And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom. ~ Anaïs Nin

Friday, April 8, 2011

Searching For Self

I am going to fly now ~
try to ground me if you dare.
My wings have been clipped
for much of my life
by those who didn’t care.

Though some claimed to ~
claimed they wanted the best for me,
but they really only wanted
validation or servitude
or perhaps just gratitude, you see.

I’m going to fly now.
My spirit is taking wing.
I’ve done all that you demanded and more,
I’ve heeded your needs
and done what feels like everything.

I’ve cared when no one else did ~
put out a hand to touch ~
been refused, reviled and hated,
celebrated and sometimes even loved,
and was also told I did too much.

I am going to fly now ~
take some time just for me.
Art, music, all the things denied
because there was work to do.
Time to take wing;
set myself free.

You know the feeling ~ when you’re 19 and you know just about everything. You’re all grown up and aware and filled with righteous idealism that the world needs changing and you’re the one to do it. I guess in reality, without youthful idealism, the world would just plod along lazily, slowly sinking into it’s own pointless, yet comfortable indolence. The line between youthful exuberance, and being a realistic adult can be very blurry, to say the least. Somehow so many of us start out to take on the world and wrought change, yet slip away into the lure of the comforts that corrupt us and bind us to some very ordinary status quo.

I made good use of my youth. As with most people of my era, my fondest, happiest memories are of the challenges of making a life for myself. I wanted to learn. I mean really learn... I think it was Frank Zappa who said, “if you want to party, go to college. If you want to learn, go to the library.” I went to college for awhile, but had an even better idea: I’m talking about life, people, reality. I wanted to taste the world as it really was.

As it happened, I got the chance to do that. I’ll borrow here from a post on another of my blogs: When I was a young woman, I hitchhiked much of way across Canada to see some of my country. I wanted to see how the other half lived, but I wasn’t attracted by the world’s richness, such as the Eiffel Tower, Taj Mahal or even Graceland. I travelled north on the Muskeg Express, a very old train with oil lamps on the walls between the windows, which opened, and the tracks visible when you raised the toilet seat.

I visited several Metis settlements to learn something new about life. And I did. I was right there with the residents when that crate of fruit came in on the train. Oh, it wasn’t the fruit we were anxious for... it was those little paper wrappers on it. Everyone wanted a share of those for the outhouse. Soft.

I was there taking pictures, interviewing, observing. I wanted a photo of the train coming into the station, and I wanted it straight on. So there I was on the track as it pulled in, trying to focus my camera, when I suddenly realized there was a wide angle lens on there, so the train was much closer than it appeared through the viewfinder.
Obviously I survived. There is ying and yang to all reality. Something bad happens; something good comes of it, somehow. Something good happens; the joy is tempered with an unexpected reality. It’s the way of life on this planet. I had packed some spare clothes into my guitar case, under my guitar, spare undies and toiletries in the little compartment, sleeping bag slung across one shoulder, camera case over the other, and off I went. Indeed, I met many fine, kind people whose sincerity and wisdom impressed this young woman.

