Wednesday, March 30

how to get rid of a bad government

We're having an election here in Canada this spring.

I despise the Harper Government (as they like to be called, having divested themselves of the "Canadian Government" handle in a fit of hubris so large it boggles my mind) with a passion that borders on hatred. For the first time in my forty-four years, I am actually and truly ashamed to admit where I come from during political discussions. I think that Harper might be instant karma for all the nasty things Canadians said about Dubya.

When I vote, I'll be looking for the box that says "Anyone but Harper", but I know that this won't be an option, that I'll have to choose some other lame ass politician and/or one that has no hope of making it into the PMO office. The Bloc Quebecois is an option because if they were successful in seceding from the rest of the country I'd at least have someplace close to move to that wouldn't be where the Harper Government is.

Yes it's that bad.

Winona Linn aka sLight probably says it better though...

Tuesday, March 29

the comp

They’re congregating in the parking lot by 10:30, even though registration doesn’t start until 11:00. It’s a bit chilly, the earliest of spring days. There’s a hint of late-season snow in the air, like a temptation, but if it’s falling, then it’s falling at elevation, in the clouds that hide the mountains on either side of the valley.

The climbers – of all sizes, all experience levels – are gathering, talking, bullshitting, laughing, getting their caffeine on, reconnecting. Some – the more serious ones – are stretching where there’s room. Once the line starts moving, some move inside right away, scoping the routes. Even the locals are seeing the qualifier climbs for the first time. The gym’s been closed for two days now, everything stripped off the walls and forty new routes put up, fresh for the competition.

Gym routes are designated with colored tape, each hand or foot hold marked to show the path, the one appropriate way to get from ‘A’ at the bottom to ‘B’ somewhere higher up. For a comp, the tape is more than just a guide – it’s the law. Judges will watch as climbers try to complete the routes to make sure that the narrow path is followed, full points accumulated for ‘flashes’ if they complete a climb on the first try, percentages granted for ‘red points’ if they need more than one shot at it, no points if the last hold can’t be reached legally. Each of the climbs is worth a different total score, the higher the climb’s number, the harder the climb, the more points it is worth.

For four hours they climb, each waiting their turn, one climber per wall at a time, queuing for flash attempts and, if required, getting at the back of the line for red point efforts. Each attempt gets marked on their card by the judge, each completed climb noted.

There’s strategy too. Four hours is a long time to climb, and for those who do well there will be finals in the evening, so energy conservation is crucial. Even for the orangutans among us. A higher-valued climb is worth more points, but flashes are rarer at that difficulty, and red points result in percentage deductions. Like a diving competition or freestyle skiing, the higher the difficulty, the greater the risk, the higher the reward.

A climber's five best scores during the qualifying round will count towards a place in the finals, so smart climbers pick and chose. They look for climbs that suit their style and strengths, reaching for the flash and maximum points. The smart ones pick off five climbs comfortably within their flash ability and get points locked up. Then, fully warmed up, they rest.

Assaults on the really hard climbs begin after around an hour. While climbers rest, they watch, gaining ‘beta’ from other climbers, watching others try to string moves together and fail, learning from every other climber’s attempts. When they finally step to the route they have imagined the climb a hundred times already, visualized the bend of a body, the twist of a knee, the jump for a hold, picking and choosing good moves from the people they’ve watched, filling the gaps with their imagination and experience.

There is sweating in spite of the open doors and chill air. There are shouts and gasps, of pleasure, and pain, and surprise. Everyone tries hard to be good (there are kids competing too), but there’s an occasional choice word of frustration.

And there is cheering. Everyone, aside from those of us volunteering, is a competitor, and yet there is cheering; a preponderance of encouragement. A wave of it fills the room, over the live DJ, filling that space the way the rising chalk dust does. It’s hard to see the other end of the room for all the chalk and cheering.

These are climbers after all. There might a desire to do well, even to win, but that’s not what it’s about. Even for the few that really have a shot, they take time to shout encouragement and cheer for the ones that pose the biggest threat and for the ones struggling on the easiest routes. That’s what climbers do.

We don’t measure success by the failures of our competitors, but on our ability to perform; to be better than another climber doesn’t prove a thing.

To be better than ourselves though, to be our best – that’s everything.

For four hours on a Saturday afternoon in March, ninety climbers crowd into 1400square feet of space, most of which is taken up by landing pads, forcing them even closer together, and they strain and praise and scream and slap backs and smile and smile and smile.

