I went to my high school grad with a car thief…

I went to my high school grad with a car thief by the name of Chick. I smile as I say this; this news might be a little startling to the friends I graduated with back then. On the other hand, I’d guess some of them went through their own startling realities – and many would not want the world to know.

I, on the other hand, believe the world would be a better place if we were all more open about most things. I often imagine what life could be like if we all stopped adding to the false picture of reality we tend to share with the next generation.

I grew up in a culture that didn’t talk about the ‘unpleasant’ things in our lives. We didn’t criticize people – to their faces. We were generally ‘nice’(in that Canadian way), demure, well trained in saying the right thing. Or at least we knew we were supposed to be. I’m reminded of our ‘little white lies’ about Santa Claus. I told my children the truth about that too and they survived it. We live in a large city of many sub-cultures and lifestyles and realities and my grown-up kids are not afraid of looking at unpleasant truths.

In my youth, my eyes were gradually being opened by my unconscious attraction to “less savoury” people. Perhaps my vulnerabilities were drawn to theirs. In Chick’s case, his greatest vulnerability was his painful shyness. It precluded higher education, and he was so shy (brutal father), that he would not even think about aiming for a ‘regular’ job. He felt awkward in the white jacket he rented for the grad dance. He’d never worn one before.   He trembled when I introduced him to people.

He labored sometimes in a construction job that involved a lot of standing around, but his main gig was car theft. He said it was easy. I imagine it was easier for him to work alone, after dark — invisible. I can relate to that. His sister was married to a pimp, who made enough income to support a wife and kids. They seemed like a nice family, but with low articulation skills.

They took me to ‘after-hours clubs’ I would never have imagined. Memorable amounts of dirt and air so dusty your kleenex was black when you blew your nose. Barely cleaned-up vomit. He giggled at my shock. I always felt safe with them.

He once shyly gave me a silver friendship ring, which I still have. He was actually a sweet person and I want to remember him. But we really had nothing to talk about, and feeling sorry for him was no basis for a relationship.   I was, as they say, “outa there’. I was 19.

It had become clear to me why people like Chick would never get to put a foot on any social ladder.   And I realized it’s easy to feel confident with people who are not. I doubt that he ever experienced that. What a world. And how lucky I was.

Soon I met the man I would marry at 22, mainly because I believed I was over the hill. That was common in women then. Feminists were nowhere in sight yet. Everyone agreed Peter was a big improvement: a worldly-wise Brit 13 years older than me. “A catch” as they used to say. It was the early 60s, and my parents were so relieved — their oldest daughter was ‘taken care of’. One down and one to go. And thank god she wasn’t marrying someone like Chick. Ah, those were the ‘good old days’.

Posted in "women's roles", generations, hindsight, honesty, learning from experience, olden days | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Does Canada need an “Aboriginal Inquiry”?

Of course we do! Too much controversy flows around the question of whether or not we need a formal inquiry into the disproportionate numbers of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.

Why not? Most responses to this question range from “these are crimes, and are already being dealt with by police forces”   to “the cost would be too high for something that’s unnecessary”. That seems narrow and trivial to me compared to the escalating cost of our military-industrial complex or the costs of building extra prisons.

In fact, we need not only a public inquiry on the tragedy but much more. Nothing less than a full, all-encompassing “commission of inquiry” will do, akin to the Bilingualism and Biculturalism Inquiry in the 60s.

The commission should travel from coast to coast to coast, holding local town halls and “courts” everywhere they go, covered on national television.   What an education and consciousness-raising it would be! And the commissioners appointed should be of the same level of qualification, respectability and integrity as those on the B+B commission, with at least some aboriginal languages among them.

Having grown up in Quebec, and listening to my Quebecois friends, I was well aware of the long-standing, increasing sense of frustration, unfairness and oppression among French-Canadians in the sixties. Those feelings were totally understandable, given the actual unfairness that was obvious to anyone paying attention. All of this was officially acknowledged through the B&B commission – finally – with recommendations for resolution. The commission had a profound impact on French-Canadians and Canada, with one result being the Official Languages Act of 1969. This didn’t change bigotry – but the bigots eventually grow old and die out. It did, however, change a hell of a lot.

Over the decades, thinking Canadians have been gradually acknowledging and dealing with historical injustices — language issues and gender equality issues, for example. The time is long overdue, for dealing with the entire relationship of Canadian aboriginals with the land and the peoples of Canada, including all historical and current injustices with their often tragic consequences.