I was most welcomed by the poor who had little to give but gave it so cheerfully. I remember the loaf of bannock leaning up against a wall, flies having a field day on it, and me thinking, “oh yuck.” I remember the rather diseased chickens, whose feathers were spotty at best, and the old farmer smiling widely as he told how he got them cheap because they weren’t quite right. Then "but oh, what they had wouldn’t harm a human." Then he went to choose one for dinner. After all, they had company, and this called for a chicken. I remember that the dinner of chicken, fried outdoors on the summer woodstove and that bannock, was one of the best meals I have ever enjoyed.
I had fun, I learned eye-opening lessons, I learned that you don’t know people from their background. There is no formula. There is no reasonable way to neatly categorize people, and only the particularly dull of mind even seek to do so. Everyone has their own story. Everyone is as deserving of respect as the next one, no matter they are dressed simply or in snazzy suits. No matter they live in a doorless cabin, or a penthouse. There are good people; there are people who care nothing for anything but themselves. There are people lost somewhere in between. But you can’t tell which is who from a safe distance. You have to get close enough to look them in the eye. And even then, remember that without their story, or indeed, even with it, no one else is in a position to judge them. All one can do is decide if this person is someone who has something to share, teach, impart ~ or not.
At the time I had little to give: empathy, admiration, respect, an open mind and a cheerful enthusiasm ~ something which has always annoyed or even angered some, while at the same time intriguing those of creative mind. I noticed that no one of any fortitude wanted sympathy, but only a deeper understanding of the spirit, and also a grasp of the sheer stubbornness it took to get through life was always appreciated. And when I was willing to give what I had, I was given back what they had: experience, interesting perspectives, wisdom. These, I learned, are the true wealth of being human. Anybody can get money if they’re ambitious and/or ruthless enough. I was discovering something more meaningful. At least, to me.
So, even as John Denver sang Take Me Home Country roads, back country roads led me to the lessons of my youth, and Sweet City Woman by the Stampeders carried me back to the city. Nixon was warming up to China, a young American lieutenant was made a scapegoat of the Vietnamese war, there was progress on the civil rights front, Neil Young wrote Ohio and performed it with Crosby, Stills and Nash after the shootings at Kent State University, and I was looking for a job. Just a job. Regardless of her ideals, a girl’s gotta eat. And that too, is reality.

We are all searching for our dreams, young and old,
future never seen.

We only want what everyone does - acceptance, encouragement,
understanding, empathy ~ concern sincerely meant.

The journey is different; yet the journey is the same.
Some of us take the easy road, some stumble over the rocky lane.

Some of us sing the chorus, some of us the whole song.
Some are looking for truth, others for right and wrong.

We are all of us searching for our elusive dreams.
Or are they searching for us? Is anything what it seems?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Fourth Circle

Also during this fantastic year of schooling, aside from an active interest in current events, I cultivated what had become a consuming interest in native culture.

No, I wasn’t a Wannabe. This term only confirms that Caucasians don’t have the corner on racism. I was and am very proud of my Celtic heritage.

My ancestors were hunters and gatherers who made lanterns out of turnips late in Fall to pay homage to the dead, an occasion we now know as Hallowe’en.

They gradually settled into agricultural villages because they domesticated both crops and animals. They gathered eggs at the Spring Equinox, and gathered up some of the old hens for the stew pot... you know, the ones that were no longer laying... and a few rabbits, etc., for a big feast to celebrate Spring or the time of Fertility (or Eostre, the Goddess of Fertility). This is now known as Easter.

They brought branches into their humble homes to keep the wood nymphs warm throughout winter, so they wouldn’t play havoc with their crops come summer. They also burned a piece of wood from the previous year at the winter solstice, called a Yule log, to pay homage to turning seasons. Sacred circles were part of my ancestors’ lives. They created henges all over the British Isles to mark the passing of seasons. You’ve heard of Stonehenge? That was my people.

You've heard of St. Patrick? He’d been sent to Rome to be educated by the Catholic priests, from his home in what is now Scotland. He returned to the shores of the Irish Celts ~ my ancestors, to teach them about Jesus. Ancient pagans like my ancestors were invited into Christian churches, because the church adopted their feasts and celebrations and turned them into holy days that were about Jesus. Hence, the winter solstice, Saturnalia in Rome, became Christ Mass (Christmas); the Spring Equinox, or the fertility festival of the Goddess Eostre, became Easter, all about the crucifixion of Jesus.

Unfortunately, what seems to be an oft-told story, while my ancestors were learning to pray in Christian churches, the Bretons came along and took their lands, and the Irish Celts wound up becoming poor serfs on what had been their own farms. This happened many times in Africa too.

“When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, 'Let us pray.'..." "We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.”

