Britney Spears Scares Pirates


by Roxanne Tellier

I originally wrote this column in April 2015.  Woke up today unable to write about the things I find so depressing in 2019, so … this retread will have to substitute for new thoughts on ‘interesting times.’

sexy-music“If music be the food of love, play on!”  Like food, music can be comforting. It can also be stimulating, annoying, or cloying. Music releases dopamine, the ‘feel good’ hormone, just like sex and actual food. Music can arouse feelings of euphoria and craving. Dopamine release is at “peak emotional arousal” during music listening, so you really ARE getting a bang for your musical buck.

Although there are exceptions – whether you consider them cursed or blessed, 5% of the population is indifferent to music, and feels nothing when they hear it.

But for the rest of us, music is much like a drug. When you’re listening to music that ‘speaks’ to you, you are completely dialled in to your brain, and that changes your brain chemistry. Music will change or augment your good or bad mood, and can cause you to slow down and relax, or jump up and dance.

brain-on-music-scienceComplex changes occur in our brains when we hear our favourite songs. We can be unconsciously manipulated through sound; studies show that listening to sad music can lead to a wide range of complex and partially positive emotions, like nostalgia.  Listening to particularly sad or happy music can change the way we perceive the world.

When you’re watching a film, you’re unconsciously processing the background/soundtrack tones and tempos which signal to our brains that what we are seeing should be experienced in the way the writer intended.

britney-scares-piratesThe sort of music we want to hear at a given moment has much to do with what we’ve heard before, the sounds that we’ve absorbed through our lives, the sounds that feel familiar, that work within the tonal range that defines what is ‘popular’ in our culture.  Which is why Britney Spears’ music has been used by the British Royal Navy to scare off Somali pirates.

Merchant naval officer Rachel Owens explained the tactics: “Her songs were chosen by the security team because they thought the pirates would hate them most. These guys can’t stand western culture or music, making Britney’s hits perfect. As soon as the pirates get a blast of Britney, they move on as quickly as they can.   (metro.co.uk)

The inherent nature and power of music affects the animal kingdom as well. Cows produce more milk when listening to relaxing music, and 3% more milk listening to slow music over fast.  Birds and whales compose musical creations very like man’s, combining rhythm, length, patterns and pitches we can recognize, and both will sing complex songs to communicate with each other, and during courtship.

music-dogs-loveIf your pet has a tendency to overeat in stressful situations, or suffers from separation anxiety, quiet music playing on the radio may calm their anxieties, relax muscles, improve digestion and increase restful sleep. Dogs are particularly sensitive to music, with classical music having been shown to actually calm pups prone to epileptic seizures, and stimulate and release endorphins in the brain that aid in pain reduction.

Our brains love repetition. The first time we hear a song, our brains are processing the input, constantly predicting what will happen next, based on a pattern. And brains are a little lazy … we love repetitive choruses. In fact, for each repetition of a chorus, the chances of a song reaching the top of the charts rise by 14.5%

no-stairwayBut there’s a limit to how much repetition we can take. Although hearing a song again and again makes your brain happy, because it’s already done the work to figure out what comes next, after a while, overexposure to songs causes an actual irritation. Like when you can’t bear another chorus of “Jingle Bells,” or break into hives at the ten millionth rendition of “Stairway to Heaven.”

One thing that I always find hilarious is how easily we mishear lyrics. As we listen, we’re actually Interpreting and anticipating what will come next, a combination of hearing and hope. And once you’ve misheard a lyric, it becomes more difficult to process the actual lyrics, especially if a part of you is tickled by how witty you find the misheard version.

cheese-mondegreenThere’s an actual term for misheard lyrics – mondegreen. It was coined by writer Sylvia Wring, in a Harper’s piece in 1954. She admitted to mishearing a piece of ancient English poetry her mother had read to her in her youth. Instead of hearing, “They hae slain the Earl Amurray, / And laid him on the green,” she heard, “They hae slain the Earl Amurray, / And Lady Mondegreen.”

Makes sense, right? Even though it’s incorrect, it fulfills the two-step process of hearing – the physics of sound entering your ear, and the part where your brain takes the sound and interprets what you’ve heard. When communication breaks down between sound and meaning – you’ve got a mondegreen.

We take what we’ve heard and shape it to what works for us. Bohemian Rhapsody becomes Bohemian Rap City. Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “bad moon on the rise,” becomes a ‘bathroom on the right.”  It makes more sense to imagine Jimi Hendrix kissing a guy than the sky.

brain-on-music-smileMondegreens work so well, in poetry, music and everyday life, that the misheard can become a new reality. “Spitting image” was originally “spit and image.” (Spit meaning likeness.)  It drives me batty when I see a writer refer to an all-intensive purpose, but they’ve come there from ‘for all intents and purposes. “.It’s not ‘tow the line, ‘ it’s ‘toe the line,’ from the early days of the British Royal Navy,(those guys again!) at a time when seamen fell in for inspection barefoot.

