Parsing What Comes Between the Thanks and the Giving


by Roxanne Tellier

Americans celebrated their Thanksgiving this past week. Many families endured long journeys, traveling across the country, to spend time with the people they love. The lucky ones gathered around tables that groaned with heaps of delicious, fresh, and sometimes even healthy, food.

Norman Rockwell; Freedom from Want

Following in the tradition of the giving of thanks, families and friends joined hands and expressed their gratitude for those they love, for all that they have, and for all they hoped to amass during the capitalistic human centipede orgy known as Black Friday shopping.

Amen.

For the fortunate, it was a warm, loving, pre-holiday feast. Some families went to bed feeling loved, with full bellies, and visions of the sugar plums they’d enjoy next month.

Other families – not so much. Beyond worrying about how to pay for that groaning board, they had to deal with the ‘difficult’ relative – the aunt, or uncle, or son or daughter or in-law who, instead of bringing a sweet potato and marshmallow pie, brought their anger, fear, and their disdain for the political party that the rest of the gathering espoused.

All In the Family; Archie, Edith, Michael and Gloria

And that could be to either party. While I have my own bias, I’m well aware that a family that has an altar to trump is gonna have trouble with the family member who is a ‘never trumper’ – and vice versa. Think Archie Bunker, wrangling with son in law Michael Stivic, while Edith and Gloria tried to calm the troubled waters. Oh yes, it was ever thus. As then, so today, but oh my living lights and liver! It’s so much worse now.

Tell me,  how’d we ever get this way.

Not everyone experiences these unpleasant interactions. Maybe you are blessed with a Hallmark card family that never disagrees. And many people use social media sparingly, as a place to connect with loved ones, and to enjoy funny gifs and Youtube videos. That’s a perfectly valid – probably the most sensible! – way to enjoy the internet. What I’m talking about here is those of us who compulsively follow the news, with a fetish for politics. That’s a whole other experience. For us ….

” These are the days of miracle and wonder. This is the long distance call. The way the camera follows us in slo-mo. The way we look to us all, oh yeah”

Paul Simon – The Boy in the Bubble

Maybe we can blame it on social media, on our ability to reach out and touch every other person on the planet who enthusiastically agrees with our theories and preferences, but the truth is, a huge segment of society has somehow devolved into something primal and tribal. It’s no longer a disagreement or a difference in opinion; it’s outright war against anyone who doesn’t toe exactly the same political lines we hold dear.

And no matter how ridiculous. 

The level of insanity exhibited by the Mad King installed in the White House is only matched by his sycophantic court, who gladly traipse along behind him, carrying his water, and informing the people that his most insane pronouncements are only misunderstood by his subjects because the hoi polloi can never dream of attaining the level of ‘genius’ trump was born with. Sigh.

You know – the way North Koreans are taught from birth that their holy family in the Kim Dynasty are beyond human understanding, and must be worshipped as gods. Like that. 

The sad truth is that the rules of modern civilized engagement have been fundamentally changed, and many people have decided that they prefer these new rules. Why tell the truth, when the president, all of his administration, and apparently almost all those of wealth and power, no longer feel the need to do so? What kind of sucker tells the truth and takes accountability for their misdeeds, when there’s dirty money to be made, and a seemingly infinite number of lawyers prepared to argue that your fake truth is just as valid as someone else’s declaration?

The people in charge are making it up as they go. Reality is now whatever the 1% say it is, and the rest of you better ‘get over it.’

75% of Americans don’t trust their government and politicians, while 64% don’t even trust each other. And the response from their governmental spokesperson?

“This is the way it works. Get over it.”

Nick Mulvaney, Acting White House Chief of Staff, October 17, 2019

And why bother being civil to each other, when accusations, personal sniping, and the flinging of links to sites that trumpet your truth, is the new way to communicate? The loudest voice seems to rule the day, as those with softer voices and gentle demeanours fall by the wayside.  Even many of those that we may think of as friends and colleagues seem unable to stop themselves from snapping at our heels, unmoored from a frontal cortex that might stop their lips from voicing what might, in better times, have never been uttered, like so many stroke victims who have lost their verbal filters. 