Later, in the evening, it might get a little more serious. The finalists will be sequestered and brought out in front of the assembled spectators (the ‘losers’, as if getting front row seats to the finals isn’t a prize in itself) one at a time to tackle new, unseen problems set during the dinner break. But even then, when one finalist is done, they’ll join the crowds and cheer, even when they’re cheering the climber that surpasses their best effort.

In climbing, you see, it’s all about reaching for the top. Getting there is grand, no doubt, but it’s not the reason. There will always be a climb that’s too tough, too high, too exposed. The best climbers in the world prove it every year, raising the bar one more microscopic increment, doing things that were considered impossible last year. They’ll do it again this year. There is no finish line.

Anyone that thinks so is missing the point.

Last Saturday, at the little gym I hang out at – just to be perfectly clear – nobody was missing the point. 

Friday, March 25


I had the most interesting conversation on Twitter last night, one that grew (unexpectedly) out of yesterday’s post. I can’t get it out of my mind.

It was about authenticity (again), and control. Specifically, about whether taking ownership is, perhaps, an attempt to control too much. About whether self-examination can lead to a lack of authenticity – to what? Narcissism? A lack of mindfulness? A preoccupation with the past or future; things that we can’t control? Some, or all, or maybe none of those.

In a true moment of not letting go completely, I just kept thinking about it and thinking about it. Because that’s what I do, whether I should or not, whether it helps or not; I think about it until I can either understand, or feel satisfied that I never will. Or understand that it’s not time to understand yet. Sometimes we just have to let stuff sit in the dust, rest in its inscrutability, until we have the right hands to pick it up with, the right eyes to see.

And, yes, sometimes we just have to let it go and embrace the mystery.

I graded for my fifth kyu in Ki-Aikido a few weeks ago. I didn’t want to. The western system of colored belts bothers me on a subdural level. In Japan they don’t use colorful belts. You wear white until you wear black. I want to rebel against the artificial gradations. (And yellow is not my color.) But they still test on the way to the black belt, grading progress and providing unseen benchmarks, steps in the air that are invisible but strong enough to stand on so that the next level can be seen. I’d rather not wear the belt, but I accept and enjoy that the testing has to happen, and appreciate knowing that I can move forward.

I think that I approach the mirror the same way. I’m not looking for external validation as I do it (he says in his blog – oh, the irony), but testing myself helps me know where to go next, what to keep and improve, or what to leave behind. Sometimes the most surprising things happen, like when I discover that an old thing, trait, behavior that I never really liked no longer serves a purpose; that I can leave it on the side of the road and just keep walking instead of carrying the dead weight around.

Socrates said that an unexamined life was not worth living, and I buy that. Granted, I’m invested. Maybe I’m just a fan because I want to enable my own navel gazing. I have to admit the possibility, right? But can’t we wonder about the future and pick through the past without losing hold of the moment, of the present. Can’t we?

Earlier this week Stephen Elliot talked about how people don’t really change. Who we were is who we are is who we are. I buy that to a point too. To a point.

But we evolve too. There may be a core that can’t change, but how we dress it can. There may be an ‘us’ that can’t change, but how that ‘us’ interacts with the world, perceives it, embraces it or not; that can change. That can evolve. And that requires some level of examination, whether we burn the barn or go through it one item at a time, or maybe a bit of both. The examination is ongoing and painful and beautiful and grotesque and distracting and enlightening…

… and absolutely, authentically, worth it.

P.S. Sadly, my URL change yesterday had one unforeseen consequence that has no remedy at the present time: ID has no process in place to navigate all the ID comments made on the old URL into the new URL. All those comments and tiny conversations are lost to the outside now. Sorry, my fault.

If it helps, I can still see them all and visit the threads through the ID dashboard, but the truth is that I already miss them.

Thursday, March 24

for the record

When I started my manuscript I planned on using a pen name to publish it. My thinking was that, because I also wanted to write non-genre fiction and maybe memoir one day, and wanted my real name on those efforts, I should use a pen name for the genre fiction.

I was worried about having my name associated with one genre, and how that might make finding representation and a publisher for anything else difficult. I was thinking way too hard. I was also hedging bets. I can see that now.

I’ve been thinking a lot about concepts like platform, self-promotion, authenticity, and honesty lately. That old position just doesn’t make sense to me any more. Frankly, it seems disingenuous for me.