It’s a ‘dog eat dog world,’ not ‘a doggy dog world.’ We ‘champ,’ not ‘chomp’ at the bit, and we ‘nip it in the bud,’ not the ‘butt.’  Perhaps these misinterpretations are ‘blessings in the skies.’ No, wait, that would be a ‘blessing in disguise.’ You’ve got another ‘think’ (not ‘thing’) coming if you believe these expressions are really “one in the same,” (one and the same.)

For some reason, Cat Steven’s classic, ” First Cut Is The Deepest” seems to be a mondegreen buffet, no matter who has recorded the tune.

People hear the lyrics, “First cut is the deepest.” and mishear it as ….

First time as a DJ.

The First God is a DJ

First cousin of Jesus

The first God was a teapot.

The first god is a demon.

The first guy is the deepest

The thirst god is the deepest

The first dive in the deepend.

And, ” And I’m sure going to give you a try.” as  “And I’m sure going to give you a child.”

And, ” But if you want, I’ll try to love again ” as “But if you want, I’ll try another man.”

And, ” When it comes to loving me, he’s first.” as ” When it comes to love in need he’s the worst.”

People …. enunciate!

But even the grumpiest and most contrary Grammar Nazi can get a chuckle out of misheard lyrics. This video, apparently made as a birthday gift to a friend, captures every nuance and mondegreen that listeners heard in Joe Cocker’s classic rendition.

And the folks at pleated-jeans.com have a ton of terrific videos you can enjoy on Youtube, starting with this one:

and then there’s this :

 

As a prize for getting through all of that science, here’s my  gift to you. SketchShe, the models-turned-comedy act from Australia, released a new video this week. Shae-Lee Shackleford, Lana Kington, and Madison Lloyd debuted their latest ‘Mime Through Time’ sketch – but this time they decided to go topless.  Now that I’ve got your attention … here’s a lip sync medley that romps through seven decades of music. Enjoy!

 

Surviving A Blue Christmas


by Roxanne Tellier

Man, I cannot stand Elvis‘ song, “Blue Christmas.” And I’ll bet you have a couple of holiday tunes you could gladly live without for the rest of your life … enough’s enough on the “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer,” amirite?

And no … we’re not discussing the ‘controversy’ over “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” No, we are not.

But.

But seriously … it’s that time of year, when people can get a little – or a lot – down about what seems to be an incessant and annoying full frontal campaign insisting that we all be ‘merry and bright’ and ‘ho ho ho’ ourselves into stupors.

A surfeit of merriment. Bah humbug. What to do, what to do, when you just feel blue?

csarn salons
That was the question being asked at a recent seminar I attended, that was hosted by the good people of C-SARN (Canadian Senior Artists’ Resource Network – find more info at csarn.ca.)

Facilitated by Matt Eldridge, from the Artists’ Health Centre, the session included curated info on dealing with holiday stress, and included much lively input from the attendees.

We touched briefly on the very real problem of Seasonal Affective Disorder (aka SAD.) SAD is a type of depression that occurs during the change of seasons. Symptoms of SAD include fatigue, lethargy, anxiety, weight gain and sleep disorders. About 2-3% of the general population of Ontario have SAD and another 15% have a less severe experience. It is believed that SAD is caused by changes in the level of exposure to sunlight. At this point, the main treatment for SAD is light therapy.

Seasonal-Affective-Disorder-SAD

There are special light therapy lamps, designed to mimic spring and summer light levels, that can really help relieve some of the depression of SAD, but the lamps are quite expensive.

However, help is on the way if you live in Toronto! Several branches of the Toronto Public Library now have light therapy lamps available in-library on a first-come, first served basis, as a way to treat the “winter blues.

All you need to do is sit, read or work about 2 feet away from a lamp for 20-30 minutes, without looking directly into the lamp, but allowing the light to shine on your face. It may be hard to believe, but that’s all it can take to really help.

You can give it a try at the Agincourt, Brentwood, Don Mills, Fairview, Humber Bay, Malvern, Maria A Shchuka, Parkdale or Parliament branches, or on the 5th floor and basement Toronto Star Newspaper Room of the Toronto Reference Library.

So that’s SAD dealt with – but what if you are just generally bummed out by the holiday season?

Me, I hate the ‘heaviness’ of winter … the weighty coats, the accumulation of hats, earmuffs, scarves and mitts, and the big, sturdy, non-slip boots that contrive to make me feel like a Clydesdale negotiating a steep slope. I can literally feel myself getting shorter as I assume the mantle of wintry clothing. Literally. I will probably have lost another inch in height by January.

Some determinedly, doggedly, cheery people love to tell you that “there is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” My mission is to hunt those people down, and skin them for their magic coats.

But until I find them, I’m going to have to deal with not enjoying anything about surviving the coldest months of the year in Canada.

