My City Was Gone


“Living just enough, just enough, for the city.”

The Big Cities of the past weren’t for everyone. In the hardscrabble days when I was growing up in Montreal or in Toronto, a city rat could always make ends meet, somehow, some way. There was always that neighbourhood where you could find a deal, that part of town where, while it might not be pretty, but, be it ever so humble, you could find a place to crash if you were short of dough. Or a place to score if you wanted to get high. You might not have a Rolex, but you could find a knockoff for a couple of bucks. k market 1976

When you’re really hungry, a bag of smelts tastes like caviar. And back then, the smaller, inner city groceries, run mostly by the children of immigrants, could always be counted on as somewhere to find something cheap and cheerful to feed the belly of the hungry.

 

 

But getting older often means learning the hard way that the city you once knew is gone forever, for good or for ill. Cities change, landmarks disappear, and the people’s needs change. Progress seeks to whitewash the reality of the poverty and the needy that always lurk in a big city’s depths. Your need to find a little corner of the metropolis to call your own won’t necessarily be fulfilled when you most need it, even if you’re willing to bend to nearly breaking point, just to stay where you’ve lived most of your life.

Life in the big city was never gonna be easy for everybody, but for those of us who came here chasing a dream, there was a time when it was easier to make it work. These days, the city rats have to give way to the up and coming high tech mice, who have the wherewithal to pay the big rents, the big mortgages, and who have enough of the ready to enjoy the best of the city that wants to be world class.

for sale signsWhen we sold our home in 2016, we didn’t worry about where we’d land up next. Surely we’d come up roses on a nice, new place to rent, someplace where we could keep our ‘stuff’ and exist comfortably for the foreseeable future.

But our search was far more difficult that we’d thought, and we didn’t find a cubby hole to curl up in straight away – there were a lot of twists and turns on the journey. And once here, the drawbacks of this particular rental surfaced, meaning that this isn’t where we’ll be staying long-term either.

But where we were lucky was in having a good credit rating, reasonably good health, and a couple of bucks in the bank. Not that any of that guarantees you’ll find a decent living space, but when you put them all together, it will help make the search just a little less frustrating.

There are several reasons why living in the bigger cities of North America has become harder for the lower to middle class. We’ve lived through decades of foolish governments who hung on to power by failing to increase taxes enough to keep the city running. Our infrastructure has been strained to it’s limits without the injections of cash needed to keep the trains going, or the hospitals able to handle an aging society.

Those same governments, as a rule, also tended to side with commercial leasing entities over renters, allowing businesses to take huge tax write offs on over priced properties that could stand vacant for months and even years, until a lessee with big dollars took occupation.

Real estate prices have soared in the last decade, until even the tiniest, most rundown, residential property in the city starts at a million dollars, and goes up into the stratosphere from there. Real estate agents are becoming the nouveau riche. Who can afford to buy those properties?

And yet the ‘for sale’ signs go up, and in days, come down, with the replacement sign reading, ‘sold over asking.’ How many of these buyers are house poor, I wonder? And how will they pay the overblown mortgage should one half of a couple lose their jobs or become ill?

straight outta scarboroughGentrification has been excising the more interesting parts of the city for at least the last thirty years. Within another three to five years, Yonge Street south of Bloor will be as nondescript as a Scarborough mall, packed with chain stores, fast food franchises, Starbucks, and a Shopper’s Drug Mart on every corner.

If I wanted Scarborough drab .. I’d go to Scarborough. “Cleaning up” Yonge street really means erasing our sense of history and place, and of sanding down the grit of People City, leaving behind the sort of bland, generic playground that is fit only for the children of the very wealthy.

dying from exposureI know that this is no longer the city that I came to conquer back in 1976; there are new generations coming up behind me, young and hungry, and eager to prove themselves in their fields.

But how are they to survive, when those with the ability to raise them up, choose instead to shackle these young spirits with internships and exposure? Where exactly are they to find the bootstraps these strugglers are supposed to pull up?

And most importantly… where are these young tyros supposed to live? And how are they to eat? When living is reduced to just surviving, there’s little time or will to create.

Once upon a time, those who yearned to enjoy and participate in Canada’s culture flocked to Montreal, Toronto, or Vancouver, and took their chances, clawing their way to success, or falling by the wayside. But international big money has taken that option out of the equation.

If you didn’t buy real estate twenty years ago, you’re going to have to be in rarefied company to be able to afford to buy today. Even your ability to rent in a ‘better area’ of the metropolises is an iffy proposition.

Globalization, gentrification … we’re moving from the end of the industrial age into the fullness of the digital, high tech world. And our cities reflect that change, just as at one point they reflected the scions who traveled in horse and buggy.

The cities have begun to depend upon video, cellular communications, artificial intelligence, and eventually, a robotics industry that will force countries to accept a basic income that will keep the lower and middle class in just enough financial stability to stay alive … though that life may not be what many would have considered livable even a decade or two ago. The digital elite will own the residences; the rest of us will vie for the privilege of renting.

tent cities 2018And those who fall between the cracks will live in the tent cities that are now springing up to house the homeless.