All groups of human beings trying to “live together” – have a natural need to regularly engage in a caring, respectful, open-minded conversation together about how they are all doing in this experiment called “civilization”. Sometimes we go through periods of relative enlightenment, and pass laws reflecting that. Others are always resisting, fighting back, trying to reverse those laws. What is happening in the U.S. is a good illustration: steady efforts to reverse progress made on behalf of women and African-Americans, are having some disappointing success. It’s a bitter reminder that we can never assume progress is permanent. The conversation must go on – forever – one generation to the next.

A point: You cannot educate historically disadvantaged categories of people, but then refuse them a seat at the table of important discussions. And once we acknowledge that reality, it’s just natural to recognize that we, as a society, must do whatever it takes to enhance and support any progress made.

The challenge to then “formerly-oppressed” groups – that would include Aboriginal Canadians in the ‘post-Commission’ period – is that they also must be willing to live among the former-oppressors. As the song says, “Getting to know you, getting to know all about you!”

If the human race is to survive, we have to stop dismissing groups by labels. We will all be richer with such a change. Just imagine how much we all have to learn from each other, two unique human beings at a time.

* http://www.ocol-clo.gc.ca/newsletter_cyberbulletin/commission_bb_e.htm

Posted in aboriginal murdered + missig women, Canadian issues, Commission of Inquiry, social justice | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Respect, and love…

Thinking of exceptional relationships, I remember Hazel & Frank Lowe. They were both writers, and lovers of the noble art of conversation, discussion. He wrote many thought-provoking pieces about people and ideas that mattered – like the death penalty. She wrote about travel in the most literary style I have ever read.

She once told me that they seemed to be able to converse endlessly, always enjoying it, enjoying each other’s company night after night. To think they had raised a daughter through it all. I had the impression that they shared a rare trait: mutual respect. Neither of them was fulfilling some destructive ego need.   In the process of their late night chats rather they were both genuinely interested and curious about the subjects they discussed.

Each open mindedly anticipated learning something from the other – perhaps a new and interesting way of seeing something. They each felt enriched by the ‘food for thought’ they received from each other. They were not into this for trivial reasons. To be blunt, if they made love, it was only a part of something bigger, broader, deeper, more enriching.  

No doubt they had opportunities to enjoy a little trivial pleasure – they were popular among ‘cool’ folks; but they went home because they had something more meaningful there – to them. Over coffee with her, I used to listen and wonder at it. This, in an era when the ‘counter-culture revolution’ had left behind protesting war, and wanting to make the world a better place, in favour of the “zipless fuck”. Hazel was always looking forward to those chats over a glass of wine, into the wee small hours.

She once told me he’d “Never got over the war”. From the day he returned, he ate as if all food was ‘comfort food’. Tragically, he died at 56. From that day on, we read loneliness in her body language, her tone of voice. Too bad the special people in our lives often leave us. But at least some of them leave us with ideas to reflect on. I know my intellectual life is richer for them. Had I anticipated the loss, I would have asked her to write a “how to” book.  Ah, but hindsight is always so clear.

Posted in communication, Feelings | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shoot!! Or, maybe talk?

It’s almost a year since an 18-year-old boy, Sammy Yatim, was shot to death by a Toronto police officer. He was alone in a streetcar. With a 3” knife. I guess they thought that heavy, iron streetcar couldn’t contain him.

That same week in Montreal, police in a 20-hour ‘standoff’ finally convinced a fellow to hand himself over – unshot, undead! What alternative method did they use? Talk.

So what do we know about Sammy? We know he was jobless, homeless, 18, in conflict with his father over using marijuana. We know he was a recent arrival from Syria. Any one of these factors could have been enough stress to produce a psychotic breakdown in a boy his age. Witnesses say he had a knife in one hand, and his penis in the other, with a “not here” look in his eyes.   All told, sounds like an obvious ‘psychotic episode’. Family members say he had no history of mental illness. But distress more often arises around that age. Which is why we more often see a psychotic breakdown in young people who’ve gone away to university for example, leaving home for the first time and beginning more intimidating academic life, minus their usual supports.

He was a distressed boy, expected to solve his own problems – an unfair expectation at the best of times.  Shelter  and a hug would have done wonders. From what we know about mental illness, Sammy could easily have been just entering a state of psychosis, brought on by the stress he was feeling. He certainly had more than enough to cope with.

