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.

The Trappings of Fame


“Fame … makes a man take things over …. puts you there where things are hollow”

If you were a baby boomer in the sixties, you most likely never knew anyone who was ‘really really’ rich. There was a kid in my school whose dad was a famous football player, but I didn’t know her well. And there was another friend who came from Texas; they had a big house, and even had a maid, who let us make chili and mess up the kitchen.

I had relatives who had oil patch money – they didn’t come around to many family parties, though. They likely got tired of being hit up for loans that would never get repaid.

USA - 30th Anniversary of Elvis Presley's Death - GracelandWhen you think about it, one of the most famous, and presumably wealthiest, person with a high profile, back in those days, was Elvis. And by today’s standards, Graceland isn’t exactly the Taj Mahal. Not with all that shag carpeting. But for the time, it was high glam.

As a child, I knew, through reading, that there had been times in history when some people had attained obscene wealth, usually by conquering another country, and by subjecting those natives to their will. Those people were called kings, and whatever they wanted was granted to them, for their skill in warfare.queen of sheba

England had a royalty, but they wore sensible shoes.

I didn’t look up to those people; I never wanted to be ‘royal’ It seemed a pretty high price to pay for a life lived entirely in the public eye. And back then, there were a lot of people who wondered if the trade off of privacy for public adulation was a good one.

Now, of course, people will do anything to be seen, hopefully to be admired, for whatever it is they can do to be different. Tattoo a snake on your face? We’ll only be impressed if you’re the first to think to do so.

“Could it be the best, could it be? Really be, really, babe?”

I don’t know if it is a Canadian way of thinking, but I remember how most people I knew, growing up, adhered to the ‘tall poppy syndrome‘ … that meant that you didn’t want to stick your head up too high, or blow your own horn a little too loud, because you’d be sure to get cut down to size if you did. The syndrome is basically a way of sneering at those who revel in having a ton of money – which we assume is ill-gotten gains – or of seeking fame in public life.

william shatnerIn the seventies, you’d have been more likely to hear someone snigger, “geez, who does he/she think he/she is!” when a Canadian even got a mention in American media.

We did not put many Canadians on pedestals for their achievements, though we’d often get a little warm feeling when we felt like we’d snuck a Canadian through, behind America’s back. Like that William Shatner guy, with the weird way of talking. His mum had an acting school on Girouard in Montreal, so he was one of the good one’s.

We had our own awards, our Junos instead of Grammys, our Genie awards instead of Oscars, and by geez, that should be good enough for any Canadian! Just look at that Walter Ostanek fella, and all his polka Grammy wins! Does HE look happy? Now, you just go practice your accordion, and try not to get all stuck up and big headed!

“Fame …. what you like is in the limo”

And then came …. rock and roll hedonism.

“In the seventies … There was more excess, more hedonism, more drugs, more attitude, more sex, more style, more enthusiasm. Just?… more.” (The Telegraph, UK)

mudsharkI’m not saying that the days of mud sharks, Whovian displays of hotel trashing, and the deaths by overdose of nearly every icon of the day opened the door to the pedestaling of the rich and famous….

but it helped.

The austerity of the post war years, and the drive and eventual success of the lower class kids, who knew the only way to get out of soul crushing poverty was to get into sports or rock n roll, became the envy of those who wondered what it would be like to literally have the world and all of it’s glories at their feet … drugs, drink, the most beautiful women in the world … it could all be yours, if you just cracked the Top Ten Charts.

Mo’ money, mo’ problems. Some of the luckier and richer rockers listened to their dear old dads, or to the managers and accountants who flocked to help funnel some of this largesse into safer investments, like property. And sadly, some of those ‘helpful’ advisors turned out to be there with the intention of taking advantage of the silly geese now laying multiple golden eggs.

Fame and wealth are on a sliding scale, as the wiser of the nouveau riche artistes soon learned. And if those musos wanted to keep at least some of the moolah that was coming in, in order to pay for their growing entourages, they’d have to learn to manage, manipulate, and increase their funds, just like the robber barons of the last century had done.

And off they went, to the tax havens…. and began to grow their own little dynasties …

“Fame, “Nein! It’s mine! is just his line … to bind your time, it drives you to, crime .”

