Ken

Ken

30 March, 2020

DON'T PANIC, he said, panicking

"You've got to stop obsessing about this", said Eva. "Unplug for a while," said Mark.

Easier said than done.

I look at the stats. We have not flattened the curve. Not at all. In fact, we're doing worse than Italy over the same number of days. What happened there is almost certainly going to happen here.
What happened in Italy? Corpses thrown out windows into trucks. No funerals.  Civil unrest is spreading after four weeks of lockdown.

I have spent a number of sleepless nights running numbers, because you can't argue with the cold reality of exponential functions. In America two weeks ago, 110 people had succumbed to the virus, and the numerate people who predicted 3100 dead by today were scoffed at.

The toll as of today in the United States is 3126.

So the certainty is that this is going to get a lot worse. How much worse is a matter of conjecture. There are too many uncertainties, still. I can visualize everything from a resurrection around July to the complete and total breakdown of society by October...or long before. That last may sound insane to you. Look at Italy after just a month: it's not.

Every innocent cough is suspect. Every half-degree of fever could be a harbinger of hell. And yes, I know that this virus has an appetite for the elderly and the immunocompromised. But it can and does strike people down in the prime of life, and it can move remarkably quickly. One case study I read yesterday involved a man in his 20s who walked on to his ambulance unaided...and by the time he got to the hospital, he had to put into a deep coma and ventilated. His life support was pulled the next day.
But it can also move very slowly, with some people reporting gradual onset of symptoms over the space of several days. And as we all know, this is further complicated by the fact many carries show zero symptoms, or very mild ones.

 There is just too much uncertainty for my mind to churn over. I've always been someone who wants as much information as possible, even if it's horrible. It's impossible to get it all, but I live by Heinlein's admonition

“What are the facts? Again and again and again – what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what “the stars foretell,” avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable “verdict of history” – what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!”

There aren't enough facts, yet. I was heartened to find out Johnson and Johnson has a leading candidate for a vaccine, until I saw they aren't even starting phase one of testing until September. I confess I was more upset than I should have been at that: what the hell is the holdup? Eva set me straight on that. You want to move slowly and carefully with these things, because your cure could well be much worse than the disease. My literalist streak strikes again: I saw "leading candidate" and thought that meant there was just a few tweaks before we could all be vaccinated en masse and this slow-motion horror would be over. Sadly, I was wrong.

Many others are justly worried about their jobs and their businesses. Another confession: my initial reaction to that was far from charitable, until I sat back and thought much of this is coming from people who are healthy, to their knowledge; without relatives or friends in intensive care units struggling to breathe. Of course this wouldn't seem quite real to them, and also? The sheer scale of what this virus has accomplished in so short a time is just staggering. We face global challenges recovering from this.
I once worked for a boss who outlawed that word. "They're not the C-word", he said, putting me briefly in mind of an entirely different c-word. "They are OPPORTUNITIES". Like, gag me with an entire placesetting. But in this case he's right. As one of the infinite number of Facebook memes I've seen recently has it: 'BEFORE WE GO BACK TO NORMAL, YOU MIGHT WISH TO CONSIDER WHAT PARTS OF NORMAL ARE WORTH GOING BACK TO".  I'll tell you this, friends and neighbours: given the $2000 a month that Trudeau has made available, there will be a very pointed discussion on why it is handicapped people and those on welfare are expected to live on half that or less.
We're going to have to rebuild it, a little or a lot. We can. We have the technology. We can make society revolve around people instead of the almighty dollar.

One thing is certain. Loves, friends, strangers, you're all getting hugged when this is over.

Stay safe, stay healthy.

27 March, 2020

COVID-19

All right, yes, I'll do it.

Several people have privately messaged me over the last week or so, asking for me to write a blog on COVID-19.  One made note that I had promised just such a blog earlier. And so I did.

I have not left my property for eight days. To be candid, although I would very much like to go back to work, I do not feel safe in the slightest doing so. We are just entering the hot zone here in the Region of Waterloo. Our regional government has advised the risk of contracting COVID-19 is present "across the Region" and I believe them.
My biggest concerns are Eva and Mark. Without infringing their privacy, let me just say that they are at serious and substantial risk  if they get the virus. I can not under-state this. And so we hunker down, try not to worry about money, and wait this out.
Most of us are doing the same, so I'm not going to complain about it. Really, it's not a great deal different from life as I lived it Before. Other than work and grocery runs, going out was an extreme rarity here. So I'm not exactly shack-wacky yet, although I am getting there.
I miss Kathy and Jade.
I miss my work friends.
I miss you.
And I miss the things I took for granted before this came along. I took for granted that if I did want to leave the house, there was nothing stopping me. I miss being able to go to the grocery store whenever I feet like it and having faith that most of what I want will  be in stock and available to buy on the spot. (Delivery services are currently facing a one to two week delay and anywhere from 10-50%+ out-of-stocks).  I never thought I would say this, but I miss reading the news and merely being outraged, rather than scared.
I miss not having the weight of this on me. I'm not sleeping well despite sleep aids and I feel as if I have less than zero energy even though I am not sick. There is little point in going on: this is not a pity-party, we're all feeling this or worse. So let me instead talk about the positives. Because there are many.

The first positive is that this has reinforced, on a global scale, what's important.

