a goldmine of… spirit

23 December 2009

Today I’m back on the shuttle for one more time to the mall near my office for my Christmas “wine run.” I figure the LCBO will be MUCH more tolerable at lunchtime today than it will be tonight or on Christmas Eve when the line-ups at the cash registers trail to the back of the store.

When I get on the bus, the same “Christmas spirit” people who I eavesdropped on yesterday are talking again, and the woman is saying that she’s back to the mall to buy her own Christmas present because it makes her husband “too stressed out” to buy her one himself.

Maybe, as she said yesterday, she should just wait and buy herself a sweater she doesn’t want after Christmas at the end of the Boxing Day sales because it would be simpler for her and she’d get a better deal on it.

Okay, I’m being a little snarky.  But read on.

Then one of her shopping pals says she wants to buy the DVD version of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ and that it was on sale somewhere.

“Is that a Christmas movie?” asks the fella.

“Oh you must mean “Wonderful World” says our gal.


“No, I think it’s called ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’” says her friend.

“There is no such movie called ‘It’s a Wonderful Life!’” says our champion of Christmas spirit. “Is there?” to me when I turn around in my seat, unable to contain my annoyance at her saying one of my very favourite movies doesn’t exist. (Snarkiness justified – right? Right?)

“It’s a Disney movie, isn’t it?” (Oh man, don’t get me started.  See?  SEE?)

“No. ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ is its name. It’s not a Disney movie. It is a great old holiday favourite from the 1940s starring Jimmy Stewart, and…” (to the friend) “…I hope you buy it. You’ll love it. It’s a story that reminds us about the meaning of Christmas spirit.”


literacy is power

7 September 2009

I teach creative writing courses in a continuing education department of a college. Most would consider these to be “special interest” courses, which people take for enjoyment. And that’s great – one of the reasons I teach these courses is because I enjoy it.

But there is another really big reason I do it. It’s because I believe that lifelong learning is a fundamental right of every human being, and that lifelong learning makes better citizens, communities and countries. I teach courses because I want to help people achieve that feeling of satisfaction and power I get when I expand my own knowledge. When a learner says to me “I’ve changed because of this course” the sense of gratification I feel in having engendered, just a little, someone’s personal growth and the power they feel at having told a story is enormous.

Literacy DayBut adult learning is so much more than that which I promote in my own little world. According to UNESCO, one in five adults is not literate. Two-thirds of those adults are women. 75 million children on this planet are not in school.

You want to talk about how literacy is about personal empowerment and human development? Then think about what it means that that 776 million adults lack minimum literacy. It means that 776 million people lack the skills necessary to overcome poverty. 776 million people lack access to information about how to take care of themselves and their children, about how to find help and support, how to achieve gender equality and how to carry out sustainable development so they can support themselves and their communities.

Literate parents raise literate children. People who are literate participate more in their communities and they make their voices heard through actions – like voting. And just as literacy is a tool of personal empowerment and human development – illiteracy is a tool of oppression and domination. We all know the Taliban work hard to oppress and dominate by withholding education. It’s not a new idea – it’s been going on for centuries, and continues around the globe.

Tomorrow is International Literacy Day. Stop for a few minutes and think about what literacy means in your world. What your access to education and information affords you and those around you. Think about what it means as you sit at that computer, accessing and contributing to the world of ideas and information on the World Wide Web.

Think about the sheer courage that girl in Afghanistan must drum up just to go to school in the morning because she probably heard stories about angry dudes throwing acid the faces of girls who go to school. Think about your laid-off neighbour who is suddenly faced with navigating the “information society” for a job his high school education didn’t equip him for all those decades ago. Think about your new neighbour who has escaped an oppressive regime but lacks the language skills to read a simple street sign, a carton of milk, a prescription bottle or the newspaper.

And maybe instead of buying coffee at Starbucks this week, give that ten bucks to an organization like this one or this one or this one or this one or one in your community, and imagine the possibilities for a world in which 776 million people don’t lack basic literacy skills and have a chance to rise above poverty and oppression. Literacy is power. Share the power.