The atmosphere seems to favour the conceit that we are the most important and most knowledgeable person in the room, while simultaneously being the biggest, and most ignored victim, in history. Schrödinger’s Narcissist, demanding to be heard, no matter how inane and mundane our input may be. The shining lead in a reality show in which it truly is all about us, and the ‘little people’ are on their own.   

The trouble is, when everyone’s the boss, when everyone is too important to be of help, things get really dicey when you actually need help yourself. And we’re all so short of time. When we want something, we want it now, and the not getting of something we want the minute we want it leads to tantrums and tears over stuff that we might have brushed away as no big deal, just a few years ago.

Maybe our narcissism and self-focus is a by-product of the things we cannot control or change. Spending our time on self-soothing leaves little time for thinking about how the rest of the world lives. While we complain about how hard it is to get rid of stuff so that we can buy more stuff, there are millions of Canadians and Americans who are homeless. In truth, the average person is just two or three pay cheques away from being in the same boat. Maybe even just one.

” Millions of middle-class Americans are just one missed paycheck away from poverty, with 4 of 10 considered “liquid-asset poor,” or without enough money socked away to cope with even a sudden disruption in income. “

Despite the lowest unemployment rate in decades and solid economic growth, many Americans are on thin financial ice, Prosperity Now found. Minority households are particularly lagging on key measures such as income and wealth, the study found. Across the board, more than 1 in 10 American households fell behind in their bills in the last year, a signal that many are struggling with rising costs and stagnant incomes.  “ cbsnews.com

While blowhards rant about how ‘welfare queens’ pump out more mouths for taxpayers to feed, and claim with no evidence that the poor use their food stamps for steak and booze, the sad truth is that America can be a harsh and unforgiving place for those born to anything less than middle class. Many resent giving the poor and vulnerable ‘hand outs,’ but have no solutions as to how we should go about helping those less fortunate than themselves.  

This epidemic of poverty and homelessness is not new; society was ever thus. What is so startling about today’s wave of needy citizens is the glaring contrast between the haves and the have nots.

Trump’s Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, has 10 yachts, 12 private jets, 4 helicopters, a government job replete with perks and benefits, and pays no taxes.  She also has 24/7 security, at a cost to the taxpayers of $20 million to date, because she ‘fears for her life’ due to some teacher-led protests.

At 10:30 a.m., this Black Friday, I walked along Yonge Street near Bloor, picking my way through the hands held out for change, while avoiding the prone bodies in sleeping bags that hugged the curb. Across the street, the glittering shops of Yorkville were swamped with fur coated shoppers proffering their black AmEx credit cards to take advantage of sales.

Toronto‘s libraries don’t talk about it much, but they are often the only place able to provide a safe haven for those with no homes, and nowhere to go during the day. On any given day, it’s not unusual to see a bundle buggy heaped high with all of a person’s worldly possessions parked in a library foyer or washroom. And while it may be tempting to sniff that you are opposed to paying for this with your tax dollars, the question then must be what you are prepared to do to help with the situation instead. And that takes a great deal more money, courage and empathy, than kicking in a few pennies per year in your taxes.

Looking beyond our cities and nations, people all around the globe are dying by the millions, from war and neglect. In Yemen, 85,000 children under the age of five have died from starvation, along with countless adult civilians. In Syria, the Kurdish people, who just a month ago were American allies, are being slaughtered as the Turkish militia go door to door in search of ex-fighters. Russia illegally annexed Crimea, and is at war with the Ukraine.

Southwest Bangladesh

The nation of Bangladesh is frantically trying to bail out the waters that are threatening to sink this South Asian country, due to climate change. And it is not even an island nation. It’s population of over 163 million will soon need somewhere to live. Like the other countries facing imminent disaster, they will become climate refugees, searching for new homes, along with Comoros, Tonga, the Seychelles, Palau, Nauru, Kirbati, the Federated States of Micronesia, Tuvalu, and the Maldives.

Last week, koalas became functionally extinct, joining the more than nearly 500 species that have gone extinct in the last century due to continued human degradation and destruction of natural habitats.. Your grandchildren may never see a koala, polar bear, rhinoceros, lion or tiger other than in a picture book.

And yet .. and yet .. and yet ….

