What Fear Makes of Us

•November 8, 2016 • Leave a Comment

It seems a valid question to ask, on this day of the American election, what it is about the country that has turned this into the gong-show it has been. With even rabidly anti-Democratic commentators like Glenn Beck looking at the situation and the Republican candidate with disgust. A lot of digital ink has been spilled attempting to understand the mentality of the people who believe that Trump can do no wrong, especially since most of the media commentators—even FOX, terrifyingly enough—have some sort of an education, and enough experience to see that the creature they have created is dangerous. And the creature is not only Trump: he could not have come so far as he has without a strong core of people who believe that he will do something they want done. The comparisons with pre-WWII Germany seem particularly apt when one considers that Hitler could not have achieved the position he did, running on a platform of hate and bigotry, had enough people voting not bought in to his rhetoric.

Voltaire warned about this centuries ago: that those who can convince us to believe absurdities can convince us to commit atrocities. Which suggests Hitler was in no way the first to do what he did, though on a twentieth-century scale. Those of us watching now don’t want to see what a twenty-first century scale might look like, but I think we are going to see, if not in America, then in one of the countries closer to the cycle of retaliatory violence going on in Syria and its environs. It is deeply worrying that Turkey’s government is moving to muzzle debate in educational institutions, for example, with its firing of nearly a thousand—more than a thousand?—professors, and its decision to appoint the heads of its universities. And Russia, always Russia, slinking like a jackal around the situation, waiting to take advantage of whatever might happen to present itself. The people of Russia have always been deeply motivated by honour and pride: perhaps they see their treatment over the post-Glasnost decades as something akin to a feral dog, allowed into the house without being trusted to eat at the table.

The situation, I understand, is the kind of thing that might push governments into wanting to sign dubious, sweeping trade agreements. Statistically speaking, trade has been demonstrated to reduce the likelihood of war between nations, so broad-strokes agreements with global participation might seem like the thing to do now, to try to ensure stability in a world that doesn’t seem particularly stable. I can sympathize with that motivation. Still, I don’t agree that something like the trade deals we’ve been subjected to, again and again over the past five years, negotiated in secret, without public input, offering huge concessions not to other nations, but to multi-national corporations, are the way to bring that trade about. A deal that starts off on a shady foot will have dangerous consequences. So, yes, I support global trade, and no, I do not support back-door deals like the TPP. And ramming it through and trying to fix it later is not possible, I don’t think.

But all of these things are playing out on a world stage as well as in smaller dramas in individual nations, and they are being pushed out of the spotlight as the madness of the American election spins out of control. But I wonder—is it really out of control? It’s easy to read conspiracies into what is happening, the way this particular narrative is playing out, but I don’t think that conspiracies are necessary to explain what’s happening here, and I don’t think that they’re the most likely explanation. No conspiracy put Hitler into power: the discontent of the German people did. People faced with a world of complex problems and no easy solution. He offered them easy solutions, gave them a villain that they could do their part to fight, and it worked, for a while.

The story repeats itself: in uncertain times, people of a particular bent want to hunker down and protect themselves and their families; they want to have a clear enemy to fight. How does one fight climate change, when what we are feeling now is the effect of a cause that came to pass a century ago, and the enemy is the life we are each living. Wrapping one’s head around that is not easy, even for people who have been educated to do exactly that. So the people who want Trump as president are people who are scared.

They’re also angry, because that is precisely where fear leads. They are looking for a villain, and he has given them a buffet: Latin-American immigrants, Muslims, African-Americans, journalists, women. He is the figurehead, but the people who are supporting him are the ones who are truly a cause for concern: they will commit the violence that he never will. The Republicans have been flirting with these people for decades, failing to keep the impossible promises that they make, and so the demographic is turning to greater and greater absurdities, from revivalist preachers to carnival barkers, in an effort to find someone who is willing to make good on the promise of making this simple, making it better.

But that is all a tragic lie. There is no simple, and better is going to involve a great deal of difficult work. Cooperative work, because that is the only way we can survive the problems that have arisen because of our actions. The high today here in Edmonton is projected to be 18 degrees Celsius. In November. Because of us. Climate change is not a distant possibility, not something that we won’t see until later. It’s been obvious in the Far North for decades, and now it has spilled down to the 55th Parallel. And there is no enemy in the world that we can point to, no demon to exorcise, no demographic to dehumanize and gas to death that will solve what we have already done. The only way forward is to work together to mitigate and prevent further damage. And I hope more Americans see that than think an attention-hungry bigot, a small man given a large stage, will be able to make the problem simple. Because we know how that story ends.

River City Love Song

•June 30, 2011 • Leave a Comment

There’s a sort of sin to suburbia.

What’s the draw of fences and well-manicured lawns and the watered down colours of obscurity? What’s the appeal of two cars and a 40-minute commute? Cookie-cutter houses and anything green landscaped into oblivion as traffic trickles along golf-course roads…

Even scarred through by paved trails, the heart of this city is wilder, so much wilder than that.

