift the lid on that 80s optimism.”  And that is the work of a pop star.

And a man with things yet to teach.  Every one of the great and talented performers that gifted us with their presence on Tuesday has mastered effective communication to a degree that is staggering.  They are still imparting lessons.  Especially resonant for me is the one that says that a ‘classroom’ needn’t be bricks and mortar and organized within an institution of some kind.  That those who are meant to teach will always find their audience and impact the lives of others as they both entertain and advise.

Epistles are letters that, traditionally, are didactic in nature.  The epistolary genre was common in Ancient Egypt and made up a big part of the curriculum found in scribal schools.  It became a major type of composition among the Greeks and Romans before it found an even greater degree of fame in the hands of that guy from Tarsus and those who later wrote in his name and/or style.  Philosophically, didacticism emphasized the instructional qualities of art and literature.  And music.

Epistles also told stories of love and devotion while modeling behaviour and recommending effective and productive and human and humane ways of living in this world of ours.

So.  Thank you for the songs.  For the lessons.  For the examples.  For continuing to teach me about life and love and positivity.  And for coming to see us again.  On my birthday.

Please don’t be strangers.

This greeting and fulsome (understatement, that) record of thanks and enduring love and appreciation is by me, cole, by my own hands, on my own keyboard.  My appreciation to all of you, In the Name of Love. Verily.

Much Ado About Nothing

So this topic has shown up in the news again. People are fighting it, people are agreeing with it… not enough else to be worried about, I guess.

Meanwhile, our municipal train wreck has finally derailed and upped stakes for rehab in Chicago. But not before we made The Daily Show, again.  And not before the damage may be irrevocable.

Still… hoping this latest is something that will permit change in my hometown.

Wishing you all a lovely weekend!

colemining

I don’t know about you, but I don’t really find this illustration particularly helpful in explaining why it’s SO FREAKIN COLD OUTSIDE.  And the typo is making me nuts, but I’m too chilly to search for another image.

Well there I was all hunkered down against the c-c-c-cold of the polar vortex- or whatever they’re calling it- getting ready to kill an evening watching some tv or something equally mindless.

Decided to check the WP Reader before turning off the laptop for the night and, what’s there?  A wee little goad by my friend OM- over there at Harsh Reality.

It’s one of the fun things he does- he gets conversations started.  I actually saw the linkabout the Baphomet statue earlier today.  I read the article, smiled a little and then forgot about it.

Jeepers.  People really don’t have larger concerns?

The constant negative back-and-forth between the atheist and…

View original post 1,188 more words

By another name…

Banal.

If there is a current personification of that particular concept, I’d argue that it could well be the putative ‘mayor’ of my fair town.

The origin of the word lies in the system of feudalism- and pertains to those things associated with the ‘common people’- specifically the services they were compelled to carry out under the direction of an overlord from the ‘superior’ classes.  Its original meaning stems from the Latin word bannum– meaning ‘command’ or ‘proclamation’ and the later Middle French derivation, ban– and the associated connection with being pressed into compulsory feudal servitude.

In contemporary usage it is defined (according to Wiktionary) as ‘common in a boring way, to the point of being predictable containing nothing new or fresh.’   It is synonymous with hackneyed, vapid and trite.

I admit that this is frequently how I dismiss that Ford guy- as vapid, tedious and tiresome in his cliched attempts to win the support of the ‘common’ people.  He maintains that’s who he’s looking out for- the ‘little guy’, the ‘regular folk’, the ‘Joe Six-Pack’, if you will (and if the evocation of that term and its associations with that woman who tried to be VPOTUS don’t make you shiver in remembered horror).

Despite his own privileged upbringing and the fact that his CV doesn’t seem to contain much that suggests any actual and/or realized individual accomplishments.

He continues to exclaim his defence of those who fall outside the ‘urban elite’ that is, according to Ford and his cronies, determined to destroy this City.  He does so in such a predictable and repetitive fashion that, I admit, I have become somewhat dismissive of the guy- and of his chances of actually being re-elected to head up our Municipal government.

This week the head of Toronto Community Housing- hand-picked by Ford to ascend to the role- stepped down from the position following a scathing report delivered by the City Ombudsman.  Ford continues to support Gene Jones- and the job he has done since his appointment two years ago- claiming, instead, that it is the ombudsman who should be removed since she had the audacity to misuse her role by engaging in a ‘witch hunt’ while playing politics.

Business as usual with this guy.  That was my first, admittedly-jaded, thought.  Then this morning I read an editorial that made me reflect a little more deeply on the situation.