On the Toronto Police Service website, on “Mental Health Issues”, we find what appears to be ‘advice’ on how to handle such situations, with links to further information. It appears optional. And the advice conflicts with comments of a police trainer during one past inquest.   “You shoot until the threat is gone,” he said and “there is no magic-bullet alternative to firearms” ** Pretty simplistic.

Constable James Forcillo was charged with second degree murder, and will be tried in 2015. The evidence I most want to hear: the streetcar operator’s version of events. I hope he will still be alive and well, memory intact, and his evidence not at all influenced.

Meanwhile, of past inquests into police shootings, Ontario’s Ombudsman André Marin has said that recommendations have been virtually identical over the past 20 years. He has commented about the definition of insanity being to keep repeating the same behavior and expect different outcomes***. Let’s hope something really new and meaningful comes out of this investigation. Like implementation of clear new procedural guidelines – not only for handling someone in mental distress, but for assessing situations from point A. Changes should include a new training curriculum with significant time spent on compassionate, competent handling of such crises.

Among other things, the police need to know they are not here to protect merely ‘middle-class -4th-generation-Canadians-in perfect mental-and-physical-health’.

The horror story here is that it’s too often the ‘protectors’ from whom we need protection.   Is it possibly because Toronto Police Services are immature, like Toronto? As with people, and groups of people, cities take time to mature, and so do their police. It’s a sign of maturity to be able to admit you are wrong, just as it is a sign of maturity to be able to laugh at yourself, to take yourself less seriously. Are we finally, in Toronto, beginning to enter that era in our history?

A hopeful sign would be if Toronto implements the Ombudsman’s recommendations.


* http://www.torontopolice.on.ca/community/mentalhealth.php

** http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/editorials/rewriting-the-tragic-script-when-police-confront-the-mentally-ill/article13744211/

*** http://www.ombudsman.on.ca/Newsroom/Ombudsman-in-the-News/2013/Ombudsman-steps-into-yet-another-hornet’s-nest–Di.aspx

Posted in mental illness, Ombudsman, police shooting, Sammy Yatim, social justice, Toronto | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Celebrating ‘the rainbow’

Toronto just hosted World Pride Week 2014, and I’m feeling proud to be Canadian. Especially in Ontario, where not only have we just elected our first female premier, but she’s openly gay, and behaves as if it’s the norm. Now that’s leadership. And that’s progress. But we do need to keep a sharp eye on the opposition – those who are still ‘shocked and appalled’ and work steadily at resisting change.

But for the moment, I’ll indulge in the celebration, happy for my gay friends and relatives. I’ll block on sadness for the friends who didn’t make it to this day. This level of enlightenment might have saved their lives. It was an exciting week, a reminder of reasons for optimism. People came from all over the world for this Pride week and the biggest Pride Parade Toronto has ever seen*. Even my own daughter marched, representing the drop-in for people without homes, where she works.

The other night because of Pride Week, we enjoyed a panel discussion in one of Toronto’s trendy young neighbourhoods. The panelists were a bouquet of LGBT/’two-spirit’/’racialized’ experts. They were exploring historical and current issues from their varied perspectives on a somewhat academic level. At times though, I could have sworn I sensed a little “my oppression is worse than yours” message. Is that because we’ve come such a long way?

I found it interesting that virtually all the panelists expressed some negative feelings about Pride Week and its level of commercialism. Some also felt it creates a false optimism.  I’m sympathetic to those concerns, yet events like Pride contribute so much to reducing fear of differences. As with most public celebrations, we are reminded of how much we humans have in common.

Over the decades, my own awareness of “gay” has expanded to include an apparently endless variety of sexual orientations and gender identities – a spectrum. And why not?. When we stop thinking in conventional paradigms like black-and-white, gay-or-straight, we begin to realize that’s all mythology, a story we tell ourselves.   The human reality is an infinite rainbow of differences, with no such thing as “normal”.

It’s those very differences that make our lives richer – something to celebrate. Events like ‘Pride’ provoke world-changing conversations that wouldn’t happen without them, moving society forward. That’s part of their beauty. They are also a kind of ‘marker’ of the progress we’ve seen.