~ Bishop Desmond Tutu

And it happened here, in North America. Colonial imperialists managed to take over much of the world whilst the trusting natives of this place or that were learning about Jesus. Heh. Now don't get me wrong ~ Jesus, he was a great teacher ~ a man who preached compassion and love. Someone to admire and emulate, no doubt about it. But what some people did in his name..... Well, ‘nuff said. What with the Crusades, cultural genocide and more, I could go on and on, but what’s the point?

Suffice it to say that I grew up here, not in the land of my ancestors. And the closest cultural expression of my history was in the ways of the natives of this land. And so I learned all I could about them, their history, the genocide that was perpetrated against them, the injustices ~ from Wounded Knee, to the arduous journey of Chief Joseph and his people, to Little Big Horn, and on into Canada, and to residential schools. I was outraged. But even more, I was impressed with the fortitude of these people, and I wanted to know more.

The ferry landing to Walpole Island

But there comes a time when learning about a people isn’t enough. I wanted to learn from them. And so, with a friend, I embarked on another school project for sociology. We visited a native reserve called Walpole Island. This visit and resulting project was innocuous enough, but it was something that lasted in my mind and set the tone for future adventures. My project grade was clinched when I not only set out a display of black and white photos taken on the island, and talked a little about our visit, but I had also invited the Chief of the Walpole reserve to visit my school and speak. Though there was no honorarium for his trouble, his son brought him for the occasion. I was impressed. Clearly my teacher was as well.


The Fourth Circle

There came to me a beautiful song
on a violently stormy night.
The voices seemed to be everywhere;
yet the singers were out of sight.
Their bittersweet voices mingled,
passions carried on the breeze;
the rhythmic pounding of stormy drums
almost lost in the groaning trees.
Then the singers’ voices grew louder,
as if chanting to loose their bonds.
Spirits crying out for freedom!
Then suddenly they were gone.
But through the pounding rain
I heard feet dancing on naked earth.
A rhythm that made the night ache,
laying claim to its ghostly turf.
Is this song only distant shadows
of something that’s been lost?
Or is it a spiritual reminder
of what our choices cost?
I await another stormy night,
chance to hear this song again.
The drums, the voices, the dancers,
the fourth circle pounding their pain.

There were more adventures to come.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Flowers In Our Hair

If you come to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.

Well, it may have been the Eve of Destruction, but here was a world all about peace, love and brotherhood. Written by Papa John Phillips (Mamas and Papas), Scott McKenzie recorded it, and it became a hit.

All across the nation such a strange vibration

People in motion

There's a whole generation with a new explanation

People in motion people in motion

For those who come to San Francisco

Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair

If you come to San Francisco

Summertime will be a love-in there

Well, I wasn’t going to San Francisco, but I was finishing high school, and there was a new school in town. Now, this new school promised all kinds of classes and benefits that the school I was in didn’t have. Unfortunately, I wasn’t living within the street boundaries for the new school. Solution? Fake an address. Yep. Using the address of a friend of the family, I switched schools for my final year.

I was ENTHUSED for the first time since moving. I already had almost enough credits to graduate from my 4-year business program,despite my lack of commitment to school. So I loaded up with all the electives I’d been missing. I signed on for Art, Journalism, Theatre Arts.... I mean, I was in heaven. Even subjects such as Sociology were more up-to-date than the repetitious topics of the old school. I wrote a treatise on Canada’s penal system and was awarded an A, something I certainly wasn’t used to.

History class was same old, same old, so a friend and I approached the teacher and asked if we could take something more contemporary. We suggested Castro’s Cuba. The teacher, a dear soul of a man who was very frustrated because NO ONE in ANY of his classes gave a damn about the Renaissance (which we’d all already taken a couple of times) seemed taken aback at first, but he approached his department and requested permission to change the curriculum. This was granted. We all chipped in for our own books (paperbacks about Castro’s Cuba, indeed) and he decided to also change the format of his classes to the more college level approach of the seminar. Because he wasn’t studied up on the topic, we all took turns submitting lessons for discussions. It was a blast!