Perhaps it is time to embrace the Scandinavian concept of hygge (pronounced hooga.) This is a word that Danes use to express a mental strategy for coping with the winter months, describing an emotional coziness and togetherness. It is a time they spend indoors with friends and family, embracing the colder season as wholeheartedly as they do the summer months, and seeing both extremes as opportunities to cultivate the different sides of themselves.

danish hyggeHey … as long as it doesn’t include sports … I’ve never liked sports, either to play or to watch, so that leaves me out of a lot of the typical Canadian leisure time diversions and debates. About the most I can handle in terms of physical exertion in the winter is a lope to the nearest Tim Hortons for a toasty cup of hot chocolate with extra whipped cream and a cinnamon dusting. I simply lack a sports gene, and find it unlikely I’ll develop one during my ‘golden years.’

winter wildlifeWhat I can always find time to do, though, is to spend a few hours with friends, to share a meal and indulge in lively discussions. Or to walk in a park, where some of our wild critters, who don’t migrate or hibernate, can benefit from a gift of the appropriate seed, treat, or suet.

I’m not a religious person, but I sometimes like to enter a house of worship, to partake, for a moment, of the peace that comes from the gathering of those who enjoy a committed faith.

Some people take great joy in volunteering, and of helping others by giving a little bit of their time or largesse to benefit those who have less than ourselves. Others look forward to participating in regular or seasonal religious ceremonies.

christmas eyebrowsI’m more of an indoor person, and can find tons of ways to amuse myself, whether it’s on the internet, or in communing with my pets. I love to search out old holiday songs, programs, and stories from other times and other countries, and to admire or laugh at how our sense of fashion has morphed over time.

Couple of things to avoid – if you are not feeling particularly cheery, go easy on the physical stressors: sugar, caffeine, alcohol and empty carbohydrates will just make you feel more jangled, and pack on the pounds. Be vigilant about eating properly, and taking the meds and supplements that keep you ticking along smoothly. Also, try not to spend a lot of time on social media; many friends and acquaintances like to take the season as an opportunity to put up their annual “highlight” reels … no, neither they nor their kids look that good all year round, and the dog is rented. Nuff said.

try something new SeussYou might be able to turn around some of your blues by making a small attitude adjustment; nobody’s perfect, but we all get a chance every new day to tweak what we’ve got. Why not try looking at your holiday challenges with an eye to a more realistic expectation of how your sister in law will behave after her third glass of wine? Is it possible that even Drunk Uncle will be a little easier to take if you practice a bit of radical acceptance of his all too human foibles? Some people just can’t help people-ing.

And the next time someone invites you to an event, or a meal, why not try saying an enthusiastic YES! to a new experience? The worse that can happen is that you spend a few hours discovering that you like or dislike this new person or food or thing.

Conversely, if you’ve spent most of your adult life hating one of your holiday traditions – this may be the year you finally say a resounding NO! to doing it any more. Walk away from petty squabbles, refuse to eat foods that you dislike, and don’t invite trolls to be part of your celebrations. While the holidays are a time of giving, they shouldn’t also be a time of unending and painful sacrifice in the pursuit of someone else’s happiness.

Everyone experiences the holidays and winter differently, but there are some tried and true ways to increase your own enjoyment of the season. Indulge your senses with the sights, sounds, tastes, smells and tactile sensations that fill you with pleasure.

10-tips-for-enjoying-a-long-winter-indoorsIf you are keen on Christmas carols, fill your home with the sound! Put on your favourite play list while you tidy up your environment and enjoy the scent of seasonal candles, fruits and foliage. Open up your curtains and throw a little light on the situation. indulge yourself with a special treat, because you deserve it.

Be gentle with yourself, and let your inner dialogue express the same tenderness to yourself that you’d show towards someone you love or care about, who’s dealing with a tough time. You are just as deserving.

Above all … pace yourself! This demanding round of lunches, dinners and soirees will soon fade and become last year’s memories, but we Canadians will still have a further three or four months of cold, snow, and ice to deal with. It’s gonna take a toll on you. So try to have enough fun with your loved ones during the holidays to make yourself, if not more tolerant, than at least a little more accepting of our country’s wintry gifts.

And however you spend this holiday season, I wish you the best and most joyous one ever!

happy holidays to all

 

Politically Incorrect


In the mid nineties, my husband and I decided to do a West Coast trip. We were looking forward to reconnecting with a special family, and enjoying the beauty of California.

But there was one special stopover I was determined to make, one that I had pre-planned and booked as soon as we had decided on the holiday.

I wanted to watch a taping of an episode of Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect.

 

 

In Los Angeles, people beg you to come and be a ‘live audience‘ for the shows being taped. But I’ve been on a ton of game shows, a reality show, and some comedy shows, so none of that appealed. Bill Maher, on the other hand …

I’d never missed an episode. Every week I waited anxiously for Friday night to come around, and was sure to be planted in front of the telly the moment it began.

yikes political correctnessThat series, Politically Incorrect, ran from 1993 to 2002, first on Comedy Central, and then on ABC. Ironically, the show was cancelled due to … political incorrectness.

Is that not the most delicious irony?

