Thursday, 14 September 2017

Alberta's tone deaf Bill 1 a.k.a. Ignoring the Elephants

Dear Minister Eggen,

I am writing in response to Bill 1, and specifically regarding how transportation costs have been lowered only for children attending their catchment school in “regular” programming.

My sons, aged 12 and 15, each began Kindergarten at our Catchment school. I was happy to send them there. The school had been suffering poor attendance due to an aging neighbourhood and brought French Immersion in to create a dual track school which would sustain the school until the demographics began to change. The school and the district promoted French Immersion and did a good job explaining that their curriculum was the same curriculum followed by English peers. I am from a French-Canadian family and although I was not raised in French I was happy to have my children study in Canada’s 2nd official language once I was assured the programming would be the same. Long term it was also a good strategy for the school to attract interested families and avoid closure, which was a plausible risk in 2003/4 when the school was preparing to introduce FI.

So, rather ironically, during the years of intense overcrowding in the SW of Edmonton, our school was designated for several neighbourhoods approximately 15 km away. Children were bussed past multiple (and considerably less crowded) EPSB and ECSD schools for several years. These years were hard. Our children endured large class sizes and non-traditional classrooms like the stage, and staff room. Our school worked extremely hard, staff and parents together, to make those hard years look easy. The culture of our school as an inclusive and kind school persisted, despite being so terribly over crowded, and certainly despite being dual track. Any resentment or finger pointing was quickly diffused by explaining we were balancing the need of the greater community’s shortage of student spaces (while advocating for much needed schools in new communities) with the need of our school to remain viable and relevant in an aging community. Our parent council did good work in those years. We rattled a lot of cages at the Provincial, Municipal, and District levels. We fought hard for ALL kids.

Bill 1 came in and essentially punished any family with children in an alternative program by excluding them from the much needed transportation cost subsidy. Last week I paid the EPSB $470 for EACH of my 2 children to attend our closest FI junior high and high school while their peers who happen to be categorized as “in catchment” paid $180 each. The fact that they started the program at our neighbourhood/catchment school is irrelevant. That extra $580 would have covered most of our remaining school fees for the year. Our kids don’t get to take band or any of the other expensive options, they don’t get to go on school trips, because we can’t afford it, but the Alberta government sure just let us know in a big way that our choice of an “alternative program” was a privilege and one they would not support. I paid an extra $580 for the “privilege” of my children attending an alternative program and the NDP just created an official Provincial 2 tier system.

So, even though French is our second National Language, and even though the curriculum is identical, and even though FI was promoted aggressively at our designate school where they began the program we are officially "alternative". And furthermore, since there is no system of accurately assessing a family's ability to afford it, this means only families with money will be able to stay in FI. It's going to be extremely difficult for us this year. You've finally created the 2 tier educational system we've been fearing. I agree that choice has completely run amok and is unsustainable and often at odds with what our society needs to focus on right now. I don't want to make these hard decisions but they must be made. So, make them. Maybe FI will be discontinued and that's fine, but don't allow districts to offer programs that only the rich can attend. Do the right thing, decide what will and won't be funded and then assure that every offered/available program is indeed accessible to everyone. I am so disgusted and disappointed right now I could cry.

I have been a fierce advocate for accessibility and equality in education and I am shattered by how 'off target' this whole process is. There are many ‘Elephants in the room’ when addressing equitable funding, accessibility, and sustainability for Education in Alberta. ‘Elephants’ like why we’re still funding private schools, public school programs which have entrance requirements or dubious pedagogical merit, religious public school programs which have consistently and increasingly shown themselves to be at odds with Alberta’s curricular expectations and human rights requirements, and an extremely costly entire second and competing public board in many of Alberta’s school districts in order to cater to one Faith based demographic. There is a large and difficult discussion which must be had around the notion of choice. Whether we can allow any and, if so, how we ensure those choices are accessible to all. There was work to do, and I believed you were the government to finally do it but instead you threw money at a problem without ensuring equity. In fact, this has cemented inequity and polarized parents across the province. And you’re running a costly self congratulatory ad campaign patting yourself on the back for it. It has come off as pretty tone deaf to a lot of us who have been advocating for a strong and egalitarian Provincial Education system.

Lastly, I hope you consider the urgency of this matter. Bill 1 stirred the pot by painting all parents of children in alternative programming with the same brush. Has it ever occurred to you that Alberta has encouraged unsustainable levels of competition in most of it’s districts for decades and that vast numbers of parents have chosen alternative programming simply because it was offered? There are endless reasons why that’s a problem but punishing parents for making a choice, when choice is offered, is obtuse. By excluding alternative programs from the transportation subsidy, you created an ‘us against them’ mentality and you’ve incited and mobilized 1000’s of parents to act. I fear this will deliver them right into the hands of harmful groups like Parents for Choice in Education and alt-right Politicians like Jason Kenney. Without hysteria or exaggeration, I predict they will use this and promote Choice/Alternative Programming as a political football. This will play directly into the hands of people who would protect bigoted, homophobic, misogynistic, and zealotic mandates within the Provinces Educational system. I would like to say it’s inconceivable that a typical FI parent would side with an anti-GSA parent on any issue, but you drew a line in the sand and told every alternative program parent that they were on the wrong side … times are tough, parents are stressed, issues become polarizing, and as the saying goes “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.

I hope you fix this. I hope you find a way to do it quickly so this year doesn’t remain so inequitably costly for only SOME parents. I hope you engage citizens in meaningful dialogue and do a good job of dealing with those Elephants. There are a lot of us who are reasonable, fair minded, and willing to face change if it’s fair. I don’t know much, but I know calling us the enemy and punishing us financially is no way to start the conversation.

Saturday, 5 August 2017

What I want my kids to know as they grow

I am going into surgery for a hysterectomy in a few days. Being the intelligent enough, rationale enough, and calm enough adult I am, of course, completely terrified. So what follows is my ‘in case I die’ letter. Humour me. Or don’t and just stop reading now and save yourself all the eye rolling and tongue clicking. It’s up to you. I know it’s going to be fine but I’d like to leave something in case it’s not, and it’s never a bad time to say important things to people you care about. It’s never a bad time to take stock things you’d like to share. It’s never a bad time to sum up the blessings of one’s life. It’s never ever a bad time to say “I love you”. I’m not so deluded or morbid to write everyone I’ve ever met a million good bye letters (actually I am but I’m also too tired and too lazy). But I’ve got 1 in me. This 1 is for my sons.

There is much I have yet to learn and figure out. But I have learned a bit in my life. I want my boys to know these things …. Or at least hear them. What they do with these observations is up to them. Since they were born I have whispered this prayer to the Universe. “Thank you for my children. May they live long, mostly healthy lives. Let them find love. Let them be happy. Let them be good people.” The thought of not witnessing their journey to ‘adulthood’ (whatever that means) pains me beyond words. But if they were to finish growing up without me I would want them to consider these things and be self aware enough to ask important questions of them selves.

Keep your needs and wants in balance. In this world, NO ONE should go without what they need but many do because so many can never get enough of what they want. And we are all complicit in this truth. I have endeavoured to never be a person of great exorbitance. It’s ok to want things. But just be aware that the world will never run out of things to desire. Never. The cup of acquisitiveness can never be filled. Like most things in life those cups just keep growing larger. Insatiably larger. And pursuing the perpetual filling of that cup can often push other cups aside; cups like love, knowledge, wisdom, experience, and human relationships may all get dwarfed. It is my belief that no one has ever found happiness trying to fill this cup. In fact it is my belief that striving to keep this cup as small as you are able is a key factor for happiness. I want you to remember that I was gleefully happy with a smooth flowing pen and a brand new notebook to fill, a sun warmed shore rock in my hand (only to hold not to keep), a bracelet made of smooth glass beads, or a colourful pair of chucks.