Most of us think our jobs are important.  Most of us are wrong about that, and moreover, we're wrong about which jobs actually are. We all know that nurses are heroes. But most of us have suddenly realized that the stockthing we yelled out last month because the goat's anus tartare was out of stock again is actually a human being, and that human being is working her ass off to keep things under some semblance of normalcy. Parents suddenly forced to homeschool their children have developed a sincere and heartfelt appreciation for the same teachers they were lambasting for being on strike in the recent past. The same people who wanted trains and trucks to run over protesting Indigenous people and their allies six short weeks ago are now begging for the entire economy to be shut down because now it's potentially a matter of life and death for them.

We are learning how to process boredom, which is something many of us have forgotten how to do. We are getting, hopefully, lots of family time that we never got before. Perhaps most importantly, the collective exercise we are very consciously doing, the sacrifices we are making, they're all not just for ourselves and our loved ones but also for total strangers. That's important. That's good.

If current projections are true, this is going to get much worse before it gets better sometime in the summer. We are undoubtedly in for more hardship and deprivation. But we have each other, and we are trying our damnedest to keep it so that we have each other.

I will not deny that I am struggling with this. I have having trouble sleeping; the weight of fear, not just mine, is all but crushing.  The slow motion of this is what's doing it to me. I think I would deal much better with a sudden, sharp crisis.

The other issue, of course, has to do with the other, insidious virus called misinformation. Or more bluntly, lies.
donald trump wants to re-open the American economy on Easter, because, you know, God only brought one person back from the dead, and Trump is so much better than God. Don't get me wrong, this is a crime against humanity. But there is undoubtedly a calculus going on, and wherever figures can be, ahem, adjusted lower, I think that's happening.

The death rate from this varies wildly between countries. In the U.S. as of right now, it's about twelve times as lethal as the seasonal flu. In Italy, which has been ravaged, the death rate is 9%, which is horrifying: that's more than forty five times as lethal. The stats are not very reliable anywhere because we do not have near enough test kits to go around. It's likely there are at least three times as many cases as we see in the daily reports. And that reported and confirmed case load in Ontario is increasing at about 25% each day, which mirrors what's happened in Italy and Great Britain. Ultimately, if you think this thing isn't such of a much, I would ask you if countries around the globe would opt to shut their economies down voluntarily for "no big deal".

Here's what else I would say to you right now. Unless you are a victim of abuse, you need to drop the "cooped up/trapped" narrative in your head and replace it with the word "safe".  Realize that the best data we have suggests this does have an ending, and while that ending certainly isn't Easter, Canada Day is a safer bet. We'll all have to figure out money as we go: if you're hurting that way, and most of us are, remember that: most of us are.  They are not going to throw you in debtor's prison: there aren't enough prisons. WE WILL GET THROUGH THIS. And hopefully, once we do, we will develop an appreciation for the little things, the little things that are in fact big things.
The elites that have lost money? They'll need to be careful with just how much they try to get back, how quickly. I think we have reached a tipping point in our society and that things will improve for the little people once we are over this hump. But for that to happen, I can't be the only person thinking it and demanding it. We can do better. We can take this pause and reset.

Will we?


Stay safe, stay home, and I love you.


24 March, 2020

Kathy at 50



This blog is a challenge.

Kathy does not like being the center of attention. Many don't, but she really doesn't. She was downplaying this 50th birthday before 2020 even started, saying she didn't want a party or even gifts. When I told her I was reduced to writing a blog for her birthday, she hesitated an ungodly long time before saying "less is more".

Well, when it comes to her 5'2" stature, truer words were never spoken. For someone who often laments her height or lack thereof, she casts a long shadow.

I have only known Kathy for four of those fifty years of hers. I am very conscious of that, never fear. But they have been four intensive years. I daresay we have had more honest, real communication in that timeframe than many partners do in ten or fifteen years. She has brought me around to various sites important to her childhood, and told me the stories about those sites and others. I've come to know her reasonably well, I should think.

Without indulging in too much of that mush she hates, I hope I can just say this: she deserves the spotlight she shuns.

Kathy doesn't consider herself special, and that alone makes her special in a world stuffed with narcissists and egomaniacs. But there's much more to her than modesty and humility. She's been a single mother to Jade for as long as I have known her, and single mothers are among the most resilient people on earth: they have to be.

Kathy grew up the eldest of three, a sassy tomboy who did well academically but struggled to fit in socially, at least until grade seven when she befriended several people who are still close to her today. Those friends are cherished.  Her family, which is almost incomprehensibly large to me, is very important to her as well. And there's her job, a job she has held for nineteen years. She's a linchpin -- the place falls apart when she goes on holiday for a week -- but, well, let's just say that fact goes unrecognized and leave it at that. I tend to go full-on rabid on this topic. It's sad, but forgivable, that Kathy doesn't treat herself as if she's special. It's angering and unforgivable, at least to me, when others don't treat her the way she deserves to be treated.

She sees herself as little, as lesser, as if she is living a life without meaning. The first two are emphatically false no matter how many people mistreat her, and the third is up to her, something she has firmly grasped of late, to my great joy.

She was raised to be self-reliant and instilled with a strong work ethic and set of values that served her in good stead helping to raise Jade. She is a giver, putting herself last as a rule (and to a fault, he says, gently)...and while she has struggled with bouts of depression that have threatened to douse her flame, that flame still burns brightly. She's still looking for a passion to attach that flame to, and when she finds it, look out world.

Kathy has had several nicknames through the years; I am privileged and honoured to have been allowed to call her by one her maternal grandfather had for her: KitKat. That same grandfather gifted her with one of her most cherished memories of childhood: he was a driver for Beatrice, and Kathy, at about five or six years old, got to go on a run with him. She distinctly recalls sitting on an overturned milk crate, drinking Beatrice lemonade and sharing sunflower seeds with her grandpa, talking and laughing.

