Author Archives: mrwriteon

Maybe Cascadia is an idea whose time has come

cascadia_map_and_bioregion_vector_svgIn recent days there has been the vouchsafing of the idea that California, Oregon and Washington should share bed and board with Canada as a reaction to the election of Trump and his vile and idiotic gang of knaves. I like the concept because it revisits ‘Cascadia’, the mythical west coast land of my dreams. Happy to have California as part of the mix.

I was born on the west coast. My parents were born on the west coast. Even my grandparents came to the west coast as relatively young people, back around the turn of the 20th Century. That makes me kind of an anomaly amongst all the remittance men, rogues, scalawags, rounders and villains who came along later and really populated the place up.

Consequently, my sensibilities are coastal. Equally consequently, I am a great admirer of the concept of Cascadia. Cascadia, for those from elsewhere, is a mythical kingdom (so far) consisting of – in one model – British Columbia, Washington State and Oregon. And, of course, named for the coastal mountain range that dominates the Pacific strip. To see that version you can check out http://zapatopi.net/cascadia/ and see what the ‘republic’ looks like. As I say, that is one version. Other versions of Cascadia include in the mix Alaska, Alberta, the Yukon, Idaho, Montana and California. I like that one better because I think there is more economic potential as a separate entity. I also, due to a personal bias, would throw Hawaii into the mix, primarily because I really, really like Hawaii and it’s sort of on the ‘far’ west coast.

The point of the issue is that we in the west – both western Canada and the western US – have long suffered under the exploitation of the eastern and central parts of the continent, who have regarded us basically as colonies to be raped of our natural resources, but are granted very little political power. This lack of genuine impact is nonsensical and fueled by Starbuck’s, we could definitely go it alone.

The latter issue is especially true in Canada where decisions are made in a far away place called Ottawa. Ottawa is a moderately pretty town with a climate a little worse than that of Murmansk, and Ottawa is the place that steals my money every April (and at other times during the year, on a regular basis) and issues directives telling me what to do and how to think. Ottawa asks me to think in directions that are utterly alien, and offensive to me.

In a conversation for my former newspaper with an Ottawa-based drone for the federal fisheries ministry (these are the guys who, by the way, with their boneheaded decisions have virtually ruined the west coast fishery; that was after they had destroyed the east coast one) he referred to Georgia Strait as “a lake”. I patiently tried to explain the concept of saltwater and the Pacific Ocean to a dude who assumed that once you were past Lake Superior you would fall off the face of the earth. I don’t think I likely succeeded in my explanation.

Now, the aforementioned website is pretty rednecked and makes points that I do ‘not’ embrace, but it does address the fact that we in the west, on both sides of the border, are alien colonies in the eyes of our official overseers. I have much more in common with somebody living in Seattle or Portland, or even San Francisco, than I have with somebody in Ottawa, or Toronto. I take my vacations in Hawaii or the southwestern desert and feel utterly at home among the folks there. The concept of so-called “cottage country” in Ontario means nothing to me. I’ve been there. The provincial ‘bird’ of that part of Ontario is the black fly.

Just recently the premier of BC broached the subject of Cascadia following a recent economic agreement with oil-rich Alberta and after conferring with ‘Ahnold’ over the sharing of environmental (and fiscal) connections with California. Nice to hear a Cascadia mention from actual “officialdom”.

I first heard about Cascadia years ago during a late evening boozy conversation with the late Bob Hunter, in those days the Vancouver Sun’s resident hippie scribe, and later a founder of Greenpeace. I was fascinated by the concept and Bob, right to his premature death, never lost his fascination with that great and powerful nation on the shores of the Pacific in which the people could share their common ties and realize the true benefits of what being a Pacific Rim nation could be all about.

So, Hail Cascadia, may you sometime prosper.

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Keep a wary eye out for that rotten 20

1262189-beagle_boysThere is an essential formula for life in which, if you remember this ratio, you will do OK and won’t lose hope about the state of the world. That formula is the 80/20 split. Some optimists go so far as to suggest that it is a 90/10 split, but I suggest they have led sheltered lives or have been smiled upon much more benevolently than maybe they were entitled to be. Me? I’m a realist and opt for the 80/20.

What this means is that 80% of the people we deal with are essentially (in varying degrees) just fine, but that 20% are hideous manifestations of humanity in some respect and are to be avoided, or shunned, or locked away, or shot, depending on the extent and severity of their depravity.

