Dec 21, 2019

Unexpected Acts of Kindness

Something I like to do when I have paid for parking but am leaving a parking lot is give my dashboard ticket to someone just arriving. I like to imagine the person I gave the ticket to talking with someone afterwards, marvelling at this unexpected kindness. And I like the feeling this small act of generosity engenders in me. (This is not an entirely selfless act.)

If there is no one around, I usually put my ticket back into the ticket-dispensing machine in the hope that the next person might find it and realize its value before inserting their credit card or a handful of change. It's a small way of rebelling against greedy parking lot owners who ticket and/or tow cars whose time has expired.

This is how I riot on. (Subtle but effective, that's my kind of riot.) There are a thousand small things we can do as citizens in our daily interactions to remind ourselves and each other that goodness and kindness and generosity still exist in the world.

I don't know why society seems more divided and insular than ever right now. I don't know why people feel the need to insult and degrade each other online. We live in such a combative time that it is easy to forget that we really are all in this together.   

So I encourage you to adopt my parking lot practice, or find some other small ways to say to a stranger, "Hey, stranger, we are of different races and ages and genders and sexual orientations and religions and economic backgrounds, but we both still need to pay to park here [or whatever the case may be], so let's make the conscious decision to help each other out." Nobody loses, except maybe that parking lot mogul, but I am confident that he'll be okay. Riot on, and happy holidays.   

Oct 27, 2019

This is what you do.

You get a phone call too early in the morning. You let the answering machine pick up because it is probably a telemarketer. It isn't. It is your loved one's sister, asking you to please call her back as soon as you can. You know this is not good.

You both get out of bed, and you dial the phone for him, hand it over. While it rings, you wonder who is dead. One of her children? Her ex-husband? (You hope it is this one. This is the best option of all the terrible options.) When she answers in another city, you watch your loved one's face crumple because the dead person is his dad.

And the world is different. As you look out the window at the yellow leaves and bare branches, you know there is a hole, a gap, an emptiness in it now.

You think about the last time you saw him, spoke to him, and wish it was more recently. You know your loved one is feeling this guilt.

You are glad you went to the cottage this year. You think about drinking cocktails on the deck in the sun, you and your loved one and his siblings and their dad, reminiscing about the times spent at the cottage in the past. You think it's weird that you will never go there again. You will probably never again pass the exact centre of Canada marker and wish you could stop and take a picture. There will be no more roads to Mexico and no more games of donimoes [sic].

You sit with your loved one while he cries. You cry yourself.

You are sad for you, but you are more sad for your loved one, because he believes that when you die, you die. There is no afterlife. There is no comfort in this belief.

You blow your nose and catch your face in the mirror and realize that the physical manifestation of grief is exactly right. Grief is ugly.

You think about practical things. Who needs to know? Who should you call? You'll have to cancel work, make plane and hotel reservations. You realize you probably won't be here to give candy to the trick or treaters, so you think about giving your candy to the neighbour to hand out for you.

You go back to bed and curl up under the blanket, but you don't fall asleep. You think about the party you went to last night. You think about cancelling your plans for this evening. Totally unrelated song lyrics run through your head and you wonder where they came from and why. You wonder if you should send a card to the dad's new wife. She was such a bitch the last time you saw her. You realize you are being uncharitable and think about how she loved him and now he is gone, and you feel guilty. You probably won't send a card, though, because it is your loss, too.

You realize that, as much as we reach out to each other in these moments, the grief we feel is solitary.   

Words and phrases fill your head and you understand that this is how you deal, so you turn on the computer and type them.

This is what you do in the hour after learning that someone you love has died suddenly.

Sep 19, 2019

From my vantage point on a loungechair

Today, from my vantage point on a loungechair in the backyard after a swim, I watched a young woman push a stroller up the path beside my house. The stroller was covered with a blanket, and the young woman, wearing exercise shorts and sneakers, was looking at her phone while she pushed the stroller. She passed me four times.

I watched a grasshopper work up the courage to leap from the loungechair next to me. I worried that he was going to leap onto my chair, in which case I would have to yelp in fright, but he leaped over it instead and landed on the deck on the other side of me, a miraculous feat.

I watched delicate white butterflies flit from flower to flower in the garden.

I heard shells falling through the leaves as a squirrel, sitting in the big elm tree at the back of the yard, ate nuts and dropped the inedible bits onto the ground beneath her.

I watched a young man walk his bright green bicycle next to the fence separating the path from the golf course. I wondered why he wasn't in school, or if maybe he was an adult. I was too far away to tell. But he was wearing a helmet, so his age was indeterminate. (Helmets save lives, they say, but I am too old to wear a bicycle helmet.) He was looking for something, lost keys, perhaps, or lost golf balls. He picked up a large stick, dropped it, picked up something small, put it in his pocket, took it out of his pocket, threw it sidehand down the path in front of him. Moved on.

I watched another young woman push a stroller up the path, slowing down as she approached the young man with the bicycle. The stroller was streamlined for speed and the young woman was breathing heavily. Her strides became walking lunges. She disappeared up the path, working her glutes and quads.