Talking and laughing. Two other things she's famous for.

There is so, so much more I could write. So much more I feel I should write. But less is more, she says, and  I'll settle for this: Hon, you've done more living in 50 years than you realize. Your life is not over, in many ways it's beginning anew.  You don't look even close to 50. And the Kathy I see is young at heart, too.

Here's to another fifty years of buttery, flaky, crispy...uh, crustiness.

I love you, hon. I love you, KitKat.



Ken


23 March, 2020

Grace

Now here's an interesting topic. How does one of them "spiritual, but not religious" people approach grace?

Well, I try to bow out of saying it if possible. I don't feel comfortable thanking God for food that I know came from farms and factories. I tend to gag on phrases like "and these Thy gifts from Thy bounty".  If pressed, I will say something along the lines of

All that we have is a gift.
May we be thankful.
May we celebrate.
May we share. 

...which as far as I can see and say, maintains the spirit of a grace without invoking a deity.

But grace with a capital G...that lands me right in the thick of a discarded Christianity. Wikipedia has this to say as far as a definition:

In Western Christian theology, grace is "the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not necessarily because of anything we have done to earn it". It is not a created substance of any kind. ... It is an attribute of God that is most manifest in the salvation of sinners.

The first sentence is gorgeous, and matches my sense of a God Who loves unconditionally. That last bit, though, the "salvation of sinners"...that's where the holy water starts to sizzle and burn. If this God salvated all the sinners, well, then we wouldn't have an issue. But it doesn't work like that, at least according to everything I've read and heard from preachers in Christian churches of various denominations. Turns out that there are a whole bunch of conditions you need to satisfy to earn the unconditional love of God. And it goes without saying that we've earned it, or at least are closer to earning it. You? You're going to hell.
To be fair, two Popes have now indicated what should have been obvious all along: there is no literal Hell. You won't find it mentioned in the Bible...well, you might, but every single instance is derived from four words:

Sheol (Hebrew)
Hades (Greek)

Both these words actually simply translate as "the grave". If you want to be a little more poetic, you can certainly say "place/state of death". But no sulphur, no brimstone, no cheeky little devils running around pitchforking people.

Tartarus (Greek)

Here we have a more hellish word: this refers to the deepest part of Hades and it does imply eternal torment. Aha, you say. There's Hell. Not quite. First off, this word appears once in the entire Bible (2 Peter 2:4). Second, it's a word, like Hades, from Greek mythology. Do you, a devout Christian, want to use Greek mythology, with its alien and blasphemous pantheon, to guide your understanding of the Lord God? You do? Okay, then you should know that that single verse isn't even talking about wicked people and where God puts 'em: it's where the fallen angels went.

This leaves us with:

Gehenna (Greek)

This was the only word Jesus used, allegedly referring to "hell".  Wanna see it? I've got a picture, courtesy Google Maps, infernal division.

There it is, a valley outside Jerusalem that was, in Jesus' time, the site of the city dump. Which was kept burning 24/7. Anything unwanted was thrown in the fiery put to burn up. Great body disposal site, and yes, it was used that way. You can maybe see where the evil reputation came from. Even worse, Gehenna was a place where dirty deeds were done dirt cheap in the service of the wrong gods, so of course it's got an awful stain on it.

Let's look at one famous verse where Jesus talks about Gehenna, Matthew 5:30. "And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell (Gehenna).”

Remember, Jesus was Jewish. In Hebrew eschatology, the body is useless after death, while the spirit is preserved. So what Jesus is saying here is that cutting off your hand is better than a lifestyle of sin that will result in your body being tossed into the dump. Jesus makes five other similar references, just to drive the point home. He also called the Pharisees "Children of Gehenna" and that must have annoyed the fuck out of those pious, sanctimonious bastards. Jesus is saying "I see right through your fake righteousness, guys. It won't help you, your bodies will still get thrown on the trash heap with those of the poor."

BURNED.

There are two other references Jesus made to Gehenna that are a little more topical. In Matthew 10:28 and Luke 12:5, Jesus says: "Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.”
Ohhh, that sounds more like hell, doesn't it? Except for that word "destroy". Where's the eternal suffering?

It isn't. Because eternal suffering is not Biblical. It is, instead, a creation of one John Milton, he of Paradise Lost, which, last I looked, is not the Christian Bible.

It's truly distressing how many pastors and priests still preach hellfire and damnation. It really makes you wonder what else they're getting wrong, when they can so fundamentally mischaracterize their all-loving God as a genocidal monster.

I got sidetracked. Tends to happen when I drag out my Bible.

Grace. I'm not going to bore you with the Catholic lore on grace, you'll be snoring in major thirds if you aren't already. I will only say that different Christian denominations have vastly differing ideas on who earns it and who doesn't. Usually it boils down to we do and you don't, but you could, if only you were more like us. And that, more than maybe anything else, is why I won't attend a church unless  Love is its doctrine.

But you know something? You don't need to believe in God the Heavenly Father (of course He's a father, what, you think we'd deign to worship a female deity? To Gehenna with you!) ... to believe in grace. Or in providence. I do believe in a Higher Power, much larger than the one-gender, one-role Christian God, and I further believe that when we act out of love (which is as good a name for my 'god' as any), we place ourselves at the intersection of providence and grace. Grace is also something we can find examples of, if we care to look. I like  (surprise!) to use a musical lens here: grace notes.

A grace note is an embellishment, an ornament, a little note or series of them that is not essential to the melody or harmony. Nonessential, but they definitely add sparkle to a piece.