Admire ambition. We’re all different. The path of fulfillment is different for everyone. Everyone has cups they want to grow and fill: achievement, mastery, education, discovery, travel, experiences, invention, leadership, even power (if benevolent). People who have the grit to know what they want from life and go after it are strong. It takes focus, self discipline, imagination, tenacity. Most of us lose our way. I lost my way. Or maybe didn’t lose it but found a more ambling path and decided I enjoyed existence. But I wish for my kids ambition …. Not blinding but measured, not greedy but passionate. Just be mindful that your goals should not take away from others, you must act in good faith with your humanity, you must not be so focused that you sacrifice your relationships, and you must make good friends with failure so that it never shatters but teaches you. Lastly, tie your ambitions to your sense of purpose to rise above materialism and selfishness. I think maybe that’s the trick. And if you end up more like your parents (without much raw ambition) then do your best to not fall into the traps of laziness, purposelessness, resentment, and apathy. It’s ok to find purpose in living a simple life filled with work, joy, family, friends, service, curiosity, and gentleness. I think some of the most admirable people live quiet lives as good people and simple wishes. That’s admirable too. Just be as YOU as YOU can be without hurting others. You will fail sometimes because we all do, just be as true to you as you can.

Be kind when you can and stand for kindness when you can’t. I struggle with this all the time. The world often feels divided into 2 camps. Those who think that powerful, cold, ruthless, controlling people are strong. And those who feel that generous, caring, thoughtful, inclusive people are strong. I believe it takes much greater strength to be kind. I hope you do too. It’s the harder path to walk though. Pettiness, resentment, discouragement, exhaustion, longing, greed, frustration, anger will shriek in the back of your head all the time ….. acknowledge those voices and then do your best to let them go. I have so much trouble with those feelings, those voices, it often takes all the strength I have. But striving to be the person I want to be keeps me going. I’m not there yet. Call it my life’s work …. And I think it makes me strong to try to be kind. Just remember that kind doesn’t mean passive and apathetic. Sometimes you must be a real asshole to stand up for kindness. Human rights and true global human equality through knowledge, science, and education don’t require kindness to defend and advance, they require standing for kindness. Let’s call it “active kindness”. Do your best to be actively kind.

Be curious. Never lose that. Please. Never stop wondering. Please. Let imagination and creativity and inquisitiveness always be the spark in your eyes.

For starters learn the fucking difference between socialism and communism. Holy shit. Please. In my opinion, it’s not wrong to believe society should be built around “we” and not “I” at it’s basic level and then make room for personal freedoms, personal success, and individuality. People who say the word “socialist” as an insult need your wisdom and a diagram of how the political spectrum and compass works. Sigh. Talking people down from ideological viewpoints and into real issues is exhausting. Just do your best.

Volunteer. Engage. You should do your best to walk the Earth in gratitude and you act on that through service. You don’t have to do everything. Just do something. My Grandmother said “many hands make light work” and it’s true. It is also true that no one person can change the world but a few people can change a corner of it.

Vote. Vote with your heart and your head in concert. It’s going to break your heart and tax your reason but remember to stay engaged. I hope you’ll follow a good and thoughtful leader with no answers before a disingenuous and affected leader with promises.  And if you find the courage and desire to run for office then know I think you are among the bravest humans on Earth. People who run for political office to serve the greater good are truly abused and underappreciated in our world. We have built a political climate so cruel and invasive that the only people who can survive it have no soul ….. and then we wonder why most of our politicians seem soulless. Sigh

Laugh. As often as you can. Laughter humanizes. Laughter heals. Laughter is contagious. Fake laughter can become real so fake it until you make it when the world is hurting you. Find the funny in life because life is really funny.

Weave yourself into the lives of others. Interpersonal connections with others create a net that holds you together when you fall apart and catches you when you fall. And you do that for others too. It also creates the fabric of a life fully lived. The people you love, like, laugh with, celebrate with, problem solve with, create with, grieve with, grow with, ‘be’ with, are life’s greatest treasures.

Pack joy into the everyday. Make it a priority. My Mom always says “don’t wish your life away”. Don’t wait for special occasions or trips or achievements to be happy. Make contented happiness as essential as air. Life will throw you things that make that impossible sometimes. But if life leaves you breathing then hang on to joy as an irrefutable part of it. If happiness is a choice then choose happy. It’s not as simple as that except maybe it is. I’m still trying to figure that out.

Find love and take care of it. Love is alive and it needs to be nurtured. Value it. Enjoy it. Cherish it. Grow it. And let it go if it is lost or irreparably breaks and then believe in it again. Your Dad is the best partner I could ever dream of. He’s my best friend. He’s my courage. He’s my strength. He’s my reality check. He’s my comfort. I hope we make each other better people. I know we make each other happy a lot of the time. After 25 years he’s still the jam in my peanut butter sandwich. If you can, find that.

Know that you are the best thing I’ve ever done. And I was never the Mother I hoped to be. Never even close. I was just the Mother I was. I hope it was enough. You are amazing people and growing more amazing everyday. If I was a composer then you two would be my Magnum Opus. If I was a painter you two would be my Masterpieces. I am a Mother and you are the favourite and best thing I’ve ever done. I love you more than you could ever ever know, or at least until (if you choose to) you have children of your own. I love you with a kind of anxious hurt I can’t describe. I want so much for you. But mostly I wish for you to be good, kind, happy people. I wish for you health and happiness. I wish for you purpose and friendship. I wish for you love. But I loved you first. I am your Mother and I love you ‘bigger than the Universe’, ‘bigger than the stars’, ‘bigger than forever’. I love you to infinity …… and then just a bit more than that.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

What I want MY kids to know about sex.

