Drinks with Richard Schiff

Dreams. Those confounding sleep machinations of the mind. Ones that invoke fears and those that bring tears, you know the ones. What do they mean? Why can’t I read in my dreams? Why is my nightmare dream always about running out of food at work? All I can say, that often after having been awoken by my alarm playing Bach’s Cello Suite No 1, I am left wondering what, if anything, it all meant.

Every once in awhile I will have the most vivid of dreams from the night prior. Once I woke with tears in my eyes because an old high school friend had died; this had disturbed me so much that I went on a quest to find him. And in the time before Google and anything remotely internet search like, I found him the old fashioned way and we reconnected a bit over the phone. This led to a mini reunion of sorts with me flying back to Toronto for a get together of high school chums for an afternoon of “Glory Days” reminiscing. Another time, the most vivid of conversations with someone that I was very close to, again back in high school; I searched her out and we had a phone chat that was both pleasant and promising. That the promise fell short is a footnote in my history, I know I tried. You see, I don’t know if dreams are pre-cursors to anything or simply our minds fucking with us, so when something that vivid comes up I tend to act on it in some way.

Which leaves me with a bit of a conundrum from last night. I had two dreams that kind of stand out from the many that I seemed to have had. In one, Lee Majors, of the Six Million Dollar Man Lee Majors, was texting me to let me know that he was going to work for my manuscript to be pushed forward to production, because he thought it had potential. I knew, in my dream, that I had sent him some work and I was quite excited at the prospect. Not sure if that means I should drop everything and start working as a writer or that if I should get a gerbil as a pet. Toss up, who really knows what dreams mean.

The second dream was one of those very vivid dreams though. In it I was spending an evening with Richard Schiff, the actor that played Toby Ziegler in The West Wing. Luckily I was playing the part of a fawning fan that didn’t scare the crap out of him and we ended up moving through landscapes that ranged from his ramshackle study, strewn with books and manuscripts, to a dodgy looking bar sipping whiskey at a Formica table with those crappy black and steel cheap chairs we’ve all sat in at least once. So vivid was this dream that I woke wondering when we had actually done this. Of course I never met the man, but I felt the character he played, written by Aaron Sorkin, would be OK with me as a temporary drinking buddy for a little while. So, in the dream at least, despite my over staying my welcome, we had quite the time together.

We replayed and delved into scenes from The West Wing that I thought were worthy of his own ascension into the upper echelons of acting royalty. Knowing full well that the words he spoke were those of Sorkin, we none the less explored his deliverance of them and how he made them his own. Credit to both of them for speaking a truth that is, too often, hard to hear. His character was the moral superiority complex to Jed Bartlett’s better wishes for himself; where Bartlett would look for common ground in the middle, a true politician, while Toby tried to push everyone to his perception of a higher place of moral purity. I loved his character as much as anything on that show, I am unabashedly a West Wing nerd and, in my dream at least, was not afraid to lean right into my nerdiness.

I don’t know what that part of the dream meant anymore then what I knew others parts meant, but it seemed to set the stage for subsequent scenes running through my addled mind during my slumber. We found ourselves driving the streets, through dilapidated commercial areas and rundown housing complexes, passing by the burnt out remains of a once vibrant downtown core and finally into the suburban mundanities, where we found our bar in a non-descript strip mall. Not the rich dark oak lined walls of an Irish pub, but the aforementioned Formica laded version of hell. At least the whiskey was good. And the conversation excellent.

We spoke of lofty goals and the higher ground of what the world owes to itself. At this point I don’t know if he was Toby or simply Richard, but there was such clarity in the sentiment we were expressing that suddenly it all made sense. The world and my path was clear. Unfortunately, that last part slipped away from my memory as I woke up. Damn it!!! So in the end I am left wondering if I am once again gazing upon an abyss of uncertainty in what I am here to do or choosing between the less uglier of the two gerbils.

Who the hell knows what it is all about, but what I do find myself thinking about is writing. Writing this piece. Writing about other things that have been kicking around upstairs for a little while. Also, about reading. I think I may have broken out of my funk around reading. I used to read a lot but over the past number of years I have been sporadic at best when it came to cracking an actual book. It bothered me but I didn’t know what to do about it as the desire simply wasn’t there. I suppose I had other things on my mind, but it feels like my book purgatory is coming to an end. Currently I am reading Barak Obama’s book A Promised Land. I just re-read Mario Puzo’s The Sicilian and before that Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. On deck I have The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe, so maybe my readers block is fading. Goody.

So, what is this post about? Reading and writing I suppose. Not my normal new year proclamations around reflection and hope. Not that these have gone away in any way, quite the contrary in fact, as we need even more so a reaffirmation about what matters in our lives and what we should be cherishing. Simply that I had a dream last night and I decided this was the place to explore that thread a little more. To that end I think I will be revisiting a few half written stories I have hidden away to see if I have anything worthy enough to spruce up and enter the CBC writing contest. Maybe it’s time.