The wealthiest people on earth increased their combined personal fortunes by about $1 trillion dollars last year. The poorest person on Forbes Richest People List, at number 20, is Jack Ma, who has a personal net worth of over $41 billion dollars. Mr Ma, alone, if he wished, could end world hunger. 

I know that it is difficult to cope mentally with all of these issues, of climate change, man’s inhumanity to man and animals, wars, populist politicians, societal division, a lack of civility and decency, inequality, and the disparity of income and the ill treatment of our most vulnerable that we see around us. How do you justify these things, when so many of these problems could potentially be ameliorated by the very people who compound the issues in their quest to amass and hoard more wealth than most of us can envision?

If you allowed yourself to really feel the despair of all of those who are afraid, hungry, cold, or in pain – how would you be able to get up every morning and go to school, or work? How do you keep the wheels of the world turning, if you are grieving for people you don’t know, and are unlikely to ever encounter?

I don’t see a lot of happy people these days, on the streets, in the stores, in their vehicles or on transit. I see a lot of angry people, a lot of frustrated faces, and people rushing to be somewhere that doesn’t seem like a place they want to be. I see beggars on the streets of a wealthy city.

“How can you tell me that you’re lonely? And say for you that the sun don’t shine.”

Ralph McTell, Streets of London

Maybe we need to re-examine how we engage with each other. These days I hear so many more raised voices, and so much less laughter. Maybe it’s time to encourage and reward civility and good humour, rather than making heroes and celebrities of those who delight in disrespecting and brutalizing their fellow human beings.

And with the holiday season nearly here, and the cold of winter encroaching, maybe we can all just take a minute to be truly grateful for what we have, and to help those in need. Not a single one of us can save the earth – but all of us together could make a start.

Putting the ‘Wow’ in Pow Wow


2017PW-PosterThe Na-Me-Res (Native Men’s Residence) lucked out with the weather for the annual traditional Pow Wow held Saturday, June 24th, at the Fort York historical site. The day was sunny, yet breezy, and very well attended.

Barbette Kensington and I were early to this celebration of song, dance and ceremony. From the impressive Grand Entry, through an entire day filled with the pounding heartbeat of the drums competing to be heard over the cheerful chatter and laughter, the old Fort was a sea of smiling faces of all shapes and colours

Powwows honour Native tradition, and I was grateful to our emcees, Steve Teekens and Jay Lomax, who outlined the elaborate etiquette and protocol that is integral to understanding the rituals and colourful regalia.

The Grand Entry, for instance, is not to be photographed nor videotaped, since this is a sacred moment during which the members of the procession may be praying for loved ones or members of the community. The regalia, often the work of many hands over a long period of time, represent the totems of the wearers, with the colours reflecting their spirits. No one may touch any part of a dancer’s regalia without first asking permission. rox at pow wow June 2017 with dancer

” The moment you take on the role of an initiated dancer, a great deal of pressure is put on you by the people, not only to perform, but to be a role model, to be honorable. When you put on regalia, you take on the essence of the sacred animal, honor culture, tradition and the Creator.

“Being humble should be the number one priority for any dancer, thankful that you are allowed to dance with the animals you wear, your sweat and suffering are for the people, making people proud of who you are, showing your respect, because you represent them,” said Elder Antoine Littlewolf.

One of the unwritten rules of powwow is that no one should touch another’s regalia without first being given permission by the maker or owner.

Eagle feathers, which traditionally are earned, and all feathers, for that matter, should be treated with special care. It’s necessary to be humble and respectful to each feather being worn. The spirits of all animals being worn must be respected above all else.

Care and respect of the sacred circle extends, not only to respecting the arbor, sacred objects and other dancers, but to the whole atmosphere, the ground themselves, mother earth.”     http://ammsa.com/publications/windspeaker/powwow-etiquette-dictates-respect-tradition-0)

Arena Director Earl Oegema handily kept the dancers in line in accordance with all of the tradition and protocol. “Powwow etiquette and tradition dictates that the Grass dancers be the first to enter the arbor, symbolically stomping down the grass to provide a flattened circle for the rest of the dancers to follow. They enter the arbor from the south entrance and go clockwise with the drum, following the wheeling movement of the sun, moon and stars.”