It seems everyone with a keyboard and kids is writing a ‘what I really want to tell my kid about sex’ piece. I immediately reject the ones which only really advocate for abstinence, any of the ones that make sex sound dirty or vulgar, and any of the ones that shame. They just don’t fit with my world view. But I read most because, like most parents, I don’t want to get this wrong with my kids. I want to make ‘the talk’ an ongoing conversation with my boys as they grow because there’s a lot of information to cover, a lot of questions to ask and answer, and a lot of awkward silences to work around. So far, I haven’t found one which ticks all the boxes. For one thing, most seem too heteronormative and, whether I suspect that my boys are straight or gay or somewhere in between, I just want their thinking about sex to be more inclusive and representative of the world around them. And furthermore, most of these articles are aimed at boys and, while they try really hard to teach boys to be gentlemen, they end up perpetuating the ‘girls as gatekeepers mentality’ and I hate that. The subject of consent, respect, and appropriate ways to treat women is important and correct but there needs to be a few clarifying statements made to ensure the responsibility for saying “no” doesn’t fall into the ‘pink job’ column in a kid’s mind. So anyhoo …… here’s my sex talk. Mostly because I want to have it to refer to when my mind goes blank as I stare into the eyes of my child and realize I’d better make my words count because he’s about to flee …. Either mentally or literally physically flee. Because ‘sex talks’ are hard and we’re going to need to have a lot of them to make sure it all sticks.
  1. You don’t have to have sex. Not ever. No one should ever make you feel weird or strange because you didn’t want to. It’s not a measure of your ‘manhood’ or ‘womanhood’ or whatever manufactured construct people want to label it. It is generally accepted that about 1% of human beings are asexual, meaning they have no sexual desires at all. That’s normal for them. It’s also normal to have all sorts of sexual desires and urges but just not want to have sex sometimes for any reason whatsoever, period. And you don’t owe anyone an explanation at all.
  2. People have sex because it feels good. You might as well know now. It. Feels. Good. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s nice.
  3. There are a few things, however, which can make sex feel lousy. If not during then after. Non-consensual sex is rape. Always. And it feels really lousy. Sex which is coerced or pressured feels lousy. Sex without enough communication will often leave somebody feeling unsatisfied and unappreciated, which is lousy. Sex without enough lubrication will probably feel lousy, if not during than later. And finally any sex which results in an unintended and preventable consequence like an unplanned pregnancy or a STD will most certain feel lousy after the fact. 
  4. Consent. As I said in point 3, Non-consensual sex is Rape. No one can give consent if they are inebriated, very high, or incapacitated in any way. So if consent is not possible then sex should not happen. Ever. Understand that consent can be given and then taken away. This means someone can change their mind and stop at any time. So then it stops. Immediately. If you do not know, trust, or understand the person you are about to have sex with well enough to feel comfortable with the clear establishment of consent THEN DON’T HAVE SEX WITH THEM. 
  5. Guilt is not foreplay and pressure is not arousing. When people have sex with each other then everyone should want to have sex with each other. If you’re trying to make someone feel attracted to you then try making them feel attractive, not compelled. And if that doesn’t seem to be working, take “no” for an answer without making them feel bad. There are a lot of ways to pleasure yourself alone, and a lot of nice ways to spend time with others that don’t involve sex. Keep it in perspective.
  6. Keep it honest. Keep it real. Not every act of sex needs to be an act of love. But be honest. Talk about what you want out of the encounter. If it’s just sex then that’s ok. As long as it’s what your partner wants too. Mutuality is important. Know each other’s expectations. Just sex? Just once? Ongoing? Open to a relationship? Open to an exclusive relationship? No judgement, just honesty. Respect and honesty are sexy. Just do me a favour ….. trust me when I say that sex in a loving, growing, committed relationship feels great. Your Dad and I have nurtured a loving relationship along for 25 years and counting, and it’s hard but it’s worth it, and sex is a big part of it. Be open to what the heart wants too. Be as honest with yourself as with your partner. 
  7. “Let’s talk about sex” isn’t just the Salt’n’Pepa masterpiece on Mommy’s nostalgic playlist. It’s something I want you to do, often, and with confidence. And I don’t mean crude, disrespectful, or demeaning statements about sex and certainly not about sexual partners. Please be better than that. What I mean is don’t have sex with anyone you haven’t spoken to about sex in advance. After the honest conversation (see number 6) about what your heart wants (or doesn’t want) then there is some stuff you need to talk about. In detail. What is happening to prevent STDs? What is happening to prevent pregnancy? If either of those measures fail what’s the plan? How does each participant in the sex plan on dealing with a STD? Or if the sex you are having could lead to an unplanned pregnancy then how will the other be contacted and what will everyone’s responsibilities be? Just to be clear, in the case of pregnancy it’s her body so it’s her choice but if you were there when it started then you need to support her in whatever she decides. All this talk not sexy??? Uncomfortable? Embarrassing? Scary? Well suck it up buttercup, because if you can’t have the conversation about everyone’s responsibility during and after the sex then you shouldn’t be having the sex. 
  8. Sex isn’t a video game. There’s no levels. There’s no points system. There’s no passport to collect stamps in. Within the spectrum of physical intimacy and sexual intercourse there are limitless possibilities.…. you don’t have to get to them all. Might I suggest quality over quantity as an excellent rule of thumb, as it is for most things in life really. But especially for sex. You don’t have to be good at all of it (trust me at first you won’t be) but endeavour to be better, for yourself, for your partner. Variety may be the spice of life but mastery gets you a PhD. Sex is best as a physical embodiment of a human emotion. Whether the sex you are having is an act of desire, or passion, or curiosity, or friendship, or urgency, or comfort, or love, try to be in tune with the other person (or people!!). Laugh when it’s funny or awkward, smile when it brings you joy, express yourself when it brings you pleasure, and leave room for your partner to do that too. You don’t have to work your way through the Kama Sutra like it’s a 2 week tour of Europe. Some people will feel comfortable and fulfilled with a very narrow repertoire and others will search and explore further to keep happy and interested. The range and scope of what human beings do sexually is vast and it’s ok if you feel you need to explore that. It’s ok. But, seriously, you don’t need to plough through the possibilities like Ferdinand Magellan with a teleporter. Or maybe you do, but make sure each new discovery moves you closer to the real you, the you-est you. Take a compass and check in with true North often. Sex can make you feel happy, proud, virile, adventurous, or loved, but it can also leave you feeling very empty and lonely. I hope you always consider where the journey is taking you.
  9. Porn. Sigh. Yep, we’ve got to cover porn. It’s not real. Nothing about it is real. I don’t want to inject judgment and shame here. It’s only sex. But I want you to know there are some people involved in those scenes that will be harmed by the work and some will be empowered by it. I don’t want to go on a feminist diatribe right now but just know that. And more importantly porn will set you up with very unrealistic expectations for real life sex. If I could wish anything for you it would be that you can be someone who can appreciate the beauty of a real human body and all it’s potential and vulnerability. When you became attracted to someone I hope it’s about more than superficial beauty. I hope you are attracted to their mind and heart and sense of humour and the way they smell and the way they laugh. I hope they make you feel great about yourself and the way you can talk about anything with them. I hope you find these qualities are what attracts you to a person. I hope, one day, you even fall in love for the same reasons. Porn won’t help on that journey so just make sure it doesn’t actually hurt that journey. Ok?
  10. Sexuality is a spectrum. It’s ok if you know if you’re gay or straight. It’s ok if you’re not sure and have to explore to find out. It’s ok if you settle in the middle. It’s ok if you change your mind as you get to know yourself better. It’s ok. Just treat others well and honestly along that journey and you’ll have nothing to be ashamed of.
  11. Sometimes you will be really attracted to someone and they won’t feel the same. Rejection hurts. It hurts a lot. But don’t let it change you. And don’t change yourself because of it. Be yourself and you’ll attract people who like you for you. Oh, and remember how it feels when it’s your turn to reject someone. Be clear. Be kind.
  12. Dad and I are here for you. Anytime. Have a question? Ask. We might have to google it, but we’ll find the answer. Want to share a fear or worry? We’ll listen. Maybe we’ve felt that way too. Felt embarrassed? Get it off your chest. Growing into a sexually competent adult is a dance and nobody starts as Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers …… more like Mr. Bean. And that’s ok too.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

A post Trump Canada - what now?

Growing up in Canada (I was born in the 70s) the term multiculturalism was thrown around a lot. It was a beautiful idea with Disney-like shine on it. It was a noble idea, more akin in it’s day to the modern-day term Pluralism, and it was largely imaginary. We have failed at it and on an ongoing basis. From the moment “we” showed up on the shores of a one-day-will-be-Canada we have created a group called “them”.