Is the sprawl an escape, then? Taking refuge in carefully laid-out streets and cul-de-sacs from the inexorable, inescapable river… I suppose some people prefer soporific domestication to the alternative. The breathtaking glitter of the alternative: sunlight on the river, neon on storm-puddles, moonlight on snow.

It could be any city — it isn’t any city. It’s this city. This schizophrenic collective, this glass and wire prism. This rustling of leaves and laughing of magpies. Nature covered in cement covered in art depicting nature. And the river as the undercurrent, the sub-stratum, the constant and changing foundation. The thing we can’t tame or deny.

Even in the oversaturated false light of the ‘burbs, there’s no forgetting it. It haunts the faint music of wind chimes. And dusk, when it falls, is a river-twilight, carving a path like water beneath the endless Alberta sky.

These starbursts happen precisely when I need them most…

•June 24, 2011 • Leave a Comment

There are moments, and then there are moments.

Freezeframes. When your perspective shifts, just enough. When you stop and step back and ask yourself… Who am I? What am I doing?

Sometimes the Chaos Sea is as still as glass — so still that it almost looks frozen — and you think that maybe you should just get out of that little boat you’ve been floating in and walk to the shore. Because things would probably be easier there. You’d have solid ground to stand on, at least. And, when you get right down to it, what’s wrong with solidity? You can build a house on it. Drive a car on it. It’s safe — predictable. Right?

Except.

That solidity is a lie. When you’re an artist — however you’re an artist — the Chaos Sea flows beneath everything, all the time. It’s the detritus, the collection of all the things you’ve learned or experienced or thought about, all the things you’ve imagined. All the things that your mind has conjured up without running it by you for approval. The things that passion dedicates to art. And don’t get me wrong, by that I mean everything.

There are things you can do, and then there are the things you’re meant to do. It’s the difference between walking on that Chaos water — filled with monsters and angels — because it’s frozen, or walking on it because it’s not.

We stand on guard for thee

•May 4, 2011 • 1 Comment

Hello, Canada, and welcome to the second day of our Conservative majority government.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I watched the election results streaming on the CBC’s website Monday night with an obsessive fascination and have been scouring media coverage of the aftermath ever since. The variety of responses has been diverse as Canadians themselves, and I’m curious about why people voted the way they did — or didn’t vote, as the case may be — and what they feel about the results. From where I was sitting, it seemed as though Canadians were getting more informed about and more engaged with the political process. But only 61% of us turned out to vote on Monday, an increase of a mere 3% from 2008.

When the dust settled, the Conservatives formed a majority government, the NDP surged ahead to become the Official Opposition, the Greens’ Elizabeth May became the party’s first elected MP in Canada, the Bloc lost their hold on Quebec and their status as a federal party along with it, and the Liberals — Canada’s oldest federal party, founded at Confederation in 1867 — were reduced to a shadow of their former glories.

What does it all mean? At this point, it’s difficult to say with any certainty.

On the left, there has been speculation that the defeated Liberals may attempt a merger with the NDP, and the Globe and Mail have a great article looking at what prominent Liberals have to say about the suggestion. Andrew Steele, also of the Globe and Mail, talks about how the NDP’s rise in popularity combined with the Liberals’ fall affected the political landscape post–May 2. Will the NDP continue their shift towards the centre of the spectrum and take the place of the Liberals, possibly even resulting in a merger of the two parties? The possibility exists: our present Conservative Party of Canada was born in just such a blend, combining the hard-right Canadian Alliance with the decimated Progressive Conservatives.

I’ve heard others say that such a shift on the NDP’s part will ultimately be a loss, since it means abandoning some of the core socialist values which have always characterized it, and I don’t disagree. But I will say that I miss having a strong moderate-left party that had a chance of realizing the image of Canadians as peacekeepers, environmentalists, and advocates of human rights. If a movement of the NDP to the middle-ground — or a merger of the NDP and the Liberals — would restore a player like that to the Canadian political scene, I would support it.

So what about the right? I know that other left-wing and moderate Canadians are hoping that Prime Minister Harper will live up to the promises he made upon winning the election — namely that his government will remain moderate and not spring any radical surprises on Canadians. John Moore of the National Post points out that the Conservative government has yet to live up to its 2006 promises. Not all of those promises were terrifyingly radical — though as a married lesbian, I do remember that some of them were — and with a majority, there’s no excuse to avoid keeping some of the more sane of those promises. I know that I echo Moore’s call for some fiscal conservatism and the transparent government Harper originally promised.

I think the best case scenario — for us left-leaning Canadians concerned about how our country is going to look when Stephen Harper is done with it — is for the Conservative government to settle into a comfortably moderate position in an attempt to prove that they truly can have popular appeal for the historically politically-moderate Canadian public. What the Right Honourable Mr. Harper has said thus far seems to support that hope. Of course, the Conservatives’ behaviour in running the country during their past two minority governments doesn’t encourage us to believe that the next four or five years will offer much in terms of transparent governance, sound environmental or fiscal policy, or the curbing of corporate excesses, at the very least.

