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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Grassy Knoll

The Grassy Knoll.Image via Wikipedia
Conspiracy theories probably go back to the beginning as humans first roamed the earth with their knuckles a half-an-inch off the ground. It seems that we have been suspicious of forces at work against us since we were first able to imagine that they could be.

I became aware of the conspiracy phenomenon back in the '60s when John Kennedy was shot...that whole "grassy knoll" story where people swore there had to be a second shooter and maybe it was the mob or the CIA or Castro that did him in. And every few years, they'd pull out the old, grainy Zapruder Film footage once again and use increasingly sophisticated equipment to listen to the gun shots and watch the poor guy being blasted in the back of the limo, his hands clutching his throat and then his brains being blown out. What an awful thing for his family to have to see time and time again. I hope they didn't watch.

But people are obsessed with these conspiracy theories and can't just seem to let them go. More recently there were dozens of YouTube videos posted after the tragedy of 9/11. One after another had a dark, moody voice-over provoking us with question after question on top of manipulated footage of the plane making a beeline for the towers or the towers collapsing. The planes were apparently "fake" and the government actually blew up the twin towers and all of the other towers too so that they could blame it on terrorists and use it as an excuse to invade Iraq. Well, that's what the conspiracy theorists say.

There were so many of these videos created by so many people, you started to wonder. A few celebrities even became involved and started to speak out at public gatherings and meetings. What is it with our trust in celebrities? Just because they say something is true, that gives it more legitimacy? Honestly, they are often flakier than the rest of us.

When the Oliver Stone movie JFK came out, people started to wonder yet again whether or not there had been a conspiracy to kill Kennedy, because this was Oliver Stone, for pete's sake! There were others who came out in support of the 9/11 conspiracy theory, including Charlie Sheen and Rosie O'Donnell. And even though Dan Brown howled "my book is FICTION!!", some people insisted on believing that all of the information in his "The Da Vinci Code" novel was fact. You just can't win.

There is a conspiracy theorist in my back yard. He's a retired radio jock who runs a local broadcasting and media message board, and every now and then he posts photographs of contrails in the sky over Victoria and insists that they are a conspiracy by the government to secretly make us breathe chemicals for some kind of experiment. Or something like that. Apparently, these are "chem trails" not "contrails"! Every now and then he posts new pictures of these "chem trails" left behind by larger aircraft as they fly overhead.

At one point, an airline pilot piped up on the message board in response to one of these tirades, trying to explain what contrails actually were, but this conspiracy theorist wasn't fazed. There is a Wikipedia site that explains the chem trails theory in greater detail than I care to go into. He has posted other suspicions about global warming and left-wing conspiracies. They're all out to get us! 

And as it turns out, research tells us that those who believe in one conspiracy theory, tend to believe in another, and that it is very much tied to that age-old 'man's search for meaning' idea. It reminds me of a line from the movie "Signs", where one of the characters says something to the effect "people either see signs or they don't". Well, this guy is seeing loads of them. And there are lots of theories out there to get the over-active imagination juices stirring!

The Apollo Moon Landing Hoax is one where people believe that the moon landing was actually created on a movie set faked by NASA and some other organizations. The Holocaust, of course, is considered by some to be a Jewish conspiracy. And who doesn't believe in the UFO's at Area 51? There's everything from conspiracies about the Vatican Secret Archives to the theory that "Paul is Dead". Paul McCartney, that is. Oh, and who REALLY shot Kurt Cobain?

Much to my dismay, as I was researching conspiracy theories to write this post, I found that the latest "victim" is Michael Jackson. Well, I guess I wouldn't have expected any less. The poor guy had enough weirdness going on around him in his life, it's not entirely surprising that his death would only stir up some more. It's unfortunate that the whole thing feels so unresolved because that only fuels the conspiracy fire. Hopefully, for everyone's sake, when the results of his toxicology come out it will answer some questions.

But I think that as long as human beings have over-active imaginations, they'll find another incident or persona to create a mystery around. In fact, I think I'm starting to see chem trails over that grassy knoll shot above...do you see them? Look at it long enough and you will :-)

IJ
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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Lesson of Big Thunder Mountain

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland Pa...Image via Wikipedia
When my youngest daughter had her first day at Disneyland on her 11th birthday, she was afraid of pretty much every ride. We figured that the trip might end up with one of us staying with her while the rest enjoyed all of the Disneyland traditions like Splash Mountain and the Haunted House. She'd always been a little nervous about rides.

But then she discovered Big Thunder Mountain Railroad...now that's not necessarily a ride for wimps either, but for some reason, she decided to try it, and after that, we could hardly get her off! I rode with her on one occasion, grabbing tightly to the bars of the car as we whipped furiously around the mountain, when she finally suggested to me "Mom, just let go." I looked over at her and there she was, my normally nervous little girl, with her arms stretched high up over her head riding that thing as if she was born to it. She told me that it was a smoother ride if I just let go of the bars. And so I did. And she was right.