Happy New Year to all you beautiful people.

Ciao

D

The 99 Cent Things

I’ve been gnawing around the edges of a thought lately. Something seems to be missing. Something is amiss and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until yesterday. I thought maybe it was pandemic crap just building up over the past year, and in some ways it is, but it’s not the major calamity hanging there as one would expect. It’s the small things, the little things, the 99 cent things.

I needed to get my self scanned as part of the follow up on my nonsense from a few years back. A yearly greasing up so someone can rub that ultrasound scanner around my abdomen making sure nothing is missing or there that shouldn’t be there. I really dislike the process, but am grateful for the fact that I’m here still, so I guess a little prodding is not so horrible. While lying there counting down the seconds to let my breath out I thought about how different this was just one year ago. Last year there would have been banter of some sort; maybe small talk about the stupid weather or some other topic of non-consequence. That’s disappeared behind a veil of masks, face shields and fear. Stupid COVID.

And that’s what has been missing. The spontaneity of the lives we lived doing the 99 cent things. We have been forced into a form of submission of the better parts of us, reduced to observing and waiting. We can’t, for good reasons, just pop in on someone or plan to meet for a drink. Our bubble is supposed to be socially small now, and despite my somewhat introverted tendencies, I miss that social part of life. Everything has become harder, the simple things take effort that sometimes seems like a waste of energy, and in that time we have, I think, started to forget the importance of still making an effort.

All things being equal, I would much rather be sitting across from a friend sharing a laugh over coffee. Or catching up on the great mystery of life and its happenstances while sharing a meal. Most of us would. Additionally, having random encounters of the positive kind, those that help nurture us when we don’t even know it is happening. So, to that end, after scraping off the goo from my midsection, the technician going about her cleaning and disinfecting ritual, I decided do something about it all. From the requisite six foot distance, I commented on how different her work must be now. You could see she was surprised by the comment. Nodding her head in agreement we chatted briefly about the fatigue of COVID and than I thanked her for her work. How hard it must be to come in under these circumstances day in and day out. Putting yourself and, by extension, your family at risk because that’s your job, and you have to do it because people need you. I sincerely hope I’m not the only person to thank her for her work, but she looked like she hadn’t heard that in a long time. And it looked like tears were welling up. Sometimes all we want, all we need, is someone to see us.

That was a moment to remind me of the everyday miracles around us. The small sacrifices that add up to great bug ones. A reminder that under the masks people are craving for connection. We are social beings of course, and the need to connect on some level is innate in most of us. We may not want to talk about the weather and we roll our eyes at the latest escapade of Rex the wonder dog, but look what happens when those things are ripped from our lives. There is something to be said for the banality of everyday life when it goes missing.

All this being said as the first of the vaccines are being shot into the arms of the people that need it most. Health care workers and the most susceptible to the ravages of this little virus are getting their shots as we speak. A huge thank you must go out to the people that have toiled since the beginning of the pandemic, looking for cures and treatments, taking care of the sick and dying while holding it all together as best they can. Dark days are still ahead of us but I for one am seeing that light at the end of the tunnel as a little brighter today. That’s hope speaking, and hope is a good thing as wiser people than me have said.

Aim High

Today I am revisiting a topic of discussion from a few years back. Maybe I have run out of things to say or maybe I feel like I can do it better, either way, I’m sorry if you feel like I’m retelling stories – but just like a dad, I’m not going to stop.

In what seems like a million years ago, I took a drivers education course in the run up to getting my license. From it I remember just two things; lanes are 11 feet wide and aim high. The first thing is simply inane trivia that has somehow stuck in my brain. The fact that something like that is lodged in there but my own medical history escapes me way too often is simply confounding – WTF. The second piece of information was “aim high.” I have found this to be quite useful, not only for driving purposes but for life in general. The theory is that when you stop looking down at the road in front of your hood ornament, instead looking to the horizon, better drivers we all become. Our peripheral vision picks up on anything around us while the bigger picture is being focused on, giving one a sense of operational overview where potential issues are picked up on before they become actual issues.