I’ll give you a couple of examples of how this works. The idea originated in my mind from my counselling of alcoholics and addicts. There is therein a verifiable statistic in most societies that indicates that 80% of all alcohol is consumed by 20% of the population. Obversely, the 80% remaining consume only 20%. That is why stats showing per capital consumption in any society are skewed, because they reflect only the habits of a fifth (appropriate, somehow) of the population.

By the way, 80% of all social, legal and medical ills can also be ascribed to that 20% of hefty boozers.

In the broader spectrum of life I have found that the formula still prevails. For example, on Saturday night, sometime in the wee small hours, some assholes of some sort drove their vehicle up into the playing field of the park across the street and turned wheelies on the ball diamond and just thoroughly messed the crap out of a well-maintained facility designed for the pleasure of all. My first impulse was to think that this should be a capital offence, and if I’d been given a gun I’d have gladly pulled the trigger. Such trash has no right to continue to share the planet with the rest of us. The same thoughts apply to graffiti daubers, spitters, utterers of the vilest of profanities within earshot of the public, and so on.

Of that incident, I have no doubt whatsoever that the perpetrators were juveniles. Juveniles who will, however, fall into that moronic and dysfunctional 20%. That is, even with kids, 80% are (in varying degrees) decent, hard working, pleasant, and non-threatening. I can walk into any high school in absolute comfort, and I know from my own teaching days that most kids are (and always will be) pretty darn nice.

The 20% however, are the ones that will populate our prisons, break into our homes, and terrorize us wherever we go. The solace is, however, when you are walking down the street in any city or town, eight people out of ten are just like you, and will not harm, mug, assault or rape us. Keep a wary eye out for the other two in that crowd of ten, however. They’re bad. Bad to the bone.

I’ve found that even in groups that may have issues that have rendered them less than functional, the 80/20 formula still prevails. Working at a rehab I even found that 80% of even crackheads were still OK human beings who had simply messed up in a tragic and potentially lethal manner. My heart went out to them.

Of course, as a final thought, we have to apply that 80/20 to our own behaviors. That is, 80% of the time we are thoroughly decent, but during that 20%, well, even Jimmy Carter confessed to lusting in his heart for people he wasn’t supposed to be lusting over.

 

The circus has left town and good riddance I say

vintage-circus-posters-ringling-bros-poster-7The circus ain’t comin’ to town – no more.

After more than a century the big guys in the biz, Ringling Bros/Barnum and Bailey are rolling up their big-top tents and calling it a day.

And not a moment too soon, I daresay.

For many years, pre-television and movies, the circus was a big deal. In cities and towns across North America it would arrive in the dark of night, originally by circus train and its presence punctuated by the distinctive sounds of a steam calliope, and there were lions and tigers and bears, oh my, along with elephants and high wire trapeze artist babes, not to mention goddamn clowns.

But in recent years the concept had grown stale. Increased sensitivity to the suffering of animals was a punctuation point.

I think I first saw a circus when I was five or six. It was at the PNE and the Vancouver Shrine Club brought them in. What I found was it was not as enchanting as I thought it would be. The big cats were bedraggled looking and they disappointingly did not maul the guy who was tormenting them. The ‘hot’ trapeze artist close up was as lined as my grandmother and likely her age despite the peroxided tresses. I did like the high-wire artistry though nobody fell. And even then I loathed the clowns and could only think, don’t get close and try to talk to me.

Then a few weeks ago B&B announced that it was all coming to an end. The ‘Greatest Show on Earth’ had been running since 1919. I commend the proprietors for bringing it to its denouement.

OK — so I blog and according to this bozo that makes me a loser

new-bloggers-tagsBloggers are losers!

So says a University of Calgary prof – and who can ever argue with a tenured, publish-or-perish academic, since such people are so much brighter than the rest of us?

According to Prof. Michael Keren, as stated a few years ago in his timely tome, Blogosphere: The New Political Arena (catchy title, that), bloggers are living in a world where emotions may be real but everything else is make-believe.

Damn! Here I was going along, thinking I was a relatively well-adjusted and affable fellow with a petty wide array of real-time friends and acquaintances, who does a decent job of whatever I’ve turned my hand to, and have served on countless ‘real’ boards and committees, and have even earned some ‘real’ writing awards, and have traveled to ‘real’ foreign countries, and even make ‘real’ love to my ‘real’ wife, and yet I find that only my emotions are real, and everything else around me is a wispy hologram.
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Yes, the good professor argues that individuals who bare their souls on blogs are isolated and lonely, living in a virtual reality instead of forming real relationships or helping to change the world. Shit, I guess I better give up my committee and board work since it seems that by being a blogger I am doing nothing whatsoever to change the world – unlike overpaid academics are wont to do for putting in what? Fifteen, maybe 20 hours of work a week for about eight months of the year.

