Sunday, November 28, 2004

Blame Weisblott

It’s been two weeks since my last post – the longest I’ve gone without blogging since I kicked off this little personal free-association web site back in March. And now, here, some 9 months and 85 or so entries later, I’m still hooked, still waiting to see what I’ll write next. I feel kind of guilty; kind of itchy (not to mention scratchy) not to have moved heaven and earth to make the time to blog since two Sundays ago.
Because blogging has changed my life. True story. I write differently, read differently, but more than that, I think differently – and better (I think) than I thunk before.
Part of it is the excitement of trusting my own intuition – asking: what do I really think about this? (And not a few times, honestly, coming up with an association or two, an original thought or two, that have then appeared elsewhere; not stolen – but minds I admire thinking some of the same things, coming to the same conclusions. It’s heady stuff.)
Part of it is my lifelong love of words and finally having a place to put them other than the back of my cluttered, chaotic mind.
But the biggest part is simply doing it, and by doing it, becoming more adept at doing it and so enjoying it more. It snowballs you see; building upon itself in all the best ways: self confidence, self awareness and self trust.
And it’s gotten me work! A few months ago when I was at the very height of worrying about the very depths to which I imagined myself economically sinking, when I went so far as to actually write about it (another change: challenging myself to be honest and admitting not all in the garden was blooming lovely) I received a lifeline in the form of an email from a complete stranger; a stranger who suggested we get together for a chat – a chat that resulted in my being hired to work on the creative side of promoting the Griffin Prize for Excellence in Poetry. Poetry for heaven’s sake! And not the ‘moon, June, spoon’ sort – but real, literary, international, written-in-a-garret, not-rhyming-type poetry.
The irony is, I had posted a piece that used the fact that I’d never done PR – though it was a recurring theme in my life that it was always being suggested I take a crack at it… even though I knew nothing about it… in fact was convinced it had something to do with not much more than having lunch and being nice…. but beyond that being totally in the dark about it – as a sort of funny (I laughed, but then, I laugh at all my own jokes) repeating chorus throughout.
But the real irony was that when Vicki emailed me to get together, she wrote ‘so why not PR?’ and we were off to the races.
(I’ve had a snack, a dinner – which I cooked – a couple of cups of coffee and a few glasses of wine since then. No lunch yet; but I’m patient. And hungry. And nice.)
I’ve also been distracted from posting by picking up a significant amount of writing work with a magazine set to debut in a couple of weeks. Though getting it wasn’t blog-related, since then, some of my interview subjects have checked out my blog and as a result a few more assignments are coming my way. (There’s a radio commercial running in Calgary right now that I wrote! I’ve voiced hundreds – but it took the blog to be given the opportunity to write one.) It’s touch and go, hit and miss (overused cliché and unimaginative aphorism) but little by little (that’s enough, ed.) it looks as though this writing thing might actually be a goer.
And did I mention I’ve made friends through this experience? There’s the guy who set this thing up – Marc Weisblott( – a guy of immense talent who whilst being led up the garden path by a certain soulless group of magazine folk, spent some considerable time encouraging friends to start up web logs, which he, Marc, would then promote through his connection with the aforementioned soulless souls. The heathens are gone – but I’ve got this blog, and this work and the sense that my life would be unquestionably poorer without it all. And Marc is completely responsible – not really quite the same as the work and resulting satisfaction he was promised by the garden path-perambulating ingrates, but let’s hope gratitude is currency – the sort that can actually pay off some day.
And then there’s Blamb! (Exclamation point mine!) Brett Lamb ( Every time he mentions my site, I get 100 hits or more – and some of them even come back…
There are others – faithful readers (where do they find the time?) who come back again and again, sometimes offering opinions and kudos, sometimes just coming back again and again.
But now all the stories for the magazine (look for Toronto Living Luxury Lifestyle on your newsstands any day now!) are written, the poetry prize stuff is not set to get underway until the new year, and with the exception of some Christmas and PR type parties, my time is my own for the time being.
