Why Read?

I had an interesting conversation with a friend today who noticed I’m reading Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin. She felt that it was a “school book”; something you might read because you had to read it as a school assignment. It grieves me that we’ve come to this place where writing as lavish and powerful as Atwood’s has been relegated to the domain of high school students, grudgingly grinding through pages of prose that they haven’t enough experience to truly appreciate. It is sad, because I don’t think anything quite compares to reading for exercising the mind, challenging assumptions, and exploring new ideas. I hope some kids are still reading for pleasure and I hope some will come to discover the wonder of these works over time.

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Dissolution

I’m so habituated to doing too many things at once that when I’m faced with some quiet time and a major task to do, I find it really hard to focus. The concentration has dissolved in a swirl of a long to-do list and years of constant juggling of priorities. I used to pride myself on that ability to handle a load of conflicting tasks and timelines but that ability has become a burden. Being more aware of this is a good thing as I think there’s probably a way to extract some concentration out of the muck, perhaps with some brief and focused meditation when I see the focus slipping away. Ironically I have to concentrate enough to see that happening.

Gratitude Forgotten

I forget, all too easily, to practice gratitude. Today was a perfect reminder that there is a lot to be grateful for in life. Living by a fresh, clean lake, with almost perfect summer weather. Good neighbours who drop by the dock to chat while they are paddling or boating by. Sharing some drinks and sauna with neighbours and friends. A good meal and playing music with my band while the sun sets in a blaze of thick caramel gold. Why do I let my workdays lead me to such wicked amnesia? I write this down now to hold that gratitude close.

Adulting

Being a grown-up is hard. Particularly when you feel you have to be a grown-up for other people who should be doing their own adulting by now. Boundary violations run rampant. The seeds of resentment are planted. You’ve learned that you are mostly powerless and that growth only comes from within. Fearing for the relationship we can cling tighter or let go. Clearly, the time has come to reset boundaries and let people do their own adulting. That’s when it gets easier.

The Paragraph

I’ve been considering how I might approach blogging with a more thematic approach. It occurred to me today that I probably write too much. To be more precise, I rarely write but when I take it on, words come pouring out. It is possible that the ideas lose some value when the point gets lost in an avalanche of text. It followed then, that maybe it would be fun to intentionally write only a paragraph in each blog. Short, sweet, focused and hopefully more frequent. So here it, the first paragraph.

Move on, Monday

It has been an on again off again summer in terms of exercise.  I realized while out sailing a couple of weeks ago that I was approaching the sail, we’ll,  delicately.  Because I’m out of shape. I dug in and really started to push and it was the best sail all summer because I started really working the boat and using my body like I’m supposed to.

So today,  I’ve done the first intentional exercise I’ve done in a couple of months.  There are a whole bunch of things that are totally worth maintaining the physical health to do.

Fortunate Friday

Tomorrow, my bandmates and I are about to embark on a week-long gig at a local cultural festival. 29 main shows, 5 half hour sets of our own and 2 sets backing a local choir. It sounds like it could be an exhausting week. But I feel nothing but gratitude for the opportunity to be able to make music and send hundreds of people away each evening happy and satisfied.

It has been a great summer; I’ve spent some fantastic time with my wonderful partner, watched my kids get ready for their own overseas adventure, enjoyed some beautiful weather and lit a few saunas at the lake, which is something new.

I get caught up in work drama and Canadian politics but, really, I have very little to complain about. And, sometimes, when I’m complaining, it is mostly because I know we can do better. 🙂

Why I’m Green

Like most Canadians I’ve done my duty every four or five years to head to the polls to vote in our federal elections. Only about 2% of Canadians are members of political parties; pretty much the standard in most Western countries. So what prompted me to member up with The Green Party of Canada and get involved in my Electoral District Association for the Greens? It is a rather long story.