Without actually thinking about it, I use that principle in my life everyday. I drive looking as far ahead as I deem prudent and I try to think big picture in the hopes that the little things will be taken care of. Of course it doesn’t always work because; as we know all too well, life has a habit of getting in the way. I say fuck it, deal with it and move on. It works for me, mostly. And maybe that’s not always possible as there is simply just too much coming at you to begin making sense of it all. That’s when we need to slow down and take stock of what the real issue or issues are. If I look back on my life, the times when I felt bogged down and was driving through negative town, it can probably be tied to times that I was looking down at the road in front of my hood, so to speak, and not aiming high. Not seeing the forest for the trees, keeping my eye on the ball – yada, yada, yada. You get the idea I’m sure because you’re smart that way. And to be sure, I feel like I have led a bit of a charmed life, in so much as that I haven’t had the entire world drop on my head at once. Who knows how I would have reacted if say, I got cancer one day, Scott was given his terminal diagnosis the next while my girlfriend at the time decided that we weren’t working anymore and my idiot boss told me that I just lost my job. Aim High? How about grab a bottle instead. God only knows how I would have reacted. Maybe no different than any one of my friends are reacting to the crap that has come down at them.

So I’m left to wonder, either literally or metaphorically, am I able to sit in an empty room with my own thoughts? Can I shut out the noise from the outside world to be able to get to the root of what I need to work on? My best friend died – I can’t change that, so why am I reliving that daily. The issue is not my friend dying but my need to learn how to grieve my loss. I know I have said this a few times now (see above note about Dad’s), but we need to be able to find the joy and the hope in what can seem like hopeless times. We should look for the one thing that really matters in this discussion, perspective. From there we can begin taking those baby steps towards that dim light out there beyond our vision.

Despite the domain of this blog and some of the things I may have written here, I am a pretty calm and reflective kind of guy. I don’t over react, I rarely make large decisions without thinking things through and I almost always look at the bigger picture. That is perspective…working for me. Look for your way of gaming that perspective. It’ll be worth it.

Ciao
D

Just One Prick

If you could do just one thing, on a small scale, to help prevent a disease from spreading while helping to lead down a path to some sort of normalcy, would you do it? Seems like an easy question, but as we have seen since the start of this pandemic – nothing is easy.

The year 2020 will go down as one of the strangest ever in our life time. The majority of us have never faced anything like this but we aren’t unique in being asked to make sacrifices for the greater good. However, I do believe our collective responses are unique to our time. Can you imagine if, at the height of the London Blitz, we had people sitting next to us pulling the doubting Thomas routine? Huddled together in the dank underground tubes, wondering if the next thud from above would finally make the earth fall in on you and the joker in the bowler hat next to you is raging about the fake news about what is really happening above ground. “There is no bombing, that’s the king and his minions thumping the ground to make you fall in line while they steal more treasure” or “you can’t make me turn my lights off, live free or die you sheep.” No, I can’t imagine that either. Seems too far fetched, and yet here we are today – millions questioning the very existence of a deadly virus as the case counts rise exponentially with the body counts following behind.

Whether questioning the election results or the need to wear a mask and stay the blazes home, there is an alarming rate of disbelief from a large portion of the population. And what I find funny, and by funny I don’t mean humorous but drop dead scary, is the fact that so many of these people are telling the rest of us not to be sheep. Listen Baa Baa, you are following some fuck wad on YouTube telling you to not believe anything you see and hear, except of course from him and his Karen’s. Wouldn’t that be the definition of being a “sheep?” I know, you’re different. I’ll say you are. Believing that this virus and pandemic are real because we are being told that it is does not make us brainless sheep. Why? because it is widely reported and backed up by science. There is empirical and verifiable evidence that the people that have died, have actually died. You can split hairs about underlying conditions and things like that, but you can’t deny (even though you do) that the body bag industry has gotten a big boost over the past year. People I know question things all the time, it’s called critical thinking, and when pressed with facts, we generally don’t think it’s a conspiracy to take away our freedoms.

Normally I would say go and have fun with that dark corner of the web buddy, but now I find myself wondering how we get out of this mess when 40% of the population isn’t willing to wear a mask. Add to that simple fact there are way too many people saying they won’t get a vaccine when it comes available. And that’s the “prick” I wanted to talk about during this rant against moronic behaviour. Herd immunity, whether through infections or through vaccination, is supposedly the only way we return to whatever stupid normal we had. Measles reportedly needs a 95% immunity for the herd thing to work. 95% of a population needs to be immune to protect the general population, to make it something we live with as opposed to die with in great numbers. Dr. Fauci has estimated we would need a 75% rate for COVID. Is this possible? I have my doubts for our friends to the south but I am hopeful enough for us here in Canada that will take the plunge – so to speak.

I have no doubt that the “conversations” around mandatory vaccinations, ID cards to prove immunity and all sorts of nonsense are raging already around the notion of getting vaccinated. I understand the fear of the unknown and what is being injected into you for your health, not to mention everyone’s health, but for certain a microchip isn’t being inserted into you so please, for the love of God, shut the fuck up about that shit. This isn’t a 5G Bill Gates Great Big Reset conspiracy theory. Thousands upon thousands of people have committed their lives to finding a treatment for us all. Untold billions of dollars have been spent trying to help and heal us all. Yes, the drug companies are going to make a killing and yes there will be corruption, there always will be, but I say this is a unique and unprecedented time we live in, not everything is going to be perfect and that’s going to have to be enough for everyone. The greater good is about our health and protection and the future, and that means getting the shot when it comes to you. Until then? Stay home and wear the mask when you do venture out.