The cities, as we knew them, are changing. Some cities, like San Francisco and New York, are already gone. and it could be argued that Vancouver is next, with Toronto not far behind.

As much as we may yearn to keep this from happening, globalization is inevitable, and as unstoppable as a tidal wave.

And, for many, that wave is washing away the possibility of aging in place in the Big City.

 

So Long 2016


yes .. it’s been a while … but the rants have just been biding their time .. 😉

Your Sunday Sermon …

So long 2016 .. adios, hasta la vista. You took a lot out of us, and a lot from us, and what you’ve left behind isn’t all that comforting, but you’ve been and you’re gone. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.

The thing about the sixth year of a decade is that it tends to be a culmination of the previous years. The beginning of a decade still clings to the decade before, and baby steps to change begin in the first few years, but by the sixth, the decade has rather defined itself. This six was a doozy. And it likely portends much of what will define the teen years of this century.

Were we more shaped by the losses we sustained, or by the gains we achieved? To me, the year was more reactive than proactive, although certainly, there were advances in most fields.

As for the arts …  nothing much captured and kept our attention, either visually or musically, for very long. The lack of gatekeepers allowed the flood of creativity, but it’s hard to distinguish one drop of water from another in an ocean.

Television might be the last bastion of creative possibilities, at least that which is available from the independent channels. I still prefer British television to American overall, but keep on the lookout for nuggets of gold in North American teevee.

walking-deadThis was the year I finally gave up on The Walking Dead .. Season Seven, filmed as even more brutal than the graphic novel from whence it sprang, just took it too far for me to stomach. After episode one, I gave episode two a cursory glance, but the emphasis on a demagogue bullying and  humiliating his ‘people’ felt too much like what I imagine Americans will experience under their new alien overlord.

But on the plus side, two new series – one from the U.S., and one from Britain – explored something I expect to see in a nearer future – artificial intelligence and a robot workforce Both were brilliantly written, acted and filmed. WestWorld postulated a future amusement park where humans could interact in any way they chose with realistic, synthetic humans, and wrapped the drama around a story line that encompassed decades.  The cast were amazing. My only quibble was with an unspoken assumption that, given the choice, most humans would choose to indulge their basest and most despicable impulses without fear of reprisal. Perhaps that is the sad truth.

humans-cast-tv-show   Humans, a British series, took another tack; a future as mundane as our own, where ‘synths’ took over all the tasks people no longer wanted to do – in effect, a new slavery. The flaw in that ‘dream’ was a computer code able to bring consciousness to the synths.

Consciousness, however, and in both series, drew attention to the new slavery AND the enormous range of needs and emotions, as applicable to both humans and synths. Just as a ‘human’ could be damaged by experience and become evil, so could a synth.

future-of-robotsI don’t think we’re close to the sort of realistic, humanistic synthetic beings either series portrayed, but automation and robotics – computers taking over most of the jobs humans currently do – is projected to be an issue affecting the planet within the next two decades.

“instead of a pro-job growth future, economists across the board predict further losses as AI, robotics, and other technologies continue to be ushered in. What is up for debate is how quickly this is likely to occur.

By 2034, just a few decades, mid-level jobs will be by and large obsolete. So far the benefits have only gone to the ultra-wealthy, the top 1%. This coming technological revolution is set to wipe out what looks to be the entire middle class. Not only will computers be able to perform tasks more cheaply than people, they’ll be more efficient too.

Accountants, doctors, lawyers, teachers, bureaucrats, and financial analysts beware: your jobs are not safe. According to The Economist, computers will be able to analyze and compare reams of data to make financial decisions or medical ones. There will be less of a chance of fraud or misdiagnosis, and the process will be more efficient. Not only are these folks in trouble, such a trend is likely to freeze salaries for those who remain employed, while income gaps only increase in size. You can imagine what this will do to politics and social stability. ”  

(http://bigthink.com/philip-perry/47-of-jobs-in-the-next-25-years-will-disappear-according-to-oxford-university)

For many, that shift to robotics will come when they are unwilling or unable to pivot to another occupation. What happens to all of those workers, who trained for positions that no longer exist?

cognitive-dissonance1We are already in a frightening economic time, when the wealthy are pedestalled for no more reason than their wealth, and where those who cannot find work are despised. We’ve been conditioned for centuries to believe that our work defines us, and that hard work builds character. We’ve been trained to believe that those with wealth, no matter how it was gained, are our superiors, and that  their wealth somehow magically imbues their character with all of the traits we claim to respect; charity, kindness, empathy, intelligence and the like.

Cognitive dissonance allows us to look at a venal, bigoted, racist, misogynistic, narcissist, and somehow believe that the attributes that created his great wealth – the ability to lie, cheat, steal, and steamroll over others, expecting nothing but the finest for himself, but comfortable with others having very little – make that person qualified for the leadership of 319 million citizens.