Not “to me”; “for me”. Pen names are obviously a time honored tradition. I just don’t think it’s one that fits with where I am or where I want to be one day. Besides, I found Iain [M] Banks, so there are pretty easy ways to get around that “making yourself easily identifiable to your readers” thing.

So, while I’m still going to abjure the pushy self-promotion vibe, I do want to take ownership.

When I started thinking out loud I had no clue what I was doing as a blogger. I started using quotes as an excuse to express my opinions instead of using quotes to inform the writing. I felt like using my name in the URL for Blogger was egotistical, so I used the (over-used – I admit it) title in the URL. Then I used the title of the blog to inform my Twitter handle, again feeling awkward about using my name.

I mean, who the fuck was I?

That’s changed. This isn’t (I don’t think, #pleasenopleaseno) about ego. It’s about that ownership concept. If I succeed, I’ll have to take responsibility for it. If I fail, that’s me too.

So yesterday I changed my Twitter handle to @m_d_lockhart. Underscores are apparently verboten and I was threatened with ostracization until I explained that some other guy took @mdlockhart and hasn’t ever tweeted. (Not once. Future representation, as you read this, please make a note that I’d like to fix that one day when I’m basking in the blessed waters of mid-list-ship.)

Today I changed my Blogger URL. It was impulsive, the decision, part of the rush of owning something I think. Of course, anyone with thinkingoutloud-thinkfree.blogspot in their bookmarks (what, it could happen…) will no longer find their way here.

Hence this post, which is really about very little other than to make sure that the few, the appreciated, the deeply cherished that subscribe or admit coming here get the memo that my web address has changed. For the record, you are currently visiting (or will be if you follow the link from your e-mail). I've also appropriately changed my Feedburner and NetworkedBlogs settings. 

I think we're good to go, but I'm probably wrong. If this causes anyone to have to readjust anything, sorry. Had to be done though, had to be done.

I’ll be hanging out here now. No plans to change the title, just so we’re clear. I feel (comfortably) stuck with that. It’s a good description for what I do here so long as we use “thinking” broadly and as a euphemism.

in the absence of answers

What a great day yesterday was.

Like I said yesterday, it was tear down day at the climbing gym, the day we closed early so as to strip every hold off of every wall so that the route setting geniuses can start putting up comp routes for the weekend. So we twisted bolts and climbed ladders and pealed tape from 8 to 10, 14 of us or so, in a hectic, frenetic, kinetic laugh-a-thon.

Before that, I got to do some #amrevising, working on a chapter that required more than just fixing little things, doing a line by line edit in order to take an emaciated framework and add some flesh to it. The more I revise, the more I understand how writers can have a problem letting go of a WIP, especially a first one: There’s so much learning, evolving, improving involved in the first time that, every time I come back to a chapter I haven’t touched for a month or two, I see entirely different ways to make it better.

At this rate, the manuscript will be finished never. That’s not a tenable position, so I’ve set April 21 as my mail-to-beta-readers day. I can get all picky again after that, but I have to actually set a shipping date, because the learning will never end.

 I also got to carry on my favorite ongoing internet conversation before the gym, and I got in a great (if short) session of climbing before the strip-fest began.

And then, as if all of that wasn’t enough, I was provided the bonus of listening to a repeat of this morning's Q with Jion Ghomeshi on the drive home. The part I listened to was an interview with Canadian musical icon Bruce Cockburn. I’ve never actually been a huge fan, but have always respected him. His music has never moved me miles, but his activism and integrity have.

He was talking about his visit to Afghanistan in 2009. His brother is a Captain and physician in the Canadian Armed Forces (family dinners might be interesting), and he also played a concert for the Canadian troops there. He said that the people he talked to there, members of the medical mission, believed in their role but thought it would take 30 years for it too succeed; that a place like Afghanistan would need that much time just to birth and raise a generation that had a concept of what peace might look like.

They didn’t expect that the mission there would last that long.

I thought of Greg Mortensen (Three Cups of Tea) and his effort to accomplish the same goal – a generation of Afghanis and Pakistanis that understand the concept of peace – through education. I had a hard time not contrasting the two approaches.

Cockburn talked about his other trips to war zones, both as an activist and performer. He said that he’s never gone to a war zone looking for material for his art. There are people, he said, that have a mandate to do so - journalists, writers, photographers, maybe poets – but that for him, doing so would have felt ‘inappropriate’.