I guess I am what Harper called an “old stock” Canadian, some of my ancestors came in the 1600s, and I am certain they did (or at least were complicit to) terrible things to the First Peoples of this land. And we’ve never gotten any better at ‘first contact’ have we? Always a new group of “them”, each in turn suffering horribly from the dehumanizing and demoralizing process of exploitation, exclusion, and intolerance.  But within the Multicultural dream there is a striving towards the fairy tale ending of inclusion, acceptance, and belonging ……. It’s yet to be fully realized but sometimes close, almost tangible, sometimes even “them” folding into “us”. Ever so slowly we inch closer to the potential of this Multicultural dream. Sometimes, it’s close and you feel you can almost get there from here. But each time a next wave of “them” is created in our imaginations our attention shifts and “we/us” refocuses on a new target. The predictability of it is so sad and painfully pathetic.

Our collective human history is so categorically cruel and flawed when it comes to difference. In a world where no two people are the same it seems illogical that we could come up with so many ways to categorize, divide, and group ourselves as human beings. And while it can feel wonderfully welcoming and comforting to ‘belong’ somewhere, we must also acknowledge that when we specifically identify with one group and specifically not with another we can become fearful of the other. The natural human fear of the unknown is part of us, but what we fear we can start to dislike, to reject, to regard as inferior. Acknowledging why this happens is no excuse for accepting that this happens. In the end it is the unchallenged acceptance of that hateful and fear based rationale which has allowed every human atrocity I can think of. If human history teaches us anything it’s that people can do terrible and unfathomably cruel things to those they feel superior to and different from, and that no one will stop them if they accept that the fear and dislike is understandable. But it’s not understandable.

The truth is that there seems a limitless supply of wilfully ignorant, savagely cruel, and hysterically fearful people who will harness those human attributes into power over others. And there seems to be a limitless supply of people who will follow them. It makes my head ache. It makes my heart ache. It makes my spirit ache. But people who rise to power in this manner are willing to do what other people wouldn’t, not what other people couldn’t, which proves only that they lack the moral fortitude to lead or to be followed. Our collective willingness to forget that fact boggles my mind. Trump was anything but original in this process. He wasn’t the first, he won’t be the last, and there’s Trumps and Trumps-in-waiting all over the World using the same tactics. But they can be stopped if we merely engage in thoughtful acts of citizenship (both Nationally and Globally), educate ourselves on the issues, reject fear mongering and hate, and view equality as the most important right. We don’t have to allow ourselves to be fooled into voting against our own self interest, and we don’t have to allow ourselves to be fooled into voting against the interests of others either. We can be better.
Here’s a few things that might help:
  • ·         Learn about people who are different than you. Take the time. No difference can stand up to the test of finding out how very similar we all really are ……. Good people are good people. Learn to see the beauty in beautiful diversity. And everywhere you see difference, empower and affirm even more difference. Encourage individuality everywhere it blooms.
  • ·         Segregation has long been used as a tool to keep people from humanizing each other.  Please don’t buy into segregationist mentalities. Send your kids to Public-Public school. Saying you respect people of all Faiths but then sending your children to religious schools is disingenuous. Schools which exclude by omission, by deliberately alienating those who won’t feel safe or comfortable there, sets a segregationist mindset in the next generation. It negatively and powerfully effects both our now and our future. Support social housing and supportive housing in your neighbourhood. Don’t tell yourself that it’s a good thing somewhere else, but just not in your neighbourhood. Be braver than that. Speak up when equal rights are being challenged or violated. Every time. It’s important.
  • ·         Understand that while you have the right to believe what you wish and live as you wish, you never have the right to harm or exclude or oppress others in that pursuance of that right. Not ever.
  • ·         Take some time to learn History. Everyone doing what they want whenever they want to whoever they want with no laws or order or governance is not Freedom …….. it’s chaos. And it’s how things like slavery, forced marriage, rape, feudalism, child labour, indentured servitude, murder, theft, witch hunts, torture, etc. happen. It’s might makes right in it’s truest and most terrible form. It’s wealthy armed men raping girls then snatching their babies away and stomping them to death before their shattered Mother’s eyes. I believe unfalteringly in human beings as both the most noble and the most terrible creatures to ever walk this planet. But I have no wish to go ungoverned or without the rule of law. That’s why we must make being a vigilant, engaged, and informed citizen our duty, so that we never suffer the injustice of absolute cruel liberty or of cruelly oppressive governance.
  • ·         Take some time to realize that nothing is perfect, and there is no perfect way of doing anything. That’s why, when it comes to how Nations are governed, the pendulum must swing. It’s how we keep ideas in balance and the pendulum should spend most of it’s time near the middle (in a place of common ground or compromise or cooperation) but we have lost the ability to think in those terms. It seems we only think in black or white, left or right, and opposing viewpoints. We have lost the ability to seek consensus and the creativity to imagine the spectrum and possibilities of life between the swings. We keep lining up behind people who are swinging away from centre and all the many answers that occur in between. We need to seek out the consensus builders and those who understand how to act in service, we need to respect them, and hang on tight through the swings.
  • ·         Never stop asking that public funds (tax dollars, crown assets, etc.) be spent wisely, fairly, and justly but stop asking that government be run like a business. Government is there to provide services and guidance to it’s citizens and to participate as a Global citizen on our behalf. Businesses function with a profit motive, governments should not. Period. In Canada we have built an incredibly high quality of life for a vast majority of our citizens (at least in contrast to many other Nations) and behaved Internationally in many positive ways (though we could do much better). We have a very VERY long way to go, but as a Nation our systems of health, education, policing, government, law, social assistance, infrastructure for transport and communications and municipal investment, etc etc etc have given many Canadians an enormous level of security and opportunity. That’s socialism. Stop using socialism as a dirty word. Seriously, you sound stupid when you do. Socialist policy means we can travel from sea to sea, send our children to school regardless of income, receive medical treatment when we need it regardless of income, expect to receive a liveable wage, have a certain level of job security (if we get sick, or as we age, or are a member of a minority group, or if we become a parent), have legal rights (regardless of income or gender or sexual orientation or faith or colour), visit a national or provincial park regardless of income, expect to buy safe regulated products and services, work in a safe environment, receive some financial help when unable to work, and expect and receive equal treatment in every aspect of life. These are socialist ideals and they are what governments do. Get involved, demand they do it right and do it honorably but stop pissing and moaning and yelling “socialist” every time someone receives a benefit that doesn’t directly benefit you. It’s ridiculous. A governments job is to know what benefits us all is a healthy, empowered, supported, educated populace and to act accordingly. Our job is to participate with vigilance and empathy for others.
  • ·         Ensure you understand your rights and the rights of others. No one said this would be simple but no individual’s right may supersede another’s.  Don’t be obtuse about it. While you may, sometimes sadly, have the right to believe what you want, it never gives you the right to erode the rights of another. On this there can be no compromise. Human rights must advance, must expand, and must be incontrovertible. There is no other way. Every individual’s right has the corresponding responsibility of upholding it for others.
  • ·         Understand that willful ignorance is dangerous. Choosing to believe something is a choice. We must all make responsible choices. A fact isn’t a fact because I simply choose to believe it. We can all be fooled but I believe we can do better than this fake-new, alternative facts, suspension of disbelief, opinion-as-fact paradigm we seemed to have shifted into. Develop a filter. Ask if it is plausible, reasonable, or manipulative. Always consider the source. Ask smart people. Ask experienced people. Ask kind people. You owe yourself some reality in your reality.
  • ·         There are many things that make a society work in the day to day: Government, Business, Food production, healthcare, education, the transport of goods and people, the protection of goods and people, the counters of the beans, etc. These and more are things that make society work. But let us never forget that the Pure Sciences and Arts make society …. Society. These are the creative conduits through which we shape our consciousness and hone our collective image. They represent discovery, possibility, exploration, and at the very least our betterment. They are what make us possible. They push our boundaries, our intellect, our philosophies. May we never forget the creative genius they inject into “us”. May we never forget that it’s important to discover, eventually, all that may be known.
  • ·         When in doubt, help. If you see a need, be part of filling it. If you see a problem, be part of fixing it. You never must do it by yourself. Just be part of it.
  • ·         Be yourself. My Dad has always told my brothers and I “you don’t have to change the world, just don’t let the world change you”. And that may be your life’s work. Be yourself, yourself on the way to being your best self. Just do your best.
  • ·         Always make room for Joy and Celebration in your life. Make room. I don’t mean engaging in ridiculous levels of opulence as an act of indignant defiance as others suffer. I mean, if your life is being lived in relative peace and in relative comfort then find every reason to celebrate. Celebrate in small ways special days, holidays, the holidays of others. Invite people into your world and laugh and break bread together. Take joy in every beautiful moment, pause to acknowledge every moment of joy no matter how small or fleeting.  Make room for joy in your life. I do not believe you can ever help a person, a group, a cause, or a world in need if you can not find the joy in life. I do not believe you can ever truly appreciate the value of a good, just, simple, beautiful life if you can’t find joy in it so how would you ever know how to fight to ensure others may have it too? Socrates wrote “Living well and beautifully and justly are all one thing.” That really resonated with me. A person can not be whole without joy. So find joy. So make joy. You will be a better person for it. And the world needs everyone to be their best.
  • ·         Contentment and Satisfaction can make a poor person rich. If you don’t learn this then there will never be enough, if you do then you will almost always feel like you have everything. Human beings weren’t born with this knowledge. There is no cup to fill to the brim and then feel satiated. Human being will always just make the cup bigger. Tap into the cup …… appreciate what’s in it always, and make sure that it is mostly full of loving human relationships and joyful experiences instead of objects and wealth. For it is the things with no real value that are the most valuable and most likely to help you on the journey towards happiness.

