What’s Normal Anyway?


by Roxanne Tellier

People are funny; they want their lives to be interesting and noteworthy, but most of us are good for about 24 hours of novelty before we’re pining for ‘the good old days.’

What’s ‘normal’ anyway? Normal is whatever you believe it is, in your mind, in your life, and in your world. Normal is ‘the usual,” “my regular,” the commonplace, the typical thing that you like to do or say or eat or whatever it is you do in your spare time; I’m not judging.

What it isn’t, is exciting. It’s waking up at the usual time, having my regular breakfast, and then going to work or play in the way I do on a typical day. It’s going to the same places over and over, because you like what they serve, and it’s where “everybody knows your name.”

Before we moved in January, normal for me would have been reaching out to touch the odds and ends that used to live in and on my missing bedside table. Where it’s gone, nobody knows.

But in the bigger picture, on a scale of one to earthquake, my life, and the life of many others, has been less than normal for some time.

We have just celebrated the second anniversary of the onset of COVID-19 regulations, worldwide. Though I’m not sure that ‘celebrating’ is how most of us felt when we thought about two years of fear, discomfort, and hand sanitizer.

Brides Magazine says that “The traditional second-anniversary gift is cotton, making this the prime time to splurge on upgraded bedding or a cozy throw you can use when snuggled up together on the couch.”

Sounds about right. That was pretty much all that anyone did for at least the first twelve months of the plague: overeat and binge watch Netflix. Remember those heady first days, when we all masked up, avoided each other, sterilized anything that didn’t wiggle away from the Lysol spray, and prayed for a vaccine?

In those first few months, that was normal. It was also normal for us to bang pots and pans every night around dinner time, to encourage those health care workers that were (and still are) literally sacrificing their own health to take care of us.

In January 2022, a load of frustrated truckers formed a convoy and honked their horns 24/7 to protest for what they believed to be their rights – which included their right to NOT receive a vaccine – and THAT became normal, for the poor souls in Ottawa who had to deal with what the Convoy wrought, bouncy castles and all.

Over the last half decade, we’ve normalized things which we could never have dreamed of having to deal with. In this I include the disastrous tenure of Trump; a poor beginning to the handling of a once in a century pandemic, and the subsequent whining once a life-saving vaccine became available; an attempted overthrow of the American government in January 2021, followed by something quite similar, if veiled under a web of candy flossed hot tubs, masquerading as ‘freedom’ while demanding a parallel overthrow of the Canadian government in January 2022; and then topped with a drizzle of a Russian attack on Ukraine, completely with threats of nuclear war, that sent many Boomers scurrying to find a school desk to cower under.

So what’s normal, exactly?

Many of life’s aspects, that we would have considered normal pre-COVID, have shown themselves to work for some, but not for others.  For a while, it seemed like people realized the importance of community and mutual aid. When we were all pulling together, it did seem like we might be working towards a better normal.

But then, one day, that spirit of working for the common good began to splinter; some leaned into science, embracing vaccines, eager to see a world where everyone could be protected from a virus, while others opted to refuse the serum approved for use by every governmental and health agency in favour of quack cures and unproven placebos.

That was a normal that I really didn’t see coming.

For the majority of North Americans, normal is a world in which we’ve normalized one set of laws for the rich and powerful, and another set of far more extreme laws and punishments for those who are not white, cis, males.

All over the planet, normal is women knowing that they have to dress and behave in approved manners, if they want to avoid being attacked for the crime of being female. And normal is knowing that, if they are beaten, or raped, they cannot be assured that their story will be believed, or that their attacker will face any consequences. Normal is police stations filled with rape kit tests that pile up in storerooms, but are never prioritized for analysis.

Normal is people of colour knowing that there is nowhere that they are completely safe from assault, even in their own beds, in their own homes. Even if they are fleeing from a war, normal is knowing that white citizens will be prioritized in the rush to safety.

Normal is a complete lack of action or attention to the future of a planet where the Arctic temperatures are now routinely higher than the temperature in downtown Toronto.

Normal is watching the world’s richest individuals get richer during the pandemic, while the world’s poorest individuals fell further behind.

What we call ‘normal’ today is what we have decided to call normal. It wouldn’t be normal in any other space or time, but it’s what we’ve become used to living in and with, in order to be part of our society.

The unemployment rate in the United States, at 3.8%, is the lowest it’s been in history. Canada’s rate is 4.2%, and has traditionally been higher than in the U.S. or Europe, mainly because we have a higher proportion of seasonal industries, as well as a higher proportion of population in smaller, more isolated communities.

No matter where we live, there are many who are very nervous about returning to life, as it was defined, pre-COVID. The pandemic and our isolation revealed that our routines of commutes, office work, water cooler small talk, and the like weren’t necessarily conducive to a better quality of life. We discovered that many of us – mostly white collar workers – could work from home, in less rigid conditions that allowed those with physical or mental issues the space to thrive.

This year, 47 million people, mostly millennials, have joined the “Great Resignation” in search of better careers, with higher wages, remote options, and greater flexibility. It must be noted that they are privileged to be in higher end careers; these options are not available for the bulk of those who labour in minimum wage positions.

But for those that have this option, they’ve discovered that time is too precious to spend commuting, and that they want to work for a company that is as committed to finding a work-life balance as they are.

We have collectively learned that the ‘normal’ we are returning to, may not be so normal after all. Some things we can change, but many broad social problems are simply beyond our grasp at this time. For social change to happen, we will have to find a communal force of will in which we all refuse to return to the harmful systems that were highlighted by the pandemic.

To do that, we will need to re-learn the art of working together for a common good.

If we don’t or won’t demand change, we will have wasted what might be our last great opportunity for a societal re-set.

World Class Bullies and Where They Live


by Roxanne Tellier  

Last week I wrote about local bullies, and those that terrorize the citizens that elected them locally and nationally. More often than we might have thought, those elected bullies, unsated by the billions they suck from their people’s coffers, opt to extend their reign indefinitely. When they do so, they morph from being barely restrained autocratic bullies, into full-fledged, unrestrained, dictators. 

Let’s look at a shocking reality: based on the definition of a dictator being a ruler of a land rated “Not Free” by the Freedom House[1], there are currently 50 dictatorships in the world. There are 19 in Sub-Saharan Africa, 12 in the Middle East and North Africa, 8 in Asia-Pacific, 7 in Eurasia, 3 in the Americas, and 1 in Europe.

From Afghanistan to Yemen, and 48 places in between, these monsters hold the power of life and death over millions of human souls. Dictators not only do not love the people that put them in power, they don’t even see their people as human. Men, women and children are just numbers to be juggled, creatures to serve them and to be subjugated.

Class of 2022

We can reel off the names of some of these men (and they’re all men;)  Putin, Xi, Ortega, Maduro, Kim Jong-Un, el Assad, Erdogan … what they all have in common is the need to not just dominate others, but to crush them, to own their very souls. They are cruel, world class bullies, who have perfected what they likely began in the school yard … insulting, hurting, threatening others who are weaker, smaller, less powerful and more vulnerable. They seek to destroy any vestige of freedom or pride in anyone who dares try to stop them.    

North America’s 24/7 ‘breaking news’ media has kept us soaking in the bullying actions of Putin as he wreaks hell on Ukraine. But even as we gaze upon the horrors of Mariupol being pummelled into dust, dictators around the world have not stopped their assault on their own people.

As The Atlantic said recently, in an article entitled, “Dictators aren’t Pretending Anymore,”[2] autocrats now openly steal elections, stage coups, and invade other countries.

In the February 2022 Freedom House report on the state of democracy in the world, they stated that the world has entered the 16th consecutive year of what the political scientist Larry Diamond has termed a ‘democratic recession.’