“Bloggers think of themselves as rebels against mainstream society, but that rebellion is mostly confined to cyberspace, which makes blogging as melancholic and illusionary as Don Quixote tilting at windmills,” the author says.

Well, I must confess, labouring hack writer that I am, I am impressed by such literary allusions as “Don Quixote”, and finding it necessary to mention the “tilting at windmills” cliché, just to make sure everybody ‘gets’ his drift.

But, metaphors notwithstanding, I am more impressed by those who make sweeping generalizations about not only their findings, but about those whom they might choose to indict.

Or maybe we, my friends, are just failures as bloggers. I haven’t noticed a great impulse among my friends here to carry out a lot of rebelling against mainstream society. Oh, we may be pissed off about certain things – and probably should be pissed off about much more, but I have yet to notice any cry of “Aux barricades!” or even slight suggestions that blood should be flowing in the streets. I guess some of us aren’t with the program that Prof. Keren suggests we are.

Oh, and not to be outdone by his Don Quixote reference, Keren adds (I suspect to show how ‘hip’ he is) a reference to Father McKenzie in the 40 year old Beatles song, Eleanor Rigby, who is writing a sermon nobody is going to hear.

“Some of us (bloggers) are going to be embraced by the mainstream media, but the majority of us remain in the dark, remain in the loneliness,” says Keren.

Oh, woe. Not just loneliness, but ignorant and dark loneliness. OK, come clean, how many of you, when you got the impulse to blog, foresaw a Pulitzer around the corner, or maybe a desk job at Newsweek? No? Me either.

So, why do you write your blog?

I write mine because I really enjoy doing so. It gives me a space in which to express myself and to hope that others find some tiny germ of truth in what I write. I also write it because I am a professional writer, and blogging is like callisthenics. It warms me up for my day. And finally, I write it because it has allowed me to connect in a very pleasing way with people from throughout North America and the world in general. I like my blogging friends, and have made some valued associations here and I like my ‘real’ friends. I have also met some of my blogging friends in real-time and found that I didn’t notice a huge disparity between who they are as breathing human beings, and what they present themselves as being on their blogs.

At the end of it all, however, I’d like to be an academic. If you are an academic you can make relatively unfounded assertions, disparage a good section of the populace, and still bring home nice bucks.

On the other hand, I bet those Calgary winters are cold and lonely. Maybe Prof. Keren should try blogging.

What a drag it is getting old

mri-10I don’t like to whine. Truly I don’t. Don’t believe everything my wife tells you. But right now I think I am entitled to a plaint.

On Friday I went to see my sawbones to address once again a condition I have been distressed about for two-plus years. In essence my walking ability has become hugely compromised. Now, I love to walk, and if I have a pup in tow, so much the better. Of late those perambulations have become truly challenging.

Wendy first noticed a couple of years ago that I was dragging my left foot a bit. Well, it all sort of went downhill from there. In the meantime I have had virtually every test know to medical science; MRI, CT-Scan, Inner ear scan and so forth. I have also taken physiotherapy programs and for a lazy bugger like me that must mean something ain’t right.

Meanwhile my walking continued to deteriorate. Added to which I developed a propensity for falling. Like those old TV ads “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” they are no longer amusing because it’s true. I have bruises on my knees to attest to my reality and frankly it scares the shit out of me. It scares Wendy, too, because what if I go down when she’s not here? I just have to make sure I don’t. Meanwhile simple procedures become challenging. A couple of weeks ago I slipped getting out of the shower. To thwart my fall I grabbed the shower curtain. That didn’t work for shit. The whole thing came down and I whacked the back of my neck on the edge of the tub.

I have since learned to not be blase about any task and that helps considerably.

Anyway, my condition has a name. It is Vascular Parkinsonism. Not the same as Parkinson’s Disease and it is not progressive in the same way, blessedly. It stems from a series of small strokes I have had since 2008.

Will it get better? That remains to be seen. The ailment has a tendency to ‘plateau’ at times in which the symptoms can abate somewhat, though they don’t go away. It won’t kill me and it could be something much worse.

But I don’t like to ‘faw down and go boom’. Can you blame me?

