Saturday, January 30

‘Free advice is worth the price.’ Robert Half (part deux)

Dear Mr. Obama,

Whew, you’ve been one busy beaver (in Canada that’s not dirty) this week: The SOTU, dangling the spending freeze, then this latest, the question and answer period in the dragon’s den. Er, I men, the congressional GOP room. It made for some exciting television unless you include the media coverage. (Couldn’t we just outlaw big media? They suck.) I managed to avoid most of the infotainment coverage however, and stayed with online feeds as much as possible. I visited my mom yesterday and she had CNN on, but I managed to escape with only a slight hemorrhage behind one eyeball and felt gratified by the knowledge that I’d squeaked out of a really close call.

Although I know you didn’t read my last missive, I think we were on the same wavelength on a few points. In the spirit of bi-partisan ship, even if I don’t qualify for that dynamic on account of my Canadian-ness, I thought I’d write another note to let you know how it all went down in my eyes, and to offer some more free advice. This also allows me to re-use a quote, which I love doing – it always makes me feel cheap and dirty in a sexy kind of way…

Anyway, in regards to the SOTU, I have to say that you almost lost me. The first half of the speech was so… so… motivating, but in an anti-motivating, ‘I’m listening to a speech intended for ten-year olds’ kind of way. And all of those disingenuous and fallacious standing ovations by a bunch of middle-aged corrupt men and women? Blech… It made my teeth hurt a bit in the way gorging on Halloween candy does. I was ready to rush myself to the hospital at one point to demand a shot of insulin. Instead, I said just about this very thing on the Whitehouse FB page and felt immediately better.

That desperate act allowed me to hang on for the second half of the speech which was, I’ve got to say, much better. When you started calling them out, each group, one by one, and instead of cheers garnered mutters and grumbles, then you had me. The looks on the faces of the Joint Chiefs and the Supreme Court made me feel giddy. And when you finally got around to threatening all of their corrupt asses by targeting the lobbyist system? That was beautiful, man, just beautiful. Like I said in my last letter, I think you’ll know that you’re getting somewhere when they all hate you utterly.

And the GOP question and answer session? Well, the Whitehouse blurb called your performance “inspiring”, but my impression fell a bit short of that. Gutsy, for sure, and very adequate. You did a hell of a job there, no doubt. I’ll be inspired when you do the same thing, just as publically, with the DNC representatives. When you call “your team” to the carpet just as directly and vociferously, then I’ll really be impressed. One of the CNN pundits suggested this very thing, in fact, but said that you should do it behind closed doors “obviously”. Not obviously, not at all. Make it public. Be a real leader and expect, nay demand, more of those on your side of the room than of those in opposition to you by ideological default.

Which brings me to today’s free (and worth every penny, dammit) advice.

I think you need to go much, much farther. Frankly, while the SOTU touched on a few nerves, you stopped shy of where I’d have enjoyed seeing you go. Too much wiggle room, my friend, too much. Same with dressing down only one side of the room in the Q&A: Not far enough by far. Thus, my advice to you, the thing that, I think, would make you an instant icon and the adored leader of the majority of the country, is the following:

Go independent. I’ll say it again: Cut your ties to the DNC and go independent.

No, seriously, I’m not kidding. It was the independent voters that elected you after all, so drop this façade of partisanship altogether and send the congress and senate a real message. You’ve been so politic in the way you’ve criticized the DNC and I think that you have to drop the gloves with them the way you’ve been willing to with the GOP. I think that, as much as I know that it might be political suicide, you should give the American population a sure sign that you are beholden to no one other than them, so take all of the red and blue ties out of your closet. Go with some really cool colors or, for serious occasions (they all seem to be serious ones these days), try some nice gray ones. And that’s only if you absolutely have to wear one because, like I suggested last time, those of us that think the system is a joke hate ties anyway.

You told the GOP representatives that you weren’t an ideologue and I like that. It mirrors much of the “whatever works” rhetoric from your book and I prefer believing that you are serious about that stance, so take that final great big leap and declare it to the country and the world in a tangible way. I’ll even give you a politically expedient out: If you really think that you can win a second term, wait until after the next election. Frankly, considering how massive your bottom-up support was, I can conceive of you running as an independent and winning. Now wouldn’t that be historic?

You keep saying that you want bi-partisan support, cooperation, and a non-partisan attitude, and this way you could really, really show you mean it. You could condemn the whole system then, without any doubt that you consider both sides of the aisle equally complicit in the corruption. You could declare a level of Presidential autonomy that would eliminate any appearance of ideological favoritism or compromise. I’d stand up and cheer. Hell, I’d apply for citizenship (whatever little hope I have that you can really change things down there, it is infinitely larger than the faith I have that Canadian politics can ever be redeemed). I’ll go straight to the border and swear my allegiance to the flag right there, and I hate, hate nationalism (outside of amateur junior hockey) with a passion, so I’m talking about a real sacrifice here.