If writer and political commentator Andrew Sullivan is correct that, “in terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order … [Trump] is an extinction-level event, it may well be that his campaign and election are the paths to a new world rising from the ashes of the old.

ai-driven-automationMassive unemployment caused by automation must be met with new, thoughtful, empathic intelligence. If it is instead met by rampant greed, coupled with a loathing for any criticism or accountability, the clay feet of the rich and powerful will finally be exposed.

True leadership does not seek to enrich only the leader, or seek to rape the land and it’s people for profit. Every nation on the planet is in dire need of the sort of leadership that is bi-partisan and respects every nation and every citizen for not only what they have to offer, but for their very existence.

There can be no leaders without followers.

gpi-gdpImagine if, instead of  defining the wealth of a nation by it’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP,)   it was instead known by it’s Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI.)   The GDP has no conscience; it cannot tell if a dollar is spent on progress or destruction, and it neither knows nor cares about a future impact on the people. As Paul Hawken, an American entrepreneur, environmentalist and author, once said, “We are stealing from the future, selling it to the present, and calling it Gross Domestic Product.”    

The GPI, on the other hand, takes into account not just goods and services produced, but also the social and environmental impact of that production. When every citizen has more money to spend, more leisure time, and better health, the GPI rises. But when rates of crime, imprisonment, pollution and environmental damage increase, the GPI falls accordingly.

True leadership takes a long range look, sees the changes coming, and seeks to steer the citizens to a safer future. That kind of vision is antithetical to the current crop of wouldbe leaders, who are little more than politicians prepared to pander, lie, and allow corruption in the name of short term gain, and an unethical win.

Combining what needs to be done to enrich the citizens socially needs to take into account the upcoming redefinition of employment, and the climate changes we are experiencing.

If nations want true leadership, they need to reject those politicians who display an ignorance of scientific facts and a predisposition for encouraging divisiveness amongst their citizens. Citizens need to accept that they are responsible for the politicians they ignore or elevate, and understand  that with citizenship comes not only rights, but accountability. police-state-dictatorship

Otherwise, the government truly does become “what the people deserve.” No more, and no less.

 

 

The Fall of Man


My apologies to faithful readers who may not agree with me – or who are easily offended. I’m very offended by anyone who can continue to to support Trump at this stage. This blog is NSFW. (Not Safe For Work.) You have been warned.

…….

A few years back, I used to write recaps of reality shows for a showbiz site. One of the hardest to sit through without gagging was Donald Trump’s ‘Celebrity Apprentice.’

Watching the D, E and F list celebs fawn all over the Cheetoh, and pledge fealty and allegiance to Trump’s superior business sense made me sick, and the end of each episode’s visit to the Boardroom, where Trump, with Thing 1 and Thing 2 seated stony faced to his right and left, levied his ‘justice’ upon the celebs, and chose who would be ‘fired,’ was always illogical, and unexpected only by those who don’t know the rules of Reality TV – keep those ratings coming.

“And when you’re a star they let you do it,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”

“Whatever you want,” says another voice, apparently Bush’s.

“Grab them by the pussy,” Trump says. “You can do anything.”

trumps-women-guarding-their-pussiesThere really is a delicious irony in the GOP’s recoil and revulsion at Trump’s latest faux pas – oh, sorry what I meant to say was, admission of serial sexual assault.

Certainly …  it could be argued that Trump AND the Republicans have said worse in the last few years, putting forward ideas and regulations that dehumanized and disempowered large groups of their own citizens, including minorities and veterans of war. And of course – women.

But apparently, all of these lawfully appointed representatives have to draw the line somewhere, and withdraw their support from Trump  NOW – just weeks before the election – because he’s revealed a truth they’ve danced around for years; that GOP stands for Grab Our Pussies.

gop-stands-for-grab-our-pussiesAnd it’s not because they’re embarrassed at his vulgarity. No, I think it goes way deeper than that. Trump just put into words what they have been putting into practice and law for at least a decade.

They’ve built a cult around appealing to the very people who regularly unleash legal fury on anyone who doesn’t follow Christianity as strictly as they purport publicly to do. All manner of evil and hypocrisy has been done in the guise of  preserving the women, the children, and the god fearing, from any hint of wrongdoing. America, they contend, has descended into a hellfire pit as horrific as the tales of Sodom and Gomorrah, where ‘fornication, going after strange flesh, sexual immorality, perverted sensuality, homosexuality, lust of every kind, immoral acts and unnatural lust’ has become the rule of the land.

donald-trump-rallyAnd, just as in the Bible, those most viciously condemned and punished are women. The Republican Party has effectively taken one giant step backward for mankind, a giant step forward for a Christian form of Sharia law.