“Democratic institutions and civil rights deteriorated in 60 countries, with Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Tunisia, and Sudan experiencing especially precipitous declines. At the beginning of the democratic recession, about half of the world’s population lived in a country classified as “free.” Now only two out of every 10 people do, while four in 10 live in “partly free” nations like India, and another four in 10 live in “unfree” nations like Saudi Arabia.”

In most of the last century, the enemies of democracy embraced the use of political violence, seizing power at the point of a gun. However, in the last few decades, dictators have generally first come to power democratically, winning seemingly free and fair elections, which they used as a jumping off point to concentrate power into their own hands, and eventually manoeuvred into a situation in which they could no longer be removed from office by democratic means. 

In the last few years, however, there has been a return to violence, with the number of military coups worldwide jumping to seven. Over the past year, Myanmar, Sudan and Mali, military officers have used force to install their leaders into dictatorship positions.  

The slow weakening of democratic norms, the slide into ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative reality’ has allowed those in high positions to kick away the illusion of a democratic legitimacy, and behave as ruthlessly as they wish. Laws meant to stop powerful people from abusing their power and authority have been so attacked and bowdlerized that it is increasingly unlikely that, even in a democracy, any elected official need fear an overlong prison sentence, if a sentence is given at all.

As we witnessed on January 6, 2021, social media worked alongside former president Trump and his enablers to ramp up allies when they attempted to overthrow the results of the free and fair 2020 election. More than a year later, Trump is preparing to run again, in 2024, despite laws that forbid anyone who was involved in an insurrection from seeking public office. And if he’s elected again, the path will be clear for him to ascend to dictatorship in the United States.

(*Section 3 of the 14th Amendment prohibits anyone who has violated their oath of office, by engaging in insurrection or aiding in a rebellion, from running for federal office.)

Canadians had a near miss this January with another sort of coup, an epidemic of full-scale bullying, when the Trucker Convoy blasted and blared their way into the news, and the downtown heart of Ottawa, with a headline concern of “Freedom” and a much longer manifesto that demanded, in small print that their supporters would never read, that all of the current federal government step down and be replaced with a governance of their convoy leaders’ choice.

These attacks on democracy are far too close for comfort. The enemy is not just on your wide screen, the enemy is at our gates. 

Putin has attempted to keep NATO and other countries friendly to Ukraine at bay by holding the threat of nuclear war over our collective heads. Many fear that appeasing his appetites at this time will merely sacrifice Ukraine, while enabling him to then continue gobbling up the rest of Europe. Certainly, it would appear that he is determined to win at any cost.

In June 2020, Putin signed a decree—the Basic Principles of the Russian Federation’s State Policy in the Domain of Nuclear Deterrencethat specifies two conditions under which Russia would use nuclear weapons. The first is unsurprising: “The Russian Federation retains the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear weapons and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and/or its allies…” But that sentence ends with an unusual statement: “… and also in the case of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons, when the very existence of the state is put under threat” [emphasis added].

In his February 24 speech, Putin echoed that unusual language to describe his Ukraine invasion.  The United States, he claimed, was creating a hostile “anti-Russia” next to Russia and in Russia’s historic land. “For the United States and its allies, it is a policy of containing Russia, with obvious geopolitical dividends,” he said. “For our country, it is a matter of life and death, a matter of our historical future as a nation. This is not an exaggeration; this is a fact. It is not only a very real threat to our interests but to the very existence of our state and to its sovereignty” [emphasis added]. Putin has defined the current situation as one in which, in line with the principles of its deterrence policy, Russia retains the right to use nuclear weapons.” [3]

That’s some world class bullying, right there.

But does all of this sabre-rattling lead to the conclusion that the only way to stop a bully is with a bigger bully?  That would depend on how we define our systems of justice.

Post World War II there were consequences for Hitler and his party. But the process of the Allies seeking justice in response to the atrocities of Nazi Germany were intended to establish a precedent that they hoped would prevent war crimes from ever occurring again. We’ve seen, in Putin’s criminal actions in the Ukraine, that the rules and laws will not stop a determined warmonger.

Nonetheless, democratic systems of justice, and criminal sanctions are not bullying; they are the way societies are governed, in order to protect all members of nations.

Without a crystal ball, I cannot say what will happen next in the Ukraine/Russian war. I do feel though, that whether we are ready to admit to it or not, we are already part of the launch of World War III.

“As Russian troops advance toward Kyiv, democracy is no longer the only game on the global stage. And so the coming decades won’t just pit democracies against autocracies in key territorial battlegrounds like Ukraine. They will also pit the defenders of democracy against those who blatantly reject the supposed decadence of popular self-determination in the sphere of ideas.” (The Atlantic, Feb 2022)


[1] https://planetrulers.com/current-dictators/

[2] https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/02/democracy-crisis-autocrat-rise-putin/622895/

[3] https://thebulletin.org/2022/03/read-the-fine-print-russias-nuclear-weapon-use-policy/?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=MondayNewsletterPost03102022&utm_content=NuclearRisk_ReadTheFinePrint_03102022

The Music of War and Ukraine


by Roxanne Tellier

This has been a hellish week. We are watching the unthinkable perpetrated upon the peaceful people of Ukraine by a Russian despot who has become a madman.   

Putin’s Billion Dollar Palace

During two years of solitude and paranoia, Putin seethed and simmered as he isolated in his dacha on the Black Sea coast, attempting to avoid contracting COVID-19. Eventually, the germophobe ended up in an echo chamber of his own crazed thoughts. These he shared on the Kremlin’s website on July 12, 2021 when his work was first published in the Ukrainian and Russian languages..

His 7,000 word manifesto, described as ‘rambling’ and riddled with ‘many (historical) myths’, denied Ukraine’s statehood, and laid claim to much of modern-day Ukrainian lands by stating that ‘they are entirely the brainchild of the Soviet era, and was to a large extent created at the expense of historical Russian lands.” 

Putin repeatedly demonstrated his contempt for Ukrainian statehood, saying that the current policies in Kyiv are “anti-Russia .. which we will never accept.”

The passages contained ominous threats towards Ukraine, vowing to destroy Ukraine’s independence, a conflict begun during the inter-state war eight years ago, when Russia invaded and seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

He also repeated what he said to then-US President George Bush Jr at a NATO summit in 2008, that “Ukraine is not a country.”

“I am convinced that true Ukrainian sovereignty is only possible in partnership with Russia,” Mr. Putin wrote. “After all, we are one people.”

This manifesto, Putin’s own ‘Mein Kampf’, outlined his plans for Ukraine. And on February 24, 2022, he put those plans into effect, launching what he called a ‘special military operation’ into the country. At the onset, Putin claimed that the Russian military only sought ‘demilitarization and denazification,’ but attacks far beyond that scope followed soon, from multiple fronts, and towards multiple cities.

The man who at first claimed to only want to reunite his stray Russian lambs, has instead perpetrated the worst physical attack on another European country since World War II. Like a demented, cast aside lover, he has determined that if he can’t have Ukraine … no one can.

The original plan may have been to reunite the countries as one, but it is a strange sort of family unity when the father is murdering the children wholesale – an estimated 14,000 Ukrainians alone, and an uncounted amount of young Russian soldiers – and is pulverizing the ancient and historical buildings and monuments raised to honour both Russians and Ukrainians.

About 1.5 million people have fled Ukraine to date, fleeing to Poland, Hungary, and other NATO countries, seeking shelter for their most vulnerable. We will soon be in the middle of the worst refugee crisis in modern history.   

Meanwhile, it is said that Putin has gathered his family members and hidden them away in a luxury, high tech bunker in an underground city in Siberia. Designed for protection in the event of nuclear war, the bunker is meant to keep Putin’s family safe, while the people of Russia suffer whatever fate befalls them.

As I gather these facts to share in the column, I touch my face, and realize that I have no idea how long I have been silently crying. The tears never stop flowing when I think of the tragic and pointless murder, destruction, and terror being inflicted upon the people of Ukraine, by a man whose gross miscalculation of his power will eventually find him and all of his cabinet tried and sentenced at the Hague for war crimes.     