I know what you’re thinking: It’s too soon; it would eliminate any chance to accomplish anything; I’d lose any momentum I have and betray the responsibility I have to put the public interest first; they aren’t ready for it yet. Excuses, all of them. Well, maybe not, but I keep hoping that you can be to the “last remaining super-power” (who the hell came up with that and how can they ignore China?) what Gorbachev was to the USSR. Break the broken system so much that something new has to be constructed to replace it. Shake ‘em up so bad they can’t go on like they have. Make it impossible to continue down this path of denial and corruption, and possible to actually move forward.

Then you might really change things. Aw hell, that might actually change the world.

Yours sincerely,


CC. The Whitehouse

Thursday, January 28

‘The surprising thing about young fools is how many survive to become old fools.’ Doug Larson

Today is my birthday, my 43rd to be specific about it, and I want to talk about that a bit, but I also made promises last night on Facebook while watching the SOTU regarding today’s topic. This will be a two-themed blog entry then, so I picked a quote that can do double duty.

I’ve gone on record as saying that birthdays are one of the annual celebrations, along with New Years, that I still respect. That’s because it has changed so little over the years. While the last century has seen many of our national holidays turned into consumption orgies, birthdays and New Years always were ones, so I respect them for being unchanged by our worship of materialism, even if the compliment is backhanded.

Birthdays are, I think, kinda cool. Especially the milestones. I’m personally excited about 45, far more so than about 43, because the five-year markers are somehow more significant. I don’t have a really good reason for that other than that they are moments to be proud of in an “I survived 43 years and all I have to show for it is this crumby birthday” kind of way. It’s a “look at what I can do!” kind of pride, like walking on hot coals or eating a 40-ounce steak.

It’s more than that though, obviously. Time allows us the opportunity to either learn and move forward, proving that we are cerebral and intuitive beings capable of transcending the simple material and animalistic urges that drive our bodies, or contrarily prove that we are incapable of that little trick, and thereby dispel any doubt that were are little better than monkeys with refined tool-making skills. The population of the earth provides ample anecdotal evidence that both dynamics are at work, and if you look closely, even that both dynamics can be at work in a single human organism.

Take me for example. I am 43 today, and it is really only in the last year that I have foresworn the distractions offered to us by modern existence in order to finally pursue what it is I think I was made to do (or at least the part of it that I know about). And this in spite of at least three other pivotal points in my life that I can see, from the perspective of 20/20 hindsight, when the opportunity to embrace the real me was presented in full glory, yet was successfully ignored or lost. I’d allow myself to be distracted, get caught up in the hoopla and hubbub of all the baubles and shiny lights thrown at us to keep us entertained and mesmerized, and subsequently lose the mission. I have, at times, even been confounded by the shame I felt for not fulfilling my potential and reaching for my dreams. How’s that for counter-intuitive.

And yet, in spite of missing the opportunity in the past on several occasions, I think I’ve managed to get a good grip on it this time. I’ve never been poorer or, paradoxically, richer than I am today.

So time is a good thing. It provides a frame of reference that allows us to suggest and hope that it is never too late or too early to reach for something better, to become the ‘us’ that we have it in us to become, and to know that this ‘us’ is a destination we will never truly reach in the time that we have. It is always the process that is important, always the journey that makes the journey worthwhile. The only final place we will ever reach in this lifetime is death, so why are we rushing to get to the end? I hold with Peter Pan that death will truly be a great adventure, but I’m in no rush to start it.

I like my process, like it more every day I walk it and talk it. I like knowing that the more I know, the more I know how little I truly know. I like that I am finally to a place where I recognize that I know just enough to be a danger to myself, but that I have time to continue to learn, and enough experience to appreciate the opportunity.

So birthdays are good. I look back and see that I have been a fool, and now I’m looking forward to the process of becoming an old one.

Oh yeah, the other topic, the one I promised to write about last night: Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada. I considered doing a full blog on him, but a) couldn’t find the motivation to waste too much time on him, b) have deep-seated shame issues in regards to his position as Prime Minister of the country I live in, and c) feel I can say everything that needs to be said about him in a relatively small space. Here it goes.

He is an embarrassment; a democratic leader that has gone on record saying that he only needs 40% of the vote, which translates to approximately 25% of the eligible voting population, to retain power for his party, and that, subsequently, he doesn’t care about the rest of the people in this country. His only goal is maintaining his minority government and the privilege it provides to him, his party, and the corporate handlers that own his soul. He has driven Canada to the point where our fellow commonwealth nations have started a movement to expel us from said Commonwealth because of the draconian position that Canada has now taken in regards to industrial and petro-chemical development, green issues like sustainable infrastructure development, and international carbon controls. He cares for the Canadian public, for the nation he is sworn to protect and lead, not one bit.