Make no mistake; Republican lawmakers have been ‘grabbing our pussy’ for a very long time. They just disguised it in legal terms, and in vague protective cautions that alluded to, but didn’t quite come right out and say, that women were stupid, emotionally fueled creatures unable to either understand the dangers of sex, or to properly deal with the consequences.

It is paternalism writ large. “The policy or practice on the part of people in positions of authority of restricting the freedom and responsibilities of those subordinate to them in the subordinates’ supposed best interest.”

It has been laughable, watching Republicans attempt to distance themselves from Trump’s chauvinist misogyny.

Remember Mr. Binders Full of Women,  former presidential candidate Mitt Romney? Even he had to draw a line. “Hitting on married women? Condoning assault? Such vile degradations demean our wives and daughters and corrupt America’s face to the world.”

Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, and Mitt’s running mate in 2012, said he was “sickened” by what he’d heard and banned Trump from a political event in Wisconsin. This would be the same man who’s doubled down on women’s health issues, voting for a bill referred to as the “Let Women Die Bill” because it proposed to allow hospitals to refuse a woman emergency abortion care, even if her life was in immediate danger; co-sponsored a federal personhood bill that declared a fertilized egg that hasn’t even resulted in a pregnancy to be the equivalent of a living person, with all of the rights of federal law, which would mean that aspects of in vitro fertilization procedures and some forms of contraception would be criminalized, as would operations to save a woman’s life in the case of dangerous ectopic pregnancies that cannot be carried to term. Oh … AND voted against women receiving equal pay for equal work. That guy.

From Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, who has stood by Trump uncritically through numerous controversies: “No woman should ever be described in these terms or talked about in this manner. Ever.”

(A 2014 report by the Crossroads GPS and American Action Network report found that women think the GOP is “intolerant,” “lacking in compassion,” and “stuck in the past.”)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the comments are “repugnant, and unacceptable in any circumstance” and made clear Trump’s brief statement would not suffice.

That would be the same McConnell that legislates against 2.2 million Kentucky women every day, and the women of his country year round, by voting against equal pay legislation, the Violence Against Women Act, and countless other pieces of legislation geared towards protecting the health and security of women. Yeah. That guy.

pence-is-a-bad-manAnd Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate for VP, has, as Governor of Indiana, been a huge proponent of controlling the pussies of Indiana’s women, insisting upon invasive medical procedures, (forced transvaginal ultrasound before having an abortion; state rape by any ones definition)  while ensuring a lack of access to the morning-after pill or abortion options. And as recently as March 2016, he signed a bill that required that aborted fetuses receive what amounts to a funeral.

Pence is not only a heartbeat away from taking over as President should a President Trump decline or be unable to govern,  he accepted the request to be Vice-President when told that the offer would make him “the most powerful vice president in history, in charge of domestic and foreign policy.”  (This was the offer made to John Kasich this past July, duly reported when Kasich made the terms public.)

Everything about Pence’s policies should frighten most people, as his gubernatorial practices have showcased the spectacular power available when a conspiracy theorist, who can be bought at a bargain price, gets into office.

Despite ample proof, for instance, that cigarettes are a health hazard, Pence has repeatedly sold himself (and very cheaply, I might add) to Big Tobacco, allowing Indiana, under his governance, to attain “the highest adult smoking rates of any state in the industrial midwest region and the seventh highest smoking rate in the nation. With among the lowest tobacco taxes of any state, public health experts warn the state is “really in bad shape.” Indeed a 2014 article noted that “17 percent of pregnant women smoke — nearly double the national average — and this has been linked to lower birth weights and higher rates of infant mortality. As a result, it noted, “the state spends $28 million a year on health costs for infants born to mothers who smoke.””

Moreover, he doesn’t believe in climate change, is vehemently against any LGBTQ equality, marital or otherwise, and we already knows how he really feels about women.  And this is the guy who’d be in charge of your domestic policies. How do you like him so far?

trump-logicSo spare me the pearl clutching, Republicans. Spare me the supposed indignation over Bill Clinton‘s CONSENSUAL if stupid fumblings with a starry eyed intern, and your belief that Hillary Clinton was his enabler, who should somehow have been able to control her husband, who was at the time the most powerful man of the land, and thereby disqualifying her from being President herself, two decades later.

That kind of thinking buys into two distinct feminine stereotypes, and you’re asking us to hold both of those ideas as reality;  there’s the poor, innocent young woman, who can’t be expected to control herself around a powerful man’s needs, and the harridan wife who, upon assuming marital status, wears the pants in the family and controls her bumbling husband’s indiscretions.

trump-outreachSee, that’s the thing, Republicans … women are people, not stereotypes. Sure, you can point to a woman or two that seems to embody the qualities you’re decrying, but that’s got as much relevance as saying that you saw a dog with three legs once or twice, so all dogs with four legs are anomalies. Stereotypes are personal observances rushed to judgment, nothing but ” a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.”

The bigger picture, revealed by Trump’s words, and his non-apology disguised as ‘sorry not sorry‘  if anyone was offended, implies that people like Trump and his supporters do not find his comments offensive, but that his words are rather the truth and reality of how men talk behind closed doors when they’re saying what they really mean about women.

