Is That You, Rona?


by Roxanne Tellier

Funny, I always thought that I’d get so much more done. Whenever I felt like I just couldn’t keep up with all of the richness and offerings of modern life, I’d mutter to myself…

“If only time would stop – just for a day or two – and let me catch up on all of this watching, reading, and writing!”

So here it is, and guess what I’ve been doing? Lying on my bed, watching YouTube, playing games on the tablet, and spending quality time with the cats. Between naps.

I have 24 library books here to be read and used for the three major projects I’m working on, but I’ve not opened one of them. Instead I’m storming through my stack of paperback novels, the pulpier the better.  Occasionally I feel guilty about not working on those weighty projects, but then I tell myself that I just can’t possibly start yet, not without that one other book that was on its way before the library so abruptly closed. 

I keep busy, no question. And I spend a lot of time wondering if I’m sneezing because of allergies, or because of the coronavirus.

I’ve also been doing daily stealth assaults on my local big box grocery stores. I’ll go very early, hoping to run in and out again without any physical contact. From the beginning, I’ve assumed our isolation could get well beyond two or three weeks, and have foraged accordingly. The shelves are full, you can’t squeeze one more item into the freezer, and I think I’m even good on fresh produce, at least for a while. I’m the daughter of a prepper – I was born knowing how to stockpile the essentials.

Which is a good thing, because on my last foray to FreshCo, there was nary an egg to be found, nor a bag of pasta representing. Panic in aisle 3.

(In my own defense – I HAD to do the shopping. If I left the hunter gathering up to the hubby, we’d be trying to divvy up a package of sliced processed cheese, a jar of peanut butter, and a loaf of raisin bread.)

Anyway, I think I’m good. I think we can now pass another couple of weeks without having to resort to UberEats or the like. Based on how the stock market plunged last week, not sure if we could afford UberEats anyway.  

For all that, for all of the inconvenience, for all of the upset and the crippling uncertainty of our futures, we’re actually doing pretty good, compared to others. Sure, I’m missing a library book or two that I really wanted to read, but luckily, I wasn’t in the middle of some government tug of war over my income or a missing passport. I’m not dependent on any addictive substances. I’m not waiting for some obscure medication to arrive from some far-off land. Heck, I’m not even waiting on anything from Amazon right now!

Although we worry about our families, and our friends who are vulnerable, we’re stocked up, we’re relatively healthy, we’ve got each other and our cats, and life could be a heck of a lot worse … and is, for many, all over the world.

At this point, all we’re really being asked to do is to stay home and not spread a disease. The Greatest Generation stormed a beach in Normandy – we’re being asked to Netflix and chill.

This is our chance to be unsung heroes, by just staying home and not actively harming other people. We’ve got this.

I worry about those who rely on convening in groups to deal with mental and health issues. So many people who are struggling to survive without drugs or drink, or who are depending on other people sharing helpful words and kindness are suddenly being thrown into close quarters, confronting their demons by themselves under highly unusual circumstances.

However, there’s a bright side. For once, this enforced solitude and curtailment of our usual mad rush through the days is allowing us to actually have time to do some things that we might just brush over normally. We’ve got more time to listen, and to think. We also have the option to be the ‘helper’ in our world; some have been offering to help those who can’t leave their house. Others have been sharing their creative output.

It turns out that musicians, artists, and creatives are far more important that was previously thought

This is a great time for those who have something entertaining to share to get their work out before a larger and more receptive audience than usual. We’ve got a lot of time on our hands. And look! There are people writing poetry, short stories and novels, and sharing their work for free or a minimal price! There are musicians giving free house concerts on Facebook!  Sure, there will always be meanies who choose profiteering over sharing, but the good people who just want to be a part of a bigger community far outnumber the bad guys.

The government is also really trying to do it’s best to try and help every citizen survive, even as we shelter in place. Beyond that, some companies are going beyond the minimum, in an effort to soothe the pain.