We aging hippies, especially those of us who chose careers in the arts, might not have prioritized the acquisition of wealth, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t drool a little when these new ‘lifestyles of the rich and famous’ were dangled before us, in the mid eighties.

make it rainMTV glommed onto that envy, and promoted the lifestyles of celebrities in shows like “The Fabulous Life Of … “ and “Cribs.” These quasi reality features pretended to give the plebes a glimpse into the opulent homes, glamorous lifestyles, and vacation playgrounds of those musicians who had ‘made it.’

FAME … and wealth, were now what everyone wanted to achieve, by any means possible. Oh yeah, it was all about the Benjamins …

“Fame … what you get is no tomorrow … “

And we bought it .. oh yes, those of us who looked on and envied the lifestyles of those who had cracked the money and power code, wanted in on the fun.

“Americans are accustomed to talking about fame using the heady language of the cosmos: the celebrity as a celestial truth, situated above us; the superstar as a force in the firmament, all heat and light and gravitational demands. Michael Jackson’s environmental form of fame—music that permeated people’s lives, iconography that saturated American culture—anticipated the intimate version of celebrity that is the default today. It is fitting, in that regard, that celebrity itself functions as a spectral character in Leaving Neverland. Jackson was acutely aware of the affordances of fame; he leveraged them, the documentary suggests—and, ultimately, he weaponized them. Joy Robson, Wade’s mother, recalls Jackson making a request of her; she recalls, as well, that when she refused it, he coolly informed her: “I always get what I want.”” (The Atlantic, March 2019)

This year has seen the release of several documentaries that question what the pedestaling of fame has done to our vulnerable young women and men. With the allegations in Leaving Neverland and Surviving R. Kelly, we also need to be aware of what fame does to the psyches of those who wield that much power.

camp followersThere have always been camp followers, disciples, those who believe that proximity to what they covet, for even a few moments, raises their own profile and value amongst those who have not had the same access to the royalty of their time.

When those who possess power of any potency use manipulation, a righteous fear, and their fame/perceived authority to get what they want, they are abusing that power in order to exploit vulnerable people for their own advantage or gain. And even if those people go willingly to the abuse, it’s still abuse.

Now, the funny thing is that, somewhere along the line, we all started to think that those who achieve fame and financial reward for being good at one thing, like music, or business, could translate that magic to other careers.

And strangely enough, in a culture that appears to embrace a meritocracy, those who seek fame and power somehow manage to drape the mantle of unique talents upon those whose rise to fame may well have simply come from a well placed endorsement, a reality television episode, or a sex tape featuring some very, very large buttocks.

kardashian buttWe would never expect our dentist to take out our appendix or fix our plumbing, but for some reason, we think that someone who has managed to acquire – by hook, and likely crook – a large amount of money, should be given free reign to guide a country, or should be allowed to tell us who and how to worship. The mind boggles.

The political ‘base’ of a country is as subservient to a populist politician, as a congregation is to a hyperbolic preacher, or a groupie or ‘musical prodigy’ is to a music mogul. There’s a parallel in the abuses.

rewards just aheadDangling the promises of future prosperity, they will assure their acolytes that there is a brilliant future awaiting them, if they’ll just listen to their master’s advice. The prey might wonder at what is asked of them, if they follow this path, and they may be reluctant to give their all, without the assurances, as false as they may be, that their faith will bring them enormous rewards in the end.

The followers will put that preacher, or politician, or musical ‘genius’ on a pedestal, and make that person their whole world, believing that their devotion and loyalty is as strongly returned.

But eventually, and inevitably, that faith is abused.

Our adoration of those with fame and wealth blinds us, and when those whom we’ve put on a pedestal are toppled, our beliefs in our selves is fractured.

toppling idolsWhat goes up .. must come down. At some point, the blinders fall off, and we see that those we call gods and kings are just selfish, spoiled, narcissists, and that we are the toys and pawns they use to satisfy their own whims and urges.

2011 … “A new study co-funded by the Gates Foundation, however, portrays the ultrarich as lost souls burdened by the fears, worries and family distortions of too much money.

Yeah yeah. Cry me a river.