It’s saying that those that are offended are somehow lesser beings, incapable of understanding the real trappings of wealth and power. It’s saying that they don’t care about your feelings at all, and that, in fact, they are annoyed that you had the nerve to call them on it. In fact – they blame you for having the nerve to be upset. After all .. it was just a bit of boyish banter, like all men do when they’re out of a woman’s earshot. Mostly.

It’s not an apology when you’ve no intention of either acknowledging your words or actions or changing how you’ll behave in the future. It’s saying that you’ll keep on doing these things in private, hoping you don’t get caught again.

trump-grabs-ivankas-assIt makes his repeated insistence that, “there’s nobody that has more respect for women than I do,” a cause for serious alarm.

It’s not like the leaked tape should have come as any surprise, really. Trump’s obsession with women, including his own daughter, is well known.  He’s treated women as disposable items throughout his entire life, taking what he wants from them, and then discarding them for younger models. He’s had hissy fit temper and twitter tantrums that called women ‘pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ and worse, describing reporter and debate moderator Megyn Kelly as having ‘blood coming out of her .. whatever’  in what was simultaneously the most prudish and repulsive manner possible. He’s held all women, no matter what their place in life or relationship to him, accountable to a high standard of … well, let’s face it .. fuckability. And when those women fall below his standards, they are summarily dismissed, like so much trash.

megyn-kelly-before-and-afterHis entire campaign has been built around a fairytale of his own making, insisting that America is “in such a desperate place that a wild card like Trump is worth the risk. Trump fans talk like they live in a western town, where the banditos are so out of control, only a maverick gunslinger can save them. A man with no tax code, the fastest tweet in the West, covered in man tan. ”

“But I give Donald Trump’s supporters a little credit. They know he’s an asshole. It is hard to hide. They just don’t care. Yes, he’s dangerous. And thin-skinned. And unhinged. And clinically insane. And an egomaniac, a compulsive liar, a charlatan, with the impulse control of a grease fire.  But we have to take the risk because America is hanging by a thread! How do we know it is? Donald Trump told me!”  (Bill Maher, Real Time)

Trump has proclaimed that America is a hell hole, in dire straits, where the ‘generals have been reduced to rubble,’ the American Dream is dead, the infrastructure is going to hell, aw hell, everything and everybody is living in hell! Yes, YOU, each of you!

trumpzombieapocalypseTrump’s vision of America resembles a zombie apocalypse, where the good townsfolk do battle against the bad zombies, killing with impunity, taking what they want or need when they find it, and yes, treating women as disposable chattel that the most powerful can have without any niceties.

When in fact,  America’s in pretty good shape. Violent crime is at it’s lowest since 1970; fewer Americans are without health insurance; cancer, alcohol abuse, and teen pregnancies are down; employment is up, as is the stock market. The ‘hated’ President Obama has an approval rating of 55%.

But a world where things are actually pretty good – that doesn’t work for a guy like Trump. Trump needs to live in a self-created chaos, where he can rule as the absolute final word on all within his sight.

Or his grasp. Of a pussy.

The second presidential debate  between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will take place at 9 pm Eastern tonight, and be conducted in a “town hall” format featuring questions from undecided voters.

donald-trump-enragedAs the denunciations from his former supporters, and calls for him to quit the race continue to stream in, I’m fairly certain we can expect more of that doubling down that Trump does so well.

His rage toward those condemning his words – turncoats, in his view; the ‘gotcha’ media;’ women in general for making such a big deal about his words and actions, and Hillary in particular for being too smart for her own good, will be barely contained.

He’ll be defensive, only just containing his insecurity, and will take every opportunity to turn any detrimental comment into an attack on Clinton and the Democrats.

He’ll lie, bold facedly, and deny things he’s on record as saying.

And still there will be those supporters who will stand by him, essentially handing him the possibility of running America as his own little fiefdom.

And sadly … many of those will be women.

 

Don’t Get Around Much Anymore …


Ach and oy vey! This house move is cramping my style, big time. Haven’t been able to get out to a lot of events, because time’s a ticking, and there’s only so many hours in a day. I’d like to say I’ve become more selective in my outing choices. But the truth is, moving and packing is a bitch. There just isn’t any time to gallivant around.

But let me tell you about two recent events I did manage to squeeze in. Both were wonders in their own ways.

Kensington Market Jazz Festival

molly johnson jazz.jpgA few weeks ago, I was having lunch with friends in the Market, when Molly Johnson came bopping along. Molly may be a Canadian icon – a singer, songwriter, broadcaster and philanthropist  – but that day she was a woman on a mission, distributing posters and postcards to the local shops, in aid of her latest project – the first annual Kensington Market Jazz Festival. It was the first I’d heard of it. When I asked how I could help, she asked if my friend Barbette and I would volunteer to handle door duties at some of the gigs.