And to your life. Look out for the little notes of joy in your day, and be grateful for them. Could be anything. A smile from a loved one. A sudden sunbeam piercing the clouds. The realization that this too shall pass. A quick kiss. The soft fall of rain. If you look hard enough, you'll train your mind to find these little joy-nuggets, and the more of them you find, the easier they are to find. Eventually, if you get proficient enough, you'll be seeing bits of love absolutely everywhere, and then, at least in my theology, you can be said to be in a state of grace.

That leaves us with the physical definitions of grace.

1:  "simple elegance of refinement of movement"

I'm noping right out of this, 'cause I ain't got any.

2. "courteous goodwill": "at least he had the grace to admit his debt to her".

I know a few people who took their social cues from Emily Post. They are never anything less than gracious: impeccable manners and politeness, saying all the right things. I don't trust that kind of grace one little bit, because I know it's often a mask over some extremely uncharitable feelings. Grace without warmth is a dead giveaway that the person is a phony and not to be trusted.

3. To do honour or credit to someone or something by virtue of one's presence. My loved ones have graced my life.

Thank you, loved ones, for gracing my life. I love you.


22 March, 2020

Freedom

This is the perfect time to talk about freedom, because we currently have both positive and negative freedoms on a large scale.
Positive is the freedom TO. I am free to be naked all day, and you're free to recoil from the image that just popped up in your head.  I am free to post all kinds of silly memes on Facebook, and you're free to groan at them or ignore them.
Negative freedom is freedom FROM, which expresses itself as restrictions on freedom to. You are not free to shake hands with strangers, go to the movies, or do any number of other things that we took for granted as little as a week ago. This is, of course, an effort to keep you and others free FROM COVID-19, the symptoms of which run the gamut from none to death. And if you do become symptomatic, from the accounts I have read, you may well wish you were dead.

If you know me, you can probably guess which freedom I favour more. That'd be the one that comes with a measure of built-in security. See, I find when you extend too much freedom TO, well, people get ugly. I know the quote, attributed to a legion and refined over the years to eventually say: "my right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins"...let's just say that once the fists get swinging, few people can restrain themselves from hitting my nose. I say this as a person who has had his nose broken three times. Only twice by fists, mind. The third time was a sidewalk that I tripped on. I landed on my nose. 1/10 do not recommend.

This mindset is not very popular, I have found. Not in Canada, and definitely not in America. We have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms; they have a Bill of Rights. No mention in either country of a Charter of Responsibilities, and frankly, I lament the lack.

It's odd, because one of my literary heroes is Robert A. Heinlein, who was about as libertarian as it gets through most of his career. Early on, Heinlein had political views very similar to mine. They were later almost diametrically opposed. His views on freedom were damned near absolute: he's on record as saying societies start running downhill as soon as birth certificates are invented. I get the sentiment, and for someone like Heinlein, a word without rules would sure appeal. He could, and did, do an awful lot of things, and his wife was smarter and more capable than he was (his own words).

I respect "freedom to" and the need for it...truly, I do...but I find that it's entirely idealistic. You give too much freedom and the weak are trampled. Every. Single. Time. I am not a strong person, and I do not trust a society that won't recognize that, because individual people sure as hell don't. 

________

"Freedom is being you without asking permission."

There is another kind of freedom that's not legalistic at all: the freedom to be yourself. May we all find (a) relationship(s) where this happens without effort. It makes a world of difference to your mental well-being. 
People often misinterpret that as a blanket statement that I'm willing to accept anything from someone in the interest of authenticity. This is not true. Unconditional love does not mean unconditional surrender. But here's the thing.
Many times, now, somebody has apologized to me for "being a bitch". I wince every time I hear this, because invariably the person who says this is NOT a bitch. She may have done something a bitch would do...it takes a lot of doing that, intentionally, to make you a bitch. Just so I'm not picking on one gender here, actual assholes don't apologize. They just keep on being assholes, and expect you to put up with it. That's where I draw the line, but then, it's been more than a quarter century since I have mistakenly allowed one to get that close to me.

One last thing about freedom: it's inviolable. You can throw me in jail, you can force my silence, but you can not cage my soul. It's too big: my soul is also your soul, and the souls of everyone and everything. I will remain free.






21 March, 2020

Remorse

I used to think this word simply meant being sorry for something you did. That's not what it means.
As is often the case, etymology provides a clue. The word ultimately derives from Latin remordere, where mordere means "to bite" (compare "mordant") and the re- is an intensifier. Remorse, then, is that strong bite of guilt that prompts genuine, heartfelt apologies (which include changed behaviour).

"Apology" is another contronym like "dust", a word that can have two meanings that are opposites of each other. An apology is either a regretful acknowledgement of offence, failure or wrongdoing...or a reasoned and justified defence of something. (If you're apologizing for something, life pro tip: do NOT include a defence.)

According to people from elsewhere, Canadians are known for their politeness and their use of the word "eh". I don't say "eh" very often as an adult, not after having had my attention drawn to just how often I said it (and "um", "uh", and "er") as a child. And the politeness? It really depends on what part of the country you're talking about. Some places are downright friendly, and others (Toronto) are colder than ice. We're perceived as polite because we say "sorry". All the time. To everyone and everything.  I have apologized to countless inanimate objects. I also apologize all the time to people whom I really don't want to apologize to. We all do it. Two Canadians will bump shopping carts in the grocery store (back when two Canadians in the same aisle wasn't a class-five biohazard) and both will say sorry, often twice. Meanwhile, one of them is thinking you twatsicle, get the hell out of my way and the other is thinking Lord Fucknuts here thinks he's entitled to the whole aisle. I could murder this asshole. "Sorry!" "Sorry!"