He is an old fool, so I am assuming that he was a young one. Shame he doesn’t see it.

I may be looking forward to becoming an old fool, but at least I recognize what and who I am. I’d hate to be a fool and not know; to think that people respected me when they only hated and vilified me. Better to be a fool and know it, I think, than to be one and not know it. 

That would just be deeply, deeply  embarrassing…

Wednesday, January 27

‘Free advice is worth the price.’ Robert Half

Dear Barack Obama,

On this, the day of your 2010 State of the Union address, I would like to offer you some free advice regarding your speech.

First and foremost, shoot from the hip. We all know you could talk the garter off of a nun, but speak plainly this time. By all means, exercise your rhetorical skills and impress us, but do so as if you were speaking over coffee or a couple beers. Don’t spin anything or try to dazzle. Frankly, as inspiring as you can be, the shtick is getting a bit old. You need to be heard being sincere, not presidential; plain, not fancy. The people that elected you are pretty plain, you see. They are the moderate, independent middle of everything. They are the disenfranchised that saw in you and your beautiful speeches the possibility of a politician that was not one. Someone who saw what they saw.

So be that guy again. Talk plainly, even coarsely. I myself think that you should swear a few times. You should say ‘bullshit’ at least three times, and one of those should be in a sentence in which you are describing the disingenuous and partisan practices of the Republican Party. You could also call your own party to task while you’re on that topic, maybe throw in an F-bomb when describing how frustrating it was to watch your own party’s congressmen tear apart your health care bill like hyena’s squabbling over a kill, each one taking a nibble to appease one of their big money/no conscience, financial backers, leaving a proposal that is ultimately neutered.

And ‘balls’… use the word ‘balls’. As in: ‘I promise to grow a pair of balls in my second year as your president’. I mean, I truly admire the commitment you have made to non-partisanship, but come on; the GOP will be pouting over their loss for at least another six years, even if things continue as they have been and they reclaim the Whitehouse in three, so offer the olive branch every time and, when they blubber and cry about how unfair it all is, take it back and hit them over the head with it. Perhaps repeated concussions will improve their IQ.

I mean, I know that there isn’t really any difference between the Dems and the Reps, the blue and the red. Pretty much all of the elected officials (oh, please not you too – say it ain’t so) have corporate and special interest hands so far up their asses that they are practically muppets (to muppets everywhere – I apologize for the insult), but we, even those of us who just watch and have no say in US politics, all hoped so hard that you’d be different, that you’d do what you said, walk what you talked. I read your book, read and listened to your speeches and, dammit, I still want to believe that one person can beat the odds, make it all the way up there without completely selling out, and when they have the chance, will actually use it to make a real difference. I want to still believe that.

I want to believe what you said in your book about rising above it all, about throwing the old school out and ushering in a new era in the way politicians can work in service to their country instead of using their country and position in their own service. I thought you might be that guy. Lord knows, plenty of your fellow Americans thought you were that guy too; someone that actually cared more about getting shit done than what the polls said; someone who would sacrifice a second term if that’s what it would take to get the job done. You made them think you really care. Don’t let them down, okay?

So this is your chance to turn it around. Don’t wear a tie (I distrust people that wear ties), and go for that town hall look, only grubbier. Be earnest and sincere and that adorable bit of a geek that you are. Most of all, tell it like it is – no varnish, no illusion, no misdirection – just that facts. And then, after you say it, actually do it this time and damn the torpedoes. Do it not because it’s politically efficacious, but because it’s the right thing to do, because it’s honest and real. Be that guy and they’ll follow you. Right now they can sense the fear and smell the ubiquitous stench of the bullshit. You can’t keep doing that and think there will be a legacy worth leaving behind. Do something that’ll make the bad guys mad, mad enough to take a shot at you, and then you’ll know that at least you’re doing it with gusto.

The fact is, everyone that was so enamored of you back in November of 2008 is still waiting to see the guy in office that they saw in the campaign, and they are eager to follow that guy! So be him again. Start tonight. Take off the gloves and fancy ties and the smart suit jacket and put on a baseball cap and talk to them. They’ll follow if you can be strong enough to lead them. I promise.

And we, the rest of the world, will be hopeful too, if you do and they do, because if someone can actually redeem the US, then there’s definitely hope for everyone else.

Yours sincerely (mostly),


Tuesday, January 26

‘I have come to the conclusion that politics are too serious a matter to be left to the politicians.’ Charles De Gaulle (1890 - 1970)

There has been a deluge of pundit opinions regarding Mr. Obama’s (that’s right, ‘Mr.’… he isn’t my president) administration’s first year in office lately, especially in light of the recent senate elections in Massachusetts and the even more recent declaration of a spending cap. The range of these opinions varies, from those that have declared Obama’s administration an utter failure through those who see problems and issues, but have not called it DOA just yet. Nobody, and I mean nobody, is saying that his administration has done a stellar job.