Could I?  Well – time is tight – so, one gig was all I could commit to. And what a gig! The first act of the night at The Boat was an up and coming sax player. Alison Young. She and her quartet performed a strong, solid set. Loved it! She’s got a record coming out soon. .. and you should buy it.

A quick pause for the cause .. ran into Eric Alper hanging at the venue next door … and then we were on to the second set.

I’ve always considered The Shuffle Demons one of Toronto’s seminal acts, combining jazz and street wisdom in a playful, theatrical fashion.  And hot damn! Really good players.

So  I was thrilled to do door for the guys. Richard Underhill is, amongst other things, a past mayoral candidate. He’s a smart dude, a good dude, always on the ball. And a hell of a band leader.

As we took in the dough at the door … and it was very well attended, so we were kept very busy … I heard Richard say to his wife, “Just try to video our entry.”

I warned Barbette … we were in for some FUN!

And sure enough, The Shuffle Demons made an impeccable entrance, coming up The  Boat’s stairs in full regalia, tootling their tootlers, dancing with jin jinglers tied on to  their heels  They blew their hoo hoovers, they blanged their tar tinglers …  you get the drift.

It was just the start. Two hours later, I was exhausted! I had sung along, screamed along, danced along!

rox-barbette-richard-underhill-shuffle-demons-sept-17-2016-smaller-pic

I had a very good time.

Bohemian Embassy Redux

(all Bohemian Embassy artist pics are courtesy of Sue Peters, with thanks!.)

Friday past – An evening of memories, poetry, and wonderful song!

Way before I hit the Big Smoke, an actor/writer/poet named Don Cullen had staked out a turf he called the Bohemian Embassy.  You may also remember him from his 20 years as a regular on Wayne and Shuster.

His Bohemian Embassy was a place where musicians, artists, poets, and those with a theatrical bent, could come to test their fledgling wings. The Embassy moved around a bit, first appearing on St Nicholas Street, from 1960 through 1966, and then reappearing at Harbourfront, from 1974 to 1976.

Couldn’t happen today. We’re too busy converting our history into condos.

But back then, oh, it could. And it did happen.

bohemian-embassy-sept-2016-don-cullenDon Cullen was the Pied Piper of Possibilities, of that first break,  when the world was wide open to the new. New music, new sounds … whatever could be dreamed up, this was a place where it could be showcased.

The memories flowed from the speakers .. of the days when a young Margaret Atwood could read her first scribblings to a rapt audience; where Milton Acorn and Al Purdy found a place to showcase their poems;  where Lorne Michaels practiced his directing; where players as diverse as Gordon Lightfoot and Klaas von Graft could hone their craft, while Bob Dylan, famously, was denied a spot on the roster.

Several luminaries were unable to join the gathering, held at the Toronto Library Yorkville branch, including John Robert Columbo, Sylvia Tyson, and Ms Atwood herself (though she did send a beautiful floral bouquet, with a sweet note, signed “Peggy.”)

But those who came, and entertained us, included our hostess Linda Goldman (who also helped fund the reunion,) Mr. Cullen himself, Chick Roberts (The Sinners/The Dirty Shames,) Klaas von Graft and Beverlie Robertson (The Chanteclaires,) Judith Orban, Joanne Crabtree, Owen McBride, Sharon Hampson (Sharon, Lois and Bram,) Keith McKie (Kensington Market,) Riverboat performer Dede Higgins, poet and author Robert Priest, musician and satirist Nancy White, and Terry Jones and David Woodhead of Perth County Conspiracy, accompanied by Nancy Solway, and Bob Cohen.

And each one showed that the faith, and the talent that Don Cullen had seen in them, so many years before, had not been misplaced.

There was that old Yorkville hippie spirit in the room, as performer after performer trotted out their memories, talents, and affection for Cullen and the venue he created. Nancy White’s rendition of her song, “Popular Don Cullen,” had the audience joining in wholeheartedly, as did so many of the other performers’ classic Canadiana and folk offerings.

bohemian-embassy-sept-2016-keith-mckie

Keith McKie’s songs were  ethereal and timeless.

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Perth County Conspiracy’s mini set was simply beautiful – the harmonies were sublime.

 

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And poet Robert Priest did not disappoint, as he read the first poem he’d written and debuted at the Embassy, and concluded with a new poem on social injustice that had the audience howling with laughter. Priest’s writing is sublime, and his reach wide. As a songwriter, he co-wrote (with Nancy Simmonds) the international hit, “Song Instead of a Kiss” for Alannah Myles.

I went to this event expecting a nostalgia fest, centered on a time before my own. Instead, I was enthralled, touched, invigorated, and thoroughly entertained by each of those who came to give of their time and their hearts to the “Popular Don Cullen.”

And now … back to packing up my world … if you need me, you’ll have to dig me out from under the hoard …

 

Rosemary Solway, Bob Cohen,Yorkville , Nancy White, Keith McKie, Perth County Conspiracy, Robert Priest , Nancy Simmonds, Alannah Myles.