I also started letting my real self show in English composition, because this teacher was receptive to something different from the strict letter of the requested essay. I submitted poems, stories and other works that were received with appreciation, instead of narrow-minded chagrin.

We took the Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. I submitted a poem as part of the requested book review and got an A.

The Heart of Darkness

It is a penetrating blanket,
which pushes its way into mans’ senses ~
deeper and deeper
into his very core.

The lurking death and evil
comes baited with an appeal.
Its mystery dares and haunts man,
until his nerves twitch with anticipation.

He sways toward it with pending freedom,
a captive snake which must uncoil,
and it becomes a heart
that beats to the rhythm of drums.

Wildness, lust and desire become forces
so strong, that they drive men,
drag men, farther and farther ~
into the unknown ~ into the heart of darkness.

I also “submitted” a song performance in one class to express a sense of social connection to our world. It was Home From the Forest by Gordon Lightfoot. This song is about one of the last Victoria Cross winners still alive, found homeless on the dirty streets of New York.

Oh the neon lights were flashin'
And the icy wind did blow
The water seeped into his shoes
And the drizzle turned to snow
His eyes were red, his hopes were dead
And the wine was runnin' low
And the old man came home
From the forest

His tears fell on the sidewalk
As he stumbled in the street
A dozen faces stopped to stare
But no one stopped to speak
For his castle was a hallway
And the bottle was his friend
And the old man stumbled in
From the forest

~Gordon Lightfoot

Guitar in hand, stool in front of classmates, I sang. Another A, and an invitation to sing at a local coffee house. This year of high school was my only happy, enthusiastic year of schooling and I think this speaks to the impact of the arts on some students. Take away music, art and other expression, and just shovel in the academics, and you have created a recipe for failure ~ for the student, for the education system.

In fact, it seems to me that our approach to education and indeed our culture, routinely under-estimates our children and creates an atmosphere in our schools intended to dumb them down, rather than lift them up. This belief would impact on my child’s own educational experience later in my life.

I’m writing these autobiographical sketches for me, and for my daughter, and I know it’s unlikely anyone else will be interested in the experiences of a nobody. But just in case, I’m here to tell you, you should never under-estimate your kids. And never under-estimate the impact that our cultural approach to education can have on someone, because it lasts a lifetime.

For myself, I graduated from my high school program with honours and with more than the required credits. Just shows what a little creativity can do.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How to Build a Human Being

Even though we journey together, it doesn’t mean we’re on the same journey.

The Move and Other Events

I grew up mostly in a suburban neighbourhood of Toronto. I was close enough to the Big Smoke to take advantage of stores, the Ex, the Village and more, but the neighbourhood really had everything any kid needed. We were walking distance to the schools, had a park and skating rink (in winter) across the street, a *plaza around the corner, a library, swimming pool and movie theatre. There was even an art store and a fish and chip shop. What more could a kid want?

Friends: You know, I hear a lot about how important friends are, but I’m not sure what all the fuss is about. I mean, I had friends, in a loose sort of way. I was on good terms with most of the kids in my neighbourhood. In fact, I got along with the tough kids, was on good terms with the active kids, and was completely indifferent, but not openly disdainful, of the goody two shoes kids. (You know, the ones who pinched their cheeks to make them rosy.) But collecting a “group” of friends wasn’t something that mattered to me.

I noticed that recent immigrants were often treated badly by other kids, but I didn’t see any reason for this. Sure, they were a little different sometimes, but I never understood how this was a bad thing. The parents of one of these girls owned the art store, and they lived in the apartment over it. I liked to stay overnight at her place, because her mom served us buttered European cardamom bread and coffee for breakfast. I never got this at home. It was delicious. So yeah, when I look back, I realize that I actually never understood the fear and suspicion some people feel toward those who are different. Hanging out with these "different" people worked for me.