The United Nations declared internet access a basic human right in 2016, saying that all people must be able to access the internet freely. All well and good in principle, but far too many people can’t afford full internet access in Canada, which has one of the highest cost structures in the world. The good news is, nearly all Canadian internet service providers are suspending data caps and allowing freer wi-fi on their home internet plans right now. And Rogers has made all of its cable channels free to watch.  

In both Canada and the US, the government is preparing to spend trillions to keep the economy going. There are plans to ensure a temporary form of Basic Income for all taxpaying Canadians – a good first step in addressing some of our country’s inequalities. The most vulnerable need to be protected. We need to stop the shutoffs of electricity, water, internet that some predatory institutions may attempt. Mostly, we need to spend this money – the nation’s money – on infrastructure and in helping our people survive.

But they’re also talking about using billions and even trillions to prop up businesses that might be best left to fail. The hotel business, cruise lines, airlines, gambling,  – these are not necessities, they are extravagances. 

I worry that we will follow the ragged script left over from 2008, and once again patch up the buggy whip companies that have survived only by bailouts. People should be demanding that this money be spent on healthier, greener choices. If not now, when?

Times change. People change. Even those who continue to say that humans are not responsible for climate change must have seen what has been happening to the planet since we got out of Nature’s way. Cleaner air and water happen when we’re not inserting ourselves into the natural world, with our needs and our garbage. 

Yeah, when it’s all over, we could all be in clover, as Van the Man once said.  All we have to do is spend our time and our “Blue Money” wisely.

It will be worth all of the pain if we can come out of this crisis a better planet.

An Embarrassment of Riches


Money and power have one very similar trait – neither are destructive at face value, but both become toxic when an obsessive love of either or both overrules a person’s basic humanity.

when you're rich you can do anythingBoth can be hoarded, without much censure. Many look at the very wealthy or very powerful, and envy their hoards. Even if the hoards consist of ill-gotten, or at the very least, suspicious, gains, morality ceases to matter in the face of a society that has elevated the acquisition of wealth over all other talents or abilities.

The ability to acquire wealth, by shrewdness or stealth, does not automatically confer godliness or any other talents upon the wealthy. To believe that someone who is rich is thus inevitably able to excel in other fields is misguided at best, and heinous when peddled as truth to those who have neither wealth nor common sense, and consequently, will literally “buy anything.”

I actually remember a time when it was considered ill-mannered and rude to brag about your wealth, your possessions, or yourself. Now, it’s not only allowed, it seems to be required of anyone who wishes to appear as a valuable commodity, ripe for exposure. Today, everyone has to have and hone a ‘brand.’

making it rainMusic’s been tainted with this obsession. I can’t listen to most of the songs that extol mindless consumerism and waste of resources. And I can’t watch videos that equate the humiliation of others, professionally or sexually, with an enviable use of power. It is abuse, condoned and even applauded, by the easily entertained.

While it might not be politically correct, I also abhor the conceit that the portrayal of overly sexualized femininity makes the female artist more powerful. To the contrary, the music business is one of the most sexualized industries, and women artists have been routinely harassed and abused since they first entered the scene. You’re not ‘getting out front’ of being defined by your sexuality because you disrobed first – you’ve just made the task of undressing you easier for others to do. A woman is more than her sexual parts. In truth, we give away our power every time we need to look outside of ourselves to find acceptance, or a sense of our own worth.

An awful lot of what passes for popular music strikes me as the rantings of the terminally under-educated. There’s fourteen writers for some of the songs, and still they can’t avoid plagiarism and triteness. It’s not that the music of my era, or any other era, was that much ‘better,’ it’s that there seemed to have been more of an attempt to learn and grow, be it musically or spiritually, than there is now. Once, we built an art form from the bottom up. Now it’s deconstructed from the top down.

