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Friday, December 9, 2016

Ignore the Gift Guilters!

I have a guitar student for whom the madness begins sometime in September. She has to start ordering stock for her small retail business then, in preparation for Christmas. For her, as for many small businesses, Christmas is a make or break deal. I haven't seen her since November :-)

It seems that ever since I can remember, people have been railing about the "commercialisation" of Christmas. How awful it is that we focus so much on gifts, and not as much on being together. I've even gone off the rails a bit myself when seeing Christmas decorations in Costco in August. I mean, come on. Are people really thinking about the yuletide when the ocean tide is still calling? Maybe in Hawaii!

The fact is, however, that I don't see the harm in gift giving at all. If you choose not to, then by all means, keep it that way. But don't try and guilt trip the rest of us! I like giving presents and watching someone eyes light up at what I've given them. I like receiving something that I love, or something that makes me laugh.

And yes, I even like the commercials.

Writers and producers can be so creative, and know how to hit the soft spots. Sure, it's their job to sell a product or a service. But I can certainly appreciate a commercial that has been really well executed, especially the ones that tug at my heart strings. I'm not going to automatically turn into a zombie and mindlessly buy a product I don't want or need because of them. Are you?

Yes, we are a materialistic society. We have been since Coca Cola came up with the image for the Santa we all know and love today. That was in 1931, by the way, right around the beginning of the Great Depression, oddly enough.

We like things.  We enjoy giving things. It doesn't make us monsters.  Most consumers like myself also know that Christmas isn't just about things, but we often get blamed for over-indulging or spending too much. I think we need to come out of the shadows, we Gift Givers and fight the Guilt Givers. You'll see them show up in your Facebook news feed over the next while posting articles with titles like "Christmas Has Become Too Commercial" or "We've Lost The True Meaning of Christmas". As if the spirit of Christmas could actually be obliterated by the sound of cash registers. It can't really. But a lot of people think it can. The Guilt Givers have actually been trying to convince us of this for years. Still, I haven't seen any evidence that Christmas and the true meaning of it has died yet.

In fact, see a lot of great things at this time of year: people organising fundraisers, special meals, donating to charities and buying gifts for people they don't even know. At a fundraiser that I volunteer for every year, I see people donating clothes, toys and money with big smiles on their faces. I see people politely letting someone in ahead of them in lines, and then I see it happen again. Sure, there are frustrations when everyone and everything gets so busy. But there is a positive energy to this busy-ness.

So here's what you do if you meet a Gift Guilter who throws your materialism in your face. You ask them if they've ever received a Christmas gift that they'll never forget. Because I can almost guarantee you, they'll remember one. Even if they don't tell you.

Gift Givers unite!
And Merry Christmas :-)

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Light Gets In

I must have been just conscious enough to hear the ping on my iPad, which was on the night table beside my bed. I knew what it meant.


It was one of the news organisations I was subscribed to announcing the winner of the U.S. election. And I knew who that was, but I refused to check it out and confirm it. Who cares? I thought to myself. I rolled over and tried to sleep a little more. But I couldn't. The whole night had been a write off anyway.

Like many others, in the last few months I have been glued to every news organisation I could find an app for, with my TV on in my little office almost all day, and scanning Twitter constantly, hungry for news of any new scandal about him. I won't say his name because it makes my stomach churn. And every day, it seemed he found a new low.

I rolled over and reached for my iPad. Okay, I thought, I'm not going to read the results, I'm just going to log on to Facebook. There was still a tiny speck of hope in me that things had turned around and I wanted to hang on to that for just a little while longer. Then I came across a post from Dan Rather, who was attempting to calm the fears of his readers. I have been reading a lot of his posts in the previous weeks, and he has been a thoughtful, intelligent voice of reason for me, someone who can still my deepest anxieties. At the end of his post, he wrote the word "Courage". And I cried. I don't think I've ever, ever cried at the results of an election before. It surprised me.

Later on in the morning while I sat drinking coffee with my husband, he said "Remember, things aren't always as good as we imagine, or as bad as we imagine." And that's when it hit me. I have to find some kind of peace with what has happened, and especially with myself. So I've barely paid any attention to news of any kind in the days since.

I know what's going on. Pundits are yabbering on and on about what this means, what's going to happen, why the election went the way it did. After every commercial break, CNN is declaring "BREAKING NEWS!!" even though they'll be talking about the same thing they were 10 minutes before. Reporters will be following his every step, his every word as he gloatingly grabs his prize. And I don't want any of it.

I also have to still my own horrible thoughts, which come out of nowhere, even on a nice, quiet walk in the sunshine. The temptation is to imagine what will be a very different future, and how this could even have happened.  But the fact is that I am powerless, there is nothing I can do except to stop allowing myself to be swallowed up by fear. I'm still here. We're still here. There is good in world, good people with big hearts who do wonderful things.

Instead of imagining the Apocalypse, I will focus on the positive and work on being a better person. The world needs us all to become better people. That's the whole point of our existence, isn't it?

Instead of fearing the future, I will remember that human beings have always found our way past adversity, through the worst of circumstances created by mother nature, and our own nature.

Artists and poets always seem to find a way to reveal to us the truth and the beauty in ourselves. And so I leave you with a phrase from Leonard Cohen, who sadly passed away just yesterday.

There is a crack in everything,
That's how the light gets in.


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Bob Dylan, Nobel Laureate: What's the Big Fuss?