There is no other official celebration of differences, the way we celebrate the country, or Christmas, for example. And Toronto is a city of differences. Pride comes close to that – another reason to enjoy the party. And when it’s over, we carry on working for change – maybe with some brand new activists. Maybe spread the pride to more places where fear and terror now dominate.

Meanwhile, how sweet it is to watch my neighbour’s daughter strolling slowly down our shady street, hand in hand with her girlfriend. Unconcerned. That alone deserves a celebration.


*   http://www.straight.com/life/583386/mr-gay-canada-2014-coquitlams-christepher-wee-advocates-diversity-social-education

** http://worldpridetoronto.com/about/history/1969-1979

Posted in activism, gay pride, gender, Inclusion, reflections, social justice | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

“War Crimes”

I’ll bet George W. Bush doesn’t lie awake at night thinking about the hundreds of thousands in Iraq who are still suffering because of him. Lost loved ones, lost ancient treasures, lost homes, lost towns, lost dreams. No doubt there are those who benefited from the invasion – there always are.   And now, after years of “insurgencies” and “skirmishes”, there seems to be all-out war again, with Iraq asking the U.S. to help with bombing targets. All this, the result of Bush’s illegal invasion.

What kind of people are we, who can prosecute an Edward Snowden, but not George W. Bush? When I heard about Richard Clarke’s* admission that President George W. Bush had committed “war crimes”, I’m ashamed to say I silently rolled my eyes – for a split second. Then a little shockwave hit me. I realized the significance of the phrase had faded in my mind.

It’s subtle how meanings can shift over time. One day you notice that a word has come to mean something different from its original intention. I had gradually come to think of the phrase “War Crime” as silly and irrelevant. And suddenly I realized that its very irrelevance was because it is a powerless term. The crime gets committed, then goes unpunished – these days.

Nuremburg* was about war crimes. The whole world was supposed to have learned from that horrific experience with Nazis and fascists. War Crimes are profoundly deserving of prosecution.   The guy down the street who sells weed gets prosecuted.   The guy who reveals ‘national secrets’ gets prosecuted. But the president of the United States of America – ‘leader of the free world,’ committing much worse crimes – gets a pass***. Wow.

Something about adding the term ‘war’, elevates the crime. It becomes a crime many look up to, instead of down on. Something to reflect on, this….

I force myself down into the intellectual sewage of it all. Getting into it is much worse than a bad smell. It is as sickening as the most horrible crimes I’ve heard of. And it’s not about numbers: Hitler’s war killed more. It’s about injustice so huge it’s hard to think about. I mean, there just isn’t an English word strong enough – ‘injustice’ sounds pathetic.

What I feel about Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq is a kind of low-grade rage. I felt the same way when I knew he was about to invade. Some of my rage was against those who went along with him. Most did not. There was no way the U.N., for example, would support the invasion, because there was no convincing evidence. So Bush and Cheney went ahead and led an illegal invasion of Iraq – with a few Nato buddies.

Iraq under Saddam Hussein’s oppression, was anything but a perfect country. But it was functioning. We all knew that was about to change for the worst. There would be all the ‘horrors of war’. And that’s exactly what happened.

To me, it was as if a teenager with a submachine gun declared he was going into a school, and we didn’t stop him. And now that he killed half the kids, we’re not going to prosecute him either. Is that because they weren’t our kids?

A murderer can claim, “I believed he would kill me, if I didn’t kill him first”. And a jury gets to decide if they agree or not.   Apparently a president of the United States can make a similar claim, and never go to trial. Those of us who were paying attention, know that’s essentially what happened. Yet we do nothing. Safer to keep our heads down?

I sometimes wonder if we do nothing because deep down we are beginning to suspect that thugs in corporate dress have hijacked democracy. The ‘bad guys’ are running the show#. The NSA? Haliburton? Koch brothers? And the disease seems to be spreading through much of the western world. Democracy isn’t really functioning any longer. It’s become just another modern myth.

What if that’s all true?

*Former top counterterrorism official for the U.S.
** http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/nuremberg-trials
*** http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/aug/31/obama-justice-department-immunity-bush-cia-torturer
More background: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/29/richard-clarke-george-bush-war-crimes_n_5410619.html       and  http://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2012/05/12/bush-convicted-of-war-crimes-in-absentia/    and   http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1354211/George-W-Bush-cancels-Switzerland-visit-fears-arrest-torture-charges.html
Posted in accountability, George W Bush, international law, war crimes | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Grandpa and his war diary

My grandfather’s diary of his experience in the Boer War surfaced in the family a few years ago; a generous cousin typed up the whole thing and sent it around to us. It has left an indelible impression of the horror that injury or death must have meant.   In fact, his descriptions suggest that just the experience of being there, day after day, would have provided a lifetime of nightmares.