Epiphany – Life Changes


We sold our house a month and a half ago … got a good price, and a long lead time, so we’re pretty happy about that. My husband is retiring in December, and I won’t be that far behind him. And this is a fairly large property, that feels too big for he and I to care for. Well, we probably could. We just don’t care to.

Big changes in life are like earthquakes; all that was simmering below the surface is suddenly revealed in the upheaval.

The last six weeks have been traumatic. At first, the relief of selling, along with the funds that will follow, made me giddy with excitement. And then, after the thrill wore off, ugly reality set in. I’ve been a home owner for almost thirty years, and a hoarder for at least the last ten. Faced with the need to evaluate what I value, and what is valuable – two very different things – it was time to finally decide the direction my life will take for the next chapter.

I sank into a paralysis of indecision, tortured by what I would be giving up … my large back yard, and gardens; this beautiful street; the lake at the bottom of the hill. The house, I realized, had never really mattered, but being an owner of a house did. If I decided I wanted to put up shelves, paint a wall, even put a nail in a cupboard to hold my measuring spoons, those were MY decisions, and the consequences mine to answer for.

Renting will be very different. I will have to ask ‘permission’ to do so many things, including keeping a pet. I understand that. Owning property is a big deal. Making sure that property retains value is a big deal. I can’t expect to freely treat a rental unit as I would a home in which I have a financial stake.

However, losing that autonomy is also a big deal. In many ways it feels like a surrender, like going home to the parents after making a stab at liberation. I’m an independent cuss, so that doesn’t feel very good at all.

It also smacks of the other end of life, of the surrendering of independence in pursuit of once more being taken care of by others.

So I am simultaneously feeling like a young bird, leaving the nest, and an old dog, hoping its owners will still appreciate and comfort it as it ages.

 

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But What If You Live?


 

baby-boomer-stats-chart-jpgFor boomers, aging is a bit like puberty; we don’t know what’s next, and we’re both eagerly anticipative and terrified of what’s to come. Often simultaneously.

Thing is … part of us always knew we were gonna age, if we were lucky. But that old ‘hope I die before I get old ‘kicks in every time we try to picture what ‘old’ looks like.

If we’ve failed to plan – financially, emotionally, spiritually – for how we’ll live out our Golden Years, we’ve done ourselves an enormous disservice. But hang on … if we got the lucky genetic ticket, we may have decades to live those years!

happy retirement book.jpgSo when the idea of retiring comes along, whether because we’re closing in on 60 or because other factors, like failing health, or a kick out the door from long time employment, play a part, it can be a bit of a shock. It doesn’t matter whether your retirement is because you want to, or have to .. it’s gonna be a ride.

What does 65 look like? What about retirement?  How do these new facets of life feel? Do I have one foot on a banana peel and the other on a bar of soap?

20-retirement-decisionsWill I be happy and relaxed, comfortable, with plenty of time to pursue my hobbies, living the good life, traveling for pleasure, or to visit family and friends? Or will I be scrambling to make ends meet, worried I’ll outlive my money? Some will never feel secure, no matter how much money they have, while others struggle with very little in their pocketbooks, but are rich in friendship and emotional support.

One of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves is to cultivate friendships with a diverse group of like-minded people. No matter how many friends you had at the age of 50, I can guarantee that number will have dropped considerably by the time you’re 70. But it’s not the quantity of friends you’ve got, it’s the quality. We always have to keep in mind that the excellence of our own lives is improved or damaged by the people we are surrounded by . Toxic people will suck your energy dry, and leave you unsettled and defeated. People who see possibilities, and have hopes and dreams of their own, carry you along on their energy.

older-friendshipsAs my friend Barbette Kensington says, “Aging is about how bright your light glows…. keep up the energy level; the more you do the more you can do. Watch your friends and environment; don’t let anybody or anything break your stride…“

But how do you fill the hours that used to be spent, not only at work, but getting ready for work, and winding down from work? Although we spend the majority of our working lives believing that we’re an important cog in the machine, the truth is, the hole we leave behind is quickly filled.  When you step off the moving sidewalk of life, even for a few moments, it’s still moving on, just without you. And it can be mystifying to try and get back on, and scary when you don’t know what you missed while you were off the treadmill.

When I popped my head out of the gopher hole of several years of clinical depression, I was stunned at how subtly but irrevocably the world had changed while I was oblivious.  It was frightening, and all I wanted to do was to crawl back into that black hole.  Expect to feel that way at times. it’s a fast paced world we live in, and some days are harder to cope with than others.

insults of aging. jpg.jpgPlanning for a decent retirement from full time work goes way beyond financial, by the way. Even those retirees I know, that have salted away a good nest egg, have much more to deal with than just money. There may be downsizing involved, which in itself is horrifically conscious altering. There may be health issues, relationship issues, or, just to complicate matters, the health issues of those you’re in a relationship with.