In the Toronto Star, Royson James argued that Ford is more than ‘an innocuous, pseudo-celebrity whose outrageous behaviour will live in infamy.’  James asserts that he is dangerous.  The article set some bigtime alarm bells a’ringing.

Some of us hereabouts have become complacent in our belief that there is no way that this guy will be re-elected.  Last night, while out celebrating my baby sister’s birthday, the dinner conversation turned to the sitch in our Municipal politics.

Although there was some dissent as to how the current realities might be changed for the better, consensus suggested that we do have one thing for which we should be grateful in the debacle that has been the last four years since his election.

Before October 2010, most of us were sort of oblivious to Municipal politics- giving them short shrift in the spectrum of importance in the overall political scheme of things.  We tend to pay attention to what is happening on the Provincial, Federal and Global political stages, but the City level was viewed as something that ticks along without much engagement or concern.

And then came Ford.

His tenure has opened our eyes to the truism that the bad crap in the upper sectors of the political heap has its origins in the foundational level.

A friend posted something on her fb timeline the other day about taking real, concrete action to ensure that he is not re-elected.  The conversational strand filled with comments from others who are similarly committed- including their personal plans of attack for involvement at the Municipal level that will forestall the continuance of the division and regression that the City has seen these past four years.

I know-  it seems as if I’m, yet again, completely straying from my best laid plans to discuss the Devil Dude and the externalization of evil.

But.

Banality and evil are closely linked.

Hannah Arendt was a political theorist (she rejected the label ‘philosopher’) who wrote pivotal works about the nature of power and politics.  In Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, she questioned the nature of evil, ascribing it to thoughtlessness and mindless acceptance of ‘general opinion’ without anything resembling critical evaluation of the consequences of action/inaction.

The Wikipedia sums it up nicely:

“Arendt’s book introduced the expression and concept “the banality of evil”.  Her thesis is that Eichmann was not a fanatic or sociopath, but an extremely stupid person who relied on cliche rather than thinking for himself and was motivated by professional promotion rather than ideology. Banality, in this sense, is not that Eichmann’s actions were ordinary, or that there is a potential Eichmann in all of us, but that his actions were motivated by a sort of stupidity which was wholly unexceptional.  She never denied that Eichmann was an anti-semite, nor that he was fully responsible for his actions, but argued that these characteristics were secondary to his stupidity.”

Before anyone leaps to suggest that I am equating Ford with the perpetrators of the greatest crime against humanity in recent history, let me state unequivocally that this is not my intention.  To do so would demonstrate an extremity of rhetoric that is both irresponsible and approaching the level that Ford and his puppet-masters regularly employ as a means to encourage divisiveness as he attempts to maintain his personal power.

There have been many challenges to Arendt’s perspective (again, from the Wikipedia)…

“This concept has been frequently misunderstood. In his 2010 history of the Second World War, ‘Moral Combat’, British historian Michael Burleigh calls the expression a “cliche” and gives many documented examples of gratuitous acts of cruelty by those involved in the Holocaust, including Eichmann.  Arendt certainly did not disagree about the fact of gratuitous cruelty, but “banality of evil” is unrelated to this question. Similarly, the first attempted rebuttal of Arendt’s thesis relied on a misreading of this phrase, claiming Arendt meant that there was nothing exceptional about the Holocaust.”

Arendt’s main thesis is applicable in this case- and is an important observation that requires further examination.   As concerned voices advocating change develop and continue dialogues that attempt to change this propensity to set ourselves in constant opposition to ‘the other’ as a means of moving through the world, we have to define our terms and acknowledge that which we are fighting.

The predilection for polarization is the ultimate target focus of my discussions of evil and its externalization.  Contrived division and the vilification of ‘ the enemy’ serves no other purpose than to continue to support those who benefit from the perpetuation of a status quo that serves the few rather than the many.

Ford likes his power and position.  He- and those who receive direct pay-off from his ‘patronage’- would love to maintain that power and position.

It’s up to us to make sure that he doesn’t get to do so.

This afternoon, while doing some chores, I had the tv on in the background.  Black Sheep, starring the late Chris Farley, was on.  I’ve never really been one for the Farley flicks- although I certainly enjoyed some of his sketches during his SNL tenure- but I have noticed, along with the rest of the Western world, the disturbing similarities between a number of his characters and the mayor-in-question.

In one scene, while stoned out of his tree, Farley’s character ends up onstage- in his brother’s time slot- during a ‘Rock the Vote’ performance.  He shouted slogans- pithy lines drawn from the speeches of great leaders that came before him- much to the delight and encouragement of the crowd.  That the sayings were misquoted or offered outside of their original context didn’t matter much to the audience.

Ford, too, is a sloganeer.  He is routinely provided with forums in which he continues shouting his taglines- loudly- to those who might listen.  It’s what Ford does.  It’s pretty much the only thing he does.

The comparison is amusing.  I admit that I’ve laughed at the various memes and montages that highlight the similarities.  Many of them are clever and silly in a funny-’cause-it’s true sort of way.

And then I remember that this guy is in charge of running my City.  And he wants to keep running it into the ground to promote his own agenda and ego.

It’s only funny until it isn’t.

Banality is dangerous.

And Rob Ford is its most recent poster-child.

Songs that can change a life #4

This IS kind of funny.  Especially the part about the Leafs…

Haven’t done one of these in too long…

I love music (in case you weren’t aware) and I have to admit that I sometimes over-gravitate to the same old songs (emphasis on old). This isn’t to say that I don’t listen to and appreciate new music- but there are certain songs that truly are like old friends.

The beauty of the Shuffle Daemon is that it brings these old friends back into my life when it’s been a while since we last hung out. The other day, as I waited for the metaphysical enigma that is the King streetcar, the SD reminded me that I hadn’t visited this old buddy in far too long.

Once upon a time a week wouldn’t have passed by without me giving it a listen. Seriously, some of my friends still hear this tune and think of me. It’s another of those story songs that I so adore. It tells the story- based in a particular time and place- of a town in economic collapse and the social conundrums that result.

And it’s The Jam.  N.B. The ‘posters’ in the video: “Anti Complacency League! Baby!” and “If we aint getting through to you- you obviously aint listening!”  I concur.  3 wonderful, jam- (and Jam-) packed minutes.

While I waited for that most elusive of streetcars (seriously- where do they go? At least 10 passed by in the other direction in the 20 (!) minutes I stood waiting. They have to turn around sometime. Don’t they?!?!  And who, exactly, decides that they should be short turning during rush hours when there are dozens of people fighting for standing room on the ONE car that is actually permitted to complete its route in its entirety? Yeah, we don’t need a better-functioning public transportation system downtown at all, do we Mayor McCheese? Useless subways in Scarborough are far more important…), those opening notes (in a live version I picked up somewhere) came over the headphones.

Not only is it peppy and catchy and undeniably well-constructed, it’s also experience-based recollection and social commentary that still rings authentic and important. Once again, more than 30 years after the fact (stuck in the 80’s this week.  Mea culpa).

The Jam were representative of the melding of punk, new wave, and mod revival that came out of the UK in the late 70s-early 80s. Based out of Woking, Surrey, they combined the anger that fueled punk rock with the stylish R&B and tailored appearance of 60s mods, and, like the Kinks (as I’ve said repeatedly) emphasized their Britishness through the subject matter of their songs.  They focused on issues that affected their working class backgrounds- in the community from which they hailed- and the social problems they saw in their travels across the UK as they played the clubs.

Paul Weller has crafted some of my veryvery favourite songs, ever.  (My Ever Changing Moods from his Style Council days, not to mention You’re the Best Thing… listen to them.  Seriously.)

Town Called Malice recalls his teenage years in Woking, part of the Greater London Urban Area.  The title of the song is a play on the 1950 novel by Nevil Shute, A Town Like Alice, although Paul had not read the book before writing the song.

The novel is, in part, about its heroine’s attempts to bring economic prosperity to a small town in the Australian outback, turning it into a ‘town like Alice (Springs)’.

Being an eminently talented wordsmith- and British to boot (the Brits are so wonderfully adept at word play- especially when it comes to ‘sounds like’ constructions and rhyming slang.  Sight tangent: I came up with the ‘subtitle’ of this little blog o’ mine- ‘Made of the Myth’- after having heard a news story about the ‘Maid of the Mist’- those tourist boats that take you up close and personal with the glory of Niagara Falls.  To this day, the ONE person who picked up on that is a British buddy of mine- who cottoned on immediately.  Such a way with the language, our British brothers and sisters…aaaaaand we’re back), Paul was more about connecting the rhythm of the book’s title with that of his creation- and the shared concept of towns facing hard economic times.