We have all heard the horrific numbers – the tens of millions who died in the “World Wars” and others. But they are impersonal, missing the fever, hunger, and terrible discomfort, demoralization and death. Once in awhile, though, it hits home for real, like when I read the diary. And even then, I had to shut my eyes and try hard to imagine what Grandpa Badger was talking about. His description began in February 1899, and for starters, everything – from the material of their uniforms, to the heavy and difficult machinery they had  – was so different from today’s light, efficient clothing – and no jeeps for moving people, machinery and supplies. Just old-fashioned wagons and horses.

Example: “Outpost on South of River – no blankets – had to drink water from River full of dead cattle – half rations – commenced Feb 20th. Artillery fire continued.”

At one point his colonel says “I have permission to let you fall out for half an hour to get something to eat. Afterwards we will cross the river which is very much swollen and in swift current and you must help each other to cross.”

Suddenly I’m picturing a dangerous, fast-flowing river.   Grandpa adds, “…and little did any of us think the awful time we were about to be launched into in a short time – modern rifle fire had very little dread for us as we had never experienced it up till then, but we were all to have a very rude awakening …

Then, “…When we fell in and moved off toward the river bank; on nearing it, the Boers opened fire on us so we had to rush for it and the whole lot of us reached the bed of the river without a casualty where we were safe for the time, a bend in the river a little higher up shielding us from the enemy.”

And, “The colonel was the first to cross, taking a rope with him, and a hard struggle he had as he was a small man and the water reached his neck but he managed it and secured the rope to a tree on the opposite bank by which the remainder of us crossed but there was (sic) some narrow squeaks. Several men were nearly washed away but it was over at last…”

The colonel on rising to give the order to advance was shot in the shoulder. He made a second attempt but on getting on his feet he received one in his head and he fell forward and gasped ‘Go on men and finish it!’ With that the regiment rose as one man and rushed forward about 100 yards when we all fell prone I don’t know who gave the order but it was impossible to face such a fire and live, all you could do was lie still as near to the earth as possible….”     This was where they lost the most men.

He goes on to describe days of rain, soaked clothing, and “the most miserable night I ever spent – water running out of my boots all the night – the most welcome daybreak I think I ever saw.” On one occasion “our baggage did not arrive until next morning so we had to lay all night without any blankets or food and the night being terrible cold.

On March 14th, he notes “Day’s rest – what would I give for a substantial feed” .   The next day – “Moved off at 6 a.m. and arrove (sic) at Bleomfontein and bivouacked NW of town on Boer Rifle Range about 9 a.m. – a very dejected looking lot – our clothes were torn to shreds, and we were in a starving condition”.   Later: “It is a nightly occurrence to get drenched. A man with a constitution like a horse could not stand this for long, and yet they are wondering why there is so many sick – Enteric fever is raging here now very severe owing to the hardships and privations we have been subject to during the last two months**. Also the stagnant waters we have been forced to drink…”

To add insult to injury, many of the British officers treated the foot soldiers so badly that some like my grandfather didn’t care to remain in their own country. They instead emigrated to Canada and other parts of the British Empire, never to speak of their experience. Many of those soldiers apparently worked not only for low pay – which sometimes simply didn’t arrive – but sometimes for food alone, such was the extent of poverty at the time. Obviously even their rations were an insult.

On May 30th he describes what was apparently an increasingly typical day, “…no breakfast, as no water was to be had for miles and no food as we were run out of rations”.

In all, 28 typed pages of this. I am struck by the fact that most had volunteered. And it dawns on me that for many, ordinary life back home was little more than slavery in any case.   What a choice!   I’m betting these nightmare experiences gave strength to the labour movement’s rise in the 20th century. So many must have felt they had nothing to lose, really.

Yes, we’ve come a long way. But it strikes me war is still hell. Bodies still blow apart like they always did. PTSD or missing limbs are as hard to live with as ever.   Yet the wars go on. And the permanent members of the Security Council at the U.N. still use their vetoes disgracefully as if they were playing a game of chess.