“In the aftermath of the (9/11) attacks, U.S. President George W. Bush said that the terrorists responsible were cowards. In the September 17, 2001, episode, Maher’s guest Dinesh D’Souza disputed Bush’s label, saying the terrorists were warriors. Maher agreed, and replied: “We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, [it’s] not cowardly.”

Despite similar comments having been made in other media, advertisers withdrew their support and some ABC affiliates stopped airing the show temporarily. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer denounced Maher, warning that “people have to watch what they say and watch what they do.” Maher apologized, and explained that he had been criticizing U.S. military policy, not American soldiers.” (wikipedia)

Maher bounced back, with a new hour-long program on HBO called Real Time with Bill Maher, which premiered on February 21, 2003. Bill recently celebrated his 25th anniversary of on air political correctness, with a gaggle of celebrity friends. And I still watch the show religiously, every week that it’s on, and even when I disagree with Bill and/or his guests – which is quite often.

The term political correctness (adjectivally: politically correct; commonly abbreviated PC) is used to describe language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society.” (also wiki)

political correctnessIn the wild, as a concept … political correctness is a wonderful idea. It is an effort to put the spotlight on those unconscious biases that many of us grew up with, and sometimes find ourselves blurting out at awkward moments. It is an exercise in trying to dig out those prejudices at the root, and kill them forever. Many of the things we say without thinking betray unconscious biases, because we are the products of not only our society, but of the thoughts and opinions of our parents and grandparents, who lived in a much less permissive time, and who imprinted their preconceived judgments on our little psyches when we were at our most impressionable.

And the truth is, we allow those people whom we like or generally respect, to say all sorts of terrible stuff, not normally said in ‘polite society‘ … our ‘tribe’ gets a pass. Especially if our ‘tribe’ is a beloved parent or grandparent. We may shush them in public, but we know where their prejudice comes from, whether it is warranted or unwarranted.

how woke it isBut here’s the thing – some very well-meaning people have taken that lovely, Christian, politically correct, desire to make everything and every one equal, and run it into the ditch. And while those very well-meaning people may consider themselves pretty ‘woke’ … they are actually in a clear minority.

In fact, it’s getting to the point where they’re no fun anymore (to paraphrase Crosby, Stills & Nash.)

According to recent studies, “25 percent of Americans are traditional or devoted conservatives, and their views are far outside the American mainstream. Some 8 percent of Americans are progressive activists, and their views are even less typical. By contrast, the two-thirds of Americans who don’t belong to either extreme constitute an “exhausted majority.” Their members “share a sense of fatigue with our polarized national conversation, a willingness to be flexible in their political viewpoints, and a lack of voice in the national conversation.”

Most members of the “exhausted majority,” and then some, dislike political correctness. Among the general population, a full 80 percent believe that “political correctness is a problem in our country.” Even young people are uncomfortable with it, including 74 percent ages 24 to 29, and 79 percent under age 24.

On social media, the country seems to divide into two neat camps: Call them the woke and the resentful. Team Resentment is manned—pun very much intended—by people who are predominantly old and almost exclusively white. Team Woke is young, likely to be female, and predominantly black, brown, or Asian (though white “allies” do their dutiful part). These teams are roughly equal in number, and they disagree most vehemently, as well as most routinely, about the catchall known as political correctness.

Reality is nothing like this. As scholars Stephen Hawkins, Daniel Yudkin, Miriam Juan-Torres, and Tim Dixon argue in a report published Wednesday, “Hidden Tribes: A Study of America’s Polarized Landscape,” most Americans don’t fit into either of these camps. They also share more common ground than the daily fights on social media might suggest—including a general aversion to PC culture.

If you look at what Americans have to say on issues such as immigration, the extent of white privilege, and the prevalence of sexual harassment, the authors argue, seven distinct clusters emerge: progressive activists, traditional liberals, passive liberals, the politically disengaged, moderates, traditional conservatives, and devoted conservatives.

According to the report, On this particular issue, the woke are in a clear minority across all ages.”  (The Atlantic, October 2018)

 

 

 

It seems that 79 percent of white Americans, 82 percent of Asians, 87 percent of Hispanics, and 88 percent of American Indians believe that political correctness is a real problem in America.

If you happen to be a huge proponent of PC culture, that’s gotta come as a shock. But again… irony! … not everyone thinks the same way you do! Even those people whom you believe your well-intentioned political correctness is protecting – might be just as happy if you’d back the hell off, pardner.

I don’t think a lot of people can see just how extreme they’ve become in the pursuit of ‘social justice.’ It’s getting harder and harder to justify the micro-aggression of someone who attacks another person on social media over their lack of political correctness, without seeing that the criticism itself is a lack of political correctness.