You have as much responsibility as I do when it comes to helping stop this virus. Your “rights”, such as they are, do not supersede my rights to not die because you can’t bring yourself to cover your ugly face or get a shot. I am a great believer in bringing complex questions to a simpler format for better understanding. So let me ask you Todd, your mother is 74 years old and has some health issues. Your daughter is a sweet 6 year old that seems to catch a cold pretty easily. Are you so enamoured with your rights to not do anything you don’t want to do, that you would risk the health of both of these people? You won’t get a shot to protect them. You won’t let your daughter get vaccinated to protect her grandmother as well as her? I wonder if we can find a solution for all you tinfoil hat wearing motherfuckers? Is Australia still available to use as a dumping ground. Not penal colony, but prick colony? Asking for a friend.

One Week

When you get those rare moments of clarity, those flashes when the universe makes sense, you try desperately to hold on to them. They are the life boats for the darker times, when the vastness of it all, the incomprehensible nature of life is completely illusive. So the question becomes, or should have been all a long… What would you do if you knew you only had one day, or one week, or one month to live. What life boat would you grab on to? What secret would you tell? What band would you see? What person would you declare your love to? What wish would you fulfil? What exotic locale would you fly to for coffee? What book would you write?

From the movie One Week

I don’t know how many times I have used this quote over the past few years of inhabiting this corner of the world. It strikes me in an almost visceral way and I can almost never read it without a tear or two being shed. I won’t bore you with the reasons as to why this is true – it should be evident on a superficial level, and for those of you that know me, you know, on a deeper level, why I would shed a tear.

I can relate to this on a personal level as much as I can relate to it when considering the plight of people that I love and care for. The past week has been – how could I say it gently? Fucked? Yeah that works. The news that some people close to me are being dragged through the mud with health issues, serious and even more serious, is a reminder of the nature of fragility that life has. One wouldn’t think I would need to be reminded of this, what with a pandemic raging all around us and my own personal reminders of this every time I open my eyes, but here you go anyway. As if to say, “just in case you forgot, here is a reminder for ya. Suck it!!!”

In our movie from whence this quote came from, our hero Ben gets the news that he’s done for. Cancer of the terminal kind. First – fuck cancer. Second, fuck it again. But Ben isn’t ready to be a patient or a statistic quite yet. You see, he has a different plan – he does what a lot of men dream about, hitting the road on a beauty of a bike to have an adventure of the “I don’t know what’s coming around the corner but I’m still heading that way” kind. Reading Ghost Rider by Neil Peart, one sees that this is not as crazy as it sounds. After his daughter and wife died, he finds himself needing to go. Just to get moving because standing still feels like it might be the end of all things for him. He saw that he was in a perilous place so he decided to get out of Dodge.

I know not everyone feels this way but the pull of the road is alluring to be sure. Running away from everything that has fallen apart or to avoid coming to terms with whatever horrible news has befallen you. I think it is very real and in many ways a quite reasonable response. Mr. Peart rode over 55,000 miles across North America to escape the darkness. Or at least to learn how to deal with it. He was one of the “lucky” ones, he found the light during his endless riding. He came back. Ben was not so lucky. Terminal was just that and his legacy, in the end, was to pay homage to that quote and what it meant to him.

I’ve had that feeling before. I can relate and I can understand that sometimes it’s just easier to be gone. In my own case, during those times that I needed to be away from it all, I simply took a few hours to myself to be alone. Ironically, during those times I turn the sound up and push the pedal down a little further to tune out the noise that seems to never shut off in my brain. I think I have it easy compared to some of the people I know. I really do consider myself lucky that I can deal with those giant adulty things that nobody bothered to tell you about while growing up with some modicum of sanity. Parents get old. Friends die of cancer. People you care about go through hell and back. And it starts all over again. Eat a dick!

As the five year anniversary approaches for my own diagnosis of cancer, I find myself shaking my fist yet again at this terrible scourge. Not for me but for mine. Can we just stop? I know, wishful thinking, so I guess I will just say this – you’re in my thoughts and my prayers. In the sincerest way, know that I am here for you if I can do anything. You’re not imposing. I will definitely make jokes at all your and mine expense, and if I can generate a chuckle or two I will have done well, but in the end I am really just trying to be a little part in helping to deal with the nonsense that is your here and now.