That's not remorse. Remorse is that stinging, yes,  biting voice of your conscious saying you done fucked up, boy, and it's on you to own it and fix it to whatever degree might be possible. And then never do it again. 

I get that feeling often, too, because I hurt people. Almost always unintentionally, which is no excuse. When your kid says I didn't mean to! the response, to me, ought to be: maybe not, but you still did it.  Or perhaps all right, you're not in trouble for doing what you did, you're in trouble for not thinking first if the thing could reasonably have been foreseen to cause hurt.
As an adult, I still find myself saying (to myself) but I didn't meeeeeean to! whenever my idealistic, naive plans blow up and spray shrapnel everywhere.

I'm not going to detail all the people whom I have hurt, and what I did to hurt them. That feels too much to me like a weird species of bragging, and it's probably triggering to some. Suffice it to say I am the villain in some stories, and I earned that designation.

I have been accused of self-flagellation. Guilty as charged, on occasion. I feel things deeply, including regret and remorse, and such feelings ought to be expressed lest they fester and corrode.  I am a better person having learned from my mistakes (and yes, I know I keep making them, but I do try hard not to make the same mistake twice). I am growing. To those whom I have hurt, I hope you have healed from that hurt. In some cases,  we have removed any possibility of my hurting you again, and I fully understand and accept the need for this.

I don't think I am a bad person, but I don't always act as my highest self. Again, I am improving. But this kind of improvement takes a lifetime.

Thank you for reading. 

20 March, 2020

Wind

Interesting juxtaposition, "wind" and "change".

I'm going to assume that the topic is the noun "wind" as opposed to the verb "wind" which is pronounced differently and of which the past tense is "wound" which looks like "wound" but is also pronounced differently. Ain't English grand? I don't know whether to piss into the wind or to shit and wind my watch.

("I hate when I read read as read instead of read, and then I have to go back and re-read read as read instead of read, so it all makes sense.")

Any way the wind blows....

It is, in fact, a windy day today. The high in the last 24 hours was 16 and by 8:00 a.m tomorrow, the  temperature will be -9 and the windchill is supposed to be minus 16. For my American readers, that's a swing of 45 Freedom Units...57 if you count that windchill. You don't get that kind of a drop without  a fuckofalot of wind. Perhaps thee...would it be "fucksofalot" or "fuckofalots"?

Ain't English grand? I just coined a new unit of measure. Equivalent to 8.6 shitloads. My rules, I make 'em up.

"Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind."--Bruce Lee

That's merely an update on Aesop:

"The little reed, bending to the force of the wind, soon stood upright again when the storm had passed over." 

Aesop lived around 620 BCE. The ancients were not stupid.

Bend, but don't break: that's resilience. It's a critical life skill, and while I believe the hate heaped on Millennials is glaringly misplaced, it is undeniably true that many of that generation were not encouraged to experience failure. This is not their fault. But it's broken more than a few.

Another related quote: "There is no good in arguing with the inevitable. The only argument available with an east wind is to put on your overcoat." --James Russell Lowell

One of the things that really helped me get control over my emotions occurred to me about fifteen years ago. "There are things you can control, and things you can't. The things you can control, you can control them, so why worry about them? The things you can't control, you can't control them, so why worry about them?" Again, this speaks to change, and specifically to its pace. We're time travellers, every last one of us, moving through time at a rate of one second per second. If you worry, what you're doing is jumping forward in time and imagining things have gotten worse. They may well do that. But why assume it?  Easier, I have found, to just take life a day at a time. That especially holds true in large-scale events such as the one we're experiencing right now.

"Words are wind, even words like love and peace."--George R.R. Martin

I am a wordsmith: this quote stings. But it's true: words alone mean nothing. Actions matter. Choosing right action to back up your words: not always easy.

I think this is at the root of why I distrust exclusively online relationships so much. In the end, they're just words, and words are wind. I can write you a love song full of words to make your heart melt, and that's all well and good, but if I don't back up those words with deeds,  I am a hypocrite.

"Absence diminishes mediocre passions and increases great ones, as the wind extinguishes candles and fans fires."--Francois de la Rochfoucauld''

Much more expressive than "absence makes the heart grow fonder". In my experience, this is very true.

And of course, "wind" has musical references for me,  everything from Bohemian Rhapsody which I quoted above to this finger-breaker of a piece by Charles-Valentin Alkan, "Comme le vent" ("Like the Wind".) Jack Gibbons can't possibly be human. my God, sheer insanity.

I'm catching up. Tomorrow: remorse and freedom. Thank you, everyone, for reading. It helps me feel a little less alone.





Change

My grandfather rode a camel, my father rode a camel, I drive a Mercedes, my son drives a Land Rover, his son will drive a Land Rover, but his son will ride a camel."--Rashid bin Saeed Al-Maktoum (1912-1990)

Hey, everybody! How are we doing with change just lately?

How are we doing with the pace of change just lately?

There is a fact we all live with, a fact so huge that it often goes unacknowledged. It's this: we are living in an anomaly our brains are not designed for.

We have been around, as a species, for about 300,000 generations, plus or minus a bunch. For the vast, vast majority of that time, "change" was beyond glacial. You woke up every morning, day after day, year after year, generations after generation, and you followed the same routine your ancestors did, rooted in the seasons and the signs and portents of the gods and spirits. You did this because to do anything else was practically unthinkable. Somebody might design a better spear point, but it would take many, many years for that innovation to become universal.