The Russians and Chinese, for example, stand in the way of taking Syria to court for war crimes, with 150,000+ already killed. In 2003, George W. Bush invaded Iraq, on the pretense of pursuing Al Qaeda. But neither will Bush end up in court for his war crimes.**** It’s a formally organized stalemate, a crime against humanity.

Diplomacy and education could achieve wonders. If ordinary citizens around the world understood the situation, they would be marching in the streets. A new Peace Movement would be born. As with the French Revolution, the Civil Rights movement, or anti-Vietnam War movement, people could change the world.

* http://i.a.cnn.net/cnn/2006/images/10/11/human.cost.of.war.pdf
** my italics
*** http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=47930#.U4j1RVhdVPI
****http://www.democracynow.org/blog/2014/5/28/former_counterterrorism_czar_richard_clarke_bush     and   http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/aug/31/obama-justice-department-immunity-bush-cia-torturer
Posted in activism, anti-war, diplomacy, education, Iraq, war crimes | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

Jan Wong & me and millions more….

Okay, what do you say we do our bit in the battle against stigma. What battle, you say? Well, the last time you were depressed (yes, that would be most of you at some point), did you admit it to anyone? Maybe you felt it would seem like an admission of weakness; or some kind of ‘brain chemistry’ you were born with (doomed!). Thanks, Big Pharma!*

It enrages me that – thanks in large measure to pharmaceutical marketing – depression is too often seen as a “mental illness”. Absurd.   It’s something that happens to almost everyone at some point. But we reinforce the stigma problem by not talking about it – by letting the pharmaceutical industry do all the talking.

The medicalization of it has made us come to see it as a physical/biological phenomenon, caused by ‘chemical imbalances’, treatable with ‘anti-depressants’. In my view, pills may be okay briefly, but the primary focus should be getting at the root, the actual cause, through some form of psychological therapy.

Depression is an everyday reality that we need to stop denying, and remaining ignorant about. But it takes guts to brave the potential reactions, and speak openly. Especially in a critical-judgmental culture whose media generally lead them by the nose.

Jan Wong’s book, Out of the Blue, is a fascinating contribution to the conversation.   And this internet era of ‘social networking’ and blogging are helping, though it’s hard to compete with sophisticated marketing.

It seems Jan Wong descended from a ‘stoic’ culture — in a different language, from the other side of the world – similar in some ways to my own “Scottish-Presbyterian settler” roots. It’s easy to find lots of explanations for each of our experiences with depression, in our heritage – without adding traumatizing events. And here we are today both in Toronto, both having dealt with similar psychological, or emotional issues. Both of our experiences with depression have been impacted by stigma and ignorance. So it’s up to us to contribute to a ‘public chat’.

I’m old enough to remember when it wasn’t that big a deal to say, perhaps over coffee, “Gee I’m depressed.”  Though I acknowledge that from age 19 to 35, I lived in Montreal, a more open, expressive, culture. Toronto culture – English culture in general — has traditionally been more emotionally closed. So the pressure here is to keep things to yourself. Emotional distress is too often seen as an abnormal problem that makes people uncomfortable to hear about. Despite the likelihood they’ve been through it themselves – or perhaps because of it?

Jan’s depression happened decades later than mine, and here in Toronto. So her experience was affected more by a lack of communication about it than mine was. And a lot more medicine. Luckily for her, she eventually had one of those rare psychiatrists who did do at least some ‘talk therapy’.

My era meant mostly talk therapy — and a range of “modern humanistic” talk therapies, encounter groups, a self-help group, endless reading of theories, ‘learning tools’, and so on.** I remember anti-depressants that made me ‘dopey’, and put my creativity and imagination to sleep as well as my body. I was no longer depressed – I was neutralized!

After decades of this, my experiences and learning came together in a two-sided epiphany: one side about the need to take action (even just getting angry) as an antidote to depression; the other side, realizing that one could practice positive feelings, a little like strengthening a muscle.

Choices! What a concept. Just realizing that was empowering. After learning how to ‘practise contentment’ for example, I came to see chronic depression as often a habit – and one that could be changed. (Some people prefer ‘conditioned response’ or ‘habitual response’ rather than habit.)

About ‘taking action’: depression is so often a kind of conditioned powerlessness (‘repressed anger’ for example, in a family that disapproves of anger).  So an idea that I once could have found depressing, I might now choose to intellectually analyze, minus the feelings (which also takes practice), and perhaps then take action. Join a group. Write a letter to the editor. In other words, empower myself.

One ‘practice’ for example: refusing to let my mind go into negative thinking; part of my mind gives a stern No! command to the part that’s sliding. It is simple, but does take persistence.

In this long learning process, the icing on the cake was giving myself permission to express anger despite my upbringing. Learning how to express healthy anger in a controlled, creative way is empowering, energizing and sometimes even delicious.

So getting in touch with whatever makes us feel unable to impact events in our lives, is a step toward eliminating or reducing depression. Actually, what I’m doing right now – blogging – is one example of action and empowerment. And I have come to believe that a little occasional depression is a healthy signal in our lives – something needs to change. Time to be mindful, figure out what’s happening, take action.

Maybe even get angry. (Sometimes anger is just a bad habit, and sometimes it is justified). Imagine if Jan Wong had not needed to block on her perfectly natural feelings – hurt, sadness, anxiety, anger.   In the end, she did turn it all into something positive. But imagine if she could have – right at the start – talked openly to someone about her feelings.

Some of us who have shared our experiences have felt enriched in many ways. Every person I’ve spoken to about this, has volunteered their own similar experiences, some very severe. And they are among the most interesting, deep and ‘high functioning’ people I’ve known. Come to think of it, what if emotional struggles are a prerequisite to wisdom? Good lord!   Well as the late gestalt psychologist Fritz Perls said, “You have to suffer to grow.”

Helping to erase stigma through ‘coming out’ is about creating a society more transparent, more real, more mutually supportive, and more self-confident.   It’s about replacing ignorance or disdain with respect and consideration, among increasingly knowledgeable family, friends and neighbours.

When everyone finally ‘gets it’, our culture will be a much more healing, nourishing, inclusive one; people will be helped instead of hindered when going through emotional distress. And that part is up to all of us. Let’s all help end stigma? Come out, come out, wherever you are!

* http://www.madinamerica.com/2011/11/anatomy-of-an-epidemic    and  http://healthland.time.com/2013/05/07/as-psychiatry-introduces-dsm-5-research-abandons-it/

** http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neuro-linguistic_programming   (I think NLP was one of the most effective approaches for me).

Posted in consciousness, depression, Feelings, Jan Wong, psychology, stigma | Tagged , , , , | 11 Comments

Tackling the ‘climate change’ dragon

What exactly do I believe about climate change? And why do I want to know?

Lately I’ve found myself sometimes getting into a state of near panic when I think about it. Lurking in the background of my life these days is a shadowy threat of disaster, ‘unless I do something’. But what, exactly, would that be? When I do get into that state, I know I have to ‘take the dragon by the balls’, sit down with it, and look it straight in the eye. That is what I’m doing, right here, right now.

So what do I believe about climate change? Well, I believe it is real. I believe we all contribute to it – we in ‘the west’ more than others. I believe climate change is about ‘carbon emissions’, and carbon emissions are about stuff.

Do I even dare to guess how much more stuff we have than our parents had 50 years ago? A half dozen plastic mixing bowls – to ensure we have the right size for everything. A playroom full of plastic toys and games, so Johnny will never be bored – or have less than Billy. And then there is endlessly changing décor, endless renovations, endlessly changing styles, updates; and oh — a backup printer and another plastic lawnchair — just in case….

More and more and more. And so our carbon emissions rise. Carbon emissions are also about laziness, about driving when I could walk. Or about just not thinking at all. Thus, factories steadily increase their production of unnecessary googas, contributinghugely toclimate change.

How? Crude oil ‘by-products’ (1)as the energy to make the products, (2) as the material in the products themselves, and (3) as the fuel to move those products, together are probably the largest element in climate change. So yes, I do think that we must change our ways or we will self-destruct. The question is how urgent is it?

Is it urgent enough that I should drop everything, and spend the rest of my days trying to ‘save the world’? Or should I just trust that eventually everyone will come to their senses — catastrophe will be avoided? What should we think about “Tipping Points”?* Is it all happening slowly enough that we have time to change? Or will it all suddenly drown us in a sea of bobbing plastics?

I’m sometimes afraid we’ll ultimately be defeated by our beliefs and emotional needs. The need to reach for that next adorable thing. The need for visitors to love our new kitchen. Our belief that a recycling bin and a composter will take care of it.

Or “God will take care of it” and worse, “It’s God’s will”. If we just do the right thing, pray to the right god, live the right lifestyle, eat the right food, paint our door the right colour, follow the right leader, somehow everything will be all right.

On my more optimistic days, I imagine that suddenly enough of us will decide to stop reaching for things, and reach for each other instead; stop driving – and start walking together; stop updating our kitchens, and start meeting in them, exploring with each other in mutually supportive ways, how we can change ourselves and the world. For change we must.


* http://www.thecarbonaccount.com/carbonexplained/

** http://www.thetippingpoints.com/

and: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7sSHyXNxtU (1 min. only)

Posted in advocacy, beliefs, carbon emissions, climate change, consciousness, materialism, religion, social change, world class city | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Reflections on a “Queer Slow Dance”…

Open to experience. That’s me. “Fearless”. Explorer of life and its potential experiences. But only so far. I don’t fly. I don’t make speeches.

But I did go to a “queer slow dance” last night, for the second time. Yes 95% of the people were LGBT and everything else on the spectrum. But according to its wonderful host Sherwin Sullivan Tija, we’re all supposed to feel welcome. And we did.

Why did we go? Partly because I believe passionately in “inclusion”, and want to support progress. Partly because as dances go, Sherwin’s are warm, unpretentious and fun — equal to the great swing dances at Dovercourt House*. It was also an opportunity to introduce some gay friends to the event, and meet a new partner. Last but not least, I love being open to having my ‘comfort zone’ tested.

All was lovely, and just being there moves me. It reminds me of high school dances in the fifties – the air just brimming with vulnerability, hesitation, tentativeness. I wonder how many can barely believe this freedom. A sprinkling of people from countries where being gay could mean death. And a few older North Americans, many of whom had probably hidden their true feelings for a virtual lifetime, and are only now learning how to ‘reach out and touch’ others comfortably. There is no blasé here. Nothing taken for granted, and the wonder of it all is clearly treasured.

Yet in all this pleasure, I noticed myself feeling some slight nagging discomfort from time to time. Why? When a twenty-something woman asked me (a 70-something!) to dance, suddenly it came to me. I realized there were complications inherent in our just being there, partner and I: we are experienced dancers, there to dance and enjoy the atmosphere. Would our dancing intimidate many who are obviously new at this? What assumptions did they have about why I was there? Any at all? None? And why did I care? What are the expectations of those who ask a stranger to dance? Potentially much more complicated than at a run-of-the-mill “straight” dance.

I realized also, that I am still – despite a lifetime of trying to be more relaxed – awkward and self-conscious about ‘visibly’ dancing. Even with people I know, I don’t relax easily at dancing. I am relaxed mainly with the partner I’ve learned and practiced with for decades. Let’s blame it on ‘critical-judgmental parents’ for the sake of argument.

Partner and I talked about it as we left and came to a new – tentative – conclusion: we feel a little like interlopers, as if we are cheating, somehow. Sending out ‘mixed messages’. As we strolled away from the party sounds, into the city night, we both felt that it wouldn’t be fair to return.

That makes me sad. I always feel that much personal growth can occur, and so much resolution, through what I would call ‘open encounter’. It’s a kind of conversational exploration of feelings, hopefully to a point of resolving issues.

Unfortunately, a crowded dance hall is not conducive to such eventualities. If they ran the dance according to my whims, they would pause it about every hour, and run a 15-minute encounter group of all who wish to share and think and re-think, and are willing to communicate about it out loud! You might be surprised how many people there are who discover in the middle of it, just how stimulating it can be!

Meanwhile, I think Sherwin’s onto something. And I think such events will lead to whole new ways of communicating. The first time I was invited to dance by one of the volunteers, as we began to dance he said “I’m ‘bi-‘”. At the time I thought that was funny and possibly a little “anal”. But now that I’ve had my mind opened up a little more, I can see a whole new kind of self-introduction becoming as common and as comfortable as, “Good morning,” or “How’s it going?”  And this is how new ‘sub-cultures’ get started, after all. Good work, Sherwin! Thanks for helping to make the world a better place.

* https://thinkinganddreaming.ca/2012/08/09/dancing-off-on-a-tangent/

Posted in dancing, Inclusion, LGBTQ, mindfulness, reflections, Sherwin Sullivan Tija | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment