Cogito, ergo sum I think


by Roxanne Tellier

“So this is Christmas, and what have you done? Another year over. A new one just begun.”  (John Lennon/Yoko Ono)  

In 18 days, this year – this miserable, disappointing, painful, ugly, disquieting, frustrating and lonely year – will finally end. Good riddance to it; it’s broken far too many of us.

It was a year when being an introvert might have saved your psyche, if it weren’t for the people you were locking down with. Really, the pandemic opened our eyes to how socially distant we already were, in our own minds. For many, not having to be around other people was wonderful. The world, as a rule, is built for extroverts, who enjoy and thrive on the energy generated by gatherings, their brain’s ‘reward’ centre activated. But if you’re an introvert, dealing with others is overstimulating, akin to being drained by a vampire; it takes a while to recover from the contact, no matter how pleasurable. 

This year, we learned to fear others, since there is no way to know if that kid on his scooter, the crazy lady in the supermarket, or that guy walking on your side of the street, is carrying the virus. We are less quick to remember the niceties of civilization, like holding open the door for others, or asking a confused looking person if they’re all right. In our misperception, we are more likely to push the automatic door opening button rather than touch the door’s handle, without realizing how many others, potentially infected, did the same thing.

But it’s also the year in which we came together, within our ‘bubble,’ and, perhaps naively, assumed that people we knew, or those who looked the most like us, could not possibly be the carriers of the plague. It was a little like the bad old days of herpes and HIV/AIDS, when many threw the sexual dice based on how ‘clean’ the potential partner appeared. I wonder how many people, grateful to interact, joyfully greeted the instrument of their demise with hugs and handshakes.  

2020 was when we learned who the real ‘essential workers’ are, and it’s not the 1%, or the CEOs; it’s the guy or gal on the front line, making your coffee, wiping down tables with antiseptic cleanser, or processing your order. It’s the drivers of the delivery trucks that deliver an unending stream of necessities and baubles to keep our brains and hands occupied. It’s the hospital staff who keep working during the worse time of their careers. It’s the construction worker who is fixing the sidewalk, or the plumber that comes to your house to fix that leak. Now we need to learn that these people who keep the world turning deserve to be paid accordingly.

We also discovered what an enormous role, emotionally and financially, the arts play in our lives. When the world of entertainment shut down, a big part of our leisure lives went with it. The entertainment industry were already calculating at least a $160 billion hit, over the next few years, just a couple of months into the pandemic. The many industries that exist to support theatres, concert halls, and other places that offer music, theatre, and dance are also struggling to survive.

With so many people unable to use the pressure-relieving valve of gathering, be it at work or play, a lot of things we took for granted as being ‘just the way it is,’ were revealed to be illusory. The important things – food on the table, a roof over you head – shone a light on how foolish we had been in equating the skyrocketing stock market with the economy. In actual fact, inequality has never been as sharp. We are a nation of haves and have nots, with one end of society able to ply their trade from home, while the other may be losing their homes and contemplating life in a tent in a city park.

In the United States, more than eleven million people remain unemployed, while 614 American billionaires grew their wealth by nearly a trillion dollars. And in Canada ….

“A report released on June 17 by the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) reveals staggering levels of social inequality in Canada. Often portrayed in the corporate media and official politics as a “kinder,” more “progressive” society than the United States, Canadian capitalism is exposed in the study as an oligarchic social order.

According to the PBO, the share of wealth held by the top one percent of Canadians is 25.6 percent. This is almost double the estimate of 13.7 percent given by Statistics Canada.  

According to the new PBO estimates, the top one percent in Canada owns about as much as the poorest 80 percent. The upper middle class and petty bourgeoisie, the 9 per cent immediately following the top one per cent, own 30.8 per cent of the wealth.

The millionaires and billionaires in the richest 10 per cent of the population own a staggering $5.829 trillion. “

There’s an ever-widening wealth gap between the rich and the poor, in Canada, as in the rest of the world. The richest one percent of the globe’s population possesses twice as much wealth as the poorest 6.9 billion. And that has had devastating consequences on those struggling to survive. The poor are more likely to have less access to higher education, to suffer from health problems, and to die many years earlier than the wealthy.