Technology didn't really take off until the agrarian revolution, and even then, it was more akin to a glider than today's supersonic jet plane. Great and mighty civilizations rose and fell, but still, the general shape of the world at any one person's death, barring occasional black swan events, would still have been comprehensible to that person's parents at her birth.

It's not like that anymore, is it? Fuelled by ancient sunlight in the form of oil, we have fashioned for ourselves a world so utterly unlike anything even imaginable as little as two centuries ago as to beggar belief.
We've known about oil for far longer than people realize. The first oil well was drilled in China in 347CE or earlier, to a depth of 800 feet (!). The ancient Romans knew of oil as well, although it was more of a curiosity than anything else. It wasn't until the 1850s that we started scaling up oil, until more and more of our society depended on it.
Oil is a very dense energy source: its return on investment is quite high. In the 1860s, for every barrel of oil's worth of energy you put into extraction, you got 188 barrels of oil worth of energy in return. You would therefore say the ERoEI (energy returned on energy invested) was 188:1. Today, the figure is about 33:1 and falling. Long before that ratio reaches 1:1, oil will cease to be practical or economic, and the huge anomaly that is our society will be a fever dream somebody had once.

I don't want to alarm you, saying that. You won't live to see it, not without many intervening events even larger than COVID-19, at any rate. It will be, at minimum, another century or two before this catabolic collapse, which began in 1914, fully plays out.
Again, I don't want to alarm you with the word "collapse". A catabolic collapse is a slow, gradual process: not jumping off a cliff, but rather descending a staircase. Relatively sudden events (the world wars, 9/11, COVID-19) are interspersed with periods of "new normals" and even limited prosperity, making it hard for our notoriously short-sighted species to grasp the trajectory. Couple that with a very pervasive Religion of Progress that has sprung up over the last century or so and we are doubly blind to goings-on.

I mean what I say about the Religion of Progress. To question its tenets brands you a heretic, an infidel. What are those tenets? One, that humanity is the apex of civilization, with its corollary that everything here on our Blue Boat Home was put here explicitly for us. Two, that every new development is a Good Thing because it's new. New And Improved, you might say.

And here I am, like the leg bone that cursed God, a blas-femur. I have just a wee bit of Amish in me.

Contrary to belief and perception, the Amish do NOT shun technology. But they DO shun that Second Tenet, that every new development is a Good Thing because it's new.
They take a critical, community-based approach to evaluating each new technological development, Does this bring us closer together, or drive us further apart? is the general thrust of their questioning, and anything deemed to do the latter is rejected out of hand. Different communities, of course, come up with differing answers.

I too reject the notion that technology is automatically a good thing. And I note that community, which has been the very real and natural expression of our species since time out of mind, has migrated into a virtual space and, in many cases, abandoned in the real world.
This is not inherently a bad thing. For many people, it's a lifesaver. But I would argue overall that the abandonment of real-word community is not beneficial to a species that has depended on it for hundreds of thousands of years.

The pace of change is accelerating, and we are currently descending another step on the long staircase all societies descend sooner or later. This is an excellent time to take stock of where are are and where we're going.
Let's remember that this internet we have created is, to a great degree, keeping society quasi-functional right now. Most of us are or will be on a forced retreat from the real world. I have always found the virtual world to be a poor cousin, but right now it's what we have, and I am embracing it, warily.
Let's take a moment to salute the grocery store workers, the truckers, the Uber drivers, and the other people commonly thought of as the dregs of society. I spent almost twenty years in grocery, and you couldn't pay me enough to go back right now. I have as good an idea of what's happening on the ground in stores as someone can without having experienced it. Let's, as always, salute the health care workers whose very lives are on the line as they seek to save the lives of others. But let's not stop there.
Change, particularly sharp, sudden change, has a way of exposing previous reality. As a for-instance, we're suddenly and acutely aware now (or we should be) that we have been treating a very large class of humans as fodder. Those self-same people, the stockers and cashiers and truckers and cooks, are keeping us going right now. Maybe they deserve to be treated as fully human, the way we regard ourselves. What say you? And what would our society look like if we modelled it on a human scale...or chose at every opportunity to put humans at the center of it? These are huge, existential questions more deserving of a book, or a series of books, than a mere blog. But if I had to hazard a guess? It would look a lot like how it used to look, before oil made Icaruses of us all. It would look like community. It would look like caring. We could be human beings again, instead of consumers and cogs in a machine.

I like that, don't you? Let's take this episode of change and try to bend it positive.

19 March, 2020

Resistance

"What you resist, persists."  -Carl Jung

“Clearly, all fear has an element of resistance and a leaning away from the moment. Its dynamic is not unlike that of strong desire except that fear leans backward into the last safe moment while desire leans forward toward the next possibility of satisfaction. Each lacks presence." - Stephen Levine

ΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩΩ
One of the secrets of life, to me, involves knowing when to resist and when to relax.

It's a balance I wrestle with. What others call being a pushover, I call picking my battles, and let's face it (cue dreamy Michael Jackson voice) I'm a lover, not a fighter.