Their virtue signalling becomes very like the thinking of the critters of George Orwell‘s Animal Farm, who started with the pledge of “Four Legs Good; Two Legs Bad, ” but soon find that motto a meaningless sound bleated by the sheep (“two legs baa-d”), and meant only to drown out any dissenters. “By the end of the novel, as the propagandistic needs of the leadership change, the pigs, who have learned to walk on their back legs, alter the chant to the similar-sounding but completely antithetical “Four legs good, two legs better.” (SparkNotes)

The propaganda of what is politically correct, or incorrect, is massaged into place to suit those to whom we’ve handed the power of cultural judgment.

(Don’t believe me? Google Scott Kelly/Winston Churchill.)

There is a danger in this deification of virtue signalling, the scouring and nitpicking of the words of allies, issuing ‘trigger warnings,’ and the compulsive polishing of a turd of correctness while ignoring giant piles of far more real and horrific shit going on everywhere else. All of that desire to be perfectly and pristinely correct places too much emphasis on protecting special interests, rather than the larger issues now effectively, and often literally, hobbled. (“I’d like to protest those babies in the Kiddie Koncentration Kamps, but someone on Facebook just called someone else fat!”)

This need to be more morally righteous than the rest of the world will be the death of the liberal movement. It’s not only the opponents of a PC agenda that find the mining of politically correct navel lint both contemptible and jejeune .. it is those possible allies being driven away by non-stop micro-aggressions targeting their every non-policed, casual word.

Last word goes.. as it should .. to Mr Bill Maher, and his thoughts on Halloween.

 

 

 

 

It Was 20 Years Ago Today


When you are smack dab in the middle of massive change, it’s nearly impossible to parse what is going on all around you.

hippies love not warBaby boomers have been there a few times. The chaos of the sixties, when the world suddenly went from belonging to your parents, to belonging to you and your like-minded friends – remember that?

That same sort of massive overturning of the status quo happened again around 1998, and most of us just rolled with it, not realizing how irrevocably our world was about to change. Once again, the world was being handed over to a new generation, and those who wanted to keep current, were about to be sent back to school or risk being considered a dinosaur.

tech change computers

A few weeks ago, a Facebook buddy, Walter Frith, posted something that I can’t stop mulling over in my mind … how is it that I lived in the middle of a complete technological upheaval, and never felt so much as a tremor?

Walter wrote, ” I’m watching the first season of The West Wing again for the zillionth time and having begun in the 20th century, it’s a hoot seeing the occasional typewriter, enormous video cameras, referencing the Encyclopedia Britannica with no mention of smartphones, Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia and Twitter, all of which had not been invented yet. Watching a political drama series without ANY reference to social media seems almost absurd now but the times were what they were back then, 19 years to be exact.”

… mind … blown …..

I was actually working in tech back then – first at Oracle, then as a writer and sales person for the Canadian rags Toronto Computes, then The Computer Paper, and finally We Compute!

old cell phonesFrom Parade Magazine:
The Evolution of the Cell Phone
• 1973 – The first cell phone. The phone Martin Cooper designed for Motorola weighed 2.5 pounds and had a battery life of 20 minutes.
• 1983 – Motorola DynaTAC 8000X. …
• 1984 – The Nokia Mobira Talkman. …
• 1995 – The Motorola StarTAC. …
• 1996 – The Nokia 8110. …
• 1998 – The Nokia 5110. …
• 2004 – Motorola Razr. …
• 2007 – The iPhone.

I had a cell phone in the late eighties, early nineties, but it was enormous, and cost hundreds of dollars a month to service. Very few people, beyond those who could write it off as a business expense, bothered with cell phones back then.

We moved to Scarborough in 1998, and I found a new career selling collectibles on eBay (which had debuted in 1995.) Most of my transactions were done by cheque or money order, until PayPal launched in 1999, and forever changed international commerce.

There was no Wikipedia prior to 2001, and though it may feel like you’ve always been on Facebook, that site launched in 2004, eventually burying MySpace, which had launched in 2003.

Youtube came along in 2005, and Twitter arrived in 2006. Mixtapes were effectively put out to pasture when Spotify debuted in North America in 2011.

And the smartphones .. ohhhh the smartphones! It was 2007 before we began arguing over which iteration of LG, Samsung or iPhone was best. Can you imagine that? In only eleven years, trillions of dollars have been generated for an industry that didn’t even exist before 1973.

It’s hard to envisage how we lived prior to all of this tech. Cast your mind back to 9/11, for instance. At that point, with almost no one being on any form of social media, the North American phone network became impassable in hours, as we all tried to connect with people who might have been affected by the tragedy.

The cell phone changed our life. The smart phone put an incredibly powerful computer into our pockets and purses. And most of us can’t envision leaving the house without that lifeline.

You know what else didn’t exist, even ten years ago? The iPad (2010,) and tablets in general. Uber (2009) and Lyft (2012,) AirBnB (2007,) Pinterest (2010,) 4Square (2012,) Instagram (2010,) and KickStarter (2009.)

And that’s just a few of the apps we believe we can longer live without .. and we have no idea what leaps and bounds of thought and tech might be coming down the pipeline to blow our minds in the 2020s.