So I can write again. I can write about the state of the U.S. – though I pray there’s nothing much to say – the frightening upswing in religion-based hatred (and the new focus on a Christ-less Christianity; turns out there’s nothing like as good a chance for peace as taking the Son of God out of the sermon.) There’s the exciting power of the people in the Ukraine (when eastern European countries show more solidarity and courage in fighting for democracy than the Patriot Act-pushing Americans, you’ve got a sea change acomin’ that’s both beautiful and terrifying to behold. Yay Ukraine!) and the selfless heroism of Victor Yushchenko who ignores even a poisonous assault on his very visage, so focused is he on winning the right of the citizenry to free elections.
I might take a crack at the beyond-ridiculous-bordering-on-creepy ‘Greatest Canadian’ free-for-all that couldn’t find a single woman of a stature ‘great’ enough to be included on a list that sports Don Cherry and David Suzuki (the shame of this alone should have shut the CBC up on this pointless exercise) or perhaps opine upon the cravenness of a Carolyn Parrish who takes a perfectly good position (Bush sucks) and renders it null by choosing to hold it vociferously rather than discuss it fruitfully: somebody tell me – what is the point?
And there’s a word that’s been skittering around my brain like a beetle in a bathtub for the past few months – running around, trying to skip up the side and over, but unable to get purchase it just slides down the sides, madly scratching to escape before circling the plughole and slipping down and out of sight again. The word is ‘entitlement’, and it’s a notion that seems to have gained unhealthy purchase lately – so blindly entitled do so many feel these days that dialogue around morality and ethics (not to mention right and wrong) seem to have left the building along with Elvis. I want to write about entitlement. A lot.
So I’m baaaaack – and ready to roll and write again. I’ve missed this so much… too much; so much so, I sometimes don’t know what to think anymore until I blog about it.
I blame Marc Weisblott.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Goose stepping for Jesus!

It’s Sunday as I write this and I am (not uncharacteristically) thinking about God.
How can one help it these days? With the power and the glory granted those in the land whose President ostentatiously begs for God’s blessings at the end of each and every address – likely including “Laura, where’re mah socks?” (and with an unremitting fervour that makes you wonder if he knows something... disturbing...) the Almighty is being thrust upon not only Americans, but the rest of the world with a devotion scarcely to be distinguished from tyranny.
It’s frightening to us of a more liberal mien; and far from accepting their victory with a little much needed modesty, and reaching out, and the sort of appeasement that might actually bring us altogether in a ‘Kumbaya’ moment, the winning side are continuing to ram the All Knowing down our collective throats in a manner that could only with the utmost charity be described as immoderate.
Quite apart from the leader himself (who as I wrote in my last offering is reaching out to “those who share out goals”) even the Presidential henchpersons are out on the talk shows, spreading the word with a vehemence that sounds more like ‘or else’.
As Maureen Down shared in an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times (essentially ‘The Communist Manifesto’ to Republicans) she’s not getting much of a ‘… peace, charity, tolerance and forgiveness vibe’ from supporters of the new/old regime. Dowd quoted from a letter written by Bob Jones III (Bob? The third?) president of an eponymously titled fundamentalist college to the President, presumably to congratulate to him, but also to offer a little helpful advice.
“In your re-election, God has graciously granted America – though she doesn’t deserve it – a reprieve from the agenda of paganism. Put you agenda on the front burner and let it boil. You owe the liberals nothing.”
She also mentions the talk show contretemps making the rounds. Seems Dr James Dobson, founder and chairman of ‘Focus on the Family’ was appearing on George Stephanopoulos’s show and gave vent to his feelings about Senator Arlen Spector. Apparently the Republican senator had never been a particular favourite, having voted against Robert Bork in the dim and distant past, supported stem cell research in the present, and most recently had made casual mention of the fact that he thought turning Roe v. Wade around mightn’t be the cakewalk others were predicting.
“He is a problem and must be derailed,” said Dobson with chilling finality.