The other day I receive a letter from a very dear and very well meaning friend, giving me an update on the condition of another friend who has had some health issues.  Throughout the letter my friend keeps saying that we are “getting up there” and “getting old.”  I balk a little the first time she says it, but by the fourth time it comes around – me and my so-not-old self are disturbed by my friend’s stream of thought.

I’m afraid I immediately rattle off a response that objects to the whole idea.  “I am not old” I say, and “nor to I plan to call myself old until I am rocking the halls of a nursing home.” 

Maybe it’s because my parents continue to enjoy good health as they enter their seventies, but I don’t consider THEM old.  And maybe it’s because I’ve been feeling so darned good lately that I really, really object to my 47 year old friend talking about reading the obituaries every day.   

I know for sure though that my issue is not so much about her calling ME old.  I think the issue is that I don’t want to see someone that I love dearly standing at the age of 47 with one foot in her grave.  Old is a state of mind.  And one’s state of mind has everything to do with one’s quality of life.  And if I were to get hit by a bus tomorrow, at least they can say I didn’t spend my last day scoping out nursing homes.

Now I think it’s time I pay my wonderful friend a long overdue visit and kick some rocking chair ass out of its reverie.

bad karma blues

24 March 2009

Recently Rick Mercer did his weekly “rant” on the subject of negative attack ads used by politicians, and implored the leaders of the parties to rise above the practice in the next election (which, sigh, we all know will be sooner rather than later).  He points out that most of us profess to hate these kinds of ads, but politicians use them anyway because they say they work.  I’m not sure why we let them get away with it.  Wouldn’t you learn so much more about a politician/party if they tell you what is good about them and what they can do, as opposed to saying what is bad about the other guy?  

The rant was timely for me.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the plethora of bad feeling, mud slinging, anger, name calling and general bad karma stemming mostly from the political world.  It’s got so bad that it has started to permeate my thoughts on a daily basis.  It’s like I’m thinking defensively, having internal arguments with people who would oppose my views. 

I’ve said it before, but shouldn’t those who seek to govern us, more than any other people in our citizenry, be striving to bring us together rather than divide us?   I live in a country where our “leaders” have waged war against liberals, conservatives, greens, francophones, anglophones, teachers, activists, nurses, single mothers, artists and unions.  Who’s next? 

I believe this underscores the importance of Mercer’s rant.  We are in danger of becoming a country of citizens that hate each other.

It’s got so that I’ve decided I have to do something about it on a personal level, because I refuse to be ruled by negativity.  What exactly that something is, I don’t know; but at the risk of sounding saccharine and “Oprah-esque,” I do know that it starts from personal action.  I thought I might boycott politics and news altogether, but the problem is, I genuinely care about what goes on outside my own little world.  I’m a current events junkie, and that’s not going to change (probably thanks to my Grade 5 teacher, Mrs.  Chavis – but she’s a whole other blog post).  And anyway, if a politician, representing you and me, acts like a dumb ass, or threatens the fibre of our wonderful country, then he or she needs to be called out. 

It’s time to be more mindful of my focus, and centre the weight of my attention on my own little world.  I haven’t volunteered since leaving my last job.  And the Buddhists know what they’re talking about – when you serve others, when you work to make others happy, you achieve happiness. 

Years ago my sister and I resolved to generate the positive, and I do make a conscious effort to do that every day, even if it’s just look strangers in the eye and smile at them, rather than treating them like they’re invisible.  Yes it’s time to readjust my view, less on the large, more on the small; less on the far more on the near. 

Unfortunately, it might all have to start with some letters to those purveyors of negativity, the politicians, stating that my vote will be withheld from anyone or any party that resorts to attack style campaigning.  And following through.  But then turning off the news and going outside to see what’s going on in my neighbourhood.

I’m not sure what I’m missing.

My government has said today they see the sense in bailing out a certain private broadcaster, but for weeks they’ve basically told our (yours and mine) public broadcaster to “deal with it.”  Even though the public broadcaster made it clear they didn’t want a bail out, just an advance on pending funding.  Let’s not even go there about how the public broadcaster functions on way less money, and way fewer resources, and produces high quality, competitive product anyway.  Not to mention some of that product (news, docs, sports) is exceedingly higher in quality than that produced by the more moneyed, privately owned organizations. 