There’s only one way that this relentless tech explosion could feasibly be stopped – if someone, a powerful person, so out of touch, so narcissistic and so megalomaniac, believed that it was within his right to take over the heart of current tech – the cell phone – and bend it to his needs.

That would be a bridge too far, I believe, and might even cause those who rely on the convenience of this ‘computer in their pocket,’ to opt out … to reject the very instrument that has become their lifeline to the rest of the world.trump on cell

But that would never happen .. right?

 

oh oh ….

 

 

 

Surprise!


There was a power outage earlier this week. It was a day when I was actually a little ahead of the morning … I’d eaten, dressed, and was nearly ready to drag on my winter boots, when everything abruptly winked out.

cat speedbumpsWinter’s dark at the best of times, and the sun was barely out. I could make out the shapes of the furniture, but overall, I was just hoping that the cats weren’t lurking in the hallway, waiting to trip me up.

While I waited for the power to come back on. I was pleasantly self-satisfied for having prepared for the morning the night before. I had printed out some course work, checked that I had everything I needed for the next day stashed safely in my purse, and had my transit fare ready in my coat pocket. I was good to go.

surpriseThat’s when I started to think about how most things that happen in our life – for good or ill –  are surprises, that come without warning. You can prepare … you can anticipate … but some things are still a surprise.

We know that our lives will have speed bumps to navigate – that’s just part of the human condition. No one gets from cradle to grave without encountering difficulties. Our characters both define and reveal how we react to those complications.

And it’s always a surprise. That unplanned pregnancy; the school you went to over the school you didn’t; the job you took for the summer that changed the course of your life –  to mash up Bowie and Lennon, we never know what ch-ch-ch-changes are in store for the life that happens while we are busy making other plans.

Surprises are supposed to be fun, but not all are. Our whole world can change in the blink of an eye, a fall on the stairs, or the turn of a shapely leg. There’s virtue in steering the arc of our lives, but it’s the unforeseen that often compels its trajectory.

ready for my closeupI’m one of those unfortunates that tries to be prepared for every eventuality. That is why my purse weighs 400 lbs. I never travel light; even a trip to the corner store finds me with hair and makeup for a cast of thousands at the ready.

And yet – I’ve been known to misplace my purse. And then the whole facade crumbles. I am lost in a world where nothing makes sense, because I feel out of control.

We live in a world where the winner is judged by the amount of goods and services he/she accumulates, which is why so many of us find ourselves coming to the end of a good run with far too much detritus. Little by little, I’m trying to shed my need to so closely control the ‘what ifs’ of the day. I’m paring down the things I keep and carry ‘just in case!’ in favour of a lighter mental load.

trust fallBut it’s tricky. And it takes a faith in the future that many lose as they travel through life. If enough events that you perceive as good have lined your path, you will feel differently than someone who has encountered a lot of disappointing moments. It’s like a trust fall .. where you’re neither trusting nor trustworthy.

When I was living in the wilds of Scarberia, and carless, every trip to the grocery store was fraught with a desperation more often seen in someone preparing for a hurricane or nuclear war. I was obsessed with having enough food in the pantry, fridge and freezer to survive to the next shopping trip.

Now I live two blocks from two massive supermarkets, and know that I can get whatever I need, with very little effort. I’m working on the ‘just in time’ model, that businesses rely on to increase efficiency and decrease waste. You buy stuff when you need it, use it, then buy more as you need more. Except cat food. One should always have a surplus of tins and bags of cat food, because … cats.

But I’m still loaded up with a lot of junk that I can’t seem to release without worrying that I’ll need the item ‘one of these days.’ I’m working on it .. but I do still have a box of Furbys from the Christmas of 1998 that I couldn’t unload on eBay.

I’m not fixing to die anytime soon, but nor are most of us, and some of us won’t make the end of this year. It’s just the way it is. Pretending that we’ll always have these fragile lives in our control is what makes our leaving so frustrating to our loved ones.

swedish death cleaningThe latest big thing in organizing philosophies is the darkly named Swedish Death Cleanse. It’s the process of cleaning house before you kick the bucket, rather than leaving the job to your loved ones.

If you’ve ever had to close up a loved one’s home, you know how difficult it is to sort through the gold and the dross, while mourning and trying to lead your own life. Whether you are an aging baby boomer or just bummed with our current reality, it’s a trendy way of dealing with our hoards.

No matter how much we invested in antiques and heirlooms, the reality is that these items are worth less and less as our generation and our parents’ dies off. Our kids probably want smaller, lighter furniture for their nomadic lifestyles. I’m also gonna guess that neither of my daughters is going to want my collection of cassette tapes from the 70s and 80s. hoarders paradise

I’ve put a solid dent in the collection of holiday wrap I’ve dragged around for years, but it still gave me a pang to see how many people were recycling full rolls of wrap after this Christmas. Can’t help it. Grew up thrifty.

But I have to get real, living in a much smaller space than before, and I would prefer my kids remember me as thoughtful and tidy, rather than a packrat.