A Nation Divided

Let me begin by saying that pollsters can all go fuck themselves. How dare they get our hopes so high for “the blue wave”? How dare they leave us at the doorstep of the election with visions of Moscow Mitch, Sniveling Lyndsay Graham and Donnie leaving town in a complete repudiation of douche baggery? Sure, maybe naïve belief in the better angels of our neighbours to the south coupled with those polls are to blame but you gotta start with someone, so all the pollsters – GFY!

Despite ample evidence to the contrary, so many of us thought this was the time for standing up, with a resounding NO, to the politics of greed and gotcha moments. Sadly this is seemingly not a trait that so called Republicans have anymore. My cousin put it quite succinctly – the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness has been replaced by “fuck you, I got mine.”

Two things come to mind when watching how the second worse thing that could have happened on election nights plays out. First, who can we blame? A natural human reaction to any sort of conflict, we look for someone or something to blame, to shake our fists at. Second – what next?

I’ll begin with the latter question. I don’t know anymore that America can be fixed. I fear that it is past the termination shock point. After four years of circus like buffoonery we still ended up with nearly 50% of the electorate voting for, in my opinion, a moron. How? I will never understand. But that’s me and my filters that I see the world through. I came to the hard conclusion yesterday while driving home that I’m not omnipotent. After the shock of this realization I saw, a little clearer, that the people that voted for him can’t all be morons. Can they? Yes, to be sure there are plenty of those that follow Donnie’s cult of idiocy. That fact cannot be ignored. By the same token you cannot ignore that there is a subset of the MAGA crowd that do have humanity and intelligence and they voted for him for other reasons. Maybe they held their noses at his mocking of the handicapped or his blatant misogyny or barely veiled racism because they have very real hopes and fears that Donnie spoke to in some way.

If you were to follow that logic than you must allow for the possibility that somewhere in the words and writings of Donnie, there is a roadmap to fixing what these people need fixed. That he has some grand plan to bring back the jobs that were lost to so many people through the natural progression of industry and economy. That by talking about the rapists and murderers from Mexico, he really is saying that I hear your concerns about what the country is turning to and I alone can fix it. I’m not being facetious here, this may very well be the thought process for so many people that cast votes for him and his enablers. Forget for a moment that he literally doesn’t give a rats ass about any of those people, their votes are a means to an end for him and he has no compunction about lying to their faces to get what he wants. Be it a Putin golden shower or a few more percentage points on occupancy at his gaudy hotels, he is getting something out of this on a personal level. So the questions is, why are these people buying into it?

Well, I think that relates to the first question in many ways. Who is to blame? America is a country about division. It’s grand experiment in democracy was itself started under divisive conditions. It wanted to divide itself from Britain, but not everyone did. And when it did, the south wanted to ensure that they could continue to be slave owners, in essence dividing their souls from God, so the electoral college was a compromise to keep the slave owners in line to ratify the constitution. A country was born and 200 plus years later we have shit show defined by division.

The average believers in Donnie, in a very real way, are more rural, poorer and less educated than those of the liberal persuasion. That carries with it certain truths that colour ones view of the world. If you grew up on a dirt farm in Alabama, the same as your pappy and your grand pappy before you, you are going to be predisposed to think a certain way. You are more likely to look down on black people, probably even blame them for your lot in life. You will feel threatened by “liberal east coast elites” that call you shit kicker and look down on you for your heritage and your beliefs. So now you hate those clowns too. Maybe they are the reason you scratch out a living while waiting for the American dream to come knocking. Or maybe, you own a peanut farm in Georgia. You do well for yourself. And when the Olympics came to Atlanta in 1996 you decided to go north to my little town and stay at my little inn. Nestled away in my parlour you matter of fact told me that the reason you left on a whim from the spectacle of the Olympics was to get away from the influx of blacks. My jaw dropped as I stared at your stupid gold watch and gold rings on one hand with a glass of rye in the other, caught without words at the ugly and nonchalant display of racism in my house. I am still shocked, 24 years later. You like Donnie because he said he was gonna take care of those Chinese stealing all our jobs and your taxes were going to go down because he said they would. And maybe you can sense his inherent racism through his own words and actions and you like that too.

So, what binds the peanut farmer and the coal miner and the Wall street stock broker to tRump? It’s not one thing, and that’s what the problem is. You can’t blame it on one thing or one person. You can’t point to someone or something and say, see, that’s who is to blame. But Donnie does and then, like an orange P.T. Barnum, he sells you the whole snake oil shit show. So while many of us sit here thinking how could anyone believe that a guy who owns a gold plated toilet actually cares about the common man and woman, that common man and woman are looking for something to grasp on to that fits their view. They may be limited views by some standards but they are, none the less, their deeply held truths.