With the election of a Republican senator in perhaps the most Democratic state in the union, the Democrats have lost their super majority in the Senate and may (will) now be subject to the unpleasant reality of endless filibusters, effectively crippling the Senate of any efficacy whatsoever. In retrospect, some of the pundits are saying, Obama should have used the majority to ram his measures through, but that opportunity has now been lost.  Of course, this ignores the reality that he had to ram things through the Congress to get it to the Senate, and that proved impossible enough. Too many Democratic Congressmen were drooling too much at the thought of all of the political might they had, and how much they could translate that into favor for themselves and their election campaign contributors, to make any real effective use of said might. In essence, Obama’s own party undermined whatever efforts he was making. Of course, there wasn’t a supportive Republican to be found anywhere, they of the corporate right refusing to do anything but pout and point fingers.

And so, facing the first real crisis of faith in his presidency, Mr. Obama reacts by announcing a spending cap to appease whoever finds that decision appeasing. The first year in office showed that the administration’s offense was weak and ineffectual. This year has started with a demonstration of an equally fragile defense.

I’m not ready to call the Obama administration a failure. He does, after all, have three years to fix things a bit, and I haven’t forgotten that he inherited this ridiculous mess rather than create it. That said, a tragic history is only an excuse until you admit it and recognize it; then it either becomes motivation to not repeat that history, or a crutch to mitigate responsibility.

I also remember that Mr. Obama and his sidekicks are politicians. When he won in November of ’08 I told everyone that would listen to not forget that simple fact. For all of his fine words and inarguable rhetorical ability, there is no way that Mr. Obama and his handlers maneuvered him into a position to claim the Oval Office without him being a fierce political animal. He still believes in a system that is corrupt to the core and devoid of integrity, and that makes him corrupt too.

While many thought he would be immune to that dynamic, at the best of times I hoped he would simply be less corrupt. Now I’m not so sure. I’m still hopeful in an “I’m not in denial at all” kind of way, but that hope is eroding. While I still believe he was the better choice in ’08 (I respect McCain, but nobody would have been able to handle another 4 years of corporate and military  cocksucking the likes of which George W and Dick were capable of, and which the Republicans would have no doubt forced their candidate to engage in), I’m sadly back in the place where I recognize that saying the Democrats are better than the Republicans is like saying that the second rung on a thousand-foot ladder is higher than the first rung – there just isn’t much of a difference, and rock bottom is still within easy reach.

Maybe Jefferson was right and we do need a real, old-fashioned revolution. I’d vote for a bloodless one born out of the consciences of the masses, a grass-roots effort to promote equality and egalitarianism, but I think we’re getting to the point where we can’t be too picky. Or maybe Obama’s administration can pull this out of the fire…. If they have the will to do so.

That, folks, is a mighty big ‘if’.

Monday, January 25

‘Our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them.’ Henry David Thoreau

So, the renovations are done for a couple weeks. The process has been exhausting but a balm to me nonetheless; I love the smell of sawed wood and the satisfaction of building things. But I’ve already said that part, haven’t I? My friends’ home, which I am helping to refinish, is a beautiful place, full of kind and giving energy. It belonged to my friend’s grandmother, who I knew and loved, and was willed to her. It is an older house, the core of it built of cinderblock with several additions made over time, so the process of renovating it can be a challenge: updating what has been patched together and building over concrete with wood and drywall and paint.

They have chosen to fill the house with real hardwood floors and earthy colors, all things that remind me of them in many ways: Strong, solid, warm and generous. It is and will be a visually beautiful space, updated to be pleasing to the eye and built properly and to last.

But perhaps the most impressive part of the process is to see and feel the foundation that they laid before the renovations began. Before a piece of drywall was removed, or an outlet placed, or a paint color chosen, they built a foundation of trust and compassion and love in this house, one that they parade unashamedly for everyone to see. They have framed this place with caring and a sense of what is sacred to them that overwhelms any of the choices they have made regarding color or texture or product. To walk on its floors is to feel trust under your feet, and the walls are warm with integrity. I am biased, no doubt, by the generosity and support they have shown to me, but I think I am correct in my impression just the same.

It is a good house that has not and will not be one of Thoreau’s ‘unwieldy’ properties, the kind we see rising around us more and more these days as people attempt to fill voids of compassion and integrity in their own lives with the impressions of wealth that drive us into debt and beyond our means. That drive to build an edifice that impresses from the outside is so often built at the expense of what is inside. A good renovation can cover over crooked walls and update appearance, but it can’t fix relationship out of level or sprits that aren’t plumb. In an age of superficiality our houses often reflect our perspectives – something made pretty to distract us from what is not; a house made to provide the appearance of home, but unable to compensate for the lack of a home that it really is.