Multiculturalism/Pluralism remains an ever widening, layered dream. But it’s such a great dream, such a worthy dream. Do we call it a failed experiment? When an experiment falters, do we abandon it or do we carry on because the evidence points to a breakthrough? Because we know it is worth it. Because we know the test subjects are many, many, of millions and they can’t just be put back in the test tube. I believe we’re far too close to quit now. Success is worth striving for. We have not yet reached a place where we can say ‘this is what the dream looks like’ but we can see it from here. The ONLY way to turn "them" into "us" is to know them, to grow with them, to celebrate with them, to laugh with them, to cry with them, to live with them ..... And suddenly there is no them, only us. May we find all the ways we are just all human beings being. We are more us than they.

I refuse to accept that Canada is a failed experiment. I refuse to believe we can not find the solutions that fit because we make them for ourselves. I refuse to believe we can not uphold the highest standard of human rights and still create a safe and welcoming diversity in which to grow and live.

Friday, 16 December 2016

I went to OZ to ask for courage, but it was hiding in my heart.

I’d be lying if I said I just sit down and write. Most often the topics I write about have been percolating, evolving, stretching, and flipping around in my brain for weeks or even months before I ever sit down to type. Even then, the words seem to flow through me more than from me …. And I agonize over each turn of phrase. I write to deal with the emotional turmoil in my head, and to try to balance out all the things I feel sad or mad or scared about with something that feels hopeful. Sometimes that can be hard to do. I have had a terribly hard time trying to find the words to quiet my fears for women right now. Something just changed, there was pressure building up under that glass ceiling we’ve all been hanging from, building and building, and our ears had normalized the pressure and we stop feeling the squeeze. But something changed and the ceiling shattered but the pressure wasn’t pushing up, it’s pushing down and the air is full of the jagged shards of the illusion.

I have an opinion on many things. I am rarely wont for a thought or two. I have been wrong and right. I have always thought that I was careful about expressing it so I didn’t hurt or offend others. I have convinced myself that it was ok that I had an easier time expressing my view points when I was in the company of women and men who I felt safe with. I told myself I wasn’t afraid. I told myself that my opinion mattered. But the truth is that I know when I use my voice in the spaces that it is really needed it is dismissed because I am a woman and, worse yet, because I am a Mommy. My voice may get heard but it isn’t listened to. It’s the monkey with a type writer …. “sure, it wrote a few lines of Hamlet, but it’s still just a monkey”.

And it’s not only because I am a woman, but it is because I am a woman that my opinions are automatically lumped into the ‘heart over head’ category. Men who let the heart guide them are referred to as ethical or honest instead of sentimental or soft hearted, but their thoughts are deemed irrelevant too. We are fast becoming a society that sees compassion, ethics, caring, and prosocial behaviour as weakness. We have made the heart the enemy, and the disenfranchised and the frightened have filled the space left behind with hate.

In the last year or two I have watched it bubble and rage. The hijab shaming, the resurgence of blaming rape on the victim, the homophobic cementing of gender, the societal backslide to viewing women as sexual gatekeepers, the ‘lock her up’ campaign, the ‘ditch the Bitch’ mentality, the bone crushing hate of women in politics, the dismissive treatment of female journalists, the attacks on the rights of a woman to have autonomous control of her own body, the labeling of birth control methods as unnatural or sinful, the treatment of sexual enjoyment as dirty and not celebratory especially for women, the consent debate, the terrifying threats against vocal women and then the trivializing of those threats by the same influential people who incited them in the first place, and not to mention the 2016 election of a truly terrible human being as President-elect of the US. On and on, our possibilities narrow and blur.  And then today I saw a video of a man follow behind a young woman and mercilessly kick her causing her to fall violently down a flight of stairs while his 3 friends looked on. It’s awful to watch. But it feels like a symbol …. Like a sign. When you make the heart the enemy the void does fill with hate but something else as well, because in the end it's not the hate it took to do this, it's the utter indifference of her as a human being that is terrifying. It’s soul crushing. It's breaking my heart, but at least I have one and it's no time to stay silent.

I love Wonder woman. She's my favourite superhero. She had a heart and she wasn't afraid to use it. But, let's face it, she had to use a gimmick to get heard. Every damn time an issue came up that needed her involvement she had to pour herself into thigh high stiletto boots, a bustier that defied the laws of physics and a skirted bikini bottom which required more ongoing grooming than I would think a Super hero had time for. Would anyone have listened if she showed up in sweat pants, no make up, and an intelligent heartfelt good idea?