As a legal term, malice refers to intention- either expressed or implied- to do harm to another.  Now I’m no lawyer (understatement, that), but according to Wikipedia/Pythia: ‘In any statutory definition of a crime, malice must be taken… as requiring either: 1) an actual intention to do the particular kind of harm that in fact was done; or 2) recklessness as to whether such harm should occur or not (i.e. the accused has foreseen that the particular kind of harm might be done and yet has gone on to take the risk…).’

Recklessness.  Hmmm.

‘Better stop dreaming of the quiet life
‘Cause it’s the one we’ll never know
And quit running for that runaway bus
‘Cause those rosy days are few

And stop apologizing for the things you’ve never done
‘Cause time is short and life is cruel but it’s up to us to change
This town called Malice…

…The atmosphere’s a fine blend of ice I’m almost stone cold dead

…A whole street’s belief in Sunday’s roast beef
Gets dashed against the Co-op
To either cut down on beer or the kids’ new gear
It’s a big decision in a town called Malice.

The ghost of a steam train – echoes down my track
It’s at the moment bound for nowhere –
Just going round and round

Playground kids and creaking swings
Lost laughter in the breeze
I could go on for hours and I probably will
But I’d sooner put some joy back in this town called Malice’

Standing on that street corner in the freezing cold, waiting for the public transportation- a ‘hot button’ election topic- to show up, those lyrics echoed in ways they have never done before (and, as I’ve said, I’ve know the song by heart for over three decades).

Reckless malice.

Since Ford is determined to continue playing the Media Star, at least he is admitting that the new YouTube programme is nothing more than a glory-seeking, extended campaign ad.  Okay, maybe he didn’t say that exactly… He is welcoming questions from ‘all around the world’- and most of them are concerned with the sideshow that he has become, internationally.

Gotta say, I’d really prefer a mayor who is more concerned with the state of our city and its citizens than with shoring up his image and reinforcing his narcissistic need to ensure that the spotlight remains focused on him and his own deluded self-image and -importance.

The rights to Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story, by Toronto Star reporter Robyn Doolittle (one of the three journalists to first view the ‘crack video’), have been sold and will likely be made into a film.  Setting aside what I may or may not think of Doolittle, I am outraged that it seems to be acceptable to be keeping this guy’s name and image in the media.

National ‘newspapers‘ are already casting the film.  We are continuing to reinforce his lack of judgement, self-serving and unsupported sound bites, and his knowingly reckless behaviour.  And I’m not just talking about the shit (yes, I said ‘shit’- I’m PISSED OFF) he pulls in his ‘private life’.  Believe me, waiting for the 504 streetcar on Sunday, I had a loooooong time to think about his ‘transit plan’ and the mess that he has made worse in the three years since he was elected to run the city.

He is at least as big a train wreck politically as he is personally.  THAT seems to be getting lost with the spotlight being continually shone upon his antics.  He is not a clown.  He is not a ‘celebrity’.  He is the elected leader of the largest city in Canada and he has repeatedly demonstrated his inability to uphold the responsibilities of that role.

If we are to be subjected to this buffoon on all varietals of media between now and October (and then, hopefully never again), how’s about we pay closer attention to the truth of the matter than the sensational circus of shame.

Expressed or implied intent to do harm.  Foreseeing that harm will be done, and recklessly charging ahead regardless.

Sounds like Malice to me.

We’re ‘at the moment bound for nowhere- just going round and round.’

‘It’s up to us to change this town called Malice.’

Listen up, fellow Torontonians.  Join the Anti-Complacency League.

Please.

PS-  From the ridiculous to the sublime… this is making headlines all over my news feeds- especially those that come from my beloved Royal Ontario Museum.  The discovery really has nothing to do with this post- nor with the stuff I usually talk about- except that it is demonstration (if further remains necessary) that destroying our natural wonders for the sake of economic expediency also leads to the destruction of all those things buried beneath the surface of this here world of ours- natural AND of human origin- that help to tell our stories.  Can’t wait to check out the previously unknown species!

There it is again…

I’m not really the type of person who looks for signs or stuff like that.  But I do try to listen to what the universe seems to be telling me.  Since I believe that we, as people, are interconnected in numerous ways, I do subscribe to the idea that synchronicity exists and is at work in our lives.  I’ve written about that before.  When things aren’t going all that great, it’s easy forget that these connections exist so sometimes we need a kick in the butt to get us paying attention again…

January/February is not my favourite time of the year.  In addition to the polar vortices (anyone else getting completely sick of the overuse of that particular hysterical buzz term, or is it just me?) of biblical proportions (it’s freakin’ cold out there again today) and a distinct lack of sunlight, I find that my brain tends to slow into hibernation mode- and likewise isn’t up for much in the way of social interaction or, to be frank, productivity.