When you add into this subset, the flag waiving conspiracy believers, the MAGA hat wearing believers in freedom and the American dream and the ever entertaining and scary Republican diehards, you have a powerful coming together of voices that feel like they aren’t being heard and voices that have tasted the nectar of power. Here is where it all comes together. Put aside the terminal irony, you’ll hurt your head, and concede the fact that these people want someone they feel is one with them. Who’s to blame? The founding fathers? Nixon? Newt Gingrich? Mitch and Donnie? Yes, all of these people and so many more. A country that was born out revolution, one that decried religious over reach and wanted to, above all, avoid despotic leaders has allowed itself to be led by, at various times, pious over-preachers, power hungry populists and characters with morals that would get them flogged in “the good ole days.” America is a grand experiment in the notion of power being granted by the will of the people. It has somehow turned itself into a caricature of its own grand design, mocking the very things that should be aspired to. Termination shock point indeed.

In the next few days some old white man is going to be the president. One will inherit a country that has not been this divided since the Civil War. The other will too, but he won’t care because he feeds on that division, he revels in it and he sows it whenever he can. It is no secret where I stand, these few paragraphs should clarify things should you be on the fence, so when I say this it might sound a little odd coming from me, so here it goes: I am saying a prayer tonight for the soul of America. There is a lot of pain and anger, a lot of grief and fear throughout the land. The easy thing, the usual thing for me to do is call them all idiots, threaten to throat punch them and go back to wishing for sanity that makes sense. Instead I’m praying for healing and understanding. Praying for hearts and minds on all sides of the chasm to be opened to the pain across the aisle, across the street and across the nation. It is a time for the hard work of healing.

Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground

I don’t know if it has gotten easier or if I am just more accustom to it now. Maybe that’s how grief works? The old adage that time heals all wounds? I really don’t know. What I do know is that today marks two years since you left us brother.

I can’t begin to explain what you have missed here on the little blue dot in space. It has gotten weird here my friend. And what most of us, those that were fortunate enough to have known you, would say without equivocation, is that we miss your analysis, your observations, your sneering smirk in response to it all. A global pandemic? You would know what to say. You always did.

I still find myself wanting to tell you things that only you and I could share. I still get a catch in my throat when I think of you. So I don’t want you to think that I have forgotten you in any way. But it does bother me a bit to think that those moments are less harsh, less tear inducing – although as I write this I need to close my office door so I can shed a tear in peace. No my friend, I have not forgotten you at all. I want to believe I have just gotten more used to the idea that you’re not here. I don’t like it but I have come to accept it. Living with it. It has become part of who I am now, further threads woven into the tapestry of my life.

I hope to come for a visit this week. Go see Fifi for a little shared meal and stop by to say hello, to have a drink of the Drambuie with you, have a chat. I’ll fill you in on the details as best I can. And I know that all around people will be toasting to you and your memory. And if they are anything like me, having a chuckle at the many memories of you they bring up.

Miss you brother

Creative Destruction

Well, thank fuck someone had the gonads to stand up for the commoners in our neck of the world. I read, with a bit of pleasure, that the NDP have won some concessions from the Liberals to avoid triggering an election through a non confidence vote that was barreling down the pipe at us. What did they agree to? Well the Liberals caved to the insane demand from the N-Dippers to keep the funds flowing at current rates to help support people during these crazy COVID times. And to also come up with a benefit to allow for paid sick leave for all the regular folk that don’t have that particular benefit worked into their contracts. “Crazy eh?” he said, with tongue firmly in cheek.

At the beginning of this pandemic I wrote about my fervent desire to see changes; changes to how we look at our world and how we treat our people. I wrote of realignment and the unprecedented opportunity we have before us to value things differently. Well, unsurprisingly, it hasn’t happened. Giant corporations are getting bailed out, at least the ones that haven’t cashed in to the tune of billions of dollars (you’re welcome Amazon), money is flying all over the place but the thought of reimagining our society hasn’t followed in any meaningful way. We are reacting only.

My dough eyed naivete failed me again. Oh well, it’s a part of me so I guess I will continue to be that way evermore. I really did believe that there was going to be some sort of movement on society readjusting in a significant way, I had a gut feeling, but it seems that the real rulers of the world wanted nothing to do with that. The rich and powerful got what they wanted, more rich and more powerful. And the rest of us can thank the NDP for getting a smidgen of guaranteed support should you get afflicted with the sniffles and need to stay home for 14 days doing everyone’s favourite self isolation dance. It’s not business that will pay this either, just to be clear; we the people are paying for this through our taxes. I’m sure the response from big business was “we can’t afford this” as they gleefully cashed their CEWS cheques.