But, he said, he always went with his eyes open. He went open to everything, but not looking for anything in specific. If material presented itself, he was prepared to accept it. And if it came, then it was his responsibility to apply all of his skill and craft to make the most of it.

I thought about the concept of manufactured versus organic, of counterfeit versus authentic. I thought it was a great way to view creativity – being open to the truth, and then applying every possibility of craft to take advantage of that truth. I thought about Elizabeth Taylor and how she might be as remembered for her activism (on behalf of HIV/AIDS going back way before it was fashionable) as she will be for the soap opera of her celebrity. I thought about which one I’d want to be remembered for.

It’s easy, I think, in our plastic world of intentional media confusion, our age of persuasion, to forget that people inhabit the caricatures we watch rise and fall on TV; that real people with sincere motives fight in wars that we detest. Lately, for me, it has seemed crucially important to remember how complicated everything is.

There were no conclusions to reach, none that did service to the issues. The perspective of complexity answers no questions at all, makes finite truths seem very far away, but while I sat here and nursed my sore wrists and stiff hands, the questions seemed more important than the answers anyway.

Wednesday, March 23


I didn’t know what to talk about today. I was conflicted, and the friction of dissonance made me feel like I was trying to walk in two different directions at the same time.

I wanted to talk about climbing, partly because the weather is changing that way it does here in the spring – dramatically (I love you, DST) – and outdoors is becoming so doable, and also because it will be dominating my week. My local gym, Beyond the Crux, is hosting a bouldering comp this weekend and I get to help out with tearing the gym apart to set new routes, and with judging the early rounds on Saturday.

I’ve said that climbing isn’t generally competitive, but I also mentioned the caveat regarding comps. I’m not a huge proponent of turning climbing into a competition. And yet, when the comps come around, there is an electric atmosphere full of gymnastic feats of strength and daring-do. Competition, with self and others, will push climbers to stretch and grip like they never have before. There will be skin left on the wall and holds. There will be blood.

And there will be cheering. And competitors cheer for each other. I’ve never seen anything approaching poor sportsmanship among climbers. I’m sure it exists, have even read about it – I’ve just never seen it first hand.

My personal belief is that it’s because climbers are ultimately competing against themselves and the route, not each other. I think that appreciation of the accomplishments of others, both historically and in the now, is so ingrained into climbing culture that being a sore loser is just too embarrassing to contemplate.

Still, to be honest, I kind of wish we wouldn’t put it to the test. I have yet to master defeating myself; why would I want or need to defeat anyone else?

I wanted to talk about Libya too, and coalitions, and no-fly zones. If I’m conflicted about climbing comps, imagine the dissonance that I feel about Libya.

Part of me is very happy that Qaddafi won’t be able to inflict damage on the rebels from the air with impunity any more the way, say, the forces in Afghanistan inflict damage on insurgents from the air – with blatant inaccuracy and a stunning lack of care for the lives of civilians. Part of me cringes at the thought of the West getting involved at all though, mostly because our impulse control is usually so poor when the chance to invade presents itself.

Most of me believes, with the rebels, that this needs to remain an internal Libyan affair as much as possible, and that they need to finish it themselves. Part of me hates that they have to finish anything and wonders what kind of trauma that finishing will inflict on a people, a nation.

Civil wars are horrible things. They tear apart a group of people that are supposed to be unified, and leave scars so deep that healing ends up being measured in centuries. Look at the US. The war might as well have been last week the way they shout at each other across old battle lines. Look at Canada. Quebec is practically a different country in all but the legal ways.

Hawks say that war is just a fact of human existence; that the best way to deal with it is to recognize that fact and get about it in as efficient and ethical way as possible. Doves say that all war is an atrocity and should be abolished; that there’s no way to intentionally kill another human being ethically; that the concept is ludicrous and mad.

My internal friction is that, as much as I hate to agree with hawks, as much as I love to agree with doves, they’re both right.

I love the idea of not needing war anymore, of abjuring it so completely on a global level that we banish it into the realm of legend. That one day, so far from now that we can’t really imagine it, it would become myth; stories told to children the way we tell them about cannibalism now – to scare and awe, but without current applicability.

If we must have war, intervene in the flow of things by intentionally injecting death and conflict into the current, then I’m glad that the coalition we’re sending is so conflicted itself. There are undeniable reasons to get involved in Libya on humanitarian grounds. Qaddafi would have slaughtered thousands, hundreds of thousands, without the no-fly zone. The rebels wouldn’t have stood a chance in the long run. “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, Clarke said. The rebels might not have thought it was magic raining down on them, but it would have been essentially the same thing, something indefensible from either perspective. So I’m glad that somebody is stepping in to stop it, even if stopping it means doing it, only more brutally and with stronger magic.