Winter blahs to the nth degree.

So, given the usual late-January ick factor, yesterday was an unusual day.  I was productive at work- despite the fact that I needed those fingerless gloves (think Bob Cratchit at work in any theatrical/filmed version of A Christmas Carol) to effectively type the regular daily correspondence (wearing them today, too.  Polar vortex, you suuuuuuck) and feeling like was I getting somewhere with a few things on the new job-search front, so the fact that I have been feeling a little less-than-myself, and not particularly inclined to write stuff lately, was less wearing and seasonal-affective-disorder-triggering than it has been.

Before I left work I got an email from a dear friend regarding an in-the-works CBC radio story on a topic close to my heart.  The one I wrote about here.  This friend gave the producer my name to possibly have a chat about my experience with and perspective on the whole thing.  Interesting, indeed.

I headed home on the TTC, grabbing the first bus that showed up so as to not have to stand in the cold for long.  Mistake there.  That first bus took me not to a nice, warm subway station where I could get on a nice, warm subway, but to a streetcar line.  Which would be fine.  In reasonable weather.  But it seems as though the streetcar lines don’t play nicely with polar vortices, so the connecting streetcar (which was there right when I got off the bus- THAT never happens) was going nowhere.  Which also meant that all the streetcars that showed up after it were also going nowhere (given that they all use the same tracks).  There were lots and lots and lots of people exiting streetcars with nowhere really to go.  Instead of waiting around for shuttle buses to start arriving, I started walking.

Toronto is a great town for walking.  Normally.  The downtown wind tunnels when the wind chill is making it feel like -30+ degrees Celsius?  Nope.  Not fun.  Not great at ALL.

But, once I was committed, I walked.  The rest of the way home.  After a few blocks I could have hopped a subway but I have this stupid stubborn streak that, MetroPass notwithstanding, makes me feel lazy or something if I take public transportation for a minimal distance.  One subway stop?  Silly.  In January with brutal wind chill?  That might have been the more prudent option, actually.

Point of all this?  I was walking past things I wouldn’t normally be walking past- if I’d taken a more sensible route from here to there/there to here.  I stopped in for a coffee partway- it warmed my hands, even if it burned my tongue- that helped make the last few long city blocks survivable.  Liquid warmth clutched in mittened hands, I cut through the courtyards between buildings and found myself beside the venerable CBC MotherShip itself. 

Just as this song came on the Shuffle Daemon:

Followed by:

and then:

Once home and (somewhat) thawed out, I got to thinking about the opportunity to share my two cents (which is what I do hereabouts, after all), having my voice heard by some who might not otherwise hear it, and the potential positive outcomes that such an opportunity might bring.  I’m certainly not counting chickens- opportunities aren’t always realized, after all- but there seem to be some things moving in my little section of the universe.  And even the barest hint of a whisper can sometimes, if properly nurtured, lead to the necessary volume required to affect change.

I also realized that it was six years ago this week that I defended the thesis that earned me the title of PhD.  Achieving that designation has taken me down a number of paths- and none of them are the one on which I thought I’d be traveling.  This, I realized, is okay.  Knowledge and experiences are never wasteful- and should never be wasted.

Even with the lassitude that winter always seems to instill in me, I’ve started 2014 with the intent to bring about change.  For myself in my own life, and in matters that will contribute to changes in my wider community and world.  I’m still working out strategies.

But….

I’m on my way to City Hall tonight to attend a ‘how to become a candidate’ meeting in the Council Chamber (yes, that famous site of so much of the recent press attention our ‘mayor’ has brought upon us.  I can’t even think about the latest escapade.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll be ready to talk about it.  Although I’m sure it will be well-covered by Jon Stewart, so not sure I should bother).  Not because I’m thinking of running- at this time, anyway- but because I’m genuinely interested in learning about how the process works and the steps required to declare and then pursue candidacy for municipal office.

Basically, I’m doing things and looking forward.  Which, when it’s cold and dark and the News keeps getting on my nerves (there was that speech the PM gave in Israel too.  Was going to write about that… We’ll see.), is nothing to sneeze at (there is more than enough sneezing going around here, surrounded, as I am, by people who SHOULD be at home, in bed, with the flu).