In those days, there were very defined roles for girls and boys. Girls could not take shop in school, and boys could not take home economics. This I found strange. Some of the best chefs in the world were men. Still are. And I have a great-grand aunt in my background who was a cabinet-maker. I always thought these narrow expectations of the genders were very confining. But that was just our world.

Then the world changed.

The move certainly impacted on my little world. Dad realized he couldn’t go any higher at his job, so he looked for another and found one in a little city on the American border: Windsor. This is a manufacturing town with a plethora of factories, tool and die, automotive and more. I didn’t like it. The kids in my new school seemed immature compared to the kids I was used to. The school courses were more limited. For instance, there was no art class available, so for my elective I had to take music. That was ok, but I really missed my art classes.

Music: always a source of challenge. I asked my mom if I could take piano lessons again, but popular styles, not Conservatory. She had it in her head that Conservatory lessons led to a high school credit, so I had to keep to that, or no more lessons. I pointed out that since I was forced to actually take music in school, my credit would come from that, but to no avail. Piano lessons were apparently not in the cards. Later on I talked her into a few guitar lessons, which was enough to get me started. The rest was just practice on the used guitar I talked her into buying me. Hey... if one door closes, look for an open window. Anyway, a guitar is a lot easier to carry to a protest than a piano.

I skipped a lot of school because I didn’t like it. And when I did go, something strange or embarrassing often happened. For instance, one day we all had to stand up and play certain notes on our instruments in music class. So I tucked my violin under my chin and played them. A lot of the other kids were missing their notes.... some rather badly. The music teacher pointed at me and said, “she’s hardly ever here but she can play way better than the rest of you!”

Great. That certainly helped my popularity. {/sarcasm}

Another time we were to act out a scene from the novel we were taking in English Lit, To Kill a Mockingbird. I memorized my lines because I thought that’s what one did when acting out a scene. The teacher was moved to remark on this because the other kids hadn’t learned theirs. They were reading their lines from clipboards. Afterwards, a few of them gave me hell in the washroom for not telling them beforehand that I was memorizing mine. Huh?

I hated school. It was limiting, narrow and nasty. But I was still too young to quit. After that first year in the new town, I was channelled into the business program. Nobody asked me what I wanted. It was just determined for my own good that I would do better learning to be a secretary. Fine. At least it wasn’t challenging enough to take up much of my mind and time.

You see, the bigger world really was changing, or as Bob Dylan put it, the times they are a-changin'.

These changes had captured my interest and participation. It was a time of civil rights marches, Vietnam war protests, concern for the environment, folk singing, protest songs, and yes, the Detroit riots in ‘67.

Think of all the hate there is in Red China!
Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama!
Ah, you may leave here, for four days in space,
But when your return, it's the same old place,
The poundin' of the drums, the pride and disgrace,
You can bury your dead, but don't leave a trace,
Hate your next-door-neighbour, but don't forget to say grace,
And you tell me over and over and over and over again my friend,
you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction. mmm, no, no.
you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

From Eve of Destruction by Bob Dylan

I discovered Gordon Lightfoot one Thursday evening on a radio program out of Detroit. I was instantly a fan and not only bought all his records over time, but music books as well, and I learned several of his songs. Yes, I sang and played that guitar.

An important song of the time was Black Day in July:

I would have copied some of the lyrics here, but none of the sites will let me, so fug it. But for anyone who'd like to hear/see it, the above link will take you to a You Tube verson.

And I wrote my own poem for the times:

The American Dream

Through the thunder of running feet,
a jagged scream split the sweaty night.
The one on the ground never heard the shot;
he lay limbs all akimbo,
a weird death-dance in the shadows
of the flashing crimson lights.

His mother’s tortured face will twist
in denial at this inevitable news.
His brother’s prison-grey shoulders will sink
a little lower when he hears.
His friends will watch another day end ~
night breaking in blood-red hues.

Surviving in hopeless resignation,
he never learned what living could mean.
Caught up in an endless, mindless race,
defending something he couldn’t own ~
he never touched, didn’t even come close,
to anything like the American Dream.