Let me tell you why you need us women, us Mommies, us softies. You need us because we kept our hearts full to do this work. Because we constantly battle to raise good and decent human beings, because we endlessly balance the wisdom of parenthood which innately dwells within us with the white knuckled panic of believing we are doing everything wrong. Because we are in it for the long game …. We won’t know if it worked for decades, and we’re willing to see it through. We know that success for our child at the expense of someone else’s is no success at all. We know that as parents no two of us are alike but when rallied around the same goal for our kids we can make the impossible possible. We know how to spot bullshit, even when we stupidly buy in. We know the head and the heart must work in concert if we have any hope of getting it right. We have no time to rest on our laurels or lick our wounds because they’ll be up again at 6 and want food. We know the greater good is good for our kid and we know it’s good for yours. We know any differences we have are leveled by the equal ways we love our kids. We know our kids need boundaries, and rules, and consequences or they are selfish tyrants. We know sometimes there is no solution so we must just get on with the fixing work. We know sometimes you do negotiate and sometimes you don’t. We know teaching them how to be grateful is the key to their future happiness and teaching them to use their ambition to be their best self is the key to their future fulfillment. We know that nothing boils down to a black and white answer so we better align ourselves with people who hope for the same good outcome for our kids as we do for theirs and nurture those relationships. We know we will mess up, we know we are not perfect and we know our kids aren’t either. We will yell, we will completely lose our shit, we will say things we can’t take back ….. because we care too much to just leave. We seek to make our kids better than ourselves. And isn’t that what every generation should do? Shouldn't every generation work to make the one which follows better?

When we seek to become better than what came before we align with a goal that transcends partisan politics, religion, polarized points of view, and most certainly transcends gender. You need us. The world needs us. The heartless have become the lyrics and the music but the song is now wildly off beat. Turns out we need the heart or we die. I am a woman and a Mother, and more importantly a person with a heart. My heart has a compass which is always seeking true North and, although it often spins, it is always trying and it’s not afraid to point into grey places. It knows the answer often lies in the grey. You need my voice attached to it's strong heart, even though you have always viewed it as irrelevant. Even though I did too. Because it is powerful …… I, and the 'oh so many' of those like me (of any and every gender), are your canaries in the coal mine and we’re signalling the alarm. You need us, and we are stronger and braver than any of us thought.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Uncle Vince's letter from Belsen

My great Uncle Vince Spowart lives on in memory as one of my favourite people. He was the brother of my maternal Grandfather (who I was never fortunate enough to meet) and was about the steadiest and most content person you could ever hope to meet. He carried with him a strength and grace I can only hope to grow into …… I’m not sure it’s in me.

George Vince Spowart served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War. He became a highly skilled airplane mechanic and spent much of the war working on Lancasters, Halifax, and Wellington bombers, Typhoon, and Mustang fighter planes. He was stationed in England, France, Belgium, Holland, and finally in Germany. A few weeks after the liberation of Belsen prison in April, 1945 he drove with a few fellow soldiers to the camp to see it. I’m not sure he was prepared for what he saw and wrote a letter home to his parents detailing the experience. By the Fall of 1945 he was home, in Canada, and soon to be married to his true love. As a child, I often heard of the pictures he took, the experiences he had, and the letter he wrote. I never saw them then, and I have no recollection of him talking to us about his time during the war. He was a happy, gentle person, and very rooted in the present, in the positive, and in the small joys of life. He lost his wife young and spoke often of his enduring love for her, he baked his own bread, he wore an infectious smile, and he fiercely loved his kids and family. That’s what I remember. But still I come back to this letter …… it sticks. And it deserves to be shared. But it is a hard read, heartbreaking in it’s wide eyed naivety, and touching in it’s tenderness and shock. It may trigger much so please read only when prepared. And for the love of Pete, please remember it when it comes time to vote …….. it is a slippery slope from talk of hate, to acts of hate.

I should also add that one of my other favourite people was German and immigrated to Canada after the War. He was a “Nazi” in the sense that every young man had to serve and was a “Nazi”, he was a gentle and kind soul. War is complicated …… a game of twisted ideals played by men safe in warm, plush seats. The horrors of war do not ever just belong to the victors. Remember. We, as humans, can all do terribly human things if we fail to uphold beautiful human ideals.

Uncle Vince’s letter was published in the ‘Cumberland Gazette’ on June 28, 1945. Some of the attitudes may seem a little dated but please know how progressive he always was for his time. 

Dear Mom and Dad,

Here’s that son of yours again. I was going to write you the night before last, but had nothing to say. I now have plenty to say.

I went yesterday to the Belsen prison camp, the most horrible sight in Germany. This time I was lucky enough to meet a few people who could speak English, but I’ll start from the beginning.

Three of us left camp early in the morning on a 35 mile trip to the camp. We caught a truck going out of the gate that took us within 2 ½ miles of the camp. We walked for about half a mile and decided there was no future in that so we decided to just take over the first German car that came along. One came and we stopped it. I had a bid wicked looking .45 revolver at my hip and the other two boys were packing German Lugers so it was quite easy to talk to the driver and we had no trouble getting him to see things our way- hence, in due time a relieved driver ejected three airmen at the Belsen camp.

As we came through the camp gate there was nothing out of the ordinary to meet the eye, a gay splash of bright coloured dresses of the women was brought out in contrast to the dull, drab, shabby dress of the men. They did not look too bad but a good meal would have filled them out a little better, I thought ‘poor devils’. I found out later that their stomachs were in such shape that a good meal would have killed them.

One of my friends had contacted an interpreter there and we were to find him first. He was a Romanian lieutenant and had been a prisoner before the camp was liberated by the British. He was a sharp looking man in his thirties, a man that you like at first sight before he says a word. Introductions were made and he spoke good basic English with an accent that added more colour to his winning personality.
We inquired about the burial grounds, explaining that we wanted to take pictures. He grabbed three bicycles for us, then decided it would be a little hard to give directions so he grabbed his Major’s car and took us down to the graves himself. We were very fortunate to land there in time for the 10:30 burial.

It wasn’t a pretty sight, but it was one which held your gaze as though under a hypnotic spell. Every once in a while, I would snap out it long enough to take a picture. The grave was about six-foot-wide, six-foot-deep and about 100 feet long. The bodies were laid in layers in much the same manner as sardines in a can. This has been going on for months but now it is a little more like a funeral. An army Padre says a service. A huge army truck pulls up at the end of the grave and eight or ten big Germans start pulling corpses roughly from the truck. Every fourth or fifth is naked. It is just the last day or so that the number of dead has been low enough to cover them up in sacking for burial.
One pathetic sight was that of a baby wrapped in a cloth no larger than a towel. This they laid beside the body of a woman that I was told was the Mother. No wonder they died, her legs were no thicker than my wrist at any part. Those that were naked, all the bones of the body were in plain sight. The skeleton at St. John’s Ambulance Hall in Nanaimo looked in better shape, and at least it looked happier.

I have had reason to tell you little white lies in my life Mom – such as the answer to “who took half that cake I was saving for supper”. I have nothing to gain by telling lies in this letter. But to go on with my story ….
The lieutenant was waiting for me to make some comments and I could find no words other than “my God, what a grim sight!” He just smiled and said “it isn’t so hard now, they have it more or less under control now. In the days when the Germans were running the camps, they buried both the dead and those who were not quite dead”. He said he had seen the ground moving as they covered the bodies, some of them were not quite dead are were putting up a feeble fight to get out.
The three of us climbed into the car with the officer and drove off towards his office not saying a word the whole trip. We were in no mood to make conversation.

Just about that time the old clock on the wall showed 12:00 noon, which is the time to eat, but I just could not. I am just not the type Mom, I’ve seen death from the shores of Normandy a few days after D-Day all the way through to Germany. We have been bombed, shelled, strafed, during which death came in many different forms, to say nothing of pilots burned alive in aircrafts, and it did not affect my appetite one way or the other. But this “go” at Belsen was just more than I could handle. I was not sick, but just had no desire to eat.

The people are a little crowded in the large brick buildings, but they try to keep them clean since they were moved into them. They were the barrack blocks for the guards. The buildings in which the prisoners used to live were all burned down to prevent the spread of Typhus. Flame throwers burned them down and did a good job. Any germs that lived through that will be too weak to do any damage.