Going to touch on COVID-19 here because there's a perfect example of why battles should be picked.
donald trump (my computer has finally learned to stop treating that as a proper noun) very deliberately refers to it as the "Chinese virus", even going so far as to scratch out "COVID-19" and write in his preferred term with his ever-trusty Sharpie.
There is a shrewd calculus in this behaviour.  WHO guidelines suggest avoiding naming a virus after a geographic area, so as to minimize stigma. trump, of course, is all about MAXIMIZING stigma. He's counting on his adversaries to shout "racism", because to him and his supporters, that's all we ever do. And didn't it come from China? And China isn't even a race, it's an ethnicity, and blah blah blah. Tell his supporters that the WHO calls it COVID-19 and that's just one more reason to call it anything else. The WHO is a United Nations anti-trump bullshit organization. Yes, they say this, his supporters. Loudly and in lockstep. It's designed to infuriate, like most of everything else he does.
PICK YOUR BATTLES. Let him call it the Chinky Gooky Sideways Pussy virus if he wants to. By blowing up over insensitive wording, we're all missing (by design) that trump has horribly mismanaged this crisis and is directly responsible for a large number of coming American deaths. Words are important, words have meaning, but let's JUST FOR NOW put that aside and ask trump why he downplayed the "Chinese virus" for seven weeks, why he disbanded the CDC's Pandemic Response Team, why he called the virus a "hoax"...

Ranting about racism will only exacerbate the racism. That's the idea, they love to see us frothing at the mouth over words. WHAT YOU RESIST PERSISTS. If you want to resist properly, empower the opposite of what you're resisting. Stand on the side of science and love. Practice random acts of kindness. Be better. (It's not hard.)

I've often subsided when chided: if I meet resistance, I am inclined to back off. The path of least...resistance, right? It was 29 years before I even began to understand that wasn't necessarily a good thing, and old habits die very hard. I've always been a "no pain, no...pain! DUH!" kind of person. But there is of course truth in "no pain, no gain". And resisting change is usually a pointless exercise. There's a word for things that do not change, and that word is "dead".

I am currently resisting fear. I'm doing this, paradoxically, by first recognizing the fear for what it is, and second fully feeling it, letting it pass through me. A famous quote from Frank Herbert's DUNE comes to mind:

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

I am afraid. I am afraid of the social and economic costs of what still seems like the most benign apocalypse (to those of us who have yet to be afflcted). I am afraid of society shutting down, which is already starting to happen. I am afraid of what seems to be an inevitable response involving lockdowns and martial law. I'm of course afraid of losing people I love.

But I will keep my head. I will practice the kind of loving from a distance I am known for. I will keep you company behind your screen so we don't infect each other. And if this society collapses, well, then, we'll build a better one, one where human beings are priorities instead of bank accounts.

I WILL RESIST.

Music

ADMINISTRIVIA: Sorry for the hiatus. I am back.

I am sick with what is almost certainly a cold. Cough, sore throat, but no fever. I want to stress that. No fever. Nevetheless, we can't be too safe. I came home from work yesterday and I'm on a 14 day leave of absence. There's a lot of stress that comes with this, and since I'm sure all of you are feeling the same or worse, I won't expound on that.
My Facebook feed is stuffed with Covid-19 memes and updates. I'm sure yours is, too. I figure I can provide a public service by continuing these blogs: at the very least, they might keep your mind (and mine) off what's happening for a little while.

I am skipping "doubt". This is a scary time we're living through, and quite frankly, I don't feel like contributing to the negativity.

So, Music.

I have done several of these blogs already, of course. Music is tremendously important to my life.  It (almost) doesn't matter what the genre is, what the song is. If it has a melody, I will give it a listen. If it has sung (not spoken, not screamed, and not whisper-shouted) lyrics, I'll listen, even if they aren't English. If I love the music enough, I will look up the words. That's how songs in

French,

 Scots Gaelic,

Italian,*

Spanish*

and several other languages ended up on my "Songs From a Life" playlist,

*Those last two have English versions--Time To Say Goodbye and Whenever, Wherever, respectively--but I think they sound better in their original languages.

I would say I have three loves above all, musically.  The first is classical...but not classical. I will explain that.

I have always loved which is commonly called "classical" music, to differentiate it from "pop" or "country" or "jazz" or what have you. Classical music is its own universe--there is no other genre of music spanning a century, let alone a millennium. Within that universe, there are eras: the Renaissance, the Baroque, the Classical, the Romantic, and the Modern (when everything fragmented). I can find pieces to appreciate in each era, viz:

Renaissance - Spem in Alium ("Hope In Any Other") Thomas Tallis (1570)

Many of you may have heard this on the Fifty Shades of How To Do BDSM All Wrong soundtrack. It's worth a listen on its own, preferably in a dark room. Composed for eight choirs of five voices each, it is widely considered to be the crowning achievement of its era, and it's a timeless masterpiece.

Barque - Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041, J.S. Bach

My friend Jason played the first movement of this. There are a host of Bach pieces I could use here. He's not my favourite composer, Bach, but there are times when only he will do.

Classical - Trumpet Concerto, Hob: Vlle/1, Joseph Haydn

Lean pickings here for my taste. I find the actual "classical" era's music to be drier than sawdust as a rule. But I have performed the first movement of this for my grade 13 music class. There's a run up to a very high note that I didn't hit, and I cringe every time I remember.

Romantic - Symphony #2, "Resurrection", Gustav Mahler

I could pick any of a hundred compositions from this era as my favourite, but this...this is the apotheosis of music. Mahler went on to write one even bigger (the 8th), but for my money this is pure, unadulterated Romanticism. There is a world in this symphony.

Modern - Become Ocean, John Luther Adams

This is another piece, like Spem in Alium, that is best listened to in the dark. Just let it wash over you. There's no immediately discernible melody...this is simply a soundscape, and a stunning one.