But not this one. This one is filled with good memories and being filled again with new ones, and it is not a prison in any sense of the word. It is a sanctuary, a sacred place made so by the intentions and actions of its owners. It is not ostentatious, but rather beautiful. It is not just a house, but is, instead. a true home. And if I am blessed to call it my home too, if just for a time, then I am fortunate indeed.

Thursday, January 14

‘I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself than be crowded on a velvet cushion.’ Henry David Thoreau

I read a blog by a far more experienced and successful blogger today praising the virtue of being busy. He made a good argument and, for some, it might even be a right argument, but it’s not the whole story. I remembered and used this quote by Thoreau in my response, and remembering set of a cascade of thoughts about what I’m doing this year and why I’m doing it.

My recent biography in a nutshell: After nine years in the casino and gaming industry, seven of those in middle and upper management, I quit last February, sold almost everything, and took a job caretaking a remote ski lodge for the summer so I could write a novel. The novel is going well, I didn’t write “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” once while secluded, and I haven’t regretted the dramatic change in my revenue stream once (well, maybe once, but I can wait for new tires). I opted to chuck all that stuff, all that busyness, in the trash can in favor of a simpler, less rushed and far more satisfying life. I’ve written here before that one of the things I know about myself is that, while I can multi-task effectively, I don’t enjoy it. Nor do I think that I do my best work while engaged in it. I am a good, three-ball juggler at the best of times, and while I might not drop them if I juggle more, it certainly isn’t as graceful to watch.

So, ‘simple’ works better for me, even if I have to make some sacrifices in terms of social conventions, fiscal security and conformity. I want to live a creative life that leaves lots of time to do nothing more complicated than walking in the woods, reading a book, or doing yoga with friends. I think that, while the ‘busy’ and ‘successful’ mentality permeates and suffuses our culture, it is neither particularly efficient nor lucrative in terms of our meta-lives. I’m not one to pin high hopes on the bible, but I do agree with the statement, “What profit is there for a man to gain the whole world at the expense of his soul” (not the King James Version). We trade an awful lot these days to be ‘successful’ and secure, and how much is too much to pay for a nice car, house, bank account or sense of accomplishment if we have nobody to share them with, no love to experience, and no sense of our own character and dignity?

So, yeah, I’m all for being busy if the cause is right. I like hard work. I just question the causes that are popular in our culture. I’d gladly give up security, wealth and the high estimation of my banker for a profound sense of intellectual strength and freedom; happily drive a beater and pound out a novel on a six-year old laptop than punch a clock, own a new car and have a company Blackberry; joyously sacrifice a long list of accomplishments for just one that really, really made a difference; blissfully abandon days full of meetings and power lunches for those spent being with, helping and being helped by friends.

Perhaps I’m arguing semantics with my fellow blogger. Perhaps he means ‘busy’ in a healthy way too. I just worry that the healthy definition is out of common usage, replaced by one that is an illusory lie, a hologram that looks like abundance and efficacy but is actually just a matador’s cloak, sucking us into a chase for financial or commercial success that is designed to not have a finish line, that is really designed to suck us into getting a sword in the heart. Like the proverbial carrot on a stick that we are told we might reach one day but never do and never will, once we start down that road, enough is never enough.

I wish to refute that lie with every breath I take for all the remaining days of my life. I know in my heart that, if I do this, though no other person would ever hear or take note, I will have spent my life successfully by the only definition I care to use – my own. Maybe not very busily, but it’ll do for me…

Wednesday, January 13

‘Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.’ Seneca

I’m helping a good friend with home renovations this week (which is my excuse for the longer drift between blog posts). He has a week off in which to get two weeks worth of deconstruction and reconstruction completed, so the days have been long, admittedly longer for him than for me (which is probably a good thing, my 43-year old body is reminding me), but we’ve still managed a couple 12-hour days of framing and dry-walling. Demolition didn’t take as long (which always pushes me towards some interesting observations, but I’ll leave those for today). I wake each day noting my pant size shrink proportional to the stiffness of my back and, well… everything else too. But it’s a good sore, like that earned by a difficult hike or climb: it notes that something worthwhile has been accomplished.

When I was in my early twenties I worked construction and carpentry for a few years and, in terms of job experiences, they are probably my favorite to look back on. As Seneca and countless others have noted; clean, hard labor may not always be the most pleasant task while you’re doing it, but it has very definite virtues. It’s a great workout, but that’s minor. Like climbing, its greater value lies in the combination of a tendency to show up our limitations and possibilities, and the satisfaction of seeing something worthwhile spring into existence before our eyes. There are few things more satisfying to me than to see something my hands have made, something that would not exist were it not for my efforts, at the meager price of some sweat and a bit of stiffness. There is something to be said for ending the day being able to look at what we’ve done, be able to see it and feel it and touch it, to know that we’ve stretched our limitations and maybe even pushed the line back a bit, and know that a good job has been done.