I wanted to see this part of the camp so I used it as an excuse to get out of eating. It was a good mile to walk as the camp is a huge place, but fortunately I got a lift with a visiting army Padre. His uniform was good to get me in any place so I stuck by him all the way there.
There is a large sign at the gate of this section of the camp, I took a picture of it. It states that 100 000 people died in there and other things not very nice to think about. The place was burned flat but there were graves all over and we looked at them all. They are not the kind of graves you know. It was earth piled about three feet high in an oblong about the size of one of our lots. Besides these neatly piled huge mounds were signs in English. Some of them had 5000 buried in a grave no larger than a city lot. I don’t know how deep the grave is but by the smell of the place it wouldn’t take much digging to strike the bodies. All these graves had 500 to 5000 each.

The German inventive genius had manufactured another little plaything for burning bodies. This was placed in a handy spot where it wouldn’t be too far to drag the dead. They had some nice gas chambers there too, I am told, but they were all destroyed before I got there.
The German’s are a sports-minded race as you know, so they made a point of putting whipping posts about the place just for the soldier’s exercise, of course.

I was to be back at the officer’s office at 2:30 so I had lots of time to spare and walked through the woods around the edge of the camp.
It seems the prisoners have been told to get all the sun treatment they could, so they strip down and lay in the sun. The life these poor people have been leading the last few months has left a large percentage of them either a little mentally unbalanced or unmoved by sights out of the ordinary, so a little thing like laying out in the sun naked meant nothing to them. I didn’t see it quite that way, however, so I walked through the field of naked men and women in much the same manner as you would look through Esquire with sunglasses on.

When I reached the office, there was my chum, Johnny, and his lieutenant waiting for me. From there we whistled down the road to one of the large brick buildings and we began to see the brighter side of the camp.

We went through a door on which there was a sign that said “Recreation Room” in about six languages. The room was quite large and furnished to suit the taste of the Germans, who could no longer use it. Large easy chairs, writing tables, and two nice pianos gave it a comfortable appearance, and the presence of five good-looking young women made me quite happy that I had gone there. This had all been pre-arranged by the Lieutenant. I knew when he told me that they could all speak some English. Introductions were made and we began to take stock. We had to watch what we said as they all spoke English so we had to revert to good old Canadian slang. Johnny’s description seems to fit as well as any, and I quote “Dat ain’t de type of babe you snag on Tony’s Corner, dat’s da stuff of the higher brackets”.

Two of the girls, like the lieutenant were Romanians, one was a Gypsy, and the other two were Hungarian and Dutch. One of the Romanian girls was very pretty, with dark skin, black hair and dark eyes. Me, being a man, noticed she had a very nice figure too. You, Mom, being a woman, will want to know what she wore. She had a neat white skirt on and a brilliant red blouse. These stood out against her dark hair and skin and she wore it well. The others were dressed in a similar manner and they looked quite healthy and none the worse for their experiences.
I had been told that she could sing so I coaxed her to sing for us, which she did, aided by the Gypsy who did not surprise me by wielding a wicked bow on a violin. Her voice was, without a doubt, the best I have ever heard. I have heard plenty of singers since I joined the service, from top-notch singers to rock-bottom bores and never have I heard anything to equal this girl. Music took up the best part of the two hours, and we got back to talking again. The Dutch girl, it seems, is of Dutch nobility, and certainly looked the part.

When Johnny had a go at speaking French to me to try and slip one over on them, they shot French from all angles at us. One, two, even three languages – I can understand them speaking that many- but they could all speak six! Three Canuck Airmen were feeling quite foolish for a while.

The girls told us more stories of cruel treatment at the hands of the Germans. Johnny offered his sympathy and said soon they would be able to go home and take up wherever they left off. The answer to that stunned the three of us when they said they no longer had homes and most of them think they have no family left. It kinda makes you think, doesn’t it?

I wish I could tell what I have written to you, to every person I know. It would give them a little to think about. Good Canadian blood was shed to put an end to places such as Belsen camp. Let’s hope it wasn’t shed in vain.

Time to go and eat Mom, and this time I’m sure I can handle it.

Your loving son,

The afterthought to this may be to think it takes someone especially evil to partake in such cruelty. To believe such horrors could only be perpetrated by a monster. But I think the point is that anyone, everyone is capable of all the best and all the very worst of what it means to be human. And I don’t think it is the loss of the human ideal of kindness and compassion that first sparks such dark times. I think it is the loss of the human ideal of equality.

I believe Equality is the highest human ideal. The moment we see anyone as anything other than our equal, the moment we draw a circle around a person or group and call them ‘other’, the moment we fall into ‘we’ versus ‘them’ thinking, we leave the door open for small cruelties and tiny humiliations. Each small unkindness emboldens and strengthens the next, makes it easier. Do we really think we are so different? Do we truly feel we are so incapable of sinking to such depths? Because we shouldn’t.

The ideal of Equality is undermined every time we break a rule based on fairness because we decided it wasn’t for us, every time we demand a right without returning the corresponding responsibility, every time we hurl heartless words and judgements and punishments at any harmless soul we view as different, every time we profit from the vulnerability of others, ever time we stand silent when we should speak, every time we turn away when we should witness, every time we allow power to stand in place of wisdom, every time we let money stand in place of honour, every single time we forget all the things that make us so terribly and beautifully human dwell in each of us.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

A Tragically Hip Good Bye

“There are three things we cry for in life: things that are lost, things that are found, and things that are magnificent.” ~ Douglas Coupland (Girlfriend in a Coma)

It’s the “last” Hip concert ……… I don’t mean that to be facetious, and I actually hope I’m wrong … I HOPE that I have 40 more years of watching Gord and the band play out my Canadian rock poet fantasies, I hope he kicks this cancer shit to the curb and leaves it there …………… but the odds aren’t in his, or my or anyone’s, favour ….. he is leaving us line by line, word by precious word.

When I started watching tonight’s concert I thought I could handle it ………. As a fan from the first album, a spectator to many a tour, and a lucky soul who saw the first concert of THIS tour in Victoria, BC. Tuning in tonight felt like a patriotic book ending of a National experience, a fan’s simple act of reverence. But it was so much more. I wasn’t prepared for what happened tonight. The tearing open of deep wounds. The hemorrhaging of emotions, this might really BE what this really seems like, and they made it look easy enough to not seem like what it is. The behind the scene of their embraces and kisses was so piercingly intimate and genuine that it caught in your chest and let you know the night was going to get pretty honest and pretty raw. They took to the stage with all that grace and intimacy; as family.

“Any given moment – no matter how casual, how ordinary, is poised full of gaping life” ~ Anne Michaels (Fugitive Pieces)

There is a little friction among the found fans and the old fans, the lost fans and the non fans ….. but enough, this is not our path, for our Canadian path – the path that has always defined us – is far more twisted and complicated than that. Our path is one of misstep and overcoming, of individuality and unique weirdness ………. And what could be more Tragically Hip than that? The truth is everyone, old and new fans, true and fickle fans, have tried to pay tribute …….. tried beautifully, and aren’t we better for the trying? Can’t that, at least, we all agree on? The truth is that NOT all Canadians love the Hip, many don’t even like them, and that’s ok …. Honest. The best way to describe why the Hip is still so relevant to all Canadians is their mastery of the Canadian voice, their bent to the crooked, their unique brand of weird …. And as Canadians we seem to adore that. We can’t say why, but we do. You may not like the Hip, but chances are as a Canadian you like love an artist or art form quite like them. We seem to like our artists to show us the beautifully terrible and the terribly beautiful about ourselves and then try to make those ragged pieces fit ….. to me that sums up Canada.