I watched my cat appear out of the woods, mrrow a hello, whisk her tail and lie under the loungechair next to me in the shade. I watched her lick her paw, run it over her whiskers.

I heard the steady electric hum of hidden cicadas and the chirrup of crickets and the gentle rush of the wind through the branches of the trees.

I felt the heat of the sun on my chest and legs, the cool of the breeze on my bare skin.

I watched an older couple walk their dog, who found the stick the young man had picked up and dropped. The dog was pretty stoked at this discovery, leaping and bounding and wagging his tail. I wondered absently what it was about sticks that so excited dogs. Nature or nurture?

I watched golfers drive by in their carts, enjoying the warm nearly-autumn sun. I hoped for the young man's sake that they lost some golf balls.

Jun 5, 2019

On Canada

The MMIWG report basically demands funding (for research and services), access to resources, more equitable representation, and fair treatment, all of which I can get behind. One of the most important indicators of a successful nation is how well it treats its minorities and the impoverished/underprivileged, and there is obviously room for improvement in this area in Canada. Their suggestions make sense and are important for not just indigenous girls and women but all Canadian citizens. 

But I have a problem with a couple of aspects of the report:

"15.2 Decolonize by learning the true history of Canada and Indigenous history in your local area. Learn about and celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ history, cultures, pride, and diversity, acknowledging the land you live on and its importance to local Indigenous communities, both historically and today."

I am totally cool with learning about other cultures and history. It's an important part of living in our modern global society and a necessary step in ending racism and intolerance. What I have a problem with is the "celebrate" part.

I don't celebrate Jesus Christ as my lord and saviour or bow down to Allah. I don't wear a turban or a hijab. I think dictating what and when people can or cannot eat is ridiculous. I'm pretty sure a rain dance won't make it rain, and I'm almost certain that a dude in a chariot doesn't pull the sun across the sky every morning. I don't support valuing male children over female children. I'm not especially fond of jazz, metal, or throat-singing. I think it's cool if you want to see a naturopath, but I'm probably just going to take some ibuprofen.

The demand that I "celebrate" indigenous culture just because they were here first seems to run exactly counter to the kind of inclusive, accepting society we should all be actively working towards. I can respect the fact that your cultural beliefs and heritage are important to you without actually subscribing to them.

Re: decolonizing: Most high school English courses now have a unit on Canadian identity, and the students are asked to read a bunch of short stories and explain how they contribute to the uniquely Canadian voice. I remember having to do this myself in my Can Lit class in high school a million years ago. This task is impossible because there is no singular Canadian identity.

The indigenous people of Canada are an important part of our history and identity, but arguably no more so than the Scottish fishermen of the Maritimes or the Mennonite farmers of the prairies or the Africans fleeing slavery from the U.S. or the Japanese immigrants who died building the railroad or the French missionaries or the Middle Eastern families seeking refuge from violence or the Greek, Italian, Chinese, Irish, Russian, German, Mexican, Korean, Portuguese, Dutch, Vietnamese, Thai, etc. etc. etc. people who now call Canada home.

“An absolute paradigm shift is required to dismantle colonialism within Canadian society, and from all levels of government and public institutions, ideologies and instruments of colonialism, racism, and misogyny, past and present, must be rejected.”

Indigenous people of Canada, I see you. I recognize that your story has not been told honestly in the past, that you have been neglected and abused and mistreated. I acknowledge your pain and suffering.

But Canada is not just you. This land that we all call home is no longer just yours, as much as that might hurt to accept.   

Without some sort of catastrophic event, be it asteroid or global warming or nuclear war, that destroys all (or most) of humanity, the absolute paradigm shift you desire is impossible, and, while it is nice to look back on the good old days, the past is the past. Living in and longing for the past prevents you from living now. And isn't now what ultimately matters?

Apr 16, 2019

A Little Salt Water

On a bitter day in April, a fair weather forecast and the promise that the world will soon erupt in green.

On a day of diagnosis, the word benign instead of malignant.

On a day when brilliant orange flames rage in Notre Dame cathedral, knowing that the four hundred worn stone steps, polished smooth from millions of pairs of feet ascending and descending the cramped spiral staircase over centuries, remain to be climbed once again.

On a day of loneliness, a gesture, or a song.

On a day of silence, a word.

That sense of heaviness, the tension of a clenched fist in my gut, my chest, my throat, that manifests in an anticlimactic trickle of tears.

Is this what it means to be human? A little salt water, a little hope.

We need so little, really. 

Feb 28, 2019

Cracking the case, but also not solving a goddamn thing.

I think I've cracked it. Sitting here in my dimly lit living room, dishwasher chugging dutifully away, reading a book but also thinking about something else entirely, when the thought pops into my head: the reason behind so many of the conflicts we are currently experiencing in first-world nations regarding cultural appropriation, identity, and the like. (Because in nations struggling under violence and oppression that threaten one's life rather than just one's sensibilities, these problems are understandably low on the list of priorities.)