It was an important time for anyone to be a human on this Earth. More next time.

*A plaza, for those who might not be familiar with this term, was the forerunner of the mall. The sidewalk that ran along beside the stores was covered on top, but open to the air at the sides.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Confessions of a Boomer

It doesn’t do any good to look back, you say.
But you know, it actually does,
because where we’ve been is where we’re going.
Life is a cycle, not a ride on a bus.

We hear a fair bit today about stranger danger, and certainly, with news coming to us so quickly from far and near, it certainly seems as if our world has gone a little cock-eyed and there’s something to fear in our neighbourhoods.

But I wonder if there’s really more danger, or if we just hear about it more. I was molested as a little girl... more than once. There was a girl in our class who wore very thick glasses. Her mother was blind. Her father was a pervert. There was a swimming pool near the library in our community and one time when we were all swimming there, this little girl’s father stood in one corner of the pool, latching onto any little girl that swam his way. He’d hold her bum against his semi-erection until she would squirm loose. Yes, it happened to me and though I was too young to really understand what he was doing, it made me feel uncomfortable, so I knew it wasn’t right. I put my foot into his groin and kicked away from him, and I didn’t go near him again. But other little girls did. Later on, when I understood the man’s problem, I felt very bad for the other little girls.

Then there was my second piano teacher. The first one was a lovely old fella who simply adored music, but he retired. Mom took me to a local music store to find another teacher. He stood and stared at her breasts the whole time she was arranging my lessons, but she didn’t seem to notice. I was signed up. His advances started with compliments at my playing, then caresses and hugs, and before long, he was openly cupping my barely developing breasts in his hands.
I complained to my mother, but she didn’t believe me. She thought it was a story I’d cooked up with a friend to get out of piano lessons. That didn’t even make sense... I loved piano, up until then anyway. I wouldn’t go back. It was my friend who helped me find release from the indignity. She went with me to the back door of this store, where we’d throw rocks and pop bottles until the irate partner would open the door and look for the culprit. We were hidden. When he went back in, we’d throw more stuff against the door. Then we’d leave, so as not to get caught if he called the police. We did this several times, but it soon paled. I refused any more music lessons. Too bad really. I think I would have done more with it, sooner. Ah, but you can’t lose what you never had, can you?

I think there have always been disturbed, perverted people in our world and sometimes their madness touches us. Ironically, my mother was also molested, by a neighbour. This man went off to war and returned without one of his hands. She always thought that was poetic justice at work. I think the tendency now to teach children at an early age that there are some places other people mustn’t touch is a good thing. More people need to learn to protest loudly when they are abused, in any way. Perhaps the only thing that will discourage molesters and bullies alike is unwanted attention being directed at them. Although, sometimes I think some of these poor people crave any attention.

Later on, when I was working in a college, I encountered a young girl who’d been molested by a teacher. She’d allowed it to happen because she was scared. She thought he’d flunk her if she didn’t give in to him. Later, when his demands just became too much for her to bear, she complained. But it was a bit late. I mean, there comes a point when what’s happening is “consentual” and what they’re doing can be considered a “relationship.” At least, the teacher in question thought so. The fact is, this girl should have stepped into the hallway and screamed her guts out the very first time he persisted in his unwanted advances. These people always seem to know who to pick up... the ones who just aren't sure enough of themselves to protest. So remember that, girls. There is nothing to be gained by giving in to a pervert. It only gets worse. Scream. Scream bloody murder.

I also wonder if our prudish North American society doesn’t bring a lot of this on. Sex crimes are statistically much higher here than in more sexually liberated places, such as Europe. Think about it: if a mom finds out her teen has been at a strip club, she’s shocked! Horrified! Oh the shame! Yet she thinks nothing of her youngster playing video/computer games that are violent to the point of glorifying rage and killing. Why have we created such a bizarre mystique around human sexuality, while at the same time, condoning human violence? (Please, don't tell me the games aren't about humans when the player winds up "in" the game.)
Do we have our priorities straight? Really?