Besides, sorting and donating some of my better ‘stuff’ makes me feel not only generous, but in control of what I’m letting go.

I’m also feeling a relief and lightness in clearing away the boxes. In a small space, it’s easy to feel like the walls are closing in. Ditching the stash opens up your living space.

womens world living roomI didn’t feel the walls closing in when they were lined with books, but just having chotchkies lying around does me in. I’m actually getting to the point where I feel a little creeped out when I see pictures of a typically overstuffed living space. It feels fussy and frilly, and not in a good way.

The Swedish word dostadning is a hybrid of the words for death and cleaning. The idea may creep you out, but what it really is, is a way to formalize what matters to you, and what you want to hand down to your heirs. Keep the things you love. Trash, recycle, donate or gift what you don’t.

face meltingPrioritize the preservation of sentimental and family objects like old letters and photographs, but also keep a well-labelled  ‘throw-away box’ for things that you can’t part with yet, but would like to keep away from prying eyes, like your collection of sex toys. Tape a note to the top of the box warning that opening the box will sentence the opener to death by face melting.

life is what happens LennonLife is full of surprises; some good, some bad, but all unexpected. That’s what makes those unexpected moments a surprise.

It’s great to be prepared, and it’s great to live in the moment, but even the most happy-go-lucky person lives happier when their lives are tidy and lack stress.  It’s human nature to want the smoothest ride possible on our journey through life. Sometimes we just need to do a little vehicle maintenance to ensure the ride is both exhilarating and fulfilling.

 

 

Life’s Been Good To Me So Far …


Life’s been pretty good, overall, since I shook the dust of Scarborough off my shoes, and returned to my old Danforth stomping grounds. danforth ave signIt’s such a treat to just walk up the street to a good restaurant, or to pop into a local bar to hear friends playing. I no longer have to pack my purse with overnight supplies before heading out to do groceries, or to visit my chums in the downtown core.

This retirement stuff seems to be working out just fine! I am totally down for the ‘Live, Love, Laugh” groove.

One aspect to the whole getting older/taking better care of one’s fragile corporeal self has been a downer … who knew all these bits and pieces needed maintenance or they would wear out? Sit down, keener nerdling, yeah, you knew, but I had more fun on the ride.

Bodies wear out, minds get warped, it’s all in the game. Some cope better than others; some win the genetic lottery. The rest seek relief at the hands of professionals, and even some gifted amateurs.

Shelley Marshall is a talented, award winning, comedienne, actress, keynote speaker and producer. She’s also the doyenne of The Mental Wellness Living Loft, mental wellness lofta comfy place for those who’ve been bruised by life to relax, meet other people of like minds, or to simply sit quietly, knitting or colouring, without fear of being asked to ‘move along.’

Tuesdays and Thursdays, between 2pm and 6pm, Shelley and her husband Jason welcome all to their home loft in Leslieville. Shelley suffers from what her doctor has called complex post traumatic stress disorder caused by childhood trauma. She’s known many people who are unable to cope with modern day life, and who struggle with mental health issues. When a bout of agoraphobia kept Shelley away from being with friends, she realized that she could have her friends come to her, and make everyone happy.

And she certainly has succeeded in her quest. If you are interested in attending, please call 416-821-1754.

https://video.vice.com/en_ca/video/the-comedian-who-turned-her-home-into-a-mental-wellness-drop-in-centre/58dc34e31cdb89ac6dbbdcf7

Laughter might be the best medicine, but music is a close second, in my case, and I was lucky to get a double dose of the good stuff when our fearless editor and modest rockstar Bob Segarini was persuaded to reunite the Alzeimer Appreciation Orchestra and Chorus for a good cause – we all needed a night out and a hang.

alzeimer orch Mar 2017Musical Director Peter Kashur brought together Bob, Drew Winters, and a motley crew of Kid Carson, Craig Riddock, Connor Walsh, Annette Shaffer and myself for a rollicking 45 minute set that grew, like Topsy, into an hour and a half of bluster and blather.

Despite the terrible weatheriness of the weather, we had a solid crowd of family and friends, and a good time was had by all.

Video courtesy of Jean E. Trivett, aka JeanDaGnu or GnuJet.

Last night was the March 17th Birthday Boy‘s final treat – a Nature Boy salon featuring Jane Siberry, with special guests Mary Margaret O’Hara and Geneviève Marentette.

siberry ohara and genevieveThe singers, ably accompanied by pianist Michael Shand, performed for an appreciative crowd in a private home in the Annex. These salons are a wonderful way for musicians to make a living, performing in a comfortable setting, where the attendees are fans, grateful for a chance to capture an intimate moment in time with their musical icons, and even have a conversation with them after their show at the reception.

Ms Siberry did not disappoint, as she wove her musical web over the rapt audience, performing several songs off her new CD, “Angels Bend Closer,” as well as takes on classic tunes such as “Nature Boy” and “The Girl From Ipanema.”