The Grand Entry is next, followed by songs and prayers, during which the attendees are asked to stand as a sign of respect. The beauty, colours, and the dignified spirituality on display before us brought tears to my eyes.

Bill and Vicki Wood PowWow June 2017We’d run into Vicki and Bill Wood (the Woodies, Eye Eye) on our way in to the Pow Wow, and spent some time chatting with them. Now it was time to begin our walkabout through the 50 craft vendor and information booths on site, chatting with old and new friends.

We were on a mission to find the Anishnawbe Health Toronto booth, as Barbette had some questions for the staff. On the way, we flirted and chatted with some of Toronto’s finest, part of the Aboriginal Peacekeeping Unit, established in September 1992 , the first major urban police service in Canada to establish a unit to deal specifically with the issues faced by the Aboriginal community.

pow wow at pow wow June 2017With lunch on our minds, we were happy to see our friend Shawn Adler‘s Pow Wow Cafe was represented with a food booth on site. From the moment the Cafe opened, the foodies were lined up for blocks; the food IS that good. So we were lucky to see the multitalented artists, Annalee Orr and Nancy Beiman, close to the head of the very long line up for his Indian Tacos. They asked us to join them, and with little persuasion, and some apologies to those we’d line cut, we did, and soon had our plates of bannock smothered in beef, vegetables, salad and sour cream clutched in our hands.

Annalee and son Daniel had established a little ‘camp’ under the one tree in the Fort, and there we quickly polished off the tacos. Bellies full, it was time to visit the vendor booths.

Barbette knows many of the craftspeople and vendors from Native Centre encounters, so we made a very slow promenade, admiring the jewellery and artwork, being inspired by the craftworks, and chatting with some of the artists.

dancers pow wow June 2017Dancers in full regalia drifted through the crowds, brilliant visions of colour and sound as the jingles attached to heels rang.

We were delighted to run into Leslie Saunders, former manager of The Meeting Place, a community drop in centre for those in need in the Bathurst/Queen area. Nearly half of the centre’s participants are First Nations people.

rox barbette david de poe Pow Wow June 2017And it is always a joy to encounter David DePoe, community activist, retired teacher, and Kensington Marketeer, best-known for his activities in the late 1960s as an unofficial leader of the Yorkville hippies, and founder of the Diggers movement in Yorkville.

What a pleasure it was to be introduced to the legendary, multi-disciplinary, artist, Stella Walker. The woman’s energy is breathtaking! She’s a singer, writer, actor, producer, comedian and painter, and in the middle of producing a new musical comedy that includes content from award winning Newfoundland writer, actor and comedian Andy Jones, and will be directed by John Mitchell. Barbette appears in one of Stella’s many videos – Under the B .. Busted.

As the day wore on, my energy was starting to flag, and we made our way out of the Fort, stopping briefly to watch the talented hoop dancers and inter-tribal dance exhibitions. If we had stayed, we would have been welcome to join in the Feast, and to enjoy the evenings musical offerings, which included Crystal Shawanda, the award winning country music artist.

aboriginal celebration June 2017

If you’ve got Pow Wow envy, you’ll have another chance to join the fun on Wednesday, June 28th, when the 8th Annual Aboriginal History Month Celebration at Yonge & Dundas Square begins at noon.

There’s a great line-up of entertainers, including Amanda Rheaume performing at 7 pm, along with an all day Kid’s Arts & Crafts Tent, craft vendors, and Indigenous agencies showcasing what’s available in the community. Hope to see you there!

 

Music City My Ass


Every time I see an article lauding Mayor John Tory’s ‘inspired’ idea of turning Toronto into a ‘Music City,’ I get queasy. You see, I came to Toronto in 1976, when it really WAS one, and have watched succeeding local governments and well-heeled blue noses, waving the banners of political correctness and money over art, stomp the culture to death.

Being a great deal older now than I was then (it happens,) I understand, at least in part, why the city had to change from what – to me – was a cornucopia of musical delights, as dirty and scary as it was,, into what it is today … a staid dowager in corsets trying desperately to seem hip.