Putin and his generals have entered the end phase of their careers and lives. Trapped inside the rapidly tightening jail cell that was once their Russian playground, they have been stripped of their wealth, had their economy shattered, and will never again be allowed to travel outside the confines of Russia. Unfortunately, this means that they will have little reason to think or behave rationally, militarily.

And that, of course, is the saddest and most frightening aspect of the first ‘TikTok War’. We all watch, powerless, as caught up in watching the horror as any lookyloo on a highway unable to look away from a car crash.

This war was brought home to me forcibly when I learned that an old friend, musician Paul Christopher Caldeira, is one of the many needless casualties. Paul had been living in Chernihiv, which is at a strategic crossroad of major roads leading from Russia and Belarus to Kyiv. Short on meds and food, he had a heart attack when the tanks began to near the city, and died. I’m still in shock.

His old friend Greg Critchley kindly proffered this link to his SoundCloud account, and the 1996 album he produced and co-wrote. The songs have stood the test of time, and have given me some comfort since I heard the tragic news of Paul’s death.  

The war has brought attention to music, past and present, that focuses on Ukraine’s beauty, and her wonderful people. Here’s a selection of tunes that have been revisited, or in some cases, written or re-written, in support of Ukraine.

RenaissanceKiev from the album “Prologue” (1972)

Corey HartKomrade Kiev  (1985)

Lyrics: “Shoot Komrade Kiev And through the pride and prejudice, you blind the truth you couldn’t miss. For the target you have drawn won’t bite the hand that cuts the arm. And when the story’s finally told, that each man’s heart was bought and sold, there was no enemy you see. Only the doubt in you and me I know the sun will shine thru winter time I pray the rain may someday end the flame

Ukrainian Chorus Dumka of New York performs Prayer for Ukraine – SNL Feb 26, 2022

Pink Floyd – Marooned (Official Music Video HD)

Major parts of this video were shot in Pripyat, a city in Ukraine. This is the area that was evacuated in view of the Chornobyl Nuclear Plant explosion that took place near it.

NCT – Boss

The majority of the shots in this video are filmed at the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine in Kyiv. The video includes several shots of this popular K Pop group, NCT, at some popular locations in Ukraine.

Calum Scott –You Are The Reason (Official Video)

This video includes glimpses of the National Opera of Ukraine, the architectural beauty of St. Sophia’s Cathedral, Khreschatyk Street, and other sites. 

Akçay Karaazmak  -We are made of Love – Stop the war – Song for the peace for Ukraine – Ukraine Russia War   

Harpin NormYou’re a Master of War –March 2022

Океан Ельзи & Один в каное – Місто весни (official video) 2021

Slava Vakarchuk of Okean Elzy, one of the most popular rock bands in Eastern Europe.

StingRussians

I’ve only rarely sung this song in the many years since it was written, because I never thought it would be relevant again. But, in the light of one man’s bloody and woefully misguided decision to invade a peaceful, unthreatening neighbor, the song is, once again, a plea for our common humanity. For the brave Ukrainians fighting against this brutal tyranny and also the many Russians who are protesting this outrage despite the threat of arrest and imprisonment – We, all of us, love our children. Stop the war. Supplies shipped to this warehouse in Poland are delivered in coordination with the Armed Forces of Ukraine and are guaranteed to go to people most in need

Sting.

Wherehouse address: Pol-Cel Ramos Breska 63, 22-100 Chelm, Poland Every box should be labeled “HELP UKRAINE” and indicate the contents: “Medicines,” “Clothes,” “Food,” “Humanitarian Aid.” For more info, contact: UK +44 1353 885152 USA +1 855 725 1152 helpukraine.center

The Countdown Continues


by Roxanne Tellier

A few days ago, as I motored back from the grocery story with yet more packing boxes, I passed an old station wagon in the local mall’s parking lot. There were pillows, blankets, and clothing schmooshed up against every side window. And the front window was impressively ice encrusted.

I am not a wealthy woman. And I have not lived a particularly charmed or lucky life. I am just a little bit fortunate that my husband and I were careful with our money, despite a lot of economic ups and downs over the years, and that we managed to save enough to be able to afford a roof over our heads as we head into our senior years.

But it was clear to me that the people who were in that station wagon, for whatever reason, were not so fortunate.

I’m a mere 10 days out from a pretty epic change of circumstances myself, but I know that my move, although chaotic, likely done in snow and cold, to a background of fulsome curses, and with a future that will probably be filled with many surprises at the onset, is of our own choosing, and that the road we travel leads to a warm home with a roof (that needs repairs) to shield us from the cold and snow.

The snow and biting cold this morning was a nasty surprise. For days I’ve been warning my husband that we needed to get the last of the outdoor furniture, gardening supplies, and the like, under cover and out of the weather. I’ve had a persistent vision of the cursing that will ensure as we try to dig chairs and wheelbarrows out from under a foot of snow and ice, to pile them, dripping with icicles,  into the moving truck.

But even yesterday it was warm enough for me to be tossing around boxes in the shed without so much as a jacket. That’s not the case today, when January’s reality has arrived. The birds and squirrels were thick on the porch at feeding time, desperate for the seeds and nuts I provide. That food keeps them alive. I worry about what they’ll do when I leave, and their food source is gone. I’ll leave some provender behind for the next tenant to dole out, but I won’t be here to ensure it’s done on a consistent and timely basis. And that haunts me.

Our little cat also worries me. She has not been herself since she lost Farley, her lifelong companion, in November. She’s old, blind, and seems terribly depressed. Her habits have completely changed. She now wakes, screaming, from a troubled sleep every two or three hours, demanding food, and then has to be soothed back to another short period of rest before she wakes again, howling as she is reminded of her loss. This schedule is not particularly conducive to anyone – either human or animal – getting a good night’s sleep.

Ten days out from the move, I’m in that terrifying position of still needing to pack but a) having little space to put the packed boxes, and b) being pretty much down to the things that I thought I’d need in the last days here.

Of course, I grossly overestimated how much I’d need to keep on hand. I’ve got a king’s ransom of cleaning supplies. I’ve kept enough beauty supplies and clothing on hand to supply a cast of a Cecil B DeMille spectacle. I still have far too much food and drink on hand, though every day I make a dent in what’s been living in the freezer for the last many months.

I’m now at the Sophie’s Choice part of packing – what’s left must be packed, but must be chosen carefully. Essentials misplaced, if mispacked, will cause problems. When we sold our house in Scarborough, all of my shoes disappeared, and I spent six months wearing scuffed orange garden clogs. That’s a fate I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but most especially not someone from Montreal. The horror!

How do you decide what can be safely stowed, and what must be clasped tightly until safely deposited at the other end of the move?  I mean, besides the cat … of course the cat will be safely secured, along with her own collection of necessities. I am not at all looking forward to THAT part of the journey;

Today’s the second day of the new year. I’m doing a lot of sorting, a modicum of packing, and an infinite amount of worrying. Hoping all this rehearsing will mean that it’ll be ‘alright on the night,” as they say in the theatre.

Gift Giving and the Languages of Love


by Roxanne Tellier

The holiday gift giving tradition goes waaay back … back, back, no, even further back. Before the kid in the stable, even.

Exchanging gifts at a midwinter feast seems to have started as both a magical AND practical way to share the bounties of the year with family and friends. The people that gave the best gifts to others were respected for their generosity.    

During the Roman winter solstice festival, Saturnalia, citizens spent a week feasting, decorating trees, and then showing generosity to the poor in a display of goodwill towards all. The Roman New Year, Kalends, which started on January 1st, featured gifts being ritually exchanged by being tied to the boughs of the greenery that people used to decorate their homes.

In the colder countries, this feasting and bestowing of goods served another, more practical, purpose as well; it was often too expensive to keep one’s cattle fed and comfortable through a long cold winter. It wasn’t unusual for families to bring favoured pigs and chickens into the home to share the long nights of January, February, and March. 

But if there was a glut of food animals to deal with, slaughtering many of them to prepare giant feasts that cemented one’s place in their community as respectable, business-savvy, providers could go a long way in making the burgher’s prospects even brighter in the new year.

Early Christianity borrowed lavishly from pagan religions and traditions. Long before modern day religions, many faiths worshipped gods who were born to virgins, who performed miracles, were killed, and then came back to life. Many of those religions also placed the date of their savior’s birth as December 25th.

And thus was conceived the bane of every December born child.

Check out Richard Gillooly’s book, All About Adam and Eve, for a major accounting of Capricornian Gods, which include Horus, Osiris, Attis, Mithra, Heracles, Dionysus, Tammuz, Adonis, and a host of others. As a popular date, and likely as a sop to other faiths, December 25th was declared a holiday that celebrated Syrian god Sol Invictus, by the Roman Empire in 274 AD. Fifty years later, Roman Emperor Constantine swapped the day out for the celebrating of the birth of the god of his newly acquired religion, Christianity.  

Gifting – what and how we gift – says so much more about us than we realize. My mother emphasized that the getting of gifts was secondary to the bestowing of gifts upon others, to show family and friends that they were loved and appreciated. As a child, I also took to heart the message of O. Henry’s 1905 short story, The Gift of the Magi, which told the tale of a young husband and wife, and of how their deep love led them to sacrifice their most precious possessions in order to give gifts to each other.

So, for me, Christmas was always about providing for my loved ones. Even when money was tight, when I had little to spend, I’d somehow whip together something to gift; one year, on the road and practically penniless, I bought a load of wool, and knitted everyone long, Dr Who-style, scarves. In the years when I was flush, my family were surprised with huge bags of lavish presents on Christmas morning. Feast or famine, Christmas has never found me empty handed, when it came to gifting.

Everyone approaches holiday gift giving in their own way. Some are practical, others, selectively generous.  Some want to show off their wealth, while others want to find gifts that impart some of their own hard-won knowledge or skills to a younger generation.

Like almost everything to do with interactions amongst humans, it all comes down to how we communicate our own needs, and how we discover what is necessary to keep those we love happy and feeling loved, appreciated, and respected.

A few years back, a well-known marriage counsellor named Gary Chapman released a book entitled The 5 Love Languages, which outlined how different personalities give and receive love within their relationships.  

The key to good gift giving is in knowing what to give to someone that you love and appreciate. In order to do so, you need to understand what is their core ‘language’ – what speaks to their heart.

For some, the receiving of gifts is vitally important. This is not about materialism, or the cost of the gift, but rather on the love, thoughtfulness and effort behind the gift. For these people, the perfect gift or gesture indicates that they are cared for, and that they are more important to the giver than whatever was sacrificed to attain the gift. These gifts are usually treasured and carefully kept close, as a visual representation of their partner’s love.

For the partner or friend of someone who speaks this language, a gift might be a piece of jewelry that alludes to a hobby or work they do, a book on a pet subject, or tickets to an event.

For others, the greatest gift they can receive is quality time with their loved one. The gift of full, undivided attention means more to them than anything bought in a store, as it makes them feel truly special and loved.  

Acts of service – sometimes actions speak louder than words. Remember those little books kids (and broke spouses) used to make for each other, promising to ease another’s physical or household burdens to come? Washing a pile of dishes, vacuuming the floors, doing the laundry, or dusting may seem like meaningless household chores, but for some people, those actions speak volumes.

Hearing the words, “I love you,” are important. But words of affirmation are a love language that uses positive affirmations from your partner to send your heart soaring. Unsolicited compliments given at just the right moment can make the sun come out on a cloudy day.  Encouraging words that are kind and soothing are life-giving, while insults will leave this language-type disillusioned, and unlikely to forget or forgive.  

The last language is spoken by those who crave appropriate physical touch. It’s not all about sex, it’s more the sort of touchy-feely thing that involves holding hands, hugs, and thoughtful touches on the arm, shoulder or face. Slow dances in the kitchen after dinner that show how much we love and care about each other. While kind, gentle physical touch fosters a sense of security and belonging, neglect or abuse can be unforgiveable, and cause irreparable damage to the relationship.

Understanding the ‘language of love’ that our partners, family, and friends speak makes gift giving a snap. All you need is a language decoder ring …and you earn that by really paying attention to what lies beneath what the ones you love don’t say out loud.

Gift giving in 2021 can be frustrating and exhausting, but then, that’s the way it’s always been. Somewhere along the line we lost the true meaning of giving and receiving. Maybe it rolled under a Coca Cola polar bear, or was stolen by a porch pirate. Who can say?

It used to be that giving gifts was how you showed your love for others, and for some that meant that the bigger the gift, the more you loved. But expensive gifts mean nothing if the gift doesn’t fit the giftee.

And gifting out of a sense of obligation does little to make you or the giftee happy, since a gift you never wanted to give is nearly always all wrong for the person that receives it. Aren’t Amazon and the other big suppliers of gag gifts and useless paraphernalia rich enough?

Here’s my gift giving advice for this holiday season: Set a budget you can live with. Choose who you’re gifting, and how much you can afford to spend. You don’t need to spend a fortune to show how much you care. Give to strengthen your ties to family and friends. And make the criteria for what you give commensurate with how much joy you can spread around to your loved ones.

Merry Christmas to all, and a wish that you have the happiest of New Years. DBAWIS is on hiatus until mid January. When we return, I’m sure we writers will have lots to share about our adventures and misadventures during the holiday season.

Meanwhile, it’s Christmas, 2021, and like the Little Drummer Boy, I have no gift to bring. Shall I play for you, pa rum pah pum pum?

 

Musings On Movings and Marijuana for Multinationals


by Roxanne Tellier

If it was a good enough moving company for Grandma …

Today is the 12th of December, and that means that Shawn and I are exactly one month away from the Big Move, from Toronto, to Windsor, Ontario.  The drive is a mere 230 in earth miles, but, in some integral ways, it’s also the equivalent of moving from the Moon to the Sun. 

Interspersed with frenzied packing have been ‘last lunches,’ and ‘quick meets for coffee’ that lasted long, lovely hours, and opportunities to visit audio and visual touchstones of my nearly four decades in Toronto. Like last week’s pilgrimage to The Rex, where Kevin Quain serenaded a few stalwarts that made their way through the wind and snow to enjoy his musical stylings on the Rex’s grand piano. He cut his musical teeth there, and his mix of originals and classics always hits the spot.

We’re heading into the meat of winter, and the snow has begun to fall, so I’ve been fixated on getting all of my outdoor and gardening necessities packed and protected from the weather. I work outside when I can, and then in the house, stuffing the interminable detritus of a life well lived into cartons that once held various liquors. There are nearly 200 boxes wedged into one side of the living room now, and another area holds the shelves that were once filled with books, art, and chotchkes.

And then there’s the plants …

Just packing up my hobbies and the bulk of my office will bring that box number to about 300. And then I’ll have to get serious about packing up the kitchen…

Oh yes, I’m busy. Most days I wake about 4 a.m., jerking bolt upright, tensed with anxiety, list of things to do, to remember, by my side, with new items underlined in red ink, and try to unclench my teeth and bones. I’m often dotted with medicinal A-535 patches, have a heating pad attached to my spine and a brace jauntily gracing my right knee. As the cat squawks in alarm, the day begins, a race from the start to the 8 or 9 pm finish, when I collapse back into the bed, unread book in my hand, and the reading lamp blazing, forgotten.

When I take a break from packing, I will usually relax with some entertainment I’ve PVRed, that I know I’ll be interested enough to watch for at least a few minutes before nodding off. My tastes remain eclectic, but something I’ve learned as my time becomes more precious, currently and in the bigger picture of life, is that I’m not terribly eager to embrace new casts of characters. I like the way old friends, both of the earthly variety and of those only known to us on our screens, fit my moods and needs.

Fr’instance, I really enjoyed binging the 10-episode arc to the new CSI: Las Vegas franchise. While there were new, young, hip main characters, my interest was in the inclusion of Sarah Sidle and Gil Grissom, an intriguing couple of scientists from the original; seeing them was like catching up on what’s been going on with chums I miss from the wayback.   

And having these remembered characters marvel at the new tech that’s come along since their own heyday seemed somehow so very right, in a time when extraordinary leaps of science are being rejected by those who would gladly pull the world backward to a darker, uglier time.

There’s no denying that we’re living in a very different world than the one we knew, even no further back than 2016. It’s gone topsy turvy, and, after 4 years of political madness, the cherry on top of our new reality was COVID, a global pandemic.  

But the good news is that, while the regressives struggle to pull us back, the progressives continue to pull us forward.

In 2018 I wrote a column about the Lift and Co Expo, held at the Metro Convention Centre, before Canada had actually legalized marijuana.  (https://tinyurl.com/yckurrur)

This year’s 2021 conference, held in mid November, outdid the previous years’ conventions by leaps and bounds. The exhibit floor fairly groaned with the weight of the enormous machinery in use in full scale production of the now legal pot. And the list of available seminars, which ranged from the technical to the opining on the future of the marketing of psychedelics in Ontario, was fulsome and fulfilling.

As I wandered the aisles, speaking to some of the friendly representatives of diverse companies that specialized in everything from gummies to the highest of high tech, my mind kept reaching back to the early days, pre-legalisation, when there was, at least for me, a sense that legalisation could still wind up a defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. A lot of the conversations I had in 2018 seemed to be of the breath-holding variety, that is, we could see a new horizon – but only if everything were to go right, in every way, from the conference, to the maneuverings of legislators and Big Business, all the way to Legal Pot Day.

But maybe I was projecting. After all, I was already 50 years past the first puff I’d ever taken, and those 50 years had seen so many smart and open-minded ideas be crushed under the iron fists of those that, to this day, fear cannabis as ‘the devil’s weed’, and who, even today, eschew any of it’s benefits to society.

At home with my swag bags, filled with goodies of all kinds from the generous retailer’s booths, I realized that cannabis’ future has very little to do with those ubiquitous corner pot shops that have popped up on every Toronto street. No, it’s not about the corner store at all; it’s about the future of every country that begins to look at the wonders of a natural herb for ways that it can benefit their societies medically, socially, and technically, rather than be the cause of crime and punishment. 

Some days I marvel at the possibilities that lie in store for my grandchildren. Much of what is to come is likely inconceivable today, just as the innovative technologies of the year 2000 would have dazzled my grandmother, had she lived to see them.

And that’s a good thing. As much as we may revel in the fun we had in the past, the old must be left behind in order to make room for the new. If we greet each new opportunity with an open mind and heart, there’s no telling what wonders may lie ahead. No matter how hard you try, you can’t hold back tomorrow, any more than you can hold back the tide.

“Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death,” said Jerome Lawrence. To enjoy the banquet of life, you have to be willing to try those things that might first scare you a little – things like escargot, chocolate covered crickets … and moving to another city.

Giant leaps of faith are still the best exercise anyone can do, at any age.  

Choosing The Light


by Roxanne Tellier

It’s a winter wonderland! A marshmallow world! And way too soon! It’s only November, dammit!

How will that fake tree survive?!

I’m not ready for winter. I’m nowhere near done with the packing and the sorting that has to be done in the back of the house, and yet, here we are. Oh, climate change, why could you not have brought palm trees to Toronto, instead of this untimely dump of white stuff?

We’ve been incredibly busy, in the last month, working out all the paperwork and miscellanea that needs to be done for our move in January. The ‘to-do’ lists are endless, and include low key celebrations of an anniversary, the recording of some Christmas songs, (for me) the recording of some the heymacs songs, (for Shawn) and the filming of a new the heymacs video next week, the day after my birthday.

.. and then there’s the not fake trees …

I have now packed 160 large boxes, and I’m guessing I’ll need to do, at minimum, another 100 before we’re ready to leave here. I’m running out of room to pile up said boxes, and we’ve grown used to walking sideways to get past the stacks.  I’m keeping the massage studios and back pain pill companies in business, and trying not to die from the malnutrition that comes from eating nothing but frozen pizzas and tinned beans.

It’s been a blur of activity, compounded by much needed breaks for lunches and get-togethers with friends. I even managed to squeeze in a trip to the Lift&Co Expo 2021, which I’ll be writing about next week.

Which is all to say that I haven’t spent much time worrying about ‘maybes,’ ‘whatifs’ and ‘possiblys’ of late, and that’s a good thing. It took several months to come down from the hysteria of the trump era, but having to focus so minutely on all that it takes to buy a home 250 miles away, sight unseen, has finally pushed away any remaining need to focus on what comes next in the Great Faux Election Steal of 2020. Done. Finito. The whole gang that couldn’t elect straight is no longer on my radar. I’ll let them return to top of mind when we’re trying to figure out which prisons will have the pleasure of their company.

There are a couple of issues that I’ve got simmering on the back burners of my mind, including the reports of the new Omicron mutation of the COVID virus. This was NOT what I wanted for Christmas; this is even worse than that time I got a vacuum cleaner from ‘Santa’.  The biggest problem here is that it’s quite possible this mutation may effectively wipe out all the protection our previous vaccines had given us, which would mean we’d be as vulnerable as we were at the beginning of the pandemic.   

And I really could have done without a news dump, two days before the American thanksgiving, that touted an unprecedented strengthening of ties between China and Russia. Both countries see an opportunity to strike at what the media is presenting as a weakened United States, and this, as tensions escalate between the East and West, portends a climate of fear as the holidays near. Also not what we needed at this time.

And you have to wonder precisely why the media is pursuing both of these disparate issues with such glee. Yes, we have to know what’s going on around the world, and yes, we need to be ready to protect ourselves from enemies at home or abroad, but could we just maybe take a breath or two before we dive headfirst into another vat of fearmongering?

Americans should be celebrating the passage of part one of a massive infrastructure bill, that will plow $1.2 trillion back into the economy, while repairing roads and bridges, and providing much needed broadband across the nation.

There were record breaking sales figures for the orgy of commercialism that is Black Friday, despite the media trumpeting that the collapse of the supply chain would result in empty shelves for the winter holidays.

More than 5.5 million new jobs have been created in the last ten months, and unemployment claims are the lowest they’ve been since 1969. Workers’ pay has risen, and anyone who wants a job should be able to write their own ticket, since employers are screaming for more staff.

Americans are also enjoying more than $5 billion in rental assistance, and the Biden administration expanded the Child Tax Credit, to the tune of $66 billion, which has gone out to more than 36 million households. The child poverty rate has been cut in half, for pete’s sake!

Sure, it’s not perfect. Nothing is, as any person with a fully functioning brain knows. But there’s something quite ugly about the media failing to acknowledge all the positives of the last 10 months, while banging the drum of failure, war, and plague.  

It just stinks of a voracious, avaricious, mob of greedy, thankless, demanding spoiled brats. If you’re looking for your plague of zombies, look no further than the hordes who can never be satisfied, and who are intent on tearing their nation in two, to satisfy their masters, and some sort of political tapeworm.

The real bad guys are in your house, on your phone, and in your tv. But they were invited in, and warmly given a place at your table. They can just as easily be shown the door, and asked not to come back until they’ve got something better to offer. 

We’re about to enter the last month of the year, December, a month that is filled to the brim with opportunities to gather together joyfully, to link arms with friends and family in a spirit of peace and community, and to reach out and share with those that need our help financially, physically, or emotionally. Every major and minor religion has a holiday in this time period, designed specifically to bring us together, to get us through the cold, dark months, and to prepare us for a brand spanking new year.

“Every religion I know of, including in the Pagan traditions, celebrates light in some form around the Winter Solstice. Each one relates to the coming of darkness, the need to collect and preserve that which nurtures (including foods) through dark times, and planning for the coming return of light with the Vernal Equinox/Easter/Passover, et al. It is a perfect time for reflection (another light analogy) and introspection. Without both shadow and light, there is no form, after all. We ignore equal attention to both at our peril.”

Mara Seaforest, from a Facebook comment.

Each of us has the opportunity to choose to see the bright light of coming together in love and peace, or to decide to chase after the darkness of divisiveness. Choose wisely.  We have no idea what lies ahead for us, but facing uncertainty is easiest when faced together.

The Frequency Illusion


by Roxanne Tellier

Have you ever bought a car, and suddenly noticed that nearly every car you see is the same colour and style? Or, if you are pregnant, have you been surprised to see that it seems that everybody else is pregnant as well?   

This is known as the frequency illusion, or the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. It’s something that happens thru two separate psychological processes –selective attention and confirmation bias – coming together, that makes us believe that there is more going on around us than what meets the eye.

You’ve probably noticed something similar during the last two years, as we’ve dealt with COVID. Our ‘selective attention’ can force us to overlook a lot of other news that might normally catch our eye, since most of us are hyper-focused on anything new or important to do with the protections necessary to fend off the virus.

Confirmation bias leads us to search out this news, and to find ‘experts’ that agree with our already held beliefs. That’s why those people who are convinced that there is something wrong with the vaccines cannot stop searching out those that agree with them. They are desperate to find others who share their thoughts.

Whether it’s COVID, pregnant women, or the incredible number of red vans that prowl the streets of Toronto, becoming aware of something you hadn’t noticed before can throw you for a loop.  

Since my little cat died a few weeks ago, I’ve become hyper aware of how many people have also lost pets recently. But it’s quite likely that my sadness and grief has made me more sensitive to information from those who are also dealing with losses.

It is, of course, the frequency illusion that has concentrated my attention on what appears to be an explosion of ill health amongst furry critters that so many of us have been experiencing. If I were not aware of this phenomenon, I might begin to believe that there is something sinister happening to our four-legged friends. There isn’t; it’s just a coincidence that the time of year, the weather, and the inevitable aging of our pets would have to eventually culminate in their passing on.

Whenever something occurs on which we become focused, there are several roads that appear before us. So it was for me, with my mourning of my long-time furry companion.

While I don’t know how I feel about adopting another animal any time soon, I’m very aware of how beneficial it can be to singles and seniors to have a pet that gives them a focus. We grow so close to our little friends, and they give us so much in return.

But pet love is increasingly expensive, and vet bills can cause pet owners a lot of pain – emotionally and financially. Trying to decide when to let a pet go, or when to engage in an expensive fight for its life, often depends on how much money we can devote to that fight.

Pets are incredibly important in the quality of life for those who spend a lot of time alone. My experiences with seniors and senior pets have shown me that there is a need for organizations to help defray final costs. In the future, I’d like to find a way to work with groups working to make that difficult time a little easier for both the human and the pet.

A few days after Farley died, and in the midst of a flurry of friends dealing with the unexpected losses of their pets, a fellow whom I’ve known for many years suddenly went on a Facebook rampage, in which he posited that there was something wrong with those who deeply mourn their pets. Unspoken but inferred was that the public mourning of a furry friend went beyond odd to possibly immoral. He contended that no one could or should equate the loss of a dog or a cat to the loss of a human child.

Of course, these are two very different kinds of losses; a pet is not a human being that we have brought forth from our own bodies.

On the other hand, many people don’t have children. Some never wanted to have children. And still others have children that they rarely see or have interactions with. Regardless of the circumstances, it seemed odd for someone to feel that they had the right to publicly pass judgment over how other people choose to express their grief at the passing of their pets.  

I tried to explain that pets play different roles in different times of our lives; during COVID, many people adopted pets to take the place of people they couldn’t see in their isolation. The loss of a pet that has been a constant companion, that is, in some cases, a reason to get up in the morning, can often be no less painful than the loss of a person whom one loves, but with whom one has less frequent physical contact.

This fellow’s insistence on being the sole arbiter of what qualifies as a justifiable emotional pain felt like bullying to me.

I was not the only breathing creature dealing with the loss of Farley; his long-time feline companion was mourning as well. During Farley’s last days, Lady Jade tried to give him comfort, by crawling into his bed and sharing her warmth. For about 17 years, they shared their beds, their treats, and their lives.

After his final trip to the vet, little Jade, who is 18, blind, and quite small, was bereft. She crept quietly around the house, searching for him. She would silently appear in dark spaces, and was often in danger of being crushed by our feet when we’d fail to realize she was there. The only time she would calm was when either Shawn or I would hold her on our laps.

Since we’re packing and preparing to move house, I was having to choose between doing what was necessary, and comforting my poor old kitty. I needed a solution, and came up with an idea.

I often use an organization called Freecycle to give away items that I no longer need, and to find odd things I’m looking for. In this case, I put up a request for a child wrap, or some kind of carrier, that would allow me to cradle Jade against my body, but still allow me to have movement to do household chores, pack, or even to just answer the door without having to disturb her.  

Cat slings – it’s a thing.

Within a few days, I received an email from someone who wanted to know if I’d had any luck with my request. This woman was concerned because she’d had a similar situation when her older dog had passed, and his cat companion mourned him so deeply that a vet’s attention was necessary to prevent the cat from dying of grief. 

This freecycler wanted to help, and by the next morning, she had decided that she would buy a baby wrap, called a ‘Cuddle Bug,’ that I could use for Jade, and we made arrangements for delivery.

When the packages arrived from Amazon that evening, I was stunned to see the extent of her generosity. Not only had she sent the wrap, she’d also sent an array of Jade’s favorite foods, and a new cat treat – Squeeze Ups – that I’d never heard of that must be kitty crack, because Jade can’t get enough of it.

I was quite dumbfounded by the kindness of this stranger.

In my mourning, there are lessons to be learned. I clarified to myself that my future would involve somehow being of help to others dealing with pet illness and death. I have seen the ugly side of someone who is unable to empathize with the pain that others feel, but I’ve also seen the beauty of a total stranger who responds with their whole heart to a cry for help from someone in pain. 

Funny how life can show us the many ways that we can choose to live and interact with each other. Many paths lead us forward, but nothing is quite as wonderful as being able to grab hold of a hand that helps us in choosing the right direction, out of our pain, and into a shared light.

Whose Rights Are They Anyway?


by Roxanne Tellier

The east end of Toronto has always been an interesting mix of peoples. Heavily treed and with many well tended parks, it’s a beautiful area, diverse and dynamic. 

As real estate mania crested, beginning in the ‘80s, the traditional division of what was considered the highly priced Beach kept moving northward from the original Queen Street East designator. I’ve seen homes above Gerrard and just below the Danforth being called “Upper Beach” housing. Madness. Big Money.

The homes, be they bungalows, duplexes, or single dwelling two- and three-story homes, have soared in value. Finding anything for sale for less than $1 million and a half is pretty much like a unicorn sighting. A tiny bungalow across the street from our rental bungalow was listed last year for about $699,000. It was snapped up within a week for a million more than list price.

The tenants of these homes are now a mixture of the original owners, and the new owners, those who can afford to buy into these lovely streets. And that can cause some interesting problems, depending on how the residents, both new and old, react to neighbourhood incidents.

Long term EastEnders tend to be old school, a little bit lefty, but very property proud. The newer residents are generally younger, and upwardly mobile. They have to be, in order to afford these prices.

A couple of years ago I noticed a torrent of messages in a page on Facebook that is populated by people living in the Woodbine and Danforth area. It was a lovely summer night. As the sun began to set, someone posted that a man and his son had erected a tent in the center of East Lynn Park, and were blasting tunes quite loudly.  

The poster’s concern was that they had just put their kids to bed, and that the noise was keeping the little ones awake. They also wondered what would prompt someone to treat a city park as a camp ground.

Within moments the chain of messages headed for AbsurdiaLand, as far left proponents speculated on the circumstances, and began a campaign to politicize the event. This was around the time when people were beginning to ‘occupy’ Toronto parks, in protest, and several people assumed that this was the case here.

The sign someone put up on Victoria Park Avenue didn’t last long

Others presumed that this incursion had to do with the man and his son being homeless and indigent; several proposed gathering up food, water, blankets, and other welcoming items for the two.   

Many respondents were angry with those who agreed with the first poster, that this was noise pollution. It soon became apparent that noise was the least of their worries, as comments soon appeared that noted that the boy, and the dog they had with them, were using the kiddie wading pool as a toilet.

And then there was the drink and drugs that were being used – hey, it’s legal now, said some. Others thought that the presence of a child, in a children’s park, indicated that this was not the right place in which to indulge such habits.

Hundreds of belligerent, and of escalating emotional messages later, the Battle of East Lynn Park concluded when it was discovered that the man and his son had rolled up their tent and left. The war of words had been fought in a flurry of suppositions and assumptions, because, as it turned out, the man and his son were simply nearby residents who had decided to play camp that night.

But following that evening’s arguments, many long-time neighbours began a cold war of resentment against each other’s political views.  

During the pandemic, something similar happened with the arrival of ‘porch pirates.’ While most people who had their deliveries of groceries or Amazon goodies pinched were justifiably angry and disturbed when things they ordered were stolen,  there was a very loud faction of residents in the East End who felt that exceptions must be made for people who might be stealing those items due to financial misfortune, or psychological impairment.  

One woman wailed that her delivery of groceries had been stolen off her porch in the time between when she’d received a phone call announcing it’s delivery, and her walk from her kitchen to her porch. No sympathy was extended to her, however, by those who felt that the groceries might have been righteously purloined by people financially inconvenienced, who might need that food more than she, a resident in a well-to-do neighbourhood, could ever be expected to understand.

No matter how egregious the actions, there was always a noisy faction that could find every conceivable excuse for the thieves, excuses that absolved the crimes, and placed the onus on the innocents who merely expected to receive the things they’d bought and paid for, in a time when many were afraid to leave their homes and mingle with the great unmasked.

As we near Halloween and the holiday season, people are starting to worry about teens looking to pull pranks on neighbours. Some pranks are relatively harmless, while others can be considered vandalism and malicious. We can’t write off the fears and damage done to residents and property by kids enjoying themselves by absolving the perpetrators, and blaming the victims for having the temerity to own homes in a desirable neighbourhood.

There have been incidents along Queen Street East, and into the Beach area, throughout the pandemic. There have been unsupervised bonfires, dogs being sicced on baby foxes, and reports of roving gangs of teens damaging property along the main street. In one well publicized incident, a rave up devolved into horror when a partygoer began running through the Leslie Spit, threatening people with a chainsaw.

Toronto police have not been very responsive, and can rarely be bothered to respond in a timely manner to residents requests for help. Add to that the far-left voices that seek to absolve the kids of their crimes, and who, remembering their own halcyon days of the toilet papering of neighbours and other minor acts of vandalism, chuckle that ‘it’s just kids!” and ‘boys will be boys!

Small comfort when it’s your porch that’s been trashed, your garden that reeks of urine, and your job to clean up the mess left behind by the youthful marauders.    

Now, here’s the thing. The demographics of the vocal minority of the left are surprisingly similar to that of the right; as a rule, those speaking in defense of minorities, the poor, and the disenfranchised are actually the better educated, wealthier people, in two-parent households. Couples who wait to have kids and buy homes tend to have higher incomes and better social mobility, and that can make them more attuned to the real or perceived lack of funds and rights of people struggling with less.

But that attunement can pitch them into a battle against the people on the right who feel no such empathy towards those who have, for financial, physical, or emotional reasons, eschewed the traditional paths of a family friendly agenda.

And it’s definitely causing huge divides, even between the centre left and the left, and that’s a battle that can lead to some pretty severe consequences politically, in time. While it’s currently more visible in the States, where the centre left leaning Democrats are battling with their own party’s far-left leaning members, to the detriment of the nation, we’re daily creating our own smaller divisions that are sending milder, less vocal, small and capital L liberals to the ‘other side.’

When people act in extreme ways, when we see the hysterics of the far right or the far left, we can easily see how off-putting this is to those whose beliefs and needs lie straight down the middle. What we often fail to see is that this can lead to the actual, less vocal, majority moving towards the conservative right, which has traditionally been the home of the politically conservative, veering towards regressive, voters.

That’s what’s happening to the Democratic party in the States right now. On the far left, the vocal majority is imperilling the good that could come from the Build Back Better Act by emphasizing tactics and ideology that repel the centre left. Centrists in the party believe that some of the demands of the younger, more progressive members leave them open to attacks from the Republicans, who will use the more ‘out there’ demands to paint the entire Democratic party as radical socialists, all of whom want nothing more than to enact far-left positions like late term abortions and defunding the police.

Democratic senators Manchin and Sinema, far to the right of centrism at the best of times, are able to ride that position in their own states to justify denying important infrastructure projects, on the grounds that their conservative viewpoints can’t accept using funds to help with college tuitions, childcare, senior care, and major action on climate change. Their decisions to deny funding anything they disagree with, will effectively kill any likelihood that all Americans will be able to profit from the use of their own tax dollars to improve their lives, when the Act has been ripped to shreds to satisfy the outliers, both on the left and the right of centre.

That’s what happens when we give extremism too much free reign. Many of us have solid opinions, and have strongly held views about our society and our neighbours, and that’s our right. What we don’t have the right to do is to quash other people’s opinions and views. In a civilized society, in a democracy, we all have rights, and the key to keeping things moving forward is balancing the right and the left, so that neither side is given too much sway in how we live our daily lives.

The place to start, where we begin to work together rather than to tear each other apart, is right in our own neighbourhoods.   

Having empathy and understanding means being able to hold two thoughts in one’s mind simultaneously. We need to be able to look at acts that threaten our values and rights in a balanced fashion. This means that those who commit crimes, regardless of the motivation, need to be held responsible for their actions. If their actions were compelled by socio-economic or psychological problems, their actions still endangered, or damaged property owned by another person, and there needs to be some justice done to mitigate that crime. We can talk about how we can help that bad actor to change their life path AFTER we address the damage that they have done to our society through their bad actions. No one is entitled to ‘more justice’ than the next person. Justice demands balance.

Can we really be living in a time when we’re addressing issues like the #MeToo movement, but simultaneously saying “Kids will be Kids… Boys will be Boys” and allowing them to engage in destructive and bullying patterns that will transition with them from childhood to adulthood?

Children who are indulged when they engage in pranking, bullying neighbours, or hurting animals are just kids in training for a future where they believe that bullying women, children, minorities and animals are fair game.   

It may be difficult to look at the young, shining face of a child or teen and find them guilty of harming others by what seems to be mere childish pranks, but for every kid that gleefully ran up to a door and rang the bell at midnight, there’s an adult who has spent hours finally getting a child to sleep; a senior suffering from a painful illness who just found a comfy spot in their bed; a beloved pet jolted from rest and into defensive mode at a sound in the night.

We shape our future society by what we teach our kids, and how we encourage them to engage with others. If we teach them to respect the needs, values and rights of others, we get a society we all enjoy. But if we allow our children and each other to selfishly demand that our rights and needs be given precedence over that of others, we choose a path of anger and chaos, and a society where we run the chance of people in positions of power taking away our rights, since we clearly aren’t able to handle them for ourselves.

Move It On Over


by Roxanne Tellier

I’ll just put it out there .. I hate moving. I like looking at other houses that are staged to sell, and imagining what it would be like to live there. I like watching DIY experts slap $40 worth of paint onto walls, transform a wood pallet into a piece of luxurious furniture, and change a blah room into a stunning piece of art. In the past, I myself have spent major dollars and worked insanely long hours, hoping to make a sow’s ear into a silk purse. DIY porn. It’s a thing.

(no, not this kind!) 

But that was then, and this is my aching back now. And here we go again.

I am already dreading the physical work required to get out of one nest, move to another, and then transform a house into a home. Expect no renovation/decoration miracles from me until I catch my breath. Maybe not even then, if my breath’s run far enough away from me. It’s enough to know that I’m going to have to, for the third time in 5 years, tidy, declutter, and pack up my stuff, and then get it from point a to point B reasonably intact, and at a realistic cost financially, mentally, and physically.

Not that that ever happens. It’s always a dog’s breakfast. I’m still discovering things that went missing in the last two moves, misplaced or disappeared into the ozone. Four years after finding the bungalow we’re in right now, I’m still trying to sort the stuff that I was supposed to downsize the last time we danced this house moving polka.

Most major cities have gone real-estate mad, and prices have risen astronomically. I would hazard a guess that the nouveau riche of the 2010s and 20s are the agents that broker the multi-million-dollar deals. Those commissions are lush. Crazy times, when ratty, post-war bungalows, that cost about $10K when built in the 50s, now regularly go for well over a million dollars.

The owners might make out like bandits, but they’ll usually also find themselves priced out of staying in the market, unless they’re willing to move out of the big cities and into the hinterlands. It’s getting so that even the furthest flung of hamlets have million-dollar sale stars in their eyes. 

That being said, after selling our home in 2016, we entered the rental market with much trepidation, and had many not very fun adventures in Rental Land. We found this little place in 2017, and have been happy with the location. But our landlord has decided to downsize his portfolio, and take over this property as his own, in the Spring.

That is, of course, his right. It is, however, our problem, and after much deliberation, we’ve decided we don’t want to be at the mercy of landlords ever again. We’re gonna put our toesies back into the real estate market, and try to find a little place where we can lay back and enjoy our retirement years.

It’s crazy. I’m already having trouble sleeping, my mind racing with all the things I have to deal with. We’ve got our mover set, and I have an idea of the size of our moving van, which helps in making decisions on large items …  heavier items will be staying behind, if we can’t justify the expense of moving them. Wanna buy a treadmill?

Endless lists are being made. Although we’re months away from actually moving, the house already looks like the cover of a House Horrible Magazine. Each day I wake, still tired from the tossing and turning of the night before, and try and tackle another area that must be sorted, dispersed and packed, while leaving enough necessary items out for our use between now and when we leave. AND second guessing myself on whether this might be the time to decide that we don’t need three large pots, but what if I have to cook both corn on the cob AND pasta at the same time, while making a sauce?

Decisions, decisions, and more decisions. This work is not for the nervous, the anxious, the easily stressed.    

I have always had a need to hang on to things, ‘just in case’. And those ‘just in case’ emergencies happen just often enough to convince me that hanging on to elastic bands, thumb tacks, used balloons, and broken rulers, all of which might be urgent requirements in the future, should not be discarded.

But I’m really, really, trying this time – to let things go, to look forward to a sleek, uncluttered future. And I have some ideas for how to get from here to there. I just hope these ideas are less stalling tactics, and more the right way to get around my reluctance to let go of things that still feel too valuable to pass on. My fear is always that I risk not having something when it’s actually needed, not being able to replace an important tool, or not having the funds to re-purchase an item if the need arose.

Each of the recent moves has been an opportunity to trim down the chains of ‘stuff’ I’ve worn like Marley’s Ghost for pretty much all of my life. Few of these chains, “made of cash boxes, padlocks, ledgers, deeds,” are actually of much value, except in sentiment, and in what the items represent to me, emotionally.  

Like Marley, I ‘forged these chains in life.’

“Dickens clarifies that these are the “chains (he) forged in life”, reinforcing the idea that he is suffering due to his own actions. The fact Marley has clearly caused his own suffering would perhaps cause the reader to view his character unsympathetically. This lack of sympathy is furthered by the animalistic imagery used by Dickens to describe the chain which is “long, and wound about him like a tail”.

Marley’s Ghost – a character profile

In my case, I began forging these chains when I was about 10 or 11 years old. My parents split up, and my mother, sister and I fled Alberta for Montreal with little more than the clothing on our backs, and a small trunk of sentimental items. Leaving behind all that had been important to me up until that point in my life made me cling all the harder to the things that came my way in the succeeding years.

In 1976, I again fled a province, this time leaving Quebec behind for Toronto, and abandoning all that I had accumulated in the proceeding years. I repeated this pattern a few times, over my adult life, and each time, it became harder to let go of things that I had gathered.

When we sold our house in 2016, I did the most drastic purge of my life, but still had a house full of stuff, as well as an 8 x 10 storage unit, stacked floor to ceiling with the trash and treasures left behind by my father, mother and sister who have predeceased me, and the remnants of the collectible business I’d had in the early 2000s. That unit, too, was eventually disbursed, the treasures within mostly donated to charities that had need of the items.  

And now, here we go again. Since we moved into this place in 2017, I’ve had to buy six bookshelves to try and contain a portion of the books that overflow every room, and lurk in every corner. These will all have to be sorted, and pared down to just the reference tomes I want to keep. The books I must part with will go to the Little Free Libraries in my neighbourhood.

I have been working on a new project that involves crafts, and all of those bits and pieces that I’ve already amassed will have to be carefully stored until I have a space to spread out the goodies, and work my magic upon them. 

In this last month, I’ve also been interviewing clients of local food banks, for a project I was hired to do. One of the questions that I would ask each respondent was what non-food item they’d like to receive regularly. Some of the answers matched up with items that I have in my kitchen and bathroom hoards; I’ve begun sorting those little things, like soaps, shampoos, razors, cleaning products, makeup and hygiene products, and am assigning what I’m collecting to the people who run these food banks, for distribution to those that need these things.

Winter’s also a good time to collect up any extra woollies, hats, scarfs, gloves, warm socks, boots and the like, to help out those people who will be looking for warm clothes as the weather changes. Food banks are always looking for donations, as are charitable foundations that clothe refugees and immigrants.

I think it’s unlikely that I’ll ever need a full stage wardrobe again, so some lucky charities are about to receive some very fancy stage tops and shoes; I get such a kick out of seeing some of my wilder stage items on display, when I later visit the charities that received my pretty possessions.

I always find it easier to let go of the things that I’ve collected when I know – or at least, have reason to believe – that these goods will go to people who will appreciate them.

Sorting and discarding these things now, in preparation for this move, is a lot of work, but it also feels ‘right. At some point in the future, my husband and/or children will have to deal with all of this ‘stuff’ if I haven’t, and I’ve never wanted to leave a big mess behind for others to deal with.  

The meaning of life is having a place to keep your stuff.”  George Carlin

While it may seem morbid, in truth, I’ve always been the person that had to clean up the ‘stuff’ that my family members have left behind, and it’s a very hard thing to grapple with, while also dealing with the passing of a loved one. That kind of emotional baggage can leave one depressed for years. I know those losses contributed to an ongoing depression that I’ve struggled with for decades.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, but for my kids, most of my stuff is trash that they don’t need or want to have to deal with. They don’t want my junk, and I don’t want them to have to tidy it away. My goal is to eliminate the need for them to have to deal with too much of my left-over junk some day. One of the greatest gifts you can give your loved ones is to ease their burdens when they’re dealing with their own emotions.

Conversely, what’s trash to them, is my treasure, and now I get to pack it all up again, and move it to some other place that will hold my ‘stuff’.

Yep, here we go again, taking that deep breath and preparing to take a giant step outside our comfort zones. Big wheel keeps on turning ….