And then the cocky fundamentalist upped the ante, taking a direct shot at Stephanopoulos when the talk show host asked him if he thought making a nasty crack about Senator Patrick Leahy (calling him if not a God hater, then “… a God’s-people hater”) was much of a Christian thing to do.
“George,” Dr Dobson reportedly snapped back (only just restraining himself from squealing ‘how dare you!’ and smacking the TV host across the face with a gauntlet) “do you think you ought to lecture me on what a Christian is all about?”
Dowd suggests maybe he could, Stephanopoulos being the son of a Greek Orthodox Priest and all, but I think that misses the point. Whether Dobson was aware of Stephanopoulos’s Christian credentials, the overweening imperiousness of such a reply, coupled with his sense of his side’s entitlement to think so, is breathtaking.
Makes one wonder what Christ would think.
For such a Jesus-come-lately, the Son of God surely has attracted a militant bunch of adherents. You’d think it would take at least another couple of thousand years to come up with the sort of Messiah that could confound liberal voters to sweep a bunch of war-loving neo con thugs to victory. But in the new millennium, where fundamentalism is the new normal, this modern version of a Christ bent not only on the destruction of those of an alternate belief, but on the subjugation of those whose views differ even slightly, fits like a glove... an iron glove, covered in pointy spikes and dripping with poison, sure; but a snug fit nonetheless.
Forget that namby-pamby Christ of love, and cheek-turning and neighbour loving and hooker-foot-washing, this Christ doesn’t have time for niceties; this Christ has some non-believer ass whuppin’ to do, and we can hardly be accused of being scaredy souls if we notice the whuppin’ is starting closer to home.
This has become an administration not just of the like-minded, but increasingly of the lock-stepped; and the Devil (and the rest of us) will be lucky to be allowed even the hind-most.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

And one more thing... okay, two...

Saw Bill Safire (along with Maureen Dowd) on a rerun of Meet the Press last night. It was interesting in a sort of academic way; two reasonable human beings, both well spoken, articulate, opinionated and funny, representing both sides in the election aftermath/wake/debriefing all journalists presumably must go through on some talk show or other.
But it got me thinking – which instead of weeping inconsolably was quite a feat – that this might be the first time I could remember listening to thoughtful, respectful disagreement. So moved was I at the notion, I started thinking some more (after wiping away the last tear and giving my nose a proper honk) wondering if perhaps I was getting too het up about this thing. After all, if soft-spoken smarty pants Bill Safire’s pooh-poohing of the blood-spattered electoral map can reduce my galloping fears to a measured trot, perhaps everything really IS okay!
(Even Maureen, whilst putting into words my every anguished thought and hopeless supposition, looked at Bill with all the admiring attention a gal generally reserves for her beloved dad, transforming her opposing point of view into not much more than a laundry list of half-hearted gripes.)
So I toddled off to bed with a little clot of hope plugging up my bleeding heart, only to awake to a story in my morning paper about Southern U.S. Bible Belt schools defending their right to include warnings in science books. That started the blood flowing as smoothly and smartly as Republicans through a voting booth.
This textbook contains material on evolution,” begins the helpful sticker. “Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.”
Suddenly all thoughts of reasonable old Bill Safire and the possibility of a more measured and inclusive White House evolved themselves right out of my head. Here we go, I thought; now it begins.
To be fair, the story is actually detailing the trial brought about by concerned parents and the American Civil Liberties Union who feel the stickers represent a violation of the separation of church and state. Hopefully, by the end of the trial, the stickers will be removed and children can go about the business of learning about science in science class (studying material which is the result of hundreds of years of combined scientific knowledge, reaching conclusions agreed upon by virtually every sentient human being… outside the raw meat-coloured centre on the current US map) in their workaday world, and spend Sunday in church handling snakes, speaking in tongues and listening to imaginative tales spun by men with questionable grammar and bouffant hairdos. Excellent outcome methinks.
But maybe they won’t.