Thanks for your tolerance for this intensely personal blog.

Hey you get offa my cloud

trespass-3501Sigmund Freud postulated that the primary motivating force behind humankind was sex. Many who followed him in the realms of theoretical ‘shrinkdom,’ disagreed. Except for those that agreed.

I (though not a psychoanalytical theorist) would like to agree with Freud. His idea makes life seem more raffish, more fun and frolicsome. But, I’m afraid I have to cast my lot with those who think otherwise.

I believe territory is considerably more significant to human beings than sex, much as I hate to admit it. Indeed, territory rules for virtually every creature that walks, runs, flies or swims.

An example of the power of territory (Robert Ardrey explained the whole territorial imperative thing better than I can) or the negative impact on human nature by lack of turf can be found, I think, in the decline and fall of communism worldwide – except in the cases of a couple of badly functioning enclaves. Communism was, in fact, doomed from the moment Karl Marx arrived at the theory, because he chose not to factor in territory. His dialectic deemed we would move beyond that stage under communism. His dialectic was, in that context (and many others), bullshit.

What Marx failed to take into account was the fact we humans don’t really want to ‘share.’ We, rich and poor alike, want our own, and we don’t want anybody else feeling entitled to get their hands on that which is ours.

If you are doubtful about whether human beings take territory seriously, I think warfare probably answers that question. We pay lip-service about wars being fought over philosophies, creeds and even wealth, or lack thereof, but mainly they are fought over territory. We want what you have. Oh yes, the natural resources will help us, too, but mainly we want to encroach on your place.

Ethnic bigotry is based on territory. Those people don’t look like us, act like us, eat like us, worship like us, even screw like us, therefore they are bad, and we don’t want them in our bailiwick. Why are they on my turf? Why are they in my neighborhood? Deservedly disdained ‘racial profiling’, a cheap-shot excuse for bigotry in a stressful time in history, is all about territory. The bottom line is, we don’t want “them Ay-rabs here.”

Territorialism is a visceral thing. If your home has been broken into, it goes straight to the guts. You feel you have been physically kicked, violated. If one of your nearest-and-dearest has been in any way assaulted, your impulse in the direction of homicide is understandable. Indeed, an opposite response would be questionable, so strong is your territorial imperative. “You have been in my home, you bastards! I want to kill you for that.” None of this has anything to do with the fact that your DVD or laptop has been lifted; it is the realization that somebody uninvited has been in your home – your bastion of safety. When I was in my teens, my father’s car was stolen from his place of work in Vancouver. A few weeks later they caught the little creep and his teenaged girlfriend in Las Vegas, and found the car. Dusty and dirty, but not too much the worse for wear. However, the car had also been the love-nest for the horny young runaways. When he got it back, the old man had it thoroughly detailed, and got it back spotless – literally and figuratively – but my mother was never again comfortable riding in what had been my dad’s first brand-new car. You see, somebody had used mother’s territory, uninvited in a manner that was to her despicable.

Indeed, the hideousness of rape lies not so much in the brutality of the act – which indeed is unspeakable – but primarily in the ultimate violation of territory. The body is the victim’s ultimate and absolute territory. What could we claim as more of our own than our very being?

Territory can be violated in other, less dramatic ways, but the end result can be distressing nevertheless. In my case that sense came about when I last visited my childhood community a few years ago. I mention that it was “a few years ago”, because I have never really had a desire to back. That’s because ‘they’ took it away from me. They wiped a chunk of my legacy territory from the map – metaphorically, at least.

I grew up in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby. The Burnaby of my recall, in my little corner of that world, was a rural enclave, a refreshing haven from the larger centres. In the area around Deer Lake there were still small farms, wildlife in the manner of raccoons, deer, and even the odd bear. Roads were gravel; mucky in the winter, and dusty in the summer. Access to Vancouver in terms of transit, was limited.

Burnaby today is an urban jungle, to my way of thinking. I do not recognize it and, at some inner level of despair, resent the fact that it has been changed so radically. Territoriality is violated when that which was cherished is taken indirectly away.

The last time I spent any time there, about a decade ago, as I was waiting in a mass of traffic at an intersection that was once bordered by forest rather than high-rises, I fumed xenophobically: Who the hell are these people all around me? I don’t know any of them. They didn’t live here when I did. Why are they here? Where did they come from? This is ‘my’ town, not theirs. They are interlopers. I want my Burnaby back. My old school, Douglas Road Elementary is still there, but the neighborhood is from an alien planet and was plunked down when I was away.