I expect that over the next four years our government is going to make many decisions that don’t fit my vision of Canada. But I’m also keenly aware that the Liberal party under Jean Chrétien made many decisions that didn’t fit with other Canadians’ vision of Canada, as did Brian Mulroney, as did Pierre Trudeau… all the way back, I’m sure, to Sir John A. Macdonald. My point, as I mentioned earlier, is that Canadians are diverse: there’s no way to please all of us.

So what I really want to say is this:

  1. A Conservative majority government — even this Conservative majority government — isn’t going to be the end of Canada as we know it. All of the Conservative MPs are Canadians as well, and most of them — hopefully all of them — are doing what they believe will benefit the country they love.
  2. The changes in position of the NDP, the Liberals, and the Bloc are all significant, both individually and as part of the pattern of Canadian politics. How and why they’re significant is as complicated as it is exciting, and there is no simple explanation that will encompass the whole of the story.
  3. There’s no reason why Canadian politics should be any less engaging with a government many of us won’t like. In fact, it should be more engaging, as having a government that you agree with tends to breed complacency.

The tapestry woven by the views of every Canadian makes Canada what it is. I hope that our new government will truly recognize that and demonstrate it in their actions as well as their words. And when it comes time for the next federal election, maybe we’ll have found a way to convince 39% of our fellow Canadians of it as well.

when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

•March 24, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Bursts of sunlight through the grey of a winter that has lasted a mad long time. Today was a good day.

This afternoon I went to a lecture on what to do with a BA in English. (Cue the Avenue Q.) Not because I particularly need to know — I’m sure I went to the same lecture ten years ago. But the professor giving the talk was the one who most inspired me back when I was a questing child in search of narrative. I wanted to thank him for the things I learned in his classes, the things I have carried with me ever since.

Hearing him talk was like stepping back in time. His teacup, and his handkerchief, and the way he laughs when he tells stories. I remember that his desktop wallpaper was a picture of Baghdad: the home from which he had been exiled. He would tell us about the doves he kept as pets, and about the time he was interviewed regarding Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. I took a year’s worth of Post-Colonial Literature just because he was teaching it.

And I remember now why I chose an English degree.

At some point, that spark dulled to an ember, and I scratched dead ashes over the memory. There are always paths we don’t follow, potentials we don’t pursue. This is normal, I think. We are a million possible selves; but in order to cohere, we need to choose a road and follow it.

And yet, all the other things I learned in the seven years that I took to do other things brought me back to this place. I built walls, and I hid behind them. I locked myself out of pieces of my own heart. “Follow your heart,” he said today. “Do what your heart tells you to do.” Of course. How could I have forgotten?

I went because I wanted to thank him for what he gave me ten years ago. Today he gave me another precious thing. Story is our attempt to put into words the heart’s response to the world. Now I remember.

Today was a good day.

Sage and smoke

•January 7, 2011 • Leave a Comment

More often than not, it’s a question of energy. Rationing it out, determining which things are deserving of it.

I’ve seen it said that the 9-to-5 vampires it away, leaving us zombies. (Too many monsters in that last sentence? Maybe…) The breakthrough question is where did we spend it? More than money, time and energy are the precious resources. Witness how different the passage of time becomes when we devote ourselves to something we feel is worth the investiture. It might be a job, yeah. But usually it isn’t. Dedication to hobbies. What is that? We’re looking for the spark, the return on investment. The situation is constructed so that a paycheque is necessary, but it isn’t the return on investment. Hard work isn’t a virtue — it’s just another variable. There was a click, and it gelled: we all put the effort in when it’s something worth devoting ourselves to. And those worthwhile things are different for everyone.

The core values beneath the display. And it’s a process, digging down to find those virtues. We take them for granted because they’re in so deep. Generally speaking, we’re only encouraged to self-examine when we know where to look. Spend eight hours out in the grind and come home to pacify the rest with television, and I’d put significance in betting that there’s not a lot of real digging going on. Not to mention there’s far too much conflation between self-examination and self-flagellation. The self-examiner requires a razor edge, not a serrated steak-knife. The point is to unpack and analyze, not to perform a back-alley hack-job on the psyche. Take a deep breath and alchemize, the way Jung did.

Wandered off topic. Energy — and the flow of it — is the issue. Time. Dedicated time spent on a work is an equivalent to the energy invested. Value is fundamentally personal, and nothing of value can be created without that investment. Imbuing a creation or task with the essence of oneself. And these are the results that those who are aware of the relationship between investment and value will recognize. Using the terms of financial exchange for something that, at its base, is a matter of spirit tastes off. But vocabulary moves with societal values. Hm.

The house needs smudging… Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata.

Planeswalk with me

•January 1, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Have acquired Magic: The Gathering cards. Guess what Learan and I rang in the New Year doing? Ha! Ha! Ha!

It has been well nigh 15 years since I played this, but I still remember most of the basic rules. Am already in love with 2011 basic Prophecy deck. Just can’t keep a good Oracle down? Or something like that.

Let the addiction commence! :D