On this evening, Jane was the headliner, but on Friday night, it was Geneviève Marentette’s night to shine, and I’m very sorry to have missed that. I was not familiar with her work, but was impressed with her vocal additions when the three vocalists harmonized. I’m even more impressed since listening to her recent CD “Gigi” and watching her collaborations with luminaries such as David Clayton-Thomas and the much missed Don Francks.

Mary Margaret O’Hara’s Sunday night (tonight) show sold out immediately, and a second show has been added for Monday – but that’s sold out as well. Mary Margaret kept the crowd in stitches throughout the evening, with her trademark yips and sounds. O’Hara’s 1988 release, Miss America, is still regarded as a seminal recording, and the singer has been described as “a force of nature, a remarkable singer and composer whose crystal-clear soprano acrobatics and hypnotic songs defy accepted conventions

Today the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and it’s supposed to get up to 15 C/59 F today. Time to see if I can still ride the old bicycle without breaking a hip. Yeah, I could get used to this groove, especially living in Toronto, with all that’s offered.

Wave if you see me cycling by!

 

Weather or Not We’re Together


I don’t want to startle anyone … but there’s been quite a lot of blue in the sky lately, and there’s this big yellowy orange ‘ball’ up there as well ….  and it’s been getting kind of warmer, too. Should I worry?

Oh lawdy .. could Spring be nearing? It’s felt like years since looking out the window promised anything but snow and a hulking grey sky crouched like a monstrous beast over the rooftops. I have seen the hazy shade of winter, and I’m well  and truly over it.

Hey … it’s true … we had a mere 48.8 hours of sunlight in January. Even the seasonal average of 85 hours for the month of January sucks, but we got almost half of that! Now that we’re sneaking up to March, these warmer and sunnier days are feeling like a trailer for what’s to come.

The weather has always had an enormous affect on our psyches. It’s why we want to run away to somewhere tropical during the winter, or why some of us develop Seasonal Affective Disorder that is helped only by artificial sunlight. It’s a real thing.  The lizard brain craves sun and warmth.

Don’t take my word for it; Terry Jacks told us years ago that to have joy and fun, we needed seasons in the sun. Were you not paying attention? Did you not believe Terry Jacks?!?!?

human_fingerprints_450Now, I’m not gonna go off on a rant here, about global warming, and whether or not it’s caused by human activity. For one thing, it’s too nice a day to argue. It was 11 degrees yesterday, and it’s nearly 10 degrees today already; seriously, not wasting my time on deniers. Mama wants to gambol where flowers will soon be.

And anyone who’s still hanging on to their denial ..well, they’re probably too far gone to reach anyway.

But you do have to wonder if part of the refutation of climate change stems from our unconscious knowledge of weather’s effect on our psyches. The uncertainty, the rapid changes that have occurred to the planet as we heat it up – all this troubles our equilibrium, that has learned, by observation and over time, what to expect at given periods of the year. If it’s January in Toronto, there should be snow and cold. If, in February, some dude shows up to a bar looking comfortable in shorts and a wife-beater tee, you’re going to do a double take.

Remember the good old days, when 2014 was the hottest year on record? Then 2015 took first spot? Well, now 2016 has that distinction. And as we get closer to the summer of 2017, it might be prudent to be worried about what heights we’ll hit this year.

Australia‘s already in summer – and it is scary down there. The temps are way out of control, reaching highs in the mid 40s (mid 110s in Fahrenheit) in some places. Australia’s DailyTelegraph.com recently did an in-depth special news feature proving how much hotter the continent has gotten, and speculating on what further heights were in the future.  Will Canada have that to look forward to as well?

I can’t think about that now; life is short, and so am I. All I know is that spring is coming, which means I can finally ditch the thermal socks and long johns. I don’t care how cute and colourful they make flannel pyjamas, those pjs are never gonna inspire anything but sneezles and wheezles. A girl .. shoot, even an old lady! … wants to feel wild and free, not bound by heavy down-stuffed coats and sensible slippers.

Bring on the sun, and crank up the tunes, baby!

No matter our age, we need that good, good sunshine to make us feel alive. I could go into all the benefits of sensible sun-seeking, with multiple annotated reminders to wear sunscreen, but .. hell no. I want me some sun, and I want it now!

I am more than ready to pack away the sweaters and boots and let t-shirts and strappy sandals back into my life. I know, I have to wait a few months more before warm becomes norm … but I’m good with that, as long as dreamy summer nights and patios are in my future. I want to sip a smart cocktail in 75 degree weather, face gently kissed by the sun, as I sit and watch the world go by. Is that so much to ask? Would you deny me that?

Spring is around the corner, and those lazy, hazy days of summer will be upon us in good time. Here’s hoping that the promise of blue skies, and hot fun in the summertime, keeps us relatively unscathed through the next few turbulent months. I’m jonesing to morph my obsession with politics into a passion for maintaining good tan lines and the taking of long walks on the beach when the moon is in the seventh house …

But for now … let the sun shine in!