I don’t believe it’s tender love
the makes the world go ‘round.
It’s likely all the guilt we weave
that makes us all revolve ~
but that which causes Earth to spin
a globe in misty blue
is likely all the sorrow and blame
that skewers our lives right through.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Those 60s

Good Times and Chemicals

When I was a kid in the 50s and 60s, we always took camping vacations. We’d often meet up with some relatives who were close, get sites across from each other, and spend those few weeks Dad got off from work, sleeping in a tent, cooking on either the campfire or the Coleman stove, fishing, hiking, swimming, boating and just having outdoor fun. It was a good time.

One night while we were all sitting around the fire, a Dept. of Lands and Forests (as they then were) truck came by with some sort of machine on the back. It wended its way slowly over the camp roads blowing this fog into the air. I asked my mom what it was. “DDT,” she said. “It’s ok, it won’t hurt us.” It was supposed to just kill mosquitoes and not harm anything else. In those days, it wasn’t at all unusual to hear the call of the whippoorwill in the woods. I heard one as I drifted to sleep in the sleeping bag that night. I still remember it vividly, because there was something even more poignant than usual in the sad cry of this particular bird. Its call sort of ended on a questioning note.... an unusual inflection, as if it was wondering what this white fog was. It was prophetic.

DDT has indeed harmed many other forms of life. I won’t go into too much detail, because if people care they can look it up. Suffice it to say that chemicals that kill bad insects, kill good ones as well... beneficials such as bees, lady bugs and more. They also do damage to healthy reproduction of many species, including fish, frogs, birds, and humans. True also of lawn chemicals being marketed by chemical companies that lost their cash cow with the end of the war. They had to reinvent themselves, and they did, by vilifying the humble dandelion, one of the Earth’s most useful wild herbs. They convinced home-owners that nothing short of a green carpet for a lawn would do. Many people continue to swallow this nonsense, hook, line and stinker, despite increases in chemically-induced asthma, cancers and more in pets and kids especially. I mean, it’s simple enough: chemicals designed to kill, do. Or they do notable damage.
Rachel Carson

It was during the 60s that Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring, which attempted to educate us about how we are part of nature, and that everything together is a web of life that’s inextricably interconnected. She pointed out the mistake of poisoning our environment with farm and lawn care chemicals, insecticides, etc., and what these toxins would eventually do to everything in their wake. She was attacked by the big money chemical companies for her views, but of course, history has borne her out.

This was the birth of the Environmental Movement, but of course, the 60s was a particularly busy decade, with the Viet Nam war, the terrorist activities of the IRA, the British music invasion, women’s rights, the assassination of J.F. Kennedy, civil rights and the “I have a dream” speech of Martin Luther King, the birth of pop culture, Woodstock, and so much more.

It’s difficult to tell myself that our world is unfolding as it should though, when we had the knowledge to do better. We just didn’t bother. I wonder why. I haven't heard the call of a whippoorwill in a very long time. They aren't extinct and this should be part of their range still. I wonder if I'll ever hear it again.

All cozy in my sleeping bag,
soft voices outside the tent
were a kind of summer lullaby,
along with the gentle summer breeze,
the poignant call of the whippoorwill
and the faint rustling of the trees.
And drifting across the distant lake
came the haunting cry of a loon,
fading away as I drifted to sleep,
into dreams of shimmering images,
now condemned to fading memories
from days of old it seems.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Prosperity ~ Two Sides to the Coin

The First Word the Baby Learned was MORE

~from a Don Henley song lyric

There was this stand-up comic once who told about going into a restaurant. He ordered fries and when they were set in front of him, he noticed they were burned. He said to the waitress, “these fries are burnt.” She glanced at the fries, then replied, “ok then, I’ll bring you more.” The guy looked perplexed. No, she didn’t REPLACE his fries... she really did just bring him more burned ones. What kind of logic was that, he wondered. How does MORE of a bad thing make it better?