I like that the coalition is so broad and diverse. That diversity – the friction inherent in it – will help keep all the participants slightly more honest. It will make it less efficient, something that the hawks will hate, but that inefficiency will be a small price to pay in exchange for its instability. Hopefully NATO and the Arab League will hold it together just long enough to prevent Qaddafi’s madness from dominating the story, and then, optimistically, that instability will tear the coalition apart before anyone can get any stupid ideas.

I’d love to put my foot down and say that all war is wrong (which it is), and that there’s never really a good justification for violent aggression (which there isn’t), but I think that I think that this is more complicated than that.

In the Independent they ran an article about the rebels coming out of Benghazi the day after the first coalition strikes against Qaddafi’s armored columns. I quote the article:
‘Some of the Shabaab were shocked by the human cost of what had taken place. “This is a different kind of war. I am sorry that so many people had died in this way. I was fighting against them only yesterday, but I am still sorry…” said … an engineer from Tobruk who had joined the revolution. “But look at him: he is somebody's son, a poor mother, a wife, children would be crying," he added, gently covering the face of the man on the ground with a torn blanket. His companion … murmured: “May Allah give them peace. We all want an end to all this.”’
I wanted to shake the hands of these two men, maybe hug them, and then make them generals. And then, in the next sentence:
‘But there were others who stripped money and watches from corpses. A teenager exultantly cried "Allah hu Akhbar" repeatedly as he stood over the body of a fallen soldier, scarcely older than him, legs blown away.’
I don’t know if I’d have left the adverb, but still – lovely bit of journalism showing the friction, how nothing is simple. Nothing is simple. 

I wish it was.

And just in case you think that I’m suggesting that what NATO is doing is at all admirable, please understand: This is another mess we made.

We’ve been supporting Qaddafi for years, after all, selling him weapons and the planes and anti-aircraft installations that we’re bombing now, propping up his regime to create enough stability that Western petroleum companies could operate with a modicum of safety. If the rebels hadn’t forced the hand, we’d still be shaking Qaddafi’s, quietly, away from the press and the lights. For the sake of commerce and lower gasoline prices.

Bet our ass we would be.

And when this is over, we’ll sell Libya replacement armaments, bet our ass.

A friend mentioned that some general had talked about how much “skin” the US had in this operation. I agree with her that it’s a powerful little image. He said that the US didn’t have as much skin in because of the broad base of support.

But we do have skin in, all of us that vote for our leaders in our developed countries. We have plenty in. Let there be no illusions, please. And when there’s as much friction as there is right now, there will be plenty of skin left behind.

Sunday, March 20

go figure

I visit Mom on Fridays, make dinner, give Miriam a night off from cooking and cleaning duties. It’s a tradition now.  Yesterday, Saturday, 24 hours after I left for work on Friday, I got to my friends place after work and turned on my computer to find three e-mails from Mom. The first read:
Hi Mike would you please come home and visit me?  Love you, Mom
The second:
Mike please get in touch with me I want to talk to you. Love, Mom 
And the third:
Naturally, I called right away. Miriam had left to get something from the store, something that they couldn’t wait for. Mom prefers not to go out, so she stayed at home.

And then forgot that Miriam had left, forgot that Miriam lives there, forgot that she wasn’t actually alone at all, forgot pretty much everything. The thought of what that would be like makes me cringe.

This morning I woke up to an e-mail from the UK, from my Dad. He’d received a troubling e-mail from Mom yesterday too, one desperately asking him to come home because she was alone and needed him. They’ve been divorced for 27 years, of course, and the tans-Atlantic flight is a serious commute, but in that moment…

Well, she just felt alone. Utterly, completely.

There’s a disconnect that I don’t comprehend in all of this. It defies logic. She knew to e-mail my Dad because he was far away, used a computer that she can barely turn on and e-mailed me too, three times, but never thought to pick up the phone and call me even though the number is by the receiver. But I don’t think logic has much to do with ALZ or that kind of fear - that sense of isolation even if it isn’t really the reality. For her, then, it was real, and she was at the computer, and she just reached out, pleading.