Developing a Political Mindset

I grew up in a capital C Progressive Conservative household and, of course, like most kids, our only political compass was our parents. There is some evidence that my parents were caught up in Trudeau-mania but, by and large, we were Tory blue.

Lots of people probably remember the standard high school lesson on the political circle with the centre at the bottom and going around right and left to fascism and communism meeting at the top. It was pretty clear that there was a blue dot a little the right and an orange dot a little to the left and a red dot at the bottom. That tangible expression of political orientation had a big impact on me.

The very memorable teacher who taught that Canadian history class went on to be a Canadian Senator. A knowledgeable and inspiring teacher, part of her course required working for a political campaign in the 1979 federal election. She also inspired me to subscribe to Maclean’s magazine for the political content. Within a few years afterwards, I’d read Churchill’s 2nd World War history and his History of the English Speaking Peoples. The last gave me a very wide appreciation for the history of our democratic processes. Of course, I like to read fiction too. Some of the stuff with the biggest impact were books like 1984, Animal Farm, Hard Times, Brave New World, Oliver Twist, and A Christmas Carol. Clearly, the social conscience stuff speaks to me.

In fact, I often remarked how Churchill’s “if you’re not a liberal at twenty, you have no heart, if you’re not a conservative at forty, you have no brain” comment seemed to work backwards for me. I was starting to see the cracks in the conservative dogma. I still identified with my parents’ anti-union, tough on crime, and responsible money management position. It made so much sense to me. Businesses created jobs. If we didn’t keep the books balanced, how could you do things like fund healthcare or other social programs? I fell for the “poor just have to work harder” ideas that are still, and increasingly, very common on the right.

Reforrrmmm!

Joe Clark came and went. Trudeau came back. Turner. Mulroney. NAFTA seemed like a good idea at the time and, particularly in light of today’s corporations-win-all trade agreements, it was and still is a good thing to open up borders. Like the rest of the country, I wasn’t happy with the rest of Mulroney’s politics. While he sang on stage with Ronald Reagan, it was clear that North America was shifting to the right.

Around this time Preston Manning’s Reform party showed up. I honestly liked Preston Manning. He had some great ideas including much more freedom for MPs and a more grassroots involvement in the political process. I liked his down to earth approach and he seemed to really care about doing what was right and for the good of real people. I felt the shift to the right was, perhaps, a blip, and if more people were contributing to the political process it would moderate that shift. So the promise of Reform, of grassroots participation, of turning control back to the voters, was very attractive.

But the push to unite the right came along, Reform gave way to the Alliance. The bigots started crawling out of the woodwork and the splashy Stockwell Day with his penchant for showy consumerism and shallow talk turned me right off. It was clear, as Harper rose to power, that we had a problem. We could fill books with how the Conservative government has corrupted our democracy, thrown environmental protection to the wind, thrown our scientists under the bus, trashed our reputation in foreign affairs, and made our political landscape dirtier and less democratic. I never have been and never will be a supporter of the Conservative Party of Canada.

Adrift

I was a adrift in the political landscape.

What a great opportunity to shop around! Like many Canadians, I wasn’t impressed with the outcome of Shawinigate. I kind of bought into the propaganda that Martin was as much the problem as Chrétien (although I suspect now he was a victim of dirty politics). I felt the Liberals, sitting solidly in the middle, were often too cautious and, in the name of playing both sides of the political spectrum, didn’t actually do a lot.

The NDP? Hmmm. Jack Layton was pretty impressive, and I’d been voting NDP for some time provincially because I felt they were more centre than they traditionally had been (Manitoba’s Doer was a rather blue shade of orange) and were probably better equipped to deal with social issues. But I wasn’t quite sure that I was ready to go that far left.