I often think of that moment when I'm struggling with my own life. We are, every day of our lives, riding a roller coaster between pain and pleasure. Most of the time it is a relatively quiet ride, but one day you might say to yourself "life doesn't get better than this" and the next you may find out that a diagnostic test has uncovered something that could be cancerous in your body.

"That's life," is what we say to each other when something becomes so obviously out of our control. And when you think about it, much of life is out of our control. The only thing we really have any control over is our reaction to what goes on around us. So as I learned that day at Disneyland, I have to remember to let go rather than to grasp too tightly and try to control what happens simply because I can't. Grasping on too tightly to anything will ultimately only bring pain and unhappiness.

The truth is that nothing stays the same, not even those most majestic Rocky Mountains. Every object, every person, every moment, has its time to shine and then is no more. That seems a very sad thought, but when we learn to let go rather than desperately clinging to something, it's a much easier ride. What is even more interesting to me about human nature is the tendency to cling to the bad stuff too, and how we will punish ourselves again and again for something that may have happened a long time ago. I catch myself doing that from time to time. It's as if I am right back there in that moment again, feeling everything I felt then as if it were right here in the present. Whether it's anger, humiliation, pain, fear...it feels as real as it did when I first experienced it. Now why would I do that to myself?

The mind is a funny thing...when it is undisciplined, it just flies from thought to thought until it finds a train that it is attracted to. Once it is on that train, it is held captive by the emotions and can't get off. Well, it can, but only if we direct it to. During the day when we are busy going about our business, the mind is too occupied with the tasks at hand to ride the train. But at night, as I have recently been experiencing more than usual, the mind can become a virtual wasteland of fears, anxieties and worries. Because you are not occupied and the room is dark and quiet so there is nothing to distract you, your mind goes on the rampage. Yes, I know, you've been there :-)

When you think of it, however, this is just another form of clinging although it is perhaps not as conscious. If you are able to step back from your thoughts for only a second, you can stop the train in its tracks. And when you do, you can redirect your mind to something else.

I give speeches. Yes, I know that sounds completely silly, but that's what I do. Even though anyone who knows me knows that I have performance anxiety in my "real life", when I'm lying in bed in the wee hours and need to distract myself from those hellish thoughts, I will imagine myself in front of people giving a speech on something that I know something about. And sooner or later I will bore myself to sleep.

Now, I don't always succeed. If I get too bored too quickly and I'm still awake, then that monkey mind of mine will be unleashed again. So I have to work at it. Sometimes, instead of giving a speech, I will win the lottery. I will spend a delightful time imagining all of the people I'm going to share my winnings with, and put myself in the seat of that Mustang convertible riding free and easy. Oddly enough, even in my night time fantasies in that convertible, I never speed. That could end up a nightmare...

IJ ...oh, yes, and by the way this summer my youngest daughter who is mentioned above, turns 21, and I turn 52. Our birthdays are 4 days apart...so the two of us are renting a Mustang and driving to the Okanagan :-)
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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I Don't Have Time For Social Networking!!

Facebook, Inc.Image via Wikipedia
Okay, I admit I check into Facebook a few times a day. When I look at what motivates me to do so, I realize I just want to know what everyone is up to, and that's what Facebook is for. But I don't really update my own "What's on your mind?" window very often, certainly not as much as some do. My thinking most of the time is "who cares what I'm doing?"

To tell you the truth, I don't really want to know EVERYTHING everyone is doing. I don't care to know each time someone has completed a puzzle or taken a quiz to find out what Star Trek character they are most like. I can't really use gifts like virtual teddy bears, or for heaven's sake, virtual glasses of wine! Don't be so cheap, get me the real thing!!

The whole "social networking" thing seems to be something that has taken over a lot of lives. As much as I check into Facebook, I know of others who live and die by those websites, constantly updating their status, adding photos, taking those silly little quizzes or commenting on their friend's activities. And some of my friends have literally hundreds of other "friends". I'm wondering if they even know half of those people.

An interesting thing about Facebook is that it seems to have attracted quite a few of my generation and older, because we really DO want to connect up with old friends and acquaintances and we actually have that many, whereas you wonder how a 15-year-old could even know a couple of hundred people yet. I've never signed up for Twitter, but it appears to be somewhat the same as far as constant updates and creating more connections. And it seems that every week or two, there is more news about some other social networking application or website.

Recently, CNet did an article about ten music-related social networking websites. You're supposed to share your favourite music, update people on what you're listening to and check out what they're listening to as well. You can buy music and merchandise and concert tickets on some of them, and other sites will even offer up suggestions as to what new bands or artists you might like. It's exhausting to even think about.

Which leads me to wonder...how do people have time to do all of these things a hundred times a day? Along with continuous texting or playing with iPod applications (there's another place to find all kinds of useless junk!), checking into Facebook and updating Twitter...how do they have time to even eat? It seems we've become a society that needs constant, 24-hour connectivity or entertainment...and we can't get enough of it. As soon as some new gadget or software or website or application comes out, we've got to have it. We can watch movies or TV or play games anywhere these days on our own, private hand-held devices, we can phone or text anybody from anywhere, we can update our Facebook or Twitter accounts whenever or wherever we want.