When I called her, everything was already back to normal, whatever that is. Miriam had returned (she’d only been gone twenty minutes), and Mom was re-centered. She’d just needed a prompt to put things back in place and regain the semblance of a perspective on her world. We’d be lost without Miriam.

I thought, What would it be like to lose your whole world in less than twenty minutes? That made me think of Japan, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan... It was a somber evening.

When I got up this morning, after I sent Dad an e-mail to let him know that everything was okay (whatever that is), I found this, a quote posted by a yoga-instructing friend on Facebook:
"What if our religion was each other ~ If our practice was our life ~ If prayer our words ~ What if the temple was the Earth ~ If forests were our church ~ If holy water - the rivers, lakes and ocean ~ What if meditation was our relationships ~ If the teacher was life ~ If wisdom was self knowledge ~ If love was the centre of our being" ...Ganga White
It made everything a bit better - that thought, that big wish. The tragedy in Japan is creating a new, renewed appreciation for the most admirable aspects of Japanese culture. In Egypt, over 70% voted for constitutional change in a referendum. And there are people who think of and write giant wishes across the parchment of our world; ones so big that they can have a life of their own. And there are friends that can make losing the whole world better with just a few words.

In Hiroshima, the first springtime after the bomb, green things grew where nothing was supposed to grow for fifty years. Today Mom’s having a great day.

Go figure.

Thursday, March 17

poetry #6 - the sum of leafs

history is a word we use
to describe
an accumulation of moments
each one a mote
drawn out of time
separate and yet part of the whole
one leaf that grows and leans
into the light
and then falls and gyres down upon the green

time is a word we use to describe
the order and flow
of moments
to differentiate between the leaf that grows
and the leaf that stretches
and the leaf that flares into color
before fluttering to the green

arbitrary words, time and history
we use them to denote
to scribe an arch of progression
but really, they do not care
the moments
the leafs
they do not care what definitions we assign

they are just motes, just leafs
perched in the tree, fallen to the green
perhaps raked and piled
sorted into bags
for collection

without our imposition
of order
would they not still remain
stretched on the green?
blown across the waters?

and still
we are these moments
the sum of leafs raked into piles
verdant, flaming, stretching and conjoined
piles of the detritus of life
mulled together in an attempt
to define ourselves
moments that have been pregnant
and grown
and fallen

is a leafy mound of gold and umber
more beautiful
than any one
that remains, still verdant
upon the tree?
a perfect present moment 
yet leaning 
into the light?

Monday, March 14

on Japan, weddings, and politics

It was a weird, horrible, wonderful, encouraging, terrifying, heartbreaking, heart-mending week.

On Thursday, a friend finished (I mean finished) her first novel. It made me smile big smiles, and it also lit a fire under my ass. I might get to read it, but not before I finish my own damned manuscript. On the same day (Friday for them) the earth shook in close proximity to Japan though, so my joy was tempered.

I drove to Vancouver on Friday morning after a pit stop at Mom’s for coffee. I was driving to my Bio-Mom’s place in Surrey. So it took me around five hours and 500 kilometers to get from my Mom’s place to my Mom’s place. I’m guessing that puts me in a relatively small club. Not too small, but small enough.

I spent a good part of the trip thinking about Japan. That’s a large club – those thinking about Japan – from the minority-hateful club highlighted on Facebook who were equating an earthquake and tsunami with Pearl Harbor; to the larger demographic who are directly affected, hoping to hear a word that will never come, hoping to survive long enough for help to arrive, hoping that the scars won’t be too deep; to the majority club around the world that were/are just trying to think positive things, and empathize, and hope for the best. The “best”, at this point, would seem to be “anything that is not the worst”.

The radio says that we still don’t know the magnitude of this tragedy; that the estimates of destruction and depth keep jumping every hour. The truth is that we’ll never know the magnitude of this tragedy, no matter how exact the numbers, how specific the radiation counts, how large the dollar amounts. Some tragedies can’t be measured. All we can do is be dumbfounded and then try to lean into the light again.

That’s what I tried to do as I drove into Surrey; grab the light I was driving towards and lean into it. I was visiting to attend my brother Travis’s wedding after all.

Saturday morning Travis picked me up on the way to the Abbotsford Airport so we could pick up our other brother, Troy. (Aside: My birth name, before the adoption, was Thomas – Mom had a theme all planned out.) Then the three of us drove back to Mom’s to let her bask in our perpetual three-way ribbing. And then we spent the day together, the three of us, until it was time for the wedding. This happens only once every couple years these days, so it was precious.