Well, my soul checked out missing as I sat listening

To the hours and minutes tickin’ away

Yeah, just sittin’ around waitin’ for my life to begin

While it was all just slippin’ away

Well I’m tired of waitin’ for tomorrow to come

Or that train to come roarin’ ’round the bend…

There WILL be better days.  I’m doing what I can to expand the reach of my small voice.

Have to keep that in mind.

…counting down….

I might not like their coffee at all, but this picture really sums up the last couple of days here in TO.

Well.

That was interesting.  We got a bit of ice hereabouts.  And that ice weighed down all the hydro lines and left electrical power just a fading memory to a fair number of folks here in our sleepy little burgh.

The temperature has plummeted and it’s not looking like some peeps are going to get the electricity back before Wednesday.  Generally speaking my little part of the town is all okay.  I have hydro, and the commute to work is such that the streetcar and subway closures didn’t affect me.  Hoping that the situation stays okay- but preparing just in case.

The shopping is all done- so there’s no more running around required, at least.  A little more in the way of food prep for the day itself- and for some parties in the days following, but I’m basically feeling like I have a pretty solid handle on things.

Does that mean I’ve captured some of the spirit that has been so elusive this year?  Hmmm.  Not sure I can go that far.  But I think I’m getting there.

Despite an incredible night of Skydiggers fun and games on Friday (GREAT show) and some solid face-time and catching up accomplished with part of my extended fam/friends, I’m still not sure I’m feeling all that holiday-motivated.

One of my dearest buds- a good Irish/French Canadian Roman Catholic lad- is always asking me (seriously dude, it’s been something like 25 years- you really don’t know by now?) how I prefer to address the ‘greetings of the season’.  There has been a whole lot of nonsense about ‘wars on Christmas’ and that sort of rot on the ‘news’ channels of late, but I, personally, am in a very comfortable place with regards to my non-belief in the deity driving the holiday but my FIRM belief in the goodness of humanity.  And that does tend to get a good, solid airing at this time of the year.

I tell him (over and over) that any variation of Merry/Happy Christmas is fine by me- and not something that offends in the slightest.  I do celebrate the holiday- after a fashion.  I certainly celebrate the STORY behind the holiday- probably more ‘devoutly’ (for lack of a better word) than some of those who make claims of belief.  The story of Jesus- and the Nativity- is one of the greatest and most enduring of all our many and varied myths.  It chokes me up with its beauty- especially the Adoration of the Magi (an ecumenical touch that very much speaks to me- and you know I love the Zoroastrians), and it has had such an impact on our history and culture… what’s not to love?

Do I have to believe in the divinity of Jesus- or of the details of the story- to appreciate it?  I’d argue that I do not.  The same way I do not have to subscribe to the entirety of the belief system behind the story of Hanukkah to find grace and hope in that miraculous triumph of light over darkness.  Especially at this time of year- and in with Toronto’s current state of emergency (or non-emergency, according to the ‘mayor)- when any and all light in the darkness is welcome and appreciated.

The story of Christmas- in all its variations and off-shoots- permeates our culture.  The music, the subsequent stories- of giving, of love, of acceptance- it represents, to me, one of the many flavours of the strength of our humanity, and the love and hope we cling to as we share our time with those closest to us. Traditional Christmas carols can make me a little teary.  Especially Good King Wenceslas with its wonderful message and example…

This time of year is also always one of pretty heavy introspection.  That’s the pagan in me, I guess.  The longer nights, the turning of the year.  There’s just a whole lot of looking back happening, and a little bit of looking forward that seems to go along with that.  Such thoughts seem to be of weightier import this year, since I’m in a state of flux at the moment- next directions and contributions to the betterment of those things that I’ve been complaining of for the past year (and more) are still being ruminated upon- with no easy solutions found, thus far.  I’m getting close to a game plan- so we’ll see how that pans out, once the city is actually up and running again.

Christmas Eve is generally my night to sit and just feel the feelings of the season.  With a glass of wine- or some rummy eggnog- and the solstice tree all lit up, I take myself back over the past year and use the memories as a starting point for the goals and plans for the one that’s up-coming.  It’s a space of quiet amongst all the hustle and bustle of running to and from friends and family and shopping and cooking/baking.

The past couple of weeks have involved even more rushing about than is even the norm at this time of year, so the respite will be even more welcome- if increasingly plagued by concerns and lack of knowledge just what to do about them.  As usual, I will have some great stories to keep me company- a movie or two (have to re-watch the first installment of The Hobbit in anticipation of seeing Part Two on Boxing Day, and It’s a Wonderful Life is pretty much always on the playlist on the 24th), and I have a novel I’ve been trying to finish for weeks now.  My brain has been running in far too many directions to give it the attention it deserves (Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl, if you’re curious) but I will try again this evening, for a bit, at least.