And other public ones. 


Someone please tell me why it is acceptable, remotely right, even the slightest bit moral for a government to throw money at a private broadcaster over a public one?  Why can’t WE advance some previously allotted money to the cultural entity WE OWN?  Why should OUR money go to prop up a broadcaster that mostly exhibits foreign (American) product?  Would we Canadians really rather spend our spare change taxes on Friends reruns and screw all the regular Canadians people, who are working to produce Canadian stories and material for Canadians?

It would seem to me that the Canadian government, is saying, on Canadians’ behalf, to Canadians who will lose their jobs making Canadian information available to Canadians, in favour of other broadcasters who make American content [more] available to Canadians, “deal with it.”

As an old boss of mine used to say, “it’s a wonder your head doesn’t fall off for shakin’ it.”

go outside and play

20 January 2009

There’s a peculiar group of people who anonymously prowl the CBC website news stories and spew streams of complaints and judgements in the ‘comments’ section of every story.  In the blog world they’re called trolls.  I think a lot of these trolls see themselves as doing a ‘job’ of trashing the CBC, because the giant elephant we sleep next to doesn’t have a publicly funded broadcaster so we shouldn’t either I guess.  I can’t imagine that they convince anyone that isn’t already convinced of their view, and so really their purpose is to just share bad karma amongst the other ‘comments’ writers, and that’s just really too bad. 

Today all the news story trolls have their knickers in a twist because of the joyful and worldwide anticipation of Mr. Obama’s inauguration.  They can’t understand why us Canadians are so caught up in it, and why our national media is covering it so extensively. 

I guess they don’t see anything significant about a man named Barack Hussein Obama, setting out on a grass roots campaign, and getting himself elected on the basis of his oratory gifts, clarity of vision, grace and depth, all rendering the colour of his skin and funny name inconsequential.   The voters went for the smart, inspiring guy.

I guess they aren’t the least bit moved by the idea that a country with a history of slavery and legislated bigotry against people with dark skin, where just 60 years ago people like Rosa Parks were not entitled to a seat on the bus, elected a man with dark skin to lead them through unprecidented economic disaster and the pointless and seemingly endless wars they have got themselves into. 

I guess they don’t see the significance of going from one administration that stole an election, and then ran a country based on lies, negativity, divisiveness (“you’re with us or you’re against us”); a president that couldn’t say words with more than two syllables and who essentially governed with his dick instead of his brain; to a new administration that will be led by someone who is articulate, intelligent and elegant, and preaches a message of hope and inclusivity.

A thousand news story trolls could not dampen the moment of Pete Seeger and Bruce Springsteen leading that giant crowd at the Lincoln Memorial in singing the words of Woody Guthrie, “This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land.”  They want their country back and it’s beautiful.

I think the news story trolls should go outside and get some fresh air and sunshine.  It’s a day like this world has not seen for a long, long time.  It all goes to show how badly we needed some inspiration.  And most of us are enjoying it.  Today it’s not so bad waking up next to the elephant.

Dear Mr. Harper,

Last night my lovely cousin offers me a ticket to a gala benefit for CANFAR and I’m happy to go, as I’ve never been to such an event here in Toronto.  It’s fun to hobnob with the beautiful people once in awhile.

So I get there and I think it’s a good opportunity to keep an eye out for whiny artists, since you told us Canadians that artists all hang around at fancy galas and whine about not getting any money rained on them from the government.  I must admit, I was sceptical when you said that because I know lots of artists, and none of them stands around whining at galas.  But then the artists I know don’t really attend galas.  You probably know lots more artists than I do, as you should, because you’re the Prime Minister of Canada.

Anyway, you’ll be glad to know that that I didn’t see anyone whining.   I don’t actually know how many artists were at the CANFAR gala, but there was art being auctioned, so I’m sure there were artists.  But none were whining.

And I definitely didn’t do any whining at the gala.