There were moments, whole, long sequences of seconds and minutes when I actually forgot about Japan.

The ceremony itself was simple. Trav and his fiancé Kate were insistent that it meant nothing. They have no plans on celebrating March 12. It’s a formality in anticipation of a wedding in Mexico next month, and having a signed, authorized license back here in Canada makes the legal part of things much easier. So we gathered at Kate’s parent’s home, just family, eight of us, and ate too much. Some of us drank too much, but we forgive them and had made plans for safe drives home. And in the middle a Justice of the Peace arrived and we had a little ceremony.

Kate and Trav had championed the “this means nothing” theme, and yet everyone shed at least one tear. Kate was gorgeous in her laughing tears, Trav handsome in his stoic ones, and the room was full of love the way incense can fill a room; in the way that it makes you pull back and say “wow” involuntarily.

I had several profound moments of gratitude. This was a family I had never known eighteen years ago. Trav and Kate’s love has already overcome things that would make lesser mortals coil back in fear. Gratitude actually seems like a really small word. After all, words are just symbols we use to shorthand an idea. Ideas like gratitude or love deserves volumes, encyclopedias, libraries.

It’s cool that we can condense an idea like that into five or nine letters, depending, but there’s a disservice in the accomplishment too. Both gratitude and love deserve words with more gravitas. It’s typically Western: Our accomplishments sometimes go too far. We do because we can, and do not, often enough, ask whether we should.

I drove back Sunday morning and Japan still dominated the news. There was more information on the Fukushima reactor. The numbers were ugly and getting uglier with no end in sight. There was no way to measure it on a heart level, but the astronomers said that our days are now 1.6 milliseconds shorter because the rotation of the Earth sped up, and another expert is saying that, according to GPS measurements, Honshu appears to have moved almost 2.4 meters. The whole thing. Eight feet.

And then, in the mountains, I lost radio and enjoyed silence for a couple hours. When I came out Tapestry was on CBC. Karen Armstrong was on, talking about compassion. She won the TED prize in 2009 and wished for the Charter for Compassion, a wish she got and is getting. The Charter is an amazing idea.

They also talked about the attack ads that the Conservative party is running right now in Canada

I read a very funny op-ed in McLean’s by Scott Feschuk in which he said:
“Are there really people out there so ideologically fragile that a 30 seconds of dubious accusations are enough to alter their worldview? …Intrigued by this phenomenon, I have conducted painstaking research to develop a theory that offers insight into the precise mechanism by which attack ads are able to affect popular opinion. My theory is as follows: People are dumb. …I am not saying you’re an idiot if you switch parties because of an ad you saw on television. But I am thinking it.”
I know, not very compassionate, is it? The world is complex, what can I say? We can grieve for Japan on the same weekend as a joyous wedding, even while simultaneously hoping that our species can learn to embrace compassion as a benchmark, and yet laugh at a one-sided article insulting the voting population of my country.

Nobody said any of this would be simple.

Oh, somewhere along the line I lost an extra hour. Let me know if you see it. Every hour is important. If I can’t have it, I’d like to at least know that it went to a good cause.

Thursday, March 10

what it is, nothing more

I wrote a rant yesterday, and tried to spice it up with enough tongue-in-cheek sarcasm to feign the appearance of humor. Mostly I was just pissed off and ranting. Then I read a blog about “Tweeting good tweets” and “posting good posts” and how all of that is important to “building an online following” and “getting followers” and “establishing an online presence”.

My first thought was, “I guess I missed the mark and that one.” And then my second thought was, “Fuck it. I'll own that.!”

Not that there’s anything specifically wrong with the tricks and the games, but I know they aren’t for me. If I went that route, I’d never be able to forgive myself. I’m intentionally ignoring all the tricks for expanding my followers list on Twitter, intentionally choosing to post potentially uncomfortable links, expressing opinions, taking stands on issues. It’s been part of the inversion from, literally, day minus one. I know this blog and most of what I post on FB and Twitter has (on the surface of it, anyway) nothing to do with publishing a fantasy novel, but it has everything to do with trying to be authentic.

I’m sure they told Frank Herbert that about Dune too – too political, too ecologically sensitive, too subversive. And I know that Margaret Atwood catches constant shit about her political and social views. I’m not in their league (hell, I’m not in their universe, to be clear), but I admire their courage. I admire the integrity to have an opinion and a voice, damn the torpedoes. They make me want to aspire.