We are a confused society. First frightened by high tech, we’ve now embraced it with all the fervour of the newly converted. The very thought of being without the constant information available terrifies many; they challenge each other to undergo the horror of 24 hours offline. Or to eat a Tide pod. And the very idea of not having access to anything consumable we might fancy, at any time, seems something only the most disenfranchised would have to contend with.

media controls usYes, we are a confused society. And thus – ripe for those who would take advantage of this seesawing state of mind by using the disorder to mould and shape the thoughts and opinions of those who gag at the glut.

Historians will look back at these times and wonder at our lack of sophistication, our inability to tell reality from fiction, our willingness to be led by social media trolls that rely upon our innate prejudices and biases to warp how we assess and treat each other. And they will marvel at how easily we would shed the rules of law to rush to the court of public opinion.

Too much of anything is as bad as too little. Both extremes warp our personalities.

We are soaking in media. We like to think that we’re capable of floating through the cacophony of noise, dissent, fear, and paranoia, interspersed with the odd moment of joy, and carry on multitasking our busy lives with ease. The truth is that we cannot. If we are brutally honest with ourselves, we have to acknowledge that doing several things concurrently means that not one of the tasks is actually getting all of our focus and care. Instead, all of our responsibilities are getting only as much of our distracted attention as we can spare, meaning none of them receive our very best efforts.

Self-Deception,jpgA few years back I realized how easily we fob off our inattention. When we stub our toes, or fail at a task, it’s human nature to seek a culprit to blame our error upon. Damn! we say, it’s not my fault! It was the stair’s fault for not being perfectly even, the bartender over served me, and that noise I heard made me lose focus! Once I had decided to take a mental step back whenever my knee-jerk excuses came into play, I realized that, almost inevitably, the misstep or blunder had to do with my own lack of attention and/or mental laziness.

If we’re honest with ourselves, there is really only one person to blame, and that is ourselves. But honesty, especially of and to ourselves, is something we learn to avoid at an early age, even before we become skilled at swearing that the dog ate our homework.

slow down and thinkSome days, our lives feel too short, while on other days, it feels like an endless slog. The reality is somewhere in the middle. But we do ourselves no favours when we try to game the system, excuse our own foibles while pillorying other people’s errors, and live a life of self-deception and lies.

Sometimes an embarrassment of riches is just a pretty billboard concealing a reeking garbage heap. Knowing which is which is the hard part.

Roxanne Tellier, wealth, money, power, self-deception, media, control, sexualization, Tide pod challenge, laziness.

To Boldly Go …


Thintelligence: “The state of mind where a person does something without considering the consequences. The idea may seem brilliant at first, but the after-affects usually prove to be deadly. This phrase was invented by Michael Crichton in his 1990 book Jurassic Park.

JurassicPark glasses

“They don’t have intelligence. They have what I call ‘thintelligence.’ They see the immediate situation. They think narrowly and call it ‘being focused.’ They don’t see the surround. They don’t see the consequences.”

While it might be possible to reanimate a dinosaur from it’s DNA, what real purpose would that serve in a world where a dinosaur would be just another endangered species?

Most of us are eager to jump on hot new technologies that promise to improve how we experience our lives, while rarely considering what the lasting effect might be on current technologies. The invention of the car put an end to all of the industries previously surrounding the care and comfort of horse drawn carriages. obsolete techDigital photography killed most of the industries that provided material to those who preferred film. Cassettes replaced vinyl, and then were themselves replaced by CDs.

If it’s new, it’s cool, and we can afford it … we want it. Now.

This is the world we have created, bit by bit, as we embrace what science and technology have helped to provide for our entertainment.

Without realizing it, and without ever technically agreeing to these changes, we have slowly awoken to a world that greatly differs from the world in which we once lived. Most of us just buy into whatever becomes the new standard. How we live within our world subtly alters, and we barely notice.

When I was a young woman, social contact with other people was my primary focus. When I couldn’t be with friends, I had a slew of hobbies to keep me busy. Now, I can’t remember when I last pursued any of those crafty pastimes.