This quote doesn’t say that as well or specifically as some others, but I like that it refers to our minds as well. When I went fishing for a quote today, I was thinking about a) how stiff I was this morning and, almost completely unrelated to a), b) how the circumstances of our lives shape us. Specifically, I was thinking about the 6 years I spent in a bad marriage when I was young, during those construction years, and the motorcycle accident that ended my carpentry days and resulted in at least some of the reason for my current stiffness. I won’t go into details about either, at least not today, but what I found myself thinking for the billionth time was that I was thankful for both of those rather dark and equally life-threatening episodes of my life. I wouldn’t trade a day of them. Without the accident I would never have had to retrain, go back to school after squandering my opportunities out of high school, and wouldn’t be in a position to try to be a writer now. And without the marriage, I might never have been pressured by circumstance to individuate the way I did; to start looking for less comfortable truths and cultivate a healthy dissatisfaction with institutions and the status quo.

When things get difficult these days my first response now, as often as not anyway, is to ask myself what it is I’m supposed to be learning. I’m not suggesting that difficulties exist simply to teach us things – it’s more likely they exist because we did something dumb, forgot something, or made a bad choice – but if we have to experience them, we might as well learn something through them. (It’s harder, but just as valid, to ask the same question when things are wonderful and everything seems to be falling into place: Ease can make us intellectually and spiritually complacent.) Difficulties, however, tend to spawn questions like CNN spawns inane and redundant commentary.

I have to admit; I prefer the ease. But I don’t mind the difficulties so much these days. They remind me that I’m alive and still learning. More specifically, they remind me that I’m about to learn something new, or be reminded of something I should never have forgotten. Difficulties are an opportunity to become better, to ask questions about and of ourselves that probably need answering, to grow and become stronger, and maybe even a bit wiser, even if that wisdom has only to do with our selves. That’s good enough, a good enough reason to labor at hard but satisfying work, and a good enough reason to embrace the hard times in hope of the person they will help us become in the good times.

So, what are we going to learn today?

Thursday, January 7

“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” Bertrand Russell

I’m visiting my mother today. This is both a joyful and frustrating experience for me. Joyful because I like my mother and, until I started my life inversion experience, I’d been separated from her, except for one or two visits a year, for seven years thanks to my former ‘career’. Painful because my mother is a bit of a CNN junky. It could be worse I suppose; if she was a FOX News junky I’d have serious problem, although the truth is that I think that CNN is just as bad these days.

I alluded obliquely yesterday to the Dec. 25th ‘airline terrorist incident’ when I made the racial profiling joke. Today CNN is all a-buzz regarding the story in light of Pres. Obama’s official speechifying. The infotainment rhetoric is rife with references to partisan maneuvering during an election year (senate and congress) and plenty of reminders that this is ‘scary stuff’. I’m so grateful that they drive that point home every five minutes, because, heaven forbid, we might stop thinking that we should be in perpetual fear, all the time, every second. We might be able to shake our heads clear and understand that, while terrorism is horrific, it is statistically less dangerous that homelessness, car safety, climate change, cancer, taxation, and (arguably perhaps) crossing the street.

The infotainment industry does a better job of terrorizing the public than anything al Qaeda is doing.

I’m also left wondering what it is in Yemen that the US suddenly finds so attractive that they need to manufacture this excuse to intervene. I mean, when the prez suddenly declares a renewed commitment to defeating al Qaeda, you can just imagine the smiles spreading across the faces of the world’s banks and arms manufacturers. It was a good day to be an industrialist or capitalist.

Our governments, the mainstream media, both on TV and in print and, grinning in the wings, the banks and corporations, eat this stuff up. They love it when we’re scared, and they love having a reason to scare us. Scared is good when you want to misdirect and control people, and that’s what they specialize in. I was guardedly optimistic when Obama was voted in, and he at least shows well on TV – more presidential and less stooped than G. W. – but under the shine, the news and direction is pretty much exactly the same. Here comes the new boss, same as the old boss.

And another thing while I’m ranting; Do those personalities on CNN actually believe the crap they’re peddling? Or are they actually smart and just completely compromised and subverted to the cause? Probably a mix, yeah? Most likely, some of them really believe in what they are doing, believe that they are journalists, while others are aware that they get a juicy cheque for doing absolutely nothing but blow a band of smoke chosen by their owners up as many asses as possible.

If you think that CNN, Fox News, CTV News, CBC Newsworld, CBS, NBC, ABC or any other major news network, not to even mention the major papers and periodicals, actually engage in real journalism, in a sincere seeking after the truth, then please give your head a vigorous shake and wake up. They want you afraid. It might not be a much better emotion in general, but I’d suggest that getting angry might at least reflect a better grasp of the truth.

And if you choose this option, be angry at the ones who deserve it – those that purport and purvey the lies, and do it with a smile. 