While I’m reading, there will be, of course, a soundtrack.  It varies little from year to year, and I’ve mentioned some of the songs here before, but this will be the playlist on the Shuffle Daemon that will see me through to the holiday festivities of Wednesday.

This song exemplifies so much of what the season means to me.  Pared down- just those familiar Monkee voices in wonderful harmonies, candlelight and quiet.  It’s comforting in a way I can’t really articulate.  Even if one of them is now missing.

I’m not going to say more about Ray, specifically (but I did link one of the other posts I wrote about him, if you’re interested).  If you’re not a Kinks fan (but seriously, how can you NOT be?), I know you’re probably sick of me going on about him as I have been doing lately.  But this song remains so very culturally relevant that it is tied for my favourite holiday tune.  Remembering those less fortunate.  THAT’S a message that too often gets lost in the iPads and PS-whatevers and stuffstuffstuff (Steve Austin outfits?) that become the focus.

Father Christmas is neck-and-neck with that one there ^^^.  I love the Pogues.  Surprised I haven’t already written about them, actually.  I think Shane MacGowan (who was born on December 25th, interestingly) is one of the great lyricists of the 20th century- despite (or perhaps because of) his seemingly-significant personal demons.  I once saw a copy of a book of his lyrics, called Poguetry, in a music/bookstore at Yonge/Eglinton.  I didn’t buy it, since I was on my way somewhere and didn’t want to carry it around, and I’ve yet to find a copy.  Big regret.  Anyway… the song demonstrates the investment we have in the time of year- and the disappointment of those expectations that sometimes happens.  Or often happens.  But we keep on, and there are memories and new experiences to celebrate.

I wrote about this one before.  Strong, beautiful message.  And it’s Midge.  Co-author of a song that changed the world for a time.

This song.  That changed the world.  I wrote about it before too– and about how Bob and Midge started something incredible with a tune about giving and just being aware of something outside of ourselves.  All year round.

From the sublime to the Canadian… Nav65 and I were talking about this the other day.  A bit of the best of this place I call home.  A bit of funny.  A bit of silly.  A bit of Canada.

Thank you to all of you who have graciously joined me here in this little corner of the WordPress world and demonstrated that community isn’t an anachronism.  My wish for all is that you celebrate, with those you love best (either in realized or remembered festivities) and let go of the hardships of the past year while looking forward to the one to come with hope and the true sense of giving and receiving that the stories of this time of year evoke- once the material trapping are stripped away from the core.

Happy Christmas everyone.  May all your stories be wonderful this season.

Take off, eh

Just in case there was any remaining doubt in your mind- which there shouldn’t be if you have read any of my posts (like this one Or this. Or this.)- I am very proud to be a Canadian.  I might get more than a little testy about our elected leaders- and their behaviours and systematic dissolution of some of the very policies and programs that have made us stand out, internationally, as an awesome place- one with welcoming arms and a social conscience to go with its gorgeous landscapes and world class cities, but I’d really rather live here than anywhere else in this wide world.  (At least permanently.  An extended holiday somewhere without winter wouldn’t be all that bad…)

I read this article without even a bit of surprise and with a heart full of pride.  I love it when we are recognized for our overall awesomeness.  For the most part, we deserve it.

Which is why I was distressed to have read this article yesterday which is, IMHO, bang on about our very real and very dire situation here in Canada’s biggest (and best) city.  We are in a state of crisis, evidenced yet again yesterday when the chair, Frances Nunziata (an ally of that buffoon I’ve spoken of at length), of city council was forced to shut down the session because of the un-parliamentary behaviour of said mayor-in-name-only and another of his cronies.

What’s a citizen to do?  Really.  I’m asking.  For reals.  Looking for a response that makes sense to me.  There is a crisis of strong, ethical leadership at all levels of government right now (although, as the article notes, Kathleen Wynne is doing her absolute damnedest to lead her chaotic party with something like a responsible example- it’s a majorly uphill battle, though) and that got me thinking about a number of things- none of them particularly comfortable.

At dinner with close friends a couple of weeks ago, the talk turned to politics (not something that is unusual).  One amongst our number- a high school principal in one of the RC boards in the GTA- will be throwing his hat into the ring of provincial politics sometime in the near future.  He took a run at it about a decade ago but decided that it was a bad idea- given the dysfunction of the political environment.  But things have now reached a state where he is feeling like not getting involved is a form of negligence or collusion.