And I honestly can’t remember ever being ‘bored.’ Oh, I’m sure there might have been an instance or two before I discovered boys and booze, but overall .. nope.

I don’t see friends nearly as often as I used to, these days, even though I probably have more free time now than I ever did then. It’s just so much easier and more convenient to keep in touch through social media.

That loss of face to face, hand to hand, contact has had an affect on how we see and treat others. We are quicker to make judgements about other people, for good or ill, and less empathetic to those outside of our social bubbles.

Those tiny steps from there to here were imperceptible. Those of us who now rely on a tablet sized phone to corral all of our communication and computing needs hardly remember the consumer uncertainty and fear that surrounded the advent of the first personal computers.

first pcEarly adapters eagerly coughed up the cost of a new car to have one of the ungainly machines in their home. But for the average consumer, it would be a good twenty years before a home computer became commonplace.

Today’s teens can’t remember a time when they weren’t tethered to their phones. They barely spare a thought for their ability to be in constant contact with anyone, anywhere in the world, and to the informational capability of their device.

UN human rightsIn fact, this access to knowledge has become so universally accepted that the United Nations have now decreed internet access human right, up there beside food, water, and freedom of speech.

Knowledge is Power.” At one time, only the educated and the rich had access to the amount of knowledge now available to every one of us with the desire to be taught, and an internet connection. From the most obscure bit of trivia to schematics for the creation of nearly every machine known to man, any one of us can be experts in as many fields as we wish to conquer.

Or we can watch funny videos of pets being shamed; it’s our choice.

The flip side of the process that lets us do price comparisons online is that it is the same means that allows terrorists, criminals, or sexual deviants, to find online communities filled with like minded, twisted, individuals, and gives them the freedom to access instructions for how to make bombs and other destructive weapons.

pros and consAnd the computer language that allows us to do our banking online is always under attack by those who would use computer made trojans and viruses as a way to steal our money and personal information.

This is the place where the future can be held hostage, in a struggle between the thintelligent and those who rightly wonder what horrors could potentially be unleashed by new technology.

Even the smallest of changes can impact directly on what our future will look like. You do, however, have to have an understanding of how fragile civilization can be, to see what devastation can occur when we fail to take into consideration the impermanence of our past achievements.

Those who would rather argue over who is responsible for climate change, rather than deal with the effects of that change, will suffer the consequences as horribly as those who can see that we have to alter how we treat the planet, or risk not surviving. Those who believe it’s better to put government and corporate resources into sucking out the last of the oil, wherever it can be found, and at a frightening cost to the planet’s ecology, are arch princes of thintelligence, unable to see the consequences of NOT buying into less aggressive and sustainable energy sources.

We are in a time of flux, just as we were when the first cars began to appear on the dirt roads, that would, in good time, become the highways we drive upon today. The biggest difference between the past and present is that we now communicate our words and thoughts much more rapidly. For some, this onslaught of possibilities is exciting; for others, a nightmare.

But we cannot halt the future. Those who vilify a good old daysworld that doesn’t resemble what they believe to have been better times, and who would tear down all that has gone before that doesn’t fit into their memories, be it governance or infrastructure, are naive, and dangerous.

Demolition may be exciting to watch, but the slow and back breaking labour necessary to rebuild can throw up roadblocks that may stymie future generations for decades.

And it takes a great deal more than bravado to create the future. Most of us simply don’t have the intelligence or ability to transform thoughts and words into architecture or proven science.

There’s a middle ground to be found and walked, one in which we honour what we have created, and look to the possibilities some visionaries have proposed. But always with a nod to the unforeseen consequences all change brings to the planet and it’s inhabitants.

You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!


Remember when newspapers had actual content writers, copy editors and proper headlines?  Spell checkers? You do?

fold-newspaper-step-2_300Me too.  And I miss those days. I used to amuse myself at times trying to find the odd misspell or grammatical error, because I was a nerdlinger, and errors were rare enough to make the game worth the while. Overall, I really appreciated a cleverly turned phrase, an apt summation, a seductive call to ‘read all about it!’ and I relished the tiny print request to (continue reading on page …. ). I’d even suffer the frustration and indignity of wrestling a broadsheet into submission, when my interest had been piqued.