“Yeah. We’re sweet but savage, and I think a lot of Canadians are that way” ~ Bruce McCulloch, KITH

My family travelled to Victoria, BC to see them open this tour. I was so grateful to have been able to take our kids with us and also that they had seen the Hip tour before as well. The Hip was well known for it’s quirky performances: Gord dancing and writhing on stage, songs often taking sharps turns into dark places: tangents and tall tales, and the amazing ability of the musicians to seamlessly keep up with the ever changing landscape of their songs. God those guys can play. So, this tour it really stood out how contained Gord was, how tightly the band played around him (both in proximity and timing), and the strength it was taking to be there (as a band and as a fan). I felt prepared for this CBC televised final concert, because I had already seen one, but I wasn’t. I was a mess the moment they started to play. Sobbing and overwhelmed. By the time they hit Little Bones they had hit their stride but the awful truth of his illness kept shattering the moments of perfect lucidity with waves from a broken brain, like ripples on a still pond and all around helpless to stop it. My brother texted me as he watched and made the insightful comment “I can’t help but wonder what he is thinking … of us. Is he worried? That he will forget the words? He is using the teleprompter because I think the cancer is eating the words away from him.” (He’s a PhD in science but sometimes he can really turn a phrase) I answered back “the brain finds a way, the rest of the show you watch his brain fire up and his body turn to ash. He’s running on will. It’s phenomenal. I wish you could have seen them live before, it was bizarre and wonderful, he danced and played with the audience, he was a poet …. A poet with an amazing group of musicians who joked he was a dancer. Every show was so weird and thought provoking and fun”. But this tour? I’m not sure what we’re watching, we’re bearing witness to something very personal, and it will be different for everybody.

“The first sentence of any novel should be: trust me, this will take time but there is order here, very faint, very human.” ~ Michael Ondaatje (In the Skin of a Lion)

The moments Gord watched the crowd were so undefinable and very raw. This feat that the band has pulled off, this experience they have generously shared with their fans only worked because of the sincerity, authenticity, and incredible vulnerability of the band members and their fans ..... something small and precious and emotional; like a sun warmed piece of ocean glass in your pocket. A mutual gift of gratitude. The band: Paul, Rob, Gord, and Johnny somehow finding the power to will it all into being. I cannot fathom where they found the courage and strength to honour their friend in this way.

“Conversation in it’s true meaning isn’t all wagging the tongue; sometimes it is deeply shared silence.” ~ Robertson Davies (The Rebel Angels)

When Gord did speak it was either to express gratitude or to issue a challenge. He is, at his core, the kind of artist who likes to shine light into dark places, to never let a self satisfied happiness go undisturbed. He expressed deep concern over the state of the Northern peoples and specifically our Metis and First Nations peoples. A parting shot reminding us we still had many wrongs to right. He glowed over Prime Minister Trudeau and implored us to follow him where we need to go on this. For what it’s worth I think Gord is right on both counts: that Trudeau is worthy of the responsibility and that the responsibility is deeply worthy of undertaking. Imperative in fact. I am so glad he did not shy away from this part of himself. That this disease, this tour, this experience has not eroded his character or sense of self. I love people who have a moral compass that points straight and true, a good soul, a conflicted beautiful messy unrelenting messenger. Cancer may be stealing his words, but not his message. And the message he has always delivered has been one of the importance of tearing open old wounds so we may try to heal them properly. To bear witness. To tell stories. To never allow the pleasant to get in the way of the real.

“I didn’t know how to say ‘I’m sorry’ but the big tear that went out of my eye said it for me.” ~ Robert Munsch (From Far Away)

“The two most important phrases in the human language are ‘if only’ and ‘maybe someday’. Our past mistakes and our unrequited longings. The things we regret and the things we yearn for. That’s what makes us who we are.” ~ Will Ferguson (Happiness)

When Gord hit the stage in that amazing silver sparkling suit and they broke into “Something On” the entire band seemed to exhale. The tight breath they all had been holding, and everyone watching had been holding, suddenly exhaled. It was tangible. Joy entered the room. The sorrow and the joy mingled as it had in Victoria a month earlier, a feast of the bitter and the sweet. The joy fuelled the rest of the night and honoured the pleasure they have clearly shared together over the years. There was a quiet strength and dignity to it, a slow powerful beautiful burn. I can’t imagine another band anywhere pulling it off. “Those guys fucking love each other. I hope my kids can have friends they love that much” my brother texted to me. “Yup” ……. Because how often does someone really let you in like that to see? Brave isn’t a big enough word.

The void which would be left by the loss of Gord Downie’s voice if we lose him will be immense. But we can all endeavour to seek out the wealth of other Canadian artists … the keepers of our voice, our Philosophers. Canada is full of people who express the answers in search of our questions, who challenge us, who remind us of who we are and who we could be. In fact, the only thing that saved me from utterly falling apart during the entire CBC broadcast was putting pen to paper, scrawling out words that passed through me, and soothed me. I searched for words of other Canadian artists that resonated for me. I scribbled down thoughts as they unfolded and the lens I watched through changed from one of grief and loss to one of celebration and expression. I hope that people will seek to express and actively find other Canadian artists who make them feel like the Hip. I have shared many quotes throughout this blog from such Canadian writers to inspire you. Please find the words that speak to you about this amazing, complicated country. I think it could be essential.

“You wish you could tell yourself
that this is all too sentimental.
You want to agree with the person
who said, “There’s no salvation
in geography.”
But you can’t
and you’re beginning to suspect
that deep within you,
like a latent gene, is this belief
that we belong somewhere.”
~ Bronwen Wallace, a Poet from Kingston who died of cancer at age 44 (excerpt from ‘Lonely for the Country’)

I’d still like to believe that it won’t be true, that Gord Downie will live through this and continue to front the Tragically Hip for decades. Maybe we can keep him. But this felt like good bye; a knowing, bone deep felt good bye. And it felt so incredibly special that they gave us the time and energy to do it. I wrote a blog about my feelings after the band broke the news of Gord Downie’s illness because I wanted to acknowledge how important they have been to me, even just for myself (the link is below in case you're curious). I knew I would have to write again when the tour was over, just as so many people have done, and express just how grateful I feel to have experienced this. I have loved the Hip from their beginning. I was there and we have grown together; they feature heavily in my soundtrack as it were, and so many Canadians feel the same way. They have an ability to create a song that feels written or performed just for you …. even when in a room, a hall, a stadium, a Nation full of people who feel the same way. Hip fans are all the authors of their own interpretations of Hip songs …… Thank you Gord, Paul, Rob, Gord, and Johnny for being the powerful subtext.

Let's get friendship right
Get life day to day
In the forget yer skates dream
Full of countervailing woes
In diverse as ever scenes
Proceeding on a need to know
In a face so full of meaning
As to almost make it glow
For a good life
We just might have to weaken
And find somewhere to go
Go somewhere we're needed
Find somewhere to grow
Go somewhere we're needed
~ The Tragically Hip (excerpt from ‘It’s a good life if you don’t weaken’)

In the end it was just Gord on stage as he simply stated “Goodbye everybody. Have a nice life.” And no one doubted the sincerity of that. It was just so fucking Canadian.