In economics there is a theory called creative destruction, something economist Joseph Schumpeter trumpeted, which essentially meant that for the good of the overall economy there needed to be this upheaval to make way for improvements and innovation. The car needed to replace the horse drawn buggy so that we could get to where we we needed to go quicker, damn the buggy drivers and buggy builders. And to be honest, I know that and I accept that. ATM’s replaced a lot of bank tellers while changing their jobs. Hard on the bank tellers but over time there would have been a realignment to reflect the new realities. Short term pain for long term gain if you will. And it’s hard to argue against that so I won’t. But what I will do is mention that in the rush for this creative destruction we have allowed to be foisted upon us, we have also allowed inequality to grow in staggering ways. The stock market is always held up as a marker of how well an economy is doing, but that is not the economy – it is a harbinger of what may come to pass for people that are invested in the market while allowing for the uber rich to get uber richer. So while tRump brags about the stock market, all he is really saying is, “hey, look how rich me and my friends are getting.” The creative destruction has allowed for the system to re-align itself to reward the rich and keep down everyone else. Years of lobbying efforts, downright corruption and a belief that every man is responsible for their own fortune. Easy if you game the system and have people there to stack the deck for you along the way.

This is why some ridiculously small percentage of people own more wealth than some 95 percent of the the rest of us, combined. And it is these people and those that want to be like them that stand in the way of real progression when it comes to social equality and believing in the notion that we are, at the end of the day, our brothers keepers. My earlier hopes that this particular time was opportune for this kind of alignment was based on the idea that creative destruction could be harnessed for good. We could make fundamental changes to the trajectory of our lives by say, not buying an oil pipeline while touting our green agenda or reforming the social safety net to remove the stigma of what amounts to a ham handed hand out and turn progressive ideas into progressive actions.

Did companies need help during this pandemic? Yes they did, as did all that were affected, but the fact remains that there is and will continue to be a disproportionate amount of money flowing to the haves than to the have nots. And that is here in Canada, I can’t stomach the notion of what’s going on with our neighbours to the south. The idea that people vote against their own interest has never been so starkly clear as it is now. Americans are against socialism except for the kind that goes to corporations, probably because of some sort of archaic belief in the ridiculous conservative economic theory known as trickle down economics. To me that’s no different than “clean coal” and “light sweet crude” – a bit of sugar to help make the medicine go down. Or maybe more aptly, a sedative just before the oatmeal enema is administered. Fuckers!

The Life of Bread

A very long drive. Two of them actually. One way to drop my son off in Ontario so he could begin is further studies and than coming home, by myself, so I can self isolate for two weeks before getting geared up to welcome students back to the university. Interesting times we live in right now. Or maybe we always live in interesting times and when those times become extreme we notice it more. Maybe. In any event, the drive home was made bearable by listening to some audio books and some Vinyl Cafe pod casts intermingled with searching for music and news whilst barreling through the seemingly unending roads at 125km/h.

One of those dreamy pod casts had Stuart McLean waxing poetic about Dave walking Sam to school and the nonsense that only Dave can get into. The story is typical gold from our dearly departed Mr McLean, but there was a line that caught my attention a bit. Dave thought about how walking his son to school was like walking through a house of mirrors, a reflection back to you of the memories one might have of their own school experiences. Of walking to school, holding your moms hand, maybe dreading the coming calamity or maybe secretly looking forward to it. I suppose we can all relate to some degree or another on this ritual. I was so pulled in by this imagery that I voice activated my phone and sent myself a text to remember that phrase – house of mirrors, remember, I’m doing 125 now through rural Quebec, safety first.

On the subject of memories, my short little trip brought a few pangs of nostalgia. Unsurprisingly they related to food. My moms cucumber salad to go along with dinner. The delicious calabrese loaf from the Italian bakery. Hard crusted with a chewy airy interior. Instant return to being young when good bread was always on our table. My house of mirrors would probably be best constructed as a moving feast.

All of this got me to thinking about how we deal with our stresses, how we respond to those things banging on our walls. Often we reach for comfort, those little bits of whatever that make us feel better, even if only for a short time. But like an addict in-between their fixes, the comfort can be short lived if we don’t do the harder things. In this time of monumental stress coupled with our daily darkness that can be there, just below the surface, it is vitally imperative that we do what we can to change that equation. Ignoring things won’t help. Dancing on like the world is full of sunshine and roses is just wrong on so many levels. I don’t have any answers save to say what works for me from time to time. And as if on cue, Shout by Tears for Fears comes on over my headphones.

Shout
Shout
Let it all out
These are the things I can do without
Come on
I’m talking to you (they really really ought to know)
Come on

Tears for Fears

It can be a fearful thing, that in-between moment of knowing that you need to talk and gathering up the grit to actually do it, but as is so often the case, the first step is the hardest – after that you just need to keep going. Like the gym, but for your brain, for your soul. When it comes to your well being, the only person you owe anything to is yourself. Not him, her or them, just you. The burdens of the world will become a little lighter when you lessen your own burden a little.