COVID-19 has had a profound impact on our personal and financial circumstances, even before you take into account the emotional toll it’s had on us. As humans experiencing the trauma of the pandemic, many are experiencing depression, anxiety, panic attacks, grief at what has been lost, and suicidal ideations. Worse, whole communities are being impacted, so that the pandemic is about to leave a societal scar. Beyond the struggle each of us are dealing with, we are experiencing a collective or communal trauma. Psychologists say this can impact the psyche and culture of our communities, sometimes spanning generations.

2020 has been a horrible year for so many reasons. But it’s also had a few bright spots. There’s been a number of scientific breakthroughs that may help curb the effects of climate change. A drop in pollution caused by commuting has brightened our skies, and even made the Himalayas visible for the first time in thirty years.

In Europe, an app developed in Denmark called “Too Good To Go” has kept over 30 million meals out of the trash by connecting businesses with excess food to consumers who can buy that food at reduced prices.

A Brazilian and U.S. non-profit initiative is paying farmers and ranchers to keep the Amazon forest standing.  The pandemic also shone a light on the ‘wet markets’ where poorly handled animals being consumed contribute to about 75% of recently emerged infectious diseases affecting humans, with cities finally willing to work towards shuttering these places.

The wave of kindness and community that blossomed at the beginning of the pandemic is waning, but in its place are new and often renewed charitable agencies helping people to get through these tough times. Volunteerism is up.  Animal adoptions are at an all time high, as people connect with a furry friend and companion.  

In the States, Joe Biden is the president elect, and Kamala Harris is the first woman, the first African American, and the first South Asian American to be elected to the vice presidency. In just over a month, the reign of error that was trump will hopefully be in our rear-view mirrors.

Not one, but several vaccines have been created at breathtaking speed, and are being distributed around the world, leading to hope that within about a year, we can look forward to returning to some kind of normal. And the pandemic itself has taught us some important lessons about responsible health care that is already having an impact on the rate of colds and flus that regularly take us down when our bodies are stressed. Turns out, washing your hands, wearing a mask, and staying home when we’re sick has a positive outcome on lots of more common illnesses.  

So it’s been a year that closer resembled a Chinese curse than a gift, but it’s almost over, and many of us survived. We’re all a little older, wiser, and greyer. Some of us have less money than before this trial, while others learned that money really can’t buy happiness, but a CERB cheque can buy a lot of cool junk on Amazon. And they deliver.

What a ride, eh?

Wishing that your holidays be merry, and your new year a blessing. Love to you all.

Pursuing Perfection


“Twitter Won’t “Let It Go” After Idina Menzel’s “Frozen” Performance on New Year’s Eve”

?????????????????My, there sure are a lot of people critiquing Idina Menzel’s New Year’s Eve performance. Who’d have guessed that the nation had such wide knowledge and experience of music and performance? Let it go, people!

Yes, I’ve seen the video clip, and yes, she missed the last high note, after beautifully performing the first 3 minutes and 40 seconds. As a singer myself, I can imagine how upset she’d have been with herself as she neared the note, muffed it, and still had to appear confident and grateful for applause. That’s a terrible feeling, that moment that you know – and you always know – that you just screwed something up in front of the world.

The thing is, most of us will never have the chance to make big mistakes in front of large audiences. Few rise to any kind of worldwide fame, and those few generally deserve their place, whether you approve or not. The singer, the actor, the politician, the fashion guru … they get there by being either very good at what they do, or being very good at hiring people to make it appear that they are very good at what they do. Joe/Jane Blow on The Voice or American Idol is not that person. Those who audition on talent shows are hoping that they can get to the top, but it’s a long hard road and they are only a few paces in.