Wednesday, January 6

“I wonder if other dogs think poodles are members of a weird religious cult.” Rita Rudner

It was moving day today for me. Not that it was much of a move; just downstairs from the guest room ‘A’ at my friend’s place to guest room ‘B’. I’m not being demoted (room B is actually bigger than room A and has a better wireless signal, so it’s really an upgrade), but I have to get out of the way for the renovation blitz we will be inflicting upon said room ‘A’ starting Saturday. I was going to go the coffee shop to write this afternoon, but by the time I moved some of my books (just some – I have a lot) to get ready to move the shelves (they are fostering my library while I do all this 'life inversion' work), it was getting too late to make the trip practical, so I found my way into my favorite chair hear at the homestead and decided to blog.

Drifting back to that coffee shop comment, don’t ask why, but the coffee shop is one of the best writing places for me – maybe I perform better under observation. I get my tea and a muffin, find a seat by an outlet so I can plug in my ancient laptop, check some e-mails, read a few blogs, and then, earplugs firmly plugged into ears and iTunes playing dissonant alternative sounds, I drift into a nice working state of mind. This is, however, something I never managed to do today, but promise I will do tomorrow. For those of you on the manuscript reading list, chapter 19 will be coming your way Friday at the latest.

One of the really nice advantages of a day like today is that, while I was moving books and clothes and getting the new room ready, I was also baby-sitting Dax. Dax, if you missed it or I didn’t mention it before, is the 7-month old puppy my friends own. Dax is a brindle coated, hound/shepherd/lab cross that, at seven months, has already eclipsed the 50-pound mark that the vet anticipated by twenty pounds. He most closely resembles a hound in his face and body, but only if said hound had been given the legs of a greyhound, rapidly progressing into the legs of a great dane. He’s a big, friendly, smart (and increasingly well-trained) 70-pound kid, and he’s a joy to be around. He inspired frequent fetch and tug-o-war breaks, allowed me the honor of watching him frolic in the snow (he goes literally insane), and even laid his head on my lap during neck scratching time (his neck, not mine, although if I can teach him that trick I’ll be bragging about it). Dax also conquered his nemesis, the basement staircase, today both descending and ascending several times. It was a big day.

As I write this, he’s lying at my feet asleep, long, gangly legs twitching as he chases some unfortunate rabbit through his dreamscape. This makes me, in turn, smile. I want a dog, but that has to wait another year or so while I get the niggling business of starting a new life out of the way. In the meantime, I’ll just borrow Dax once and a while for my canine fix.

Oh, the quote. It doesn’t really have anything to do with anything, except that I thought it was funny and it mentions dogs. I could have made it a serious blog about racial profiling (you see the connection, don't you?), but I felt frivolous instead.


Monday, January 4

“Work while you have the light. You are responsible for the talent that has been entrusted to you.” Henri-Frédéric Amiel

I hit a wall over the holidays in regard to my writing output. It’s of little consequence, but the blog is a sideline for me, something to do to save my non-fiction muscles from complete atrophy and provide a vent for the angst I feel whenever I’m forced to pay attention to what’s happening out there. I obviously have some angst… 

Anyway, I hit a wall, and it affected me most profoundly in regards to the novel I’m scratching out. The blog is essentially fun, even though I’m often feeling grouchy when I pick a topic; the novel is what I’m pinning, have pinned, my future on. It’s kind of important. Paradoxically, while the novel is the part that takes the most effort to work on sometimes -it requires the most conscious choice - it is the one that provides the most happiness and satisfaction to me. This dynamic makes me wonder why it is sometimes that we, as humans, seem most inclined to choose (or not choose, and by not choosing make a choice) those things that make us least happy in the long run.

So, over the holidays; maybe it was the tryptophan, or the good company, or the weather and the shortest days of the year. You pick. They’d all be excuses, not reasons, so I don’t care what the actual machinery was. The bottom line is that I got lazy and abandoned what little discipline I manage to exert over my creative and intellectual life. And it’s time to get back to work.

Don’t get me wrong; I am not one of those that perform annual reviews upon my self, set a myriad of goals which I record in a book and track via spread sheets and data bases – I hope to live a less regimented life than that. Call it a prejudice if you like, but I find that kind of organization, even the thought of that kind of organization, personally demoralizing. I know it works for some people – okay, a lot of very productive and successful people – but I refuse to comply. I’m looking for a more romantic version of productivity, one that builds few roads and ignores fences, preferring to scramble over loose rock and run across open plains under a hunter’s moon. I refuse to give up on that ideal, but I have realized that it is still up to me to do the running. I must put one foot in front of the other and overcome my internal inertia all by myself.

But a little push once and a while is nice…

Three strange things happened in the last week to give me the required kick in the butt to overcome my lethargy, three separate and unsolicited confirmations that I’m on the right track, so to speak, and should keep on it and keep after it. And just when I needed it. I don’t know how exactly I feel about the interaction of choice and destiny, but anecdotally there seems, at times, to be evidence of some sort of grand scheme in the midst of our daily choices. I think that they dance together, cosmically, and try not to step on each others’ toes too much.

We don’t have a destiny beyond being the best version of ourselves that we can be, and that destiny is made up of ability, opportunity and the choices we make to take advantage of the former and create the latter. So I guess, if it’s a chicken and the egg kind of question, I’ll vote for choice first. There is no such thing as destiny without choice, or at least nothing I’m interested in. That would just be boring. I’m glad, though, that whatever destiny there is has the patience to wait for us to make the decisions we need to make, overcome whatever inner demons we need to vanquish, and realize that better version of ourselves while we’re fighting our way through it.

So, to those friends that provided the boost, thank you: The timing was impeccable. My little rest is done now and I’ll get back to really working; to taking advantage of the light.

Sunday, January 3

‘It is because modern education is so seldom inspired by a great hope that it so seldom achieves great results. The wish to preserve the past, rather that the hope of creating the future, dominates the minds of those who control the teaching of the young.’ Bertrand Russell

I was reading a critique of the US educational system, the focus of the article being on the alarming downward trend that was extant in US achievement standards over the last forty years in spite of the increased attention and funding that the system has received. (This trend, although perhaps not so dramatic, is extant in Canada as well, just so I’m clear that this isn’t some sort of nationalist argument.) The ultimate point of the argument was that the failure of the system to improve the overall educational system was no failure at all; rather, it was the original intent. The crux of the argument was that a government capable of over-seeing NASA and space flight, capable of mounting multi-billion dollar military campaigns, capable of facilitating a multi-billion dollar taxation system, would not be as utterly incompetent in the creation of a better education system unless the greater failure of that system was their intent.

Think about it for a minute: Why is it that our governments can be very successful at accomplishing those things that support their control and political infrastructure, but seem incapable of accomplishing anything that will actually benefit the public? I would suggest that they fail, at best, because our benefit is inconsequential to politicians who, in spite of rhetoric to the contrary, are concerned only with their own security and comfort, their own consumption, and their own ability to affect some sense of power. At worst, it could be argued that the general ignorance of the greater population is a crucial aspect of a system designed to increase social and intellectual stratification. A dumb majority is more easily controlled.

We live within a secular system. That’s a simple fact. Our society, the world around us, our cultural values and the influence of all of these dynamics on the system itself are in a constant state of flux, ostensibly evolving in response to the pressures that are created within that system and affected upon it. It could also be argued convincingly that this social evolution has been co-opted in a short-term sense; that our secular system is currently engineered contrary to how it might evolve in the absence of a culture that uses as its primary impulse the generation of revenue, and worships as its primary deity the concept of free-market economy as the savior of the species. Of course, evolution will re-establish pre-eminence sooner or later, either when we smarten up and begin to establish a social construct that seeks a more harmonious state of equilibrium with our environment, and a truly democratic and egalitarian social system, or when we drive the global meta-system to the brink of collapse and drive ourselves to extinction. One of the two will happen, for the free-market commitment to profit at any cost is at odds with our long-term survival as a species. It’s a one-or-the-other dynamic.

To make the right choices as the fourth dimension exerts its influence over us, it is our children (perhaps their children too, depending on which version of climate change and social dynamic theory you adhere to) that will have to stand up, where we have and are not, and reclaim our future. And yet they are the very ones that are being subverted by the educational system to avoid free thought at all costs, to become sheep within the herd and focus on nothing more than accumulating the largest amount of the newest stuff possible – to focus only on the fuzzy butt in front or beside them, and be concerned only with doing as well as or better than that fuzzy butt.

In spite of all the work our governments are doing to undermine the educations system, there ironically seems to be a growing sense of discontent and this says more about the sovereignty of the human spirit than anything else. Young and old alike are standing up in greater numbers to say, “Hey, something isn’t right here!” or, “We know what isn’t right and we’re going to do something about it.” From the script of The Network, many are starting to say, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Our freedom starts where our trust of our current political and social institutions ends. They aren’t looking out for us, but the inclination to stand up for ourselves seems to be increasing. If the systems that educate all of us, from the education system to our daily fix of mass media, aren’t going to foster our potential, I guess we’ll have to do it ourselves, educate ourselves, motivate ourselves, and find a non-passive yet non-violent way to affect change, the change that we desire for the whole of our species and planet.

If those who are paid to serve us feel rather that we are here to serve them, then stop looking to them for inspiration and hope. It’s like looking to a rock for comfort, or maybe like looking to a shark for it. Instead, we should be looking within ourselves and, when we find that spark of hope, we should be passing it forward. It is our responsibility to inspire each other and the next generation; our right to stand and be counted; our dignity that is at stake; our survival that hangs in the balance. If the system won’t be inspired or inspiring, then I guess it’s up to us to look forward with realistic hope and pragmatic idealism to “be the change we want to see in the world.”

Honk if you agree…