If (when) I publish, I will publish as me, not a persona. I’ve lived dual lives, a professional me and a personal me. It sucked. If my opinions and perspectives make that process harder, then so fucking be it. I refuse to sacrifice my freedom of thought and expression in order to be more popular or an easier sell.

Writing, being an artist, isn’t a game. This isn’t about winning anything or conquering anything. It’s about having a voice and a mind and sharing it, all of it, as honestly as we can. It’s about telling honest stories. If it’s fiction, as mine is, then the Picasso quote (which I found thanks to the inimitable Judy Clement Wall) applies: “Art is the lie that tells the truth.” If that means that I’ll never publish, because I’m not marketable, then so be that too. I’ll wear that, proudly.

Thoreau said, “I’d rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.” And then Einstein is attributed with saying something to the affect of, “If two people in the same room share all the same views on everything, one of them doesn’t need to be there.” That shit’s about abjuring the herd mentality, about not succumbing to it.

I won’t play games with my integrity for the sake of the possibility of a career. And if it ever turns into an actual career, I hope I still have enough integrity to be even louder when it counts most, and prove myself worthy of the career. I’d happily own failing as a marketable author for the sake of succeeding as a human with integrity.

If being honest and taking a stand means that I’ll never win the internet, I hope I never win the fucking internet.

P.S. This isn’t about anybody in particular. I’m just in a rant mood this week. Everything is coming out as a rant. I blame Gov. Scott Walker and my #amrevising playlist, which is largely comprised of Pearl Jam, Pink, Eminem, Foo Fighters, and Linkin Park. But, while I blame them, I still own every. Fucking. Word.


P.P.S. FYI: Intense Debate is acting weird on me. I have no moderation settings set, but comments are getting lost in the ether or, for some reason, to moderation. My apologies if you get lost - I have a help ticket submitted. I still appreciate every word of every comment though. Persevere for me, please.

Wednesday, March 9

because sometime you just have to laugh for crying

So, yesterday or so, the Israel IDF bombed Gaza. Again. Specifically, they bombed buildings under construction so, on the good side of things, nobody was there and there were no casualties. More specifically, the buildings under construction were on the campus of the University.

That’s right, potential building if higher learning. The irony is so thick we could walk on it, barefoot.

To be fair, I haven’t heard the IDF side of the story yet. I searched it, but apparently they haven’t made a comment. This time.

In the past though, also to be fair, right wing Israeli bloggers have called the Gaza University a “greenhouse of Hamas terrorism”, so it must be okay to bomb it. Just like when they bombed a UN elementary school in ’09. Because, you know, of that nasty greenhouse effect.

Only, these were building under construction so, well, no roofs. No roofs make it hard for there to be a greenhouse effect, even a metaphorical one, because they haven’t been used for anything yet. I suppose this was one of them pre-emptive strikes, just in case anyone was going to get all green-housey in there. You know, later.

Or, perhaps, it’s just that an educated population is tyranny’s greatest fear. Ever. Educated folk stand up for themselves, demand basic things like the right to farm, and have water, and not be indiscriminately killed while attending school or farming and shit. Educated folk see through the bullshit and the lies.

Heck, when the lies are being told by the IDF and the Israeli government, it doesn’t even take an education. Just a willingness to not be intentionally obtuse.

Please don’t misunderstand me – I think Hamas is just as much to blame as the Israeli government and IDF. I think all three organizations largely suck shit. I just wish they’d quit making civilians pay for their blood thirsty ways. And, in the case of Israel, which holds pretty much all the cards, I wish that they’d realize that being a big (homicidal, bigoted, apartheid-loving) bully just makes them look so, so bad.

On a more positive note, I watched this, from, in which JR, a French artist, received the TED award and made his TED wish. Part of his work was done in Israel and Palestine, where Mullahs, Imams, Rabbis and a host of regular folk from both sides of the apartheid wall participated in an installation that promoted unity.

If we could just completely marginalize the haters…

No, wait, that marginalizing thing is what got us here, isn’t it. Maybe we should use the J’s Love Project strategy and love more.

I think that a protest in which all the peace lovers of the world marched en masse to their leaders' halls of ignorance, er, power, and then force-hugged every last one of the fuckers, would be pretty damned effective. I think it might actually change some of them (a good hug is a powerful thing).

And the ones that couldn’t handle it, and whose heads just exploded? Collateral damage, baby. Cheney and Rumsfeld would appreciate the irony, I’m sure.