As I walk through my house of mirrors, the reflections that bring joy to me are the ones I focus on as much as I can. Knowing my outlook on life is more positive than negative it may be a little easier to do that for me, but with the help from those tools that I use to process and grow from, I spend a lot more time in the light than the darkness. But those reflections that bring pain are not ignored for long; the ones that need to be dealt with are dealt with. Ignoring those pangs of fear or loss or hurt only compound the issue, possibly debilitating us but certainly screwing with our inner peace. And no amount of bread will fix that.

Manifest Destiny

The seams are torn open. The shiny veneer has been ripped off to reveal the truth behind. We can see now, quite plainly, what most people on the ground that cared to look have known for quite a while – America is not the greatest country in the world.

That veil of supremacy and the notion that America alone is the one true beacon of hope for the world has always been more myth than fact. I would imagine spin artists have more to do with that image than concrete facts could ever provide but the fact remains, for much of the past 200 years, our neighbour to the south has enjoyed a place among the upper echelon of envy and emulation. America was branded as the land of opportunity, a place where your dreams could be achieved. All you had to do was work hard and commit to the higher purpose of being a patriot, subservient to the American dream. Oh, and you had to be white.

The irony of Manifest Destiny, that doctrine that shaped much of the early days of America, is that it helped in dividing the country as a whole instead of bringing it together. God’s mission for the fledgling country came to a head over the issue of slavery. Plainly and simply. While the majority of the white folks throughout the vast spaces were busy hacking out a living or getting rich through various forms of serfdom and opportunism, there were, as we know, a sub set of the population that didn’t warrant the simple dignity and respect of even being acknowledged as human.

As the country barreled towards the Civil War it’s population was in the neighbourhood of 31 million. Of those enumerated, nearly 13% were slaves. Four million slaves. Let that sink in. Manifest destiny? Was that really even a consideration for those that were considered property. For those that were the reason that the south went to war over? No, I’m sorry but that nebulous belief that they were destined for greatness and were God’s chosen people to lead North America is as much a fallacy as the notion of the Sun King. A belief in absolutism or a belief in preordained God given superiority, what the hell is the difference when you ask the common man on the street as he struggles to put food on the table; living in fear of falling down the stairs and not being able to work his 14 hour day for a few sou.

This isn’t a diatribe on the current occupant of the oval office. He is not to blame for the way the country has progressed over the years, although he is certainly with blood on his hands for what the country faces today. He and his enablers and the people that have either bought into the cult of personality or simply associate themselves with him and his ilk should be held accountable for abject failure in leadership during these unprecedented times we live in. Sadly, the current state of affairs has been the result of generations of criminal malevolence. For every crooked politician doing the bidding of the rich and powerful there are hundreds of those rich and powerful doing what they do best, getting more of the same.

Manifest Destiny has manifested itself into a zero sum game writ large. The American dream has become entirely tied to the pursuit of the almighty dollar. As a whole, society has said quite clearly, for many years, that money equals power and happiness comes to you after that. In general terms, that almost always equates to someone winning and someone losing. Be it Jeff and his Amazon juggernaut with its serfdom clothed as economic opportunity or the Walton’s or any number of the robber barons that come to us in the guise of economic freedom fighters. Someone has to lose for someone to win so big. And I would argue that there are a lot of someones. I am not at all against people making a buck or driving their dreams with their ideas and initiative, on the contrary, we need more of that. But I also believe that we need to do a fully flushed accounting on the true costs of unfettered capitalism.

So, here we are in 2020. A pandemic rages on, caring not a wit about borders and dollars. An economy, built on the backs of essential workers, that has faltered greatly while the essential workers have become more essential than ever before. The environmental calamity that we face has not gone away, simply pushed off the front pages and we live with the original sin of slavery and its shaping of where we are in the world. There are no easy answers anymore. Hitler was easy. It took far too long to get to that easy answer but in the end it was plain to most that he needed to go. Voting out Drumph won’t magically fix the problems that America faces any more than voting Harper out fixed our own issues here in Canada. But if America has any hope of simply steering the ship into the direction of the idea that it could be that shining city on a hill, it needs to look into the mirror a lot harder than it has. All of us really do I think. We all need to face up to our collective past and realize that we just haven’t been all that nice to each other. And from there we need to talk and be open, formulate a plan and implement the plan with the same fervour usually reserved for Black Friday sales.

I propose that America needs a new New deal. One that encompasses an ethos that fictional president Jed Bartlett, spoke to:

If fidelity to freedom of democracy is the code of our civic religion then surely the code of our humanity is faithful service to that unwritten commandment that says we shall give our children better than we ourselves received.

Jed Bartlett

It’s fine and well that you want the best for your own kids, but truly how can anyone win if someone else loses? We need to do better. And America, if you’re listening, if you really want to be that shining city on a hill that inspires its own and the rest of the world, start by showing us the humanity and moral certitude that you have always dreamed you had.