A person from a third-world country would think we had become strange, alien addicts, permanently plugged into one device or another and always looking for more. I'm sure psychologists are out there trying to determine what this behaviour is doing to us. On the face of it, connecting with friends seems like a pretty harmless thing...but it really isn't just about connecting with friends anymore for many people as far as I can see. It has become a rather narcicisstic, self-indulgent, me-important way of life for many, and what does that say about us?

There are a couple of people in my own inner circle who refuse to have anything to do with technology, and of course I laugh at them for not being "with the times". But the times they are a changin' rather quickly and I'm not sure that I completely disagree with their stance. A part of me doesn't want to get left behind or left wondering what this or that new confounded gadget is. The other part realizes that something is being lost by filling my brain and my time with all of this nonsense.

Maybe that's why I enjoy golf so much. I know it's not just because of technology that I can't turn my head off these days, but I don't think it's helping either. I worry about my kids having grown up in such an environment and my grandchildren, who are about to. No, I don't have grandchildren yet, but already I'm worried about them! Younger generations have not had the benefit of a computer-less life as those of my generation and older have. They don't know about "boredom" or peace and quiet, they don't know how to create games from nothing but a pile of rocks or sticks. How many times have they sat on the edge of a stream in the wilderness dipping their feet into the cool water? Many of them would likely find that laughably dull.

I don't reject technology, obviously, or I wouldn't be sitting here typing this blog. But as with anything in life, there has to be a little balance. Maybe I'll start a new Facebook group called "Turn The Gadgets Off and Go Outside!" Probably wouldn't go over well.

IJ
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Friday, June 5, 2009

The Writing Bug

QuillImage via Wikipedia
This morning I decided to weigh myself. It was a bad decision, but also a good one in a totally unexpected way. We have a scale in our carpeted bedroom, one of those digital scales...you press your foot on it to turn it on, and then once the 00 shows, you step on it. I have had trouble getting it to work lately, and I think it's near broken. It keeps showing an error when I step on it (maybe it means I'm just too light to be weighed? Nah...), so I have to put a book under it so that the surface it sits on is hard enough to register.

I grabbed a book that was large enough for it to sit on, a black binder. It worked, so I got on it and up popped the numbers. Ugh. But my weight, thankfully, isn't the subject of this story. The black binder is.

Inside are the pages of my father's autobiography written a number of years before the onset of his dementia. I have three copies of it now. They used to be at his place, but he's in a care facility now so I have inherited all but one copy that he keeps there. He was not the first to write one; his father, my grandfather wrote his story a number of years before that, and that's where the whole thing started. My Auntie Edie, my father's sister, loved to write poetry and, inspired by my grandfather, she also decided to write her autobiography.

I found out a few years back that my grandmother used to make up songs. Although I never met my grandmother (she passed away a few years before I was born), it gave me a bit of a connection to her since I eventually became a songwriter myself. My father's brother, who is a professor of political science at Boston University, is also a writer. He has co-written a number of books on various political subjects over many years. So for me, the urge to write seems to be in the genes. 

As I put the scale and the binder away, I thought again about my Dad and how it was a wonderful thing that he had written his life story down. My girls will read that thing one day, and my grandfather's story too, I thought, and I'm going to write one when I'm a little older, so they'll have an awful lot of reading to do. 

My mind wandered into the future, past a few generations or so. Wouldn't it be wonderful if one of our future ancestors (is there another name for future ancestors?) had a whole library full of autobiographies to go through? That would be a precious thing to some. I know it would be to me. 

I shook off my depressing weigh scale incident and got on with my morning, ran a few errands and then I sat down at my computer to find an email from my cousin Karen through Facebook. I got a little tingle up my spine as I read it. I never realized that she was a budding writer too; she was sending me a link to her first blog entry which she completed just today. Is that what you would call serendipitous?

As it turns out, over the years she has been encouraged by others to write, just as I have. And now, here I am, writing about writing. I don't consider myself a great writer by any means, but I have always felt this urge to communicate something and it seems my life has become pretty much about that.

First I wrote songs, then I kept a journal, and teaching guitar, which is what I presently do, is a way of communicating too. I am fascinated with how people learn, and I'm always looking for a better way to explain something. I drive my kids nuts with my habit of saying the same thing about ten different ways, until I feel like I've found the "right" expression.

I write three blogs...this one, a music news-related one, and a songwriting one. So I definitely have a writing bug. I love a good story, and a good storyteller. There is an art to it, one which I feel like I'm only just beginning to understand. So I'm happy to see that I'm not the only one of this generation of my family who writes. My cousin's daughter and one of my daughters also appear to have a writing streak which means it may very well carry on down the line, just as I was imagining this morning.

That is, AFTER the depressing weigh scale incident...

IJ
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