IYorkville disco 70sn ’76, the Yorkville of the sixties was already undergoing gentrification, with trendy shops springing up where head shops once ruled, and the few hippie hold outs clinging to their properties out of loyalty or desperation. Disco fevered platformed shoes trod the sacred ground in front of the Riverboat as  I’d wander through on the way to The Morrissey at Yonge and Davenport.

The scene had already moved on to other areas, with Yonge Street the main rock drive, and club after club rocking exceptional talent, with rarely a cover charge, six nights a week, cheek by jowl with strip clubs, massage parlours, peep shows, and sex shops. Sleazy, garish, lewd and loud, the Strip was very much like New York’s Time Square of the period, ugly and yet so seductive. And everybody smoked like chimneys – inyonge st pedestrians the clubs, the patios and the streets.

Gay men and women flocked to the Church and Wellesley area, where they could feel safer than on the butchier Strip. Although this year’s Pride Week and Parade celebrating sexual and gender identity will have sponsors as diverse as TD Canada Trust, Bud Light, Via Rail, and Google+, back then, openly gay people were widely marginalized, shunned, and attacked in the mainstream media and politics. bathhouse raids rageIn 1975, “tiny perfect” mayor David Crombie sent his best wishes to Pride’s organizers, but refused to officially recognize Pride, while City Council declined permission for a Yonge Street march .

And in 1981, Metro Toronto police made the second largest mass arrest in Canadian history when 306 people where busted in the infamous bathhouse raids. It was safer hanging out at `the steps` in front of the Second Cup on Church and Wellesley.

However heteros were in luck in 1975, when the city legalized full nudity for strippers. It became zanzibar1.jpgpretty common for the bigger bars to have strippers by day, and live bands at night.

Black American R&B and soul stars, sick to death of segregation and persecution in their own country, flocked to play the BlueNote, the Edison, and the Colonial Tavern, where they were enthusiastically received. the colonial

Prior to new hate-speech laws of 2007, the biggest reggae acts out of Jamaica would visit Toronto at least twice a year. Anti-gay language in many of their songs, while common in their country, was not welcome here.

The city was dirty, and exciting, and counter culture was hiding in neighbourhoods that were being redefined to suit their residents’ tastes.   Queen West was where you went to find head shops and record stores, and check out the Sally Ann for vintage clothing stores. Later, it was Toronto’s punk centre, as the kids from OCA made their own music. And later still you’d find Chris Sheppard spinning at Club Domino before heading up the long thin stairs to the Voodoo Club.

You could have shot a cannon along King West any time after business hours, and never hit a soul,in the late 70s. In the 80s and 90s, street kids and skin heads hung out at the Evergreen Centre, which, though nominally a drop in, support centre for kids, was actually where you went to score drugs. You could get a whole tray of draft beer at the Gasworks for about $5.00 if you bought it before the bands started, and cheap quarts fuelled a lot of rockers through the hot nights.

the-knobby-1.jpgOut in Scarborough, clubs like the Knob Hill boasted top local talent while the waiters, legends themselves, sold watery draft for a quarter a glass. In Richmond Hill, anyone who was anyone hung at the Black Hawk Motor Inn.

 

 

There really were so many amazing clubs in diverse areas, reflecting the different interests and sounds Toronto wanted to hear. And yes, there was a “Toronto Sound,” and you knew it when you heard it.

So what killed that diverse, energetic culture? Couple of things – and most involved the corporatization of the city. In a quest to bring in funds for the city, ridiculous and arcane licensing regulations picked the pockets of bar owners. It was only last year that the city issued a memo stating that music venues would no longer be ticketed for posters – usually posted by the bands desperate to market a rare gig – advertising their shows.

Yorkville fell to gentrification, and soon, anywhere that the kids flocked began to look like prime real estate. Watching Queen West change from funky to glitz was painful enough for those who’d loved its grunge, but harder still on the residents and business owners who’d made it what it was. Rents soared until a club was walking such a thin profit margin that an off winter could bury them. These days, a shop or bar owner in Kensington Market is looking at paying from $3500 to $9000 a month for basic rent, with virtually no owner maintenance applied. Riverdale , Parkdale, Dufferin Grove, the Junction – all fallen to gentrification that brings more big bucks to those who already have the big bucks, and leaves previous residents out of luck for a reasonable price on a place to live or play.