All this time I had been facing a growing realization that the old political circle wasn’t working out so well for me. I definitely felt that good fiscal management was important. That problems of crime must be handled with public protection in mind. That our traditions of good government and civil society be maintained. That our military (which I still perceived as peackeepers) should be well supported and equipped. So… right, right? But issues of poverty were not solved by making corporations rich. That social programs such as universal healthcare are a good thing; it is the epitome of the individual contributing to the greater good. That poverty reduction benefiting the less fortunate in our society benefits all of us. That working people need to be treated fairly and with dignity. That the war on drugs was an astounding failure. The conditions under which our indigenous people live were appalling. So… left, right?

And then there was growing concern over global warming, of the end of oil, of environmental degradation.

Oh oh.

I saw myself spread across the traditional political spectrum with little bits of my values over on the right and some over on the left and some in the middle.

Then I saw a Green Party sign while I was driving one day so I went looking at their website.

And… Surprise!

This was not the one-issue party that I thought it was. Yes, the Greens are most definitely environmentalists. But I wouldn’t characterize their platform as being predominantly environmentalist. Perhaps that’s because the environment figures in to almost everything the Green Party talks about. Attempting to remove the environment from any discussion of economy, social programs, resource extraction, healthcare, foreign affairs or any other political topic, is kind of nonsense. Without the environment, we have nothing and we can’t operate outside of it.

If they are a single issue party, it might be more appropriate to call that issue “Sustainability”. The entire Green platform is structured around sustainability in all facets of our political discussion.

  • Fiscally the Greens may be more conservative than the Conservatives. But Economically they may be the most progressive party on the field. Balanced budgets. Taxation that encourages sustainable economics. Sustainable resource extraction (note: not stopping it, but managing it). Replacing income tax with carbon tax.
  • Justice policies that make sense. Public safety is important; dangerous offenders must be kept off the streets. But we start by keeping people out of prison. Restitution. Reducing Recidivism. Reducing poverty. Increasing Literacy. Rethinking that war on drugs.
  • Foreign Affairs policies that takes back Canada’s reputation as an advocate for the poor and oppressed and rebuilds our status as a trusted negotiating partner and mediator. This is going to be a lot of work to earn back. In the face of increasing environmental degradation, it is critical that we fill this role instead of running off to drop bombs at the heels of the United States.
  • Social Policies that are designed to sustain a free and healthy culture where people’s basic needs are looked after. This is the path to reduced crime, increased prosperity, and security.
  • Democracy. This. People are so fed up with our system. Low voter turnout, especially amongst youth, does not bode well for a sustainable society. If we’ve lost our voice, we surrender it to political, and thus, corporate power.. The Greens are strong advocates for real democratic reform; proportional representation, free votes, more power to MPs and parliamentary committees and less power for the PMO and the “ruling” party.
  • Open, Transparent, and Participatory Most impressively, these policies were right there on their website. In a great deal of detail. They aren’t cooked up prior to every election. They’re spelled out in the Vision Green document that is available for anyone to download. The document is changed over time, by proposals voted on by party members, to reflect ongoing discourse on party policy. It isn’t decided behind closed doors but right out in public for membership to see, judge, and contribute to.

I’ve been a member of the Green Party ever since.

(reblogged to the Green Party of Provencher website)

Falling off the Wagon

I’ve been rather delinquent in my promise to myself to improve my health. I started off well, getting some regular workouts in but a number of things have conspired which have caused me to fall off the wagon in the last couple of weeks.

As I watch the dust from the wagon as it trundles away in the distance, I’m reminded that I’m getting older and there is probably a point of no return where that wagon disappears over the horizon. You hit that point and you’ll never catch up again.

I’m going to pick myself up, dust myself off, get moving and climb back on.

The Enneagram says self-care is a challenge for a Type 9. That self care extends not only to the physical care but also emotional and mental care as well. Heck, maybe more so because if I’m really engaged emotionally with myself, I’ll do the physical care thing with enthusiasm.