Maybe after the trial currently ongoing in Atlanta winds up, with law makers upholding the rights of the group that considers original sin a healthier lesson than those developed by folks like Aristotle and Darwin, concerned parents and ACLU representatives can hotfoot it over to Texas where that Board of Education recently approved new health textbooks that have changed their original wording to depict marriage as “the union of a man and a woman” and replacing worrying phrases like “when two people marry” with the legislatedly accurate “when a man and a woman marry”.
It’s little stories like this that give me pause; little tales of basic folks insisting with all the condescension the highest office in the land can confer, that the bible be the source of all truth and fact and that the evolution of not only thought but societal values, be as frozen in time as dinosaur bits and pieces preserved in amber.
It’s as though every cautionary tale from Orwell’s ‘1984’ to Wyndham’s ‘The Chrysalids’ has risen up to munch a big old bite of liberal ass – asses handed back as recently as last Wednesday – when in a post-acceptance speech press conference, the President announced his idea of heaven.
“With the campaign over,” the President shared, “Americans are expecting a bipartisan effort and results. I’ll reach out to everyone who shares our goals.”
And the rest of the country and the world? Presumably they can go to hell.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Fear Factor

Moaning doesn’t help. Groaning doesn’t help. Standing naked in the middle of Yonge Street and beseeching God to explain “Why? Why! WHYYYYYYYY?!” achieves little more than cold feet and curious stares. (And the deep and abiding embarrassment associated with not achieving more…)
Anxious as I’ve been that the worst could happen (oh those halcyon days when hope lived and Ohio had yet to betray the rest of the world…!) I never really thought this would be the outcome. I was worrying as a sort of sop to the gods who plan payback for the tempters of fate – fools! – but deep down inside, my little candy covered coating was protecting a soft, sweet innocent faith that all would be well and all manner of things would be well and not-Bush would prevail.
Thanks a lot Dame Julian of Norwich. (The 14th century ‘Contemplative’ who rather sunnily opined on the healing power of love and the unwavering belief that ‘all would be well’ and so on. Hah.) All is demonstrably not well; and all manner of things? As far as I can see, they’re all on the path to being extremely not very well indeed.
In these brief moments as the rest of the world pauses to catch its collective breath and absorb what the people of the United States (or just over half of those of voting age anyway) have done to us, there is an experience of stillness – of anticipation – of sitting poised on the brink of the abyss; not moving, not participating…just waiting.
Eye of the storm stuff. The strange calmness after the death of a loved one, just before the terrible reality becomes unbearably real. Or perhaps it’s like that part in ‘Titanic’ when after sinking, sinking, sinking (interminably, boringly, will Leonardo be released of his bonds by plucky Kate-ingly blah, blah, blah-ingly) the ship suddenly, dramatically, upends and hovers there (as little, tiny, expendable computer-generated folks going flying off in all directions) then just as suddenly plunges straight down to the bottom of the sea… glub, glub, glub…
That’s us. Steerage passengers (at best) on the Titanic, watching helplessly as the ship hurtles down beneath the waves taking all of us with it, sucked down by the mighty vortex created by its gargantuan size and the unholy speed of its descent.
Of course there’ll be a bunch of first class passengers, millionaires and society types and important folk, just like there were back then, who managed to get a berth in a lifeboat and row speedily away before the final dreadful sinking. Back then it was women and children first; but even then there were some sly, craven creatures ready to throw a shawl over their heads and squeak in a falsetto if it would get them a spot in the boat.
(Interestingly, this is actually how I have always seen Dick Cheney: orchestrating his own exit strategy, all tricked out in a billowing lavender-sprigged housedress, complete with beribboned and be-flowered bonnet perched jauntily atop his wicked cranium – knocking aside women and children and cripples as he leaps aboard, then paddles his Halliburton canoe all the way to a secret Caribbean location, where sacks of money and android babes await his cruel and kinky ministrations. Close your eyes – trust me – you’ll see this image too.)
So when the eye of the storm passes, and the last bubble has popped and the mourners lift their heads, weary but ready to face the horrors ahead – that, fellow fearful world citizens – is when the full, unmitigated weight of what has happened… the truth of what has happened… will hit us like a large wet sack of sand. WHOMP! And the tearful disbelieving days of wide-eyed shock and slack-jawed incomprehension will seem like so many days in Paradise.
All this to say – I can’t bear it.
I can’t bear that when America finally got off its saggy collective butt to take part in democracy, by far the more fervent patriots were the fundamentalist Christian cabal. This election wasn’t fought and won on the war in Iraq, or health care, or jobs, or the economy or any of those things government was supposedly designed for; it was – at the very end – fought and won on ‘family values’; a phrase that might once had denoted fealty and love and support, but now describes judgment and conditions and hatred of the unconventional, the different or the opposite.
There were the adorable liberals (dirty slang for ‘democrats’) beavering away raising consciousness about the economy and tax cuts and the cost of medication for senior citizens and the dangers of launching a dangerous, possibly unwinnable war, and all sorts of things that truly, madly, deeply affect each and every person, whilst the President and his henchpersons were raising suspicions, doubts and fears. Implication. Innuendo. Obfuscation, and – from time to time – outright lies about the intentions of their opponents.
Viewing the scene of the crime now from the advantage of perspective and exit polling, it’s clear not-Bush was never really in the running. Close as the final number of Electoral College votes might have been, the popular vote told a tale of a voting bloc energized, pumped and loaded for bear.
Fear of liberal madness rallied the fervent; stopping same sex marriage (honouring the bond between a man and a woman) limiting stem cell research (honouring the relationship between a cluster of cells and the refrigerator they’ll most likely spend their entire cellular life within) and rolling back the clock on abortion (honouring the right for Americans to wait until a potential human is fully formed before discarding it.) The politics of hate and fear couched in the language of love.
It seems you can attract more wasps with the honeyed words of ‘family values’ and ‘traditional morals’ than you can with sour facts and figures on the economy and health, and the unpalatable truth about the war.
And you know what? It really works; Bush finally succeeded with me. Now I’m scared.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

American Beauty

When I was a little girl I used to love beauty pageants. A competition fought and won with grim determination in sparkly dresses, death defying corsetry and hair that confounded both reason and gravity. A contest surrounded with pomp and ceremony, breathless announcers and weeping winners and losers... a contest whose result didn’t matter one single little bit.
So I’m trying to remember when it happened; when for me, an election day became a day to be enjoyed with all the gee whiz anticipation of Miss America, the Acadeny Awards, or the last game that won the Jays their first World Series. How did an evening watching Dan Rather pore lugubriously over statistical analyses, frighten far flung correspondents with bizarre off-topic, un-researched questions and wax Southern-fried lyrical over the results become popcorn-munching must-see TV?
Maybe I just needed a little more adrenalin; something where winning or losing wasn’t completely forgotten within an hour and no one lived or died by the results.
I must have started to need that odd mixture of expectation, hope and excitement mixed with fear, dread and an upset stomach; a roller coaster ride you want to go on because of all the vicarious thrills and chills, but that still comes with a sickening sense that it could go flying off the rails, a real life horror - complete with blood bath, weeping onlookers and head-scratching officials poking through the debris looking for answers.
I suppose it’s all on a continuum; 7 years old and picking your favourite beauty contestant, 14 and chewing off chipped fingernail polish during the balance beam segment of the gymnastics competition at the Olympics – 21 and actually caring who wins the Oscar for Best Actress.
But political competition has now become far more than a legitimate excuse for buttered popcorn; where before I was satisfied with the ooh and ahh part of a will she/won’t she bun fight, experiencing some small sadness when my candidate Miss Massachusetts had her clock cleaned by a typically tough-as-my-mother’s-roast-beef Miss Texas, this time the stakes are gargantuan. Crunchy snacks offer little comfort now.
As America settles in for tonight’s winner-take-all contest, all bets are off as the competition itself has degenerated into something far uglier than home-made sin. In a race the officials consider too close to call, voters will be deciding the fate of the world based on attack ads, sound bites and commentary from matchstick-shaped news anchor Judy Woodruff on CNN. (And Wolf Blitzer and Paula Zahn and Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala and all the rest of the hair-sprayed, camera-ready pod people offering comment and confusion to a nation still reeling from being forced to choose between the constantly cycling news crawl at the bottom of their TV, and a full screen shot of Larry King’s creepy hairdo.)