No one is FOR drunk driving, but the founders of MADD went a little mad themselves as they ground down and down to get to the current laws. Drivers under 21 cannot have ANY alcohol in their blood when driving. Over 21, you have to have a blood alcohol level that is lower than .05%, essentially what you’ll get from a non-alcoholic beverage. You don’t even have to be in a moving car to get an impaired driving violation. If you are sitting behind the wheel of a vehicle, moving or not, and have too much alcohol in your system you can get a fine, lose your license and face other penalties.

 And for all the fuss over drinking and driving, I’m trying to remember the last time I saw a club that gave free non-alcoholic beverages to a “Designated Driver”.

no smoking anywhere If you smoke in Toronto, good luck. It’s getting harder and harder to find a place, inside or out, where you can light up. When the new law of not smoking on patios took effect, I knew they’d gone too far. Can’t drink, can’t smoke … what do you do? Why go to a bar at all? May as well stay home – assuming your apartment or condo allows smoking – and drink without the hassle.

The whole corporate model of making money at the expense of art just doesn’t work long term, There’s less investment in the arts – last year, ScotiaBank pulled funding for Nuit Blanche, Caribana, BuskerFest and the CHIN International Picnic. Responding to the dog whistles of stockholders that must have their profits leads to the death of corporate sponsorship of the arts. And good luck with sponsorship of counterculture art. The Big Bop gets torn down to become an upscale furniture store. Liberty Entertainment closes alt-rock venue the Velvet Underground at 510 Queen West to focus on growing its portfolio of wine bars.toronto_opera2.jpg

While donating multiple millions of dollars’ worth of land and funds to conventional arts palaces like the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, Toronto City Council quibbles over what constitutes sound restrictions applied to bars. Thou shalt have no music louder than 45 db after 11 pm. A library clocks in at 50-70, a restaurant with no live band at about 90-100. This is progress?

Municipal licensing issues debate over whether a venue is a restaurant with a bar attached, or an entertainment venue. Despite a 2012 report by lobby group Music Canada that outlined ridiculous restrictions to entertainment venues that give ample room for official interpretation (and fines,) the City still loves its condo owners a lot more than it does its club owners. You can read the full report here (http://musiccanada.com/resources/research/toronto-music-city/)

The ‘idea’ of making Toronto a “Music City” is great. In practice, there needs to be a great deal more cooperation on the part of the City in how it deals with current and future venues. What’s been forgotten in a lust for overall incoming revenue from ticket sales, corporate sponsorship and enhanced tourism is that you don’t just add water and stir up a musical culture … it’s made by musicians who fall far outside of the strictures imposed by those who can afford to attend the venues government has deigned to sponsor. It’s made in alleyways and smoky bars, it includes over indulgence in both legal and illegal substances, and it’s a cry AGAINST what Mayor Tory and his Council represent.

Music-City-panel.jpgIf Toronto is serious about doing more than endlessly discussing what they`d do for the city if they could, but apparently can`t, they`ll have to do better than the recent WaveLength panel on The Toronto Music Moment. The latest meeting, held on January 31st saw Jonny Dovercourt and moderator Emily Scherzinger along with Amy Terrill (Music Canada, 4479 Toronto), Daniel Silver (U of T Sociology, Chicago Music City researcher), Rolf Klausener (The Acorn, Arboretum Festival) and Ayo Leilani (Witch Prophet, Above Top Secret, 88 Days of Fortune) hash through basically the same points they did on previous gatherings, and presumably will rehash again at next year`s meeting.

Oh, sure, there are pockets of musical fun to be had in Toronto, and certainly, when the music fests start rolling out in a few months, there will be whole weeks where it seems like the city comes alive in technicolor.

But the following week, the smiles will drop from the faces of the law, the controls will snap back into place with a vengeance, and you’ll once more be unable to get ready public transit from point A to point B. The RIDE programs will stop a lot of entertainment seekers from having more than one beverage, and smokers will try desperately to find somewhere they can still indulge their (legal) vice.

You don’t get to have a clean, politically correct, easily controlled society and still call yourself a ‘Music City.’

(originally published Feb 2016 – bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2016/02/21/roxanne-tellier-music-city-my-ass/)