My second love is brass band music. My friend Craig planted this in me, and it has DEEP roots. I played baritone (think a smaller tuba) in high school band, and hearing what a top band full of top players could do captivated me. It still does, 30 years later.
This genre is virtually unheard of on this side of the Atlantic, but in Europe, especially the British Isles, it's hugely popular. There are thousands of bands at varying levels, and they compete. The best in the world, for many years running now, is the Cory Band.

Here's Cory performing Peter Graham's "Dynasty"
(which won them the British Championships last year)

...and "Audivi Media Nocte" (I Heard In the Middle of the Night"), Oliver Waespi
(inspired, incidentally, by a piece from...Thomas Tallis)

And here we have the Black Dyke band performing "Immortal" by Paul Lovatt-Cooper
...which is still, probably, my favourite overall. This has everything: drama, gorgeous slow lyrical sections, and a driving, furiously paced section just after the intro that will wake you the heck up in a hurry.
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The third genre of music I love...Broadway. There's something about a song-story in the service of a larger story that enraptures.

"Anthem", from CHESS. I have heard close to ten different performances. Tommy Korberg here is definitive. The sheer passion in this is soul-stirring.

"Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)", Hamilton: An American Musical

I could have picked any song. This musical is my current obsession and has been for almost a year now. If you had told me that I would develop this level of love for a hip-hop musical about early American politics, I'd have told you you were nuts. You can tell me I am nuts all you want. The movie's coming out in October of next year and I will be first in line.

"Welcome To The Rock". COME FROM AWAY

This entire musical ought to be required listening right now. It's about resilience and the human spirit in the wake of 9/11. After HAMILTON, this is the musical I most want to see live.

"For the love of God, stop bringing toilet paper to the Lions Club!"

"WOMAN (spoken)
What's happening?

COMPANY
Somewhere in between

DIANE (spoken)
Your life

NICK (spoken)
And your work

COMPANY
When the world may be falling apart
And you think

DIANE
I'm alone

NICK
I'm alone

NICK & DIANE
And I'm so damn helpless

COMPANY
There's nothing left to do but drink

WOMAN
We open the airplane doors
Flash all the cars
Wooh!
I've never done that before

Enjoy some music, folks. It connects us to ourselves and each other.

15 March, 2020

Wisdom

ADMINISTRIVIA: I am back from a computer hiatus and will be working to catch up on these. I have two non-Lent related blogs to work in the next two weeks, one on COVID-19, and one in honour of a special birthday. Work is very much up in the air right now, as it is for many of my readers. I have posted and reposted a huge number of COVID-19 memes, many of them side-splittingly funny...I have a strong feeling we won't be joking soon.  



"Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put a tomato in a fruit salad. Philosophy is wondering if ketchup is a smoothie."
--that fount of wisdom, Anonymous

Some days I feel wise. Other days, not so much.

In my life, I have done many, many unwise things, and said even more unwise things, so many that I wince, often, thinking about them. I have hurt people: I am the villain in several stories, and I earned that designation, and I am not proud of it. About the only thing I can say in my defence is (a) I have learned from most of my mistakes and (b) I really don't often make the same mistake twice.

It occurs to me that the wisest things I have done mirror the things that took the most courage. It's a truism that, confronted with two options one of which requires courage, the courageous option is usually the wisest.

Wisdom quotes I live by:

"Shared pain is lessened and shared joy increased" -- Spider Robinson
--I've been living this and sharing it for almost thirty years. Corollary: "If you share your hurt and I share my hurt, somehow we end up with less than half a hurt apiece."

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."--Robert A. Heinlein
Heinlein was a Grand Master of science fiction, friend and mentor to Spider Robinson, and one of history's greatest iconoclasts. Even if you disagree with him, and there is lots to disagree with him on, he forces you to define why. Heinlein taught me a great deal of what I know about critical thinking.

I can't do all these things. Or at least I haven't. But it's definitely a principle I believe in.

"If you don't know how to say something right, say it wrong. Then at least you'll have something to edit." --Ken Breadner, Sr.

My dad is a pretty quiet man, known more for his practical jokes than his profundities. He said this to me one day when I was in my early teens and the wisdom in it damn near bowled me over. I've never forgotten it, and I will warn you I'm about to say something "wrong".

“[Happiness] could be accomplished by a shift in priorities that involves accepting less prosperous lifestyles, and embraces rich personal, intellectual, and social lives as substitutes for, or even improvements on, the material extravagance that the industrial nations currently offer their more favored inmates.”--John Michael Greer

I could have picked any number of Greer quotes. To me, he is a worthy successor to Heinlein in that he forces you to articulate why you disagree with him.
I used to be extremely materialistic. Through my twenties, I spent money as if it was on fire, almost entirely on meaningless stuff. I would much rather have experiences now...and experiences don't have to cost much, or anything.

"Oh, you don't actually think I BELIEVE this, do you?" -- Eva Breadner
I can't even remember what "this" was. But the point is that it doesn't matter. Eva can argue all sides of anything, so passionately that it can be impossible to determine what she really thinks. She has done more than anyone else to loosen my mind, which used to be stuck in any number of ruts.

"It doesn't have to be virtual to be real" -- Kathy Morris

She wasn't the first person to tell me I didn't have to share everything, but she was the most persuasive. Those words of hers cut through my own love/hate relationship with the internet and exposed many actions for what they were: self-serving and destructive. The opposite of a Great Truth is often another Great Truth, and while "shared pain is lessened and shared joys increase", sometimes sharing is misinterpreted, and there can be great fulfillment in living life quietly and happily.

Knowledge is often loud and strident. Wisdom is usually quiet. Knowledge is constantly changing, wisdom is eternal. I'll take wisdom over knowledge any old day.