If I really dare look inside, when I say there have been things that have caused me to fall off the wagon, that’s a cop-out. I’m looking for a way of disengaging with myself. Or, more precisely, abdicating responsibility for myself. And yet, I can tell that my body is not happy with me; I ache all over, which may be partly a cold coming on but it is likely stress related too. I can tell that my brain isn’t happy either as it takes ages to wake up every day.

So, given two choices, of sitting here in the dust or getting moving, I suppose there is only one choice. 🙂

Politics is Fun. No. Really…

I’ve always been interested in politics. Even before I knew I was.

When I graduated high school, I told my grade 11 Canadian history teacher that I was going in to computer science and she was horrified that I wouldn’t be going in to political studies or something of that nature. I think she knew something that I didn’t know at the time. Many years later… many, many years later. I’m still trying to figure that out. She went on to be a Canadian senator (not the hockey kind) and I went on to be software developer. Sometimes I wonder if I might have served the world better if I’d followed in her footsteps.

So I do what I think is my part. I try to stay reasonably informed. I always get out and vote and I try to vote with an awareness of why I’m voting whatever way I do. I’ve read Churchill’s History of the English Speaking People partly because the development of our democracy and why it works the way it does is so darn interesting. And I’ve recently read Joe Clark’s How We Lead and am working on Elizabeth May’s Losing Confidence.

Recently I’ve upped the ante. I suspect people have noticed. I’ve joined the Green Party. I’ve got involved with Fair Vote Canada and Lead Now. But the most obvious symptom is my almost daily, and sometimes many times daily, posts and shares and comments on social media about current Canadian political issues.

In a social media world of cute cats and (funny?) videos of skateboarding accidents, I often wonder if I’m being a terrible, horrible, awful bore. I can’t help but think a whole host of friends have probably blocked me on their feed because they are sick to death of my rants about our current Dear Leader’s destruction of, well, pretty much everything; from our environment to our democratic system to our social safety net to our international reputation.

But I’m not apologizing.

I think back on the Reform Party and while a lot of their far right agenda worried me, I really appreciated Preston Manning’s honesty and forthrightness. Most of all, I appreciated his desire to remake government to something far more participatory, open and grass roots.

Somewhere that great idea has gone horribly off the rails as Reform’s descendent, the Conservative Party of Canada, has taken power away even from the MPs and has concentrated it in the PMO (The Prime Minister’s Office). A group of party-loyal bureaucrats who now run our country with a tightly controlled message, a dogmatic party policy, and a secrecy beyond anything we’ve known.

This is not good for Canada. This isn’t good for taxpayers (although we might pay slightly less tax, we’re going to pay for this in loads of other ways that are not good), this isn’t good for the environment, for social justice, for children, for the sick, the poor, the middle class, the illiterate, the refugees, the military and servicemen. It isn’t good for anybody except the Conservative Party of Canada and some elite oil barons.

So maybe I’m boring and dull and interrupting a few cute cat videos but I’m pretty sure that the powerful elite would like to keep everyone doped up on the cute cats so we can all be herded around like the sheep we have become.

The worst thing we can do is be complacent.

Oh wait, when do we get to the fun part? That was all kinda depressing, you say.

The fun part is, that despite all the talk about all politicians being dirty and untrustworthy, I don’t buy it.

Remember my high school teacher? She cared passionately about this country and felt she could contribute something valuable. And she did introduce some very positive legislation. Preston Manning is still out there working hard for positive change in this country and has even, quietly, stated some disappointment with the current government. Joe Clark, another honest, forthright man who, more than probably any current politician, deserves to be called a statesman. Elizabeth May who cares passionately about environmental issues; so much so she took up politics precisely because of her concern for the environment and has now picked up the cause of social justice and good government as well.

There are caring, compassionate, interesting, optimistic, and inspiring people in politics. I want to share their passion and optimism and be inspired by new ideas and a positive vision for our country and society.

So, if you’re not inspired, or just plain bored, I hope I’m not getting on your nerves. But if you’re interested and want a good chat, let me know. 🙂