Not that it matters what I think. (Really!) After all, like the rest of you FOOLs (Foreigners Out Of Luck) though I regularly immerse myself in American newspapers and political blogs, tune in to American news shows (and personally watched all four debates with the fevered obsession of a geek frothing at the mouth over brand new undiscovered episodes of Dr Who or Star Trek) I won’t have any say in the outcome. That responsibility will be left to people who have actually lived in George Bush’s America for the past four years, many of whom presumably consider a thoroughly isolated, debt ridden, under-employed terrorist-magnet of a country a great place to live.
And how can this be? Here we are, so close to the end we can almost taste the soft chewy centre and according to pollsters, the candidates remain in virtual lockstep. Some 48% of registered voters are ready to vote for the shrub. And it’s not that Kerry is such a glittering alternative; wooden he may be, but if there’s something he’s not – it’s a Bush.
But apparently this significant portion of the population are basing their vote on steady handshakes and hugs for the families of victims of 9/11 and folksy ways and a guy who considers sending soldiers into battle evidence of leadership. Why don’t they want a guy making the hard decisions who has actually been at the receiving end of a hard decision or two himself?
Why don’t they want a guy who isn’t compelled by his (relatively speaking) recently adopted religion to consider that everyone who has NOT chosen Jesus Christ as their personal saviour to have effectively purchased themselves a one way ticket to H.E. double hockey sticks. (And he does you know. It’s required.)
Why don’t they want a guy whose second choice of career was to be Commissioner of Baseball. Doesn’t it rankle at all that the job of president was number 2 on his wish list? (Though as a president, number 2 is definitely an association that rings a bell…)
Why don’t they want a guy who when questions about his service record came up, came up with the answers?
Why don’t they want a guy who if he doesn't care to share the truth about his whereabouts during the time he was supposed to be serving his country, doesn't allow thinly disguised Republican attack veterans to mount negative ad campaigns about his opponent who demonstrably did?
Why don’t they want a guy who when he tells soldiers bound for Iraq that they will always be appreciated and respected and protected by their government to do the same for soldiers of previous wars?
Why don’t they want a guy who will actually stop the war – whatever the result – until those in harm’s way have enough protective gear, armoured vehicles and even bullets with which to defend themselves?
Why don’t they want a guy who wouldn’t even dream of mentioning the words ‘tax cuts’ until those who risk their lives for his principles are at least minimally protected?
Why don’t they want a guy who demands his Vice President comes clean about his areas of possible conflict of interest?
Why don’t they want a guy who would rather stick needles in his eyes (or stay out of a war, or take responsibility, or admit a mistake) than have Karl Rove planning his next Machiavellian move?
Why don’t they want a guy they cannot be positively sure isn’t stoopider than they are?
Why don’t they want a guy who doesn’t consider an endorsement from Arnold Schwarzenegger a coup?
Why don’t they want a guy who can pronounce the word ‘nuclear’? (I know it’s an old well-worn point – I know it’s become a cliché – but I personally think it’s important for the President to be able to pronounce the word that could conceivably send us all to H.E. double-you-know-where…) Besides – it’s not that hard; NEW-CLEE-ARE. There – easy.
Why don’t they want a guy who believes the rest of the world has a stake in the rest of the world?
Why don’t they want not-Bush?
So tonight’s the night and unlike other nights and other years and other bun fights, tonight I’m a little less than excited and a little more than just plain scared. I actually do believe not-Bush will win – but the off-chance, the margin for error, the possibility of ‘Four More Years!’ has me wishing instead for a competition that doesn't matter one little bit.
Now that we’re here, I’d trade all that juicy adrenalin for a who cares who wins contest that could be fought in high heels and bathing suits, with accordion-playing competitors slugging it out for a sash, a crown and an armload of American Beauty roses.