As we spoke, and as I ranted about the municipal situation (as I’m inclined to do), he suggested that I should run for city council.  My initial reaction?  Yeah, right.  First of all, I do not have the personal wealth to get involved in politics (one of the many flaws in the system), and the reality of the situation here in TO means that I would be unlikely to garner any level of financial backing, since I’m not convinced that my view of things is in any way supported by others in this great town.  At least not those with the money to spend to back an untested candidate.

Plus, I would certainly be dismissed as an ‘elite’- given my educational and locational background (having always lived in affluent, ‘downtown’ neighbourhoods), so that would eradicate any possibility of support from ‘the Nation’ and others who might be disinclined to vote for a non-career politician.

I have no interest in having my life exposed to the constant scrutiny of the media- and to those in opposition of my views that might seek to ‘expose’ something unseemly.  Not because I have anything to hide- no skeletons in my closet that I’m aware of- but because the thought of becoming part of a system that is run that way is anathema to everything I believe in.  The behaviour of ridiculous groups like the ‘birthers’ in the US, or those who vilified Michael Ignatieff and Stéphane Dion- when they ran for federal leadership- solely because of academic background and perceived elitism… I just don’t get- and can’t, in any way, suborn that kind of thing.

So.  I dismissed the suggestion out of hand.

After reading the articles yesterday, and with my Canadian pride all lit up like the CN Tower at the recognition that we are pretty cool folks, now I’m feeling like making excuses for not participating on some level is far too close to complicity in the perpetuation of the complete lack of leadership that we are dealing with in my city.  And my country.

I’m not sure what to do with this feeling, or where it might lead me, but I’m thinking that the New Year is going to HAVE to see some action on my part.  Enough just writing and bitching about it.  My CV- widely dispersed in my ongoing search for a more meaningful line of work- claims ‘excellence in leadership’ as one of the attributes I could bring to a company or organization smart enough to hire me.  I’m thinking that it’s time I figured out how to put those skills into practice to effect some change.  How that will be done will require a whole lot of reflection and discussion with my loved ones.  I’m not sure I can sit idly by as my beloved city/province/country loses all those things that make us stand out- and stand tall- as Canadians.

That said, I’m not about to commit myself to a run for council.  I don’t think I’d last a day.  I am a pretty patient person (as classrooms of hundreds of undergrads can attest), but at the first sign of behaviours like those seen in the council session yesterday?  How do you fight idiocy?  I have no clue- and standing, daily, against that level of discourtesy, boorishness, ignorance and completely unjustified arrogance would render me completely ineffective in a matter of weeks.  I can’t fight on their level.  I won’t fight on their level.  But I am at a loss as to how to even begin to raise the standards.

The people seem to like their idiots-as-leaders/media personalities (did you see the latest Fox ‘News’ debacle about the definite ‘whiteness’ of Santa Freakin Claus?  And Jesus?  You can’t see me, but believe me, I’m shaking my head in exasperation).  I’m not an idiot, and I have no intention of playing one on tv.

I hate politics.  Not a big fan of politicians either.  They are single-mindedly focused on their own agendas- or those of the lobbies that support them.  The few ideologues who are brave enough to climb into the mire for the betterment of others too quickly become engulfed by the surrounding culture of self-serving impetus.  In the aftermath of the loss of the great statesman (NOT politician.  NEVER a politician), Nelson Mandela, it’s impossible not to make a comparison with those putative leaders that we can claim, these days.  How do we remove the ‘dirty word’ aspect of politics and politicians in favour of a more statesperson-like definition?

And then there are those ‘mayors’ who never even finished university or had a career other than ‘politician’ and ‘ part time football coach’… Those who cast unfounded and libellous aspersions upon the names and characters of those journalists who are called to hold him- and those who likewise claim to represent the best interests of the city- to account…

Food for thought.

PS- I have also decided that I am going to begin interspersing my regular conversation with all the stereotypical ‘Canadianisms’ that float around outside our borders.  Anything to keep up our image of ‘quaintness’ in the face of accusations of inbred idiocy, which, given the fact that so many people are still saying they would re-elect a certain someone, aren’t completely unfounded.   So… ‘take off, you hosers.  I’m off to pick up a two-four of Labatt’s Blue and then head oot and aboot in the snow of the Great White North. Eh.’  

PPS- I’m not, really.  Labatt’s Blue is TERRIBLE beer.  And I never been either oot or aboot- to my knowledge anyway.