I never really was a big fan of Bob Dylan. I didn't much like his voice, and that distracted me from his real talent; his songwriting.

Then, in 1992, PBS carried a 30th anniversary special, a concert featuring other famous artists performing Dylan's songs. I have to say that hearing those songs delivered by people who could really sing, totally impressed me. It felt like I was hearing them for the first time.

I've seen him perform only once, back in the early 2000's in Vancouver. Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell also performed that night, and it was an amazing evening. What struck me most about Dylan was that he was actually singing. It turns out he'd been taking some vocal training in the previous few months before the tour, and for the first time in awhile, his real voice was ringing through. He even bantered a little bit with the audience, and was quite animated as he performed, and his backing band was fabulous. You can't beat all of that.

So was I surprised that he received the Nobel prize for Literature? Well, sure I was. I never imagined the Nobel Committee slipping outside the usual stuffy, leather bounds of the literary world, and considering a songwriter for a change. But of course, there are plenty of people out there who have their noses out of joint. Heaven forbid that a songwriter/poet be considered part of the literature scene! Poof! Poof! Pout! Pout!

I would challenge any of those literature snobs to try to write a lyric.

No, seriously.

I'm not talking about pop lyrics, they're not meant to be deep or meaningful in anyway whatsoever. But have you ever read lyrics by Dylan, or Joni Mitchell or even Leonard Cohen for that matter? Many arguments abound as to whether lyrics are poetry. In my opinion, most lyrics don't come anywhere near poetry. But the above three songwriters somehow managed to come very close. You can sit and read their lyrics and somehow become transported. That is true art.

A great lyricist has such a limited amount of space to say such profound things. Not only that, but they have to consider meter, rhyme, stressing syllables, stretching vowels, alliteration, all kinds of things that a plain old literary writer doesn't really need to pay that much attention to.

And on top of all of that, you have to be awesome. And I tend to use that word sparingly, because it's overused these days. But you truly have to be awesome. It is an art form that only a few are very, very good at.

One of the reasons the Nobel Committee chose Dylan was because of his “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” I'm happy to see the Nobel gates open to include songwriters in the literature category. Apparently, the Times They Are A-Changin'.

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize what you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past 
The order is rapidly fadin'
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'.

- Bob Dylan, 1964

Saturday, September 3, 2016

America: Don't Do It!

I`ve been trying to avoid temptation, but I think it's pretty much impossible now not to mention what is going on with our neighbours to the south of us. Yes, you know what, or should I say who, I'm talking about.

I have a small confession to make: I used to love watching Celebrity Apprentice. I'm not usually a reality show person; I've never watched Dancing With The Stars or The Voice or American Idol. But for some reason, Celebrity Apprentice caught my attention and I watched most of the seasons that it was on. I wasn't a fan of Donald Trump, really, I just loved the competition. The boardroom scenes, while dramatic, were mostly The Donald's chance to show off. I almost got the impression that he thought it was all real.

The 2016 Presidential Election makes me think quite the opposite; that the Donald doesn't realise THIS IS REAL. The U.S. is a big, influential, and important country, it's not a gambling casino.

But taking a few steps back, I wonder how in the heck he managed to become the Republican nominee. I imagine there are a number of Republicans who are wondering the same and I don't know that anybody really believed the guy would get this far.

There have been countless psychological assessments of the man since he started running; he has been described as a narcissist, an extrovert, misogynistic, racist, and, one of my favourites "an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul". He is obnoxious, belligerent, completely self-serving...and the list goes on and on.

He is not...presidential. In the least.

But what really worries me, what scares me to bits, are the numbers of Americans out there who think he is. They've made him the Republican nominee, they show up by the thousands to his rallies, they are absolutely and resolutely behind this madman. I. Just. Don't. Get. It.

I understand that politicians have had a negative reputation almost since the creation of the word "politician". They are often extroverts and obnoxious loud mouths, or the opposite. Boring. They can be heroes one minute and instantly unpopular the next. We adore them, then abhor them. There are some who actually do good things, but the ones who get the most attention are the drama queens. Up here in Canada we have them too. The one who comes instantly to mind is Rob Ford who was the mayor of Toronto. For those of you who don't know, Ford passed away awhile back from cancer.

But I think the real phenomenon that has become the force behind the Donald's popularity is that he isn't a politician. People like that. It doesn't matter to them that he has absolutely no experience (nor does he seem to care to), they like that he is like them. Of course, he isn't, not one bit. But that's the impression they have. You hear these followers being interviewed on TV, expressing how they love the way he talks, the things he says, because it's not the way politicians usually speak. They interpret this as a form of "honesty", but of course if you read or hear much of what he has been saying in the last few months, most of it is bullcrap. He says one thing and then the other, but he says what they want to hear with absolutely no filter. They might even be shocked or disagree with some of the things he says, but they still support him. They'd rather have him as President than someone who is actually competent to do the job.

The rest of America, and the rest of us who live outside the U.S., feel utterly helpless. Utterly.

I don't even like to think about all the terrible things that would happen if he became President, so I won't go into it here. But it would be awful, awful, awful. It would be a nightmare. I bite my nails watching the polls at this point. Of course, the only poll that really counts is on election day, but I still watch with a mix of horror and fascination. Some days I think there is still hope, other days I just shake my head in disbelief that it even got this far.

This isn't a reality show, Donald, this is real life. REAL LIFE!

So I'm begging you Americans who might be reading this: Don't Do It! Don't let it happen! It's not even funny anymore.