Whether it’s your own physical problems, or those of a loved one, our ability to enjoy life may be hampered, and make even the most mundane things difficult.

For many, having a secondary income  may be necessary to supplement pensions. The base income of most Canadians without a company pension is around $1400.00 a month. If you live in a big city, that’s just not gonna cover much more than your rent. Finding paid consulting work in your field, with the accompanying benefit of staying on top of what’s new in that playing field, may be just the ticket. But even if that’s off the table, finding a part time job of any kind, and no matter how humble, can help bridge the gap. Just having a schedule … somewhere you have to be, and where people rely on your being there, can help maintain mental and emotional health.

babyboomerVolunteering may never have been something you’d thought of as ‘work,’ but it is, and it can be a lot of fun, as well as a benefit to your community. Sharing your knowledge of what you’ve learned in your field can be another way to not only keep your mind ticking over, but of giving those just starting in your turf a leg up.

My desire to be an ‘eternal student’ may be in my future, thanks to special grants and waivers given to seniors, and Ontario’s recent change to the Ontario Student Grant, which will provide free tuition for Ontario students with a family income of less than $50K a year, and increase access to interest-free and low-cost loans   (read all about it at https://www.ontario.ca/page/new-ontario-student-grant)

The bottom line is – so many of us worry about getting old – but so few of us think about what we’ll do if we live. Our choice then becomes the quality of that life.

I’ve seen some who have weathered much in their lives, and are stronger for having fought and won their battles. Those are the live wires that may flirt with retiring, but somehow can’t get the hang of it. Those are the people wringing out every bit of life for as long as they can. They are the people you see on the street, and want to know, because they glow with purpose. If they are forced into retiring, it’s not long before they’ll announce that they are ‘unretiring.’  Running out the clock just doesn’t work for them .. they’re not leaving this good earth and all it has to give until they’re damn well ready to do so.

flirting-with-deathWhile I see others, who have ‘retired’  by retreating from life, and  waiting for death, sinking deeper and deeper into the anaesthesia of pills and booze, ‘self-medicating’ the pain of their losses, kept housebound, fearful of their surroundings, and interested only in their own aches and pains, and needs and emotions. Addicted to quasi-medical shows that sensationalize the dangers of everyday life, and media that fattens its ratings by appealing to their fears of a world that feels increasingly more dangerous, they wrap themselves in cotton wool, unable to trust anyone, spiralling down into a paralyzing world hell bent on picking their corpses clean before they’ve even been buried.

It’s a lifestyle choice.

There’s always more to learn, and you owe it to yourself to do so. Dr. Christiane Northrup is spreading the message that as you get older, you do not have to conform to the cultural baggage of what that means.

“Age is just a number, and agelessness means not buying into the idea that a number determines everything from your state of health to your attractiveness to your value,” she writes in the introduction to her new book, “Goddesses Never Age: The Secret Prescription for Radiance, Vitality, and Well-Being.”

Dr. Mario Martinez, a neuropsychologist, wrote in his book “The Mind Body Code” that getting older is inevitable. It just means moving through space. Aging, on the other hand, is optional. What we’ve come to associate with the word “aging” in our culture is an inevitable decline and deterioration. time travel trams.jpgWhat I’m talking about is reframing the experience of moving through time, so that as we do grow older we can step out of these age-based associations that can keep us in a cage. “

Me and Doctor Who, moving through time … I like that …     

When we fear the future, we are running FROM life – when we anticipate what might be, we are running TOWARDS it, with our eyes and minds and hearts and arms wide open, ready to accept all that a lifetime has to offer.

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Life’s Lottery


Every living creature was entered into a lottery, the minute sperm and egg combined to create them.

We didn’t know it was a lottery, we didn’t know we had a ‘ticket’ – but it was, we did, and here we are, with our winning ticket in our hands.

The problem is … the prizes are not necessarily what we might have chosen or hoped to win. Some of us became animals, others, humans. Some of us were born in comfort, while others opened their newborn eyes in a war torn land.

Some were born, and perished in the same moment. Some were born with physical or mental defects that they and their families would have to deal with. There were many skin colours we could have received; some got the colours that worked well for them, within their society. Some were born with skin colours that did not guarantee a secure life.

Some received wonderful gifts – beauty, intelligence, skills that would serve them well. Others, often through no fault of their own, were born with the potential to succeed, but in surroundings that would prevent that success ever happening.

Some were born to parents who wanted them, parents that could nurture their growth. Sadly .. many more were deprived that privilege.

Some lottery wins are more prized than others. We didn’t pick our tickets; we didn’t even know we were entered. But we are, nonetheless, playing our tickets, for better or for worse.

We tell ourselves, ‘it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.’

But we don’t all enter the game with the same protective equipment, or the same innate skills or abilities.

Is it fair to blame those players who still try to play – but who can’t compete through circumstances they ‘won’ in the lottery of conception?