Re-posting. Not because of any (tanking) mayor. Because we're still remembering an awful night and thinking a certain critical and creative mind would be welcome today.
Yesterday an entertainer in a Pepto Bismol coloured suit stood up in Toronto’s city council and ranted and raged about “left wing pinkos” to show his support for our new mayor. It seems the mayor requested that this person – a national celebrity who has been known to rant his bigoted views on what is probably the nation’s most popular television show, causing many to question the soundness of his mind and his relevance on a show watched by many, many children – be the one to introduce him and decorate him with the chain of office on the first official day of the new council.
Yesterday’s show tipped the “cringe-o-meter” for many thinking people. Here we had an entertainer in a pink suit taking that deplorable political tool – the sound bite – to a new low in stirring up anger and divisiveness, and helping this mayor move our city from world-class to class-less.
The same night over dinner my daughters and I had a conversation about John Lennon. I said that the pink clad entertainer would call Lennon a “left wing pinko” with great glee. Carly and Kelsey, in their 20s, had never heard the term “pinko” before yesterday; Carly said she'd Googled it. I thought it was funny that a great many of the people the guy in pink was trying to insult would have had to research what exactly his dusty old slur meant since it hadn't been seen in a number of decades.
My girls – both intelligent, thoughtful, reasonable young women – were saying that they feel Lennon’s murderer robbed their generation of knowing a fine critical mind and thought-provoking artist. He died before they were both born – but it just doesn’t seem like it – thirty years on Lennon’s persona looms still. He angered many, but he inspired many more. And that’s because he was a man with big ideas, and he worked them out and expressed them in truly original (and sometimes groundbreaking) ways. None of his protest art included name-calling or trite clichés or sound bites, although the media loved to take sound bites out of his statements, like the infamous “we’re bigger than Jesus…”
Sound bites water ideas down to single layered messages. Sound bites take bits of language and turn them into a symbol. Given that humans process symbols before they process language, it’s not surprising marketers and politicians have turned it into a remarkably effective tool for persuasion. We see the symbol – we don’t have to bother to think – the meaning is handed to us in a neat little package.
Fortunately, many of us still like to use our brains. Many of us – like my daughters – stop and think about what is in, around and behind a message and work out its meaning for ourselves based on our learning and experiences.
One might say War is Over was a John Lennon sound bite. But it was one of many layers – of contradiction, optimism, questioning the status quo, change, motivation, suggestive selling, opportunity, no, yes, maybe… Lennon’s War is Over might have made you think about a hundred things. The point is, it was intended to make you think – not relieve you of the need to do so.
What were the layers of meaning in the “left-wing pinko” sound bite? I don’t think more than one meaning was intended – it simply meant “the other side.” It was easy for that guy’s fans, or the angry supporters of the