Tabloids took all the fun out of both of those exercises.

weekly world news batboyNow you can feast your eyes on the clickbait genre; titles that are designed to manipulate or coerce readers into entering their site. Today’s online version of the Weekly World News. 

With the death of old school journalism in recent years, and the plethora of online sites vying for your ‘click’ to entice advertiser dollars, clickbait titles have become the go-to tactic to attract curious – yet oddly  intellectually lazy – eyes.

Why bother researching social inequity, when you’ve just clicked on the cutest video of homeless people?  Or examining the difference between available political parties when this snappy cartoon lays it all out for you? Have you flexed your ethical and moral values because you watched a video of a kid standing up to bullies? Surely you’ve done your part, and now our faith in humanity can be restored.

whoopass sodaAnd in a philosophical sense, isn’t society always in doubt as to the state of humanity? It can be a Sisyphean task, keeping the faith.  ”You won’t Believe what happens next” challenges our cynicism and belief systems, and dares us to dream, one more time, that there are wonders and miracles to be found. All you have to do is click this link ….

I know there are a lot of intelligent people out there. I’ve met some, and, based on the spectrum, there must be many more in the general population. But, sadly, in any large group, there are those who somehow managed to fail upward through the education system and most of their formative years, neatly bypassing all attempts to be enlightened. It happens. Read the comments on nearly every article, post or blog on any site and subject deemed controversial – politics, sex, climate change, equal rights. You’ll be stunned at how many very uninformed and uneducated commentators feel the need to add their poorly digested bile to a discussion and set the LiBtArDs straight.

Your_brain_on_clickbaitIt would be sooo easy to write off clickbait as the natural habitat of those easily manipulated and gullible people. But they are not the only ones to fall into the trap; clickbait appeals to our sense of disbelief. It asks – dare you read this? How strong are your views? – while simultaneously appealing to our innate desire to know what is in the future. What happens next? Ah, wouldn’t we all like to have a heads up on that!

But clickbait is no crystal ball. If anything, the majority of Upworthy’s maudlin videos fall into the need to hear a little good news for a change.  Buzzfeed’s listicles and how-to’s attempt to find meaning in meaningless exercises attempting to smooth the way through meaningless everyday tasks. Celebrity websites exist to glorify celebrities and those who wish to attain celebrity through sensationalism and sexy side boob glimpses  … making the mundane into rumour-worthy chatter you can share on social media, whether the material has basis in reality or not.

And it works. Most people are busy enough trying to get through their day without too much distress, hanging on to whatever brings in the money necessary for them to make it through yet another day, while being bombarded with doom and gloom on every side. People are not meant to be flooded with a constant stream of new data; our brains prefer to be fed chunks of necessary information, with just the odd spike of spicy novelty to keep things interesting.

weekly world news sneezeI’m not saying that clickbait is an insult to our collective intelligence. No, I’m saying it’s a necessary evil, designed to ease the pressure off an already strained valve. Without clickbait, cat videos, games, listicles and recipes, the strain of modern life would likely blow the top off of our heads.

I’m just saying that it’s a bit much to ask readers to take a publication seriously that depends solely on clickbait headlines. And why would you even try?  It’s akin to walking through the midway at the Ex, in the days when the carnival barkers used to pull in the rubes with promises of the “Gorilla Gorilla Gorilla GURL!” or LobsterBoy.  Escapist fun in limited quantity – nauseating as a steady diet.

Shock tactics and clickbait achieve the immediate measurable goal – quantifiable clicks of attention, attracting advertisers to invest. Long term respect and dignity come from actual, informative, content, which entertains on a higher level than titillation.

For many publications, the clicks are enough.