Just how did we evolve into a MORE and BIGGER is better society?

Always a Double-Sided Coin

Growing up a boomer was an exercise in naivete. We sprang from an innocence that’s hard to imagine now. Oh my father had been in the war. He was overseas for four years, but he didn’t talk about it much. And my mother had worked out, in a factory, something that was new for women. Women who had to work in those days were maids, house-keepers, clerks or teachers. My mom wore slacks and went shopping at Eatons at 2 a.m. because they stayed open all night for shift workers. She lost her job when my dad came back. She was told to stay at home and make babies. In those days, that attitude toward women was deemed acceptable.

Three kids: two boys, one girl. We weren’t rich, on the other hand, we were about to be savagely bombarded with new inventions ~ a plethora of consumer goods so voluminous, we got all caught up in the hard work of making choices based on price and availability, instead of questioning if these newfangled products were good for us, or if the labour-saving devices really created more leisure time. Like all things, they had pros and cons. Sure, the household devices made laundry, food storage, cooking easier, and that was great, for women especially. But they really didn’t create more leisure time, because the demands on us tend to increase exponentially with each great invention. The more convenience and technological devices we get hold of, the more time we spend being slaves to them. Like now.

Then there was the television. It was a pricey thing, but my grandmother bought one so she could see her daytime stories ~ The Guiding Light, and Search for Tomorrow. Before that, she had only heard these on the big, old wooden radio. Her vision was fading and she wanted to see her stories while she still could. And we kids spent a fair bit of time in front of the TV too. There was Howdy Doody, Captain Kangeroo with Mr. Green Jeans, Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy, and Uncle Milty. Ironic that we got to watch that goofy stuff, when today, even though television has evolved into a useful, educational tool, with science, art, and so much more informative, quality programming, kids are told they mustn’t watch too much. Hehe... ok. They’ve got all kinds of techy toys to fill the void, right? Do we EVER think first?

Life was supposed to be easier after the war. Why, women no longer had to bake their own bread! There was store-bought bread.... loaves of soft, gooey white bread made with bleached, processed and refined flour with all the nutritional value of wallpaper paste and loaded with preservatives so it was always “fresh.” There are 24 nutrients stripped from white flour in the processing, and the flour producer artificially puts back four. That’s why they get to call it “enriched.” All this ease and comfort was the beginning of our consumer society, and the beginning of the destruction of the family farm, wholesome foods and our dietary health as well.

Don’t get me wrong... I’m not touting the unrestrained wonderfulness of the good ol’ pre-war days either. Sure, they grew their own food, which was a good thing... something we need to re-learn. But at the same time, my grandfather died of bronchial pneumonia because there was no such thing as antibiotics in those days... something we are already apparently re-experiencing because we so carelessly loosed antibiotics into our food and water chain. Life was hard, especially during economic hard times, like the Great Depression. It’s just that when the opportunity for prosperity came along after the war, our society really didn’t do the walk before you run thing. It broke into canter from the get-go. Some things were great, especially for women, or to a kid growing up. But the environment was not a concern. Health impacts from some products were not a consideration. People were desperate for prosperity, and that was all that mattered. Do humans ever THINK first?

Still holding onto that onion.


It had such clean lines, made of shiny chrome
and a new thing they called plastic ~
no wooden table in our kitchen ~
Mom dancin’ about all kinda spastic
to Blue Suede Shoes, newfangled rock and roll;
Elvis and all kinds of new music
playing on the fine, new, plastic radio.
Television, washing machines and cool new cars;
all plasticized, pasteurized, bread from a store.
We were so very modern, the fifties family ~
in our post-war, suburban houses, row on row.
Doesn’t do any good to look back, you say.
But you know, it actually does,
because where we’ve been is where we’re going.
It’s a cycle, you see, not a ride on a bus.