The nut I think I have cracked is this: we all want to be accepted and treated equally, but we also want to remain individuals, special and unique, and we want to be recognized in both ways simultaneously. I don't know how we can have both without destroying something fundamental about society, namely the divisions within it.

(I should probably mention that I am all for the destruction of society, so long as a brighter, more powerful phoenix rises from the flames.)

There is an aggressively possessive tendency in modern society that undermines our progression towards a society that is inclusive and egalitarian. This is mine, we say, and you can't have it. This symbol, this object, this article of clothing, this hairstyle, this genre of music, this job, this piece of land. This word.

Most of these problems stem from the unfortunate history of European countries colonizing the rest of the world and imposing their imperialistic worldview on societies that existed perfectly well without this outside influence. (I blame spices.) In their excitement and ignorance and unwavering moral certitude, the conquering nations of yore caused a fuck-ton of harm to indigenous peoples around the globe, murdering, enslaving, possessing.

But we can't change that. In 2019, we can't bring back the roaming herds of buffalo, we can't undo the slave trade. Those imperial conquerors are dead and gone, although certainly some of their more unappealing characteristics live on in capitalism and racism and sexism and a general shittiness towards identifiable others. Would the world have been better had those explorers stayed home and cultures been kept isolated from each other? It's interesting to consider, but ultimately moot. This is the world we live in today, and we need to figure out a way to deal with it.

When you've been in control for thousands of years, it makes sense that you would want to maintain that control. And when you've had almost everything taken from you, it makes sense that you would want to hold on to whatever you can.  But if we give up the idea of ownership, we begin to destroy the boundaries between us. If we share something (whether that be DNA or a recipe for guacamole), the original owner does not have less. We both have more. And when we have more in common, the superficial differences between us become less important.

This is why I think it is important for the people in power (largely, still, white men) to share that power. Sharing the power doesn't mean you no longer have any. And what is power for (or what should it be for) other than bringing the people of the world together and supporting those who need support.

Just as important as the people in power sharing their power is for the historically marginalized groups to not remain mired in the past. You can only blame so much of your misfortune on the unavoidable things that have happened to you. At some point, whether it be as an individual or as a cultural group, you need to make the conscious decision to move forward.

We need to share those things that separate us so that we are no longer separate. If we all share everything, our power, our land, our traditions, our ideas, our experiences, and our stories, maybe we can bring an end to the seemingly endless bickering about what belongs to whom.   

What this means, though, is that that thing that makes you special, that identifies you as part of something else, a tradition or a culture or a group (whether that identification has harmed you or helped you), won't be as identifiable.

And we all want to be special. We don't want to be like everybody else. We want our uniqueness to be acknowledged and respected and rewarded. Maybe it's just an inherent aspect of humans as social beings, this desire to be simultaneously a part of and apart from.

I don't know how to solve it. I don't know if we can. But I really hope so, because, like it or not, in this crazy future world of the year 2019, we're all in this together.

Jan 14, 2019

I won't show you.

"Tell me your dreams; am I in them? / Tell me your fears; are you scared? / Tell me your stories; I'm not afraid of who you are. / We could fly..." - Madonna and Lenny Kravitz

I won't show you. I'll tell you. 

I won't tell you how long it will take to read. You'll simply have to begin, if you choose to begin at all, and stop when you come to the end (or earlier, if it grows tiresome).

I hope that in the telling I will reveal something of myself to you that can't be revealed in the sharing of a meme, a selfie, an article written by someone else and presented without comment. 

I'll tell you in print and paragraphs instead of a photograph. A picture is worth a thousand words, they say, but aren't words worth so much more? (Would a photo of the field of daffodils stretched out in never-ending line along the margin of the bay have yielded immortality?) 

I fear that I am something of an anachronism here, in this space. No longer my space but an unending stream of faces and feeds. (I confess I find my appetite waning.) Even the vocabulary of online existence is designed to simultaneously gratify and diminish: a gram in an instant, a chat in a snap. Aren't we worth more than a moment and an emoji? 

There you are, out there in the ether, a click, a burden, a chore. But without you I am nothing. What is a writer without someone who reads? Especially this voice, the voice of me as poet/philosopher, with nary a vulgarity or an aside in sight. (As an aside, I like this voice as much as my other voices, but fucking Christ, does anyone else? Who am I writing in this pretentious goddamn voice for, exactly?)

There is, perhaps, an end in sight. Overwhelmed by algorithms and advertisements, by the repetitious and the mundane, maybe we'll drift back into a world where the only information we receive is that which we actively seek ourselves. Maybe I'll write you a letter on a piece of paper and you'll have to wait a week to get it and then I'll have to wait another week for your response. Ah, the lost thrill of anticipation! 

I worry that we are lost, lonely as the digital data cloud that floats on high, overwhelmed by irrelevance and edification, because we are sharing, yes, but we aren't sharing ourselves, or at least not the parts of ourselves that really matter.  

So I'm not going to show you. But I'll tell you about it, sometime, maybe.