But then, I thought, I probably look a little different, too. But, the point lingered in my mind. I once had a conversation with a friend who in middle age had visited the small Ontario town in which he grew up. He was delighted in the fact it was virtually unchanged. I resented him for that. Why should he have his childhood turf intact, while mine has all gone away?

Back to Freud, in conclusion. Yes, sex is mighty important, thank God. But, in its essence, even sex is territorial. That is why we have the emotion of jealousy, and why adultery causes fits of consternation in most circles. Not so much because it’s sinful (the sinful nature is a matter for individual beliefs), but because it means somebody else is rooting around in another’s turf.

Anyway, it might have been well to have asked old Sigmund after he fled Austria to escape the Nazi boots tromping through Vienna following the Anschluss, whether he was thinking more about sex, or territory. Knowing him, it was probably sex.

Which moments turned your lives around for keeps?

Nora Barnacle and James Joyce on the day of their marriage in 1931.When he wasn’t obsessing in a fetishistic and creepy manner about his wife, Nora, or writing the virtually incomprehensible Ulysses, Irish writer James Joyce invented a literary device known as epiphany. That was very clever of him, because it is a device that transfers profoundly to real life.

Epiphany comes first and foremost as a Christian reference in that the day of the calendar is the day that Christ’s divinity was revealed to those at the time who might have been hankering for such a thing. In a literary sense it means, in barest essence, an incident or a time in which after a momentous change has taken place, we can never go back to what life was like before.

In that sense it certainly applies to the Christ connection, but it also applies to some of those events that have transformed you and the world – not always in a good way, I might add.

In a recent poll taken in Britain it was found that the three most traumatizing events in the modern era were, in descending order; 9/11, the death of Princess Diana, and the assassination of John Kennedy. Those were the kinds of events in which those who lived through them will not only remember the events with huge clarity; they will also remember the circumstances around first hearing the news. That is, if a person first became aware of the 9/11 horrors shortly after breakfast time, they also would be inclined to remember what they had at breakfast that day, and maybe even what they were wearing.

It’s understandable, by the way, that the Kennedy assassination should be at third place, mainly because to have been aware of its actuality, a person would now have to be in his or her late 40s to have had comprehension of the magnitude of Nov. 22, 1963.

As for Diana, I remember I got a late night phone call from a lady friend in Toronto who told me the news.

Of the Trade Center incident I can recall exactly what transpired. Wendy and I were in the Cook Islands and we’d gone in early in the morning to a little shop in Avarua, Rarotonga, to order some custom-embroidered sweatshirts. We gave our order, and the guy (an Australian) told us to come back in an hour to pick them up. When we returned, he ushered us into the cluttered back office of the shop. “Look at this,” he said, pointing to the computer screen. I couldn’t make it out at first, and was wondering why he wanted to show us a picture of an airplane crashing into a skyscraper. Then he explained what had happened. To say we were aghast would be to state the case mildly.

And, as we all know, from that day on, the world changed, not just a little bit, but monumentally. And, which is most important in the case of epiphany, ‘we can never go back!’ All about us has changed, and we as individuals have been transfigured and transformed. It’s a natural impulse to long for a return to normality. It will never transpire. We suffer from posttraumatic shock, and then we go through the stages-of-grief, and then we realize we will always be slightly diminished by that moment of epiphany.

Of course we, as human beings, have our personal moments of epiphany, and they aren’t ‘lesser’ events than the big cataclysmic ones, but possibly greater, because they shatter us within our own domains.

I can remember after my abrupt separation from my second wife, awakening in a state of shock and unreality for weeks afterwards, filled with denial about what had happened, and obsessively yearning to go back to just minutes before her uttering the words: “This isn’t working for me any more, so I want you to leave.” This utterance came virtually without warning that anything was amiss, by the way. So, you can imagine the profundity of that epiphany. And it was over. And I never went back. The blessing ultimately was that I was glad I never went back.

But, we have also suffered deaths of parents, sometimes spouses or partners, siblings and friends. We can’t have them return, but we are never the same as a result.

If we are strong enough, we grow from such experiences and we alter our perceptions, hopefully for the better.

Anyway, I would love your comments on your epiphanies (by the way, there can be very good epiphanies, too, such as meeting somebody and knowing virtually in an instant you love that person desperately – yes, I do believe in love at first sight – and that your life will ever after be altered) and what they meant to you.