There are several factors that are being ignored by those ‘haters,’ one being a deep dark secret the performing industry hopes you’ve not noticed – most of the top stars performing at important live events are not actually singing live. Or they may be singing along to a recording of themselves, to cover the bases. You don’t want a major event being spoiled by the vagaries of humans. Singers, being human, are not always at their best when you need them to be. Lip synching, or miming, has been around since as long as there has been the ability to create and record one perfect performance. Did you honestly think that the actors in the Partridge Family just all happened to be wonderful little songbirds as well? Do you not remember the scandal in 1990 when Milli Vanilli had to return their Grammy award when it turned out they hadn’t actually sung their hits?

Even the great Pavarotti had to fall back on lip synching.

pavarotti“On February 10, 2006, Luciano Pavarotti sang “Nessum Dorma” at the 2006 Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Turin, Italy at his final performance. In the last act of the opening ceremony, his performance received the longest and loudest ovation of the night from the international crowd. Leone Magiera, who directed the performance, revealed in his 2008 memoirs, Pavarotti Visto da Vicino, that the performance was pre-recorded weeks earlier. “The orchestra pretended to play for the audience, I pretended to conduct and Luciano pretended to sing. The effect was wonderful,” he wrote. Pavarotti’s manager, Terri Robson, said that the tenor had turned the Winter Olympic Committee’s invitation down several times because it would have been impossible to sing late at night in the sub-zero conditions of Turin in February. The committee eventually persuaded him to take part by pre-recording the song.” (Wikipedia)

Having heard Ms Menzel’s performance, I can assure you – she was neither lip synching nor singing to a track. That was a real person on stage, in the freezing cold, trying to give her best to an audience of thousands. Of those sneering at the missed note, 99.9% would likely be unable to replace her in either her stage or recording capacity.

But they’ll chime in anyway, because today’s audiences are also either unaware or uncaring that the recording of a voice is not necessarily a snapshot of what the singer can actually perform live. Many performers rely on auto-tune, not only in the studio, but in their microphone during a live performance. (Auto-tune, first developed in 1997, is an audio processor that corrects pitch in notes.) And during recording, the singer can make as many stabs as they like at hitting a particularly high note, or at holding a note, independent of what notes came before. The singer can record a line at a time, if necessary, and the studio engineer can cut and paste parts of the song as needed. The engineer can also add ‘sweeteners’ to the voice, adding a slight echo, or bringing up the treble or bass in the voice to create fullness. So what you’re hearing on a record may actually have very little in common with what the singer will present in a live performance.  auto tune disabled

“Opponents of the plug-in have argued that Auto-Tune has a negative effect on society’s perception and consumption of music. In 2004, UK’s The Daily Telegraph music critic Neil McCormick called Auto-Tune a “particularly sinister invention that has been putting extra shine on pop vocals since the 1990s” by taking “a poorly sung note and transpos[ing] it, placing it dead centre of where it was meant to be”… In 2010, Time magazine included Auto-Tune in their list of “The 50 Worst Inventions.” (Wikipedia)

And speaking of live performances, “Let It Go” is not a song one would generally expect to hear performed at the Times Square venue on New Year’s Eve. It’s a power ballad, from a cartoon, sung by an incredible Broadway stage veteran, and backed by an orchestra, for pete’s sake! There’s no hiding behind drums, bass and a wailing guitar here! The song is all voice, exposing both perfections and imperfections.

Ms Menzel is taking the criticism far better than most. As social media continues to bang on about ‘that note,’ she’s responded by referencing an interview she gave a few months ago, in which she said in part, “Performing isn’t only about the acrobatics and the high notes; it’s staying in the moment, connecting with the audience in an authentic way, and making yourself real to them through the music. I am more than the notes I hit, and that’s how I try to approach my life. You can’t get it all right all the time, but you can try your best. If you’ve done that, all that’s left is to accept your shortcomings and have the courage to try to overcome them.”

Perhaps those who can’t stop criticizing Ms Menzel’s performance would be wise to look to their own lives. If their best efforts were to suddenly be shown to the public, could their attempts bear the same sort of scrutiny they’re giving to her?

And when did today’s audience become so like the bloodthirsty Coliseum crowds in Nero’s fallen Roman empire, shouting encouragement to the lions rather than the gladiators? Sorry, haters – This time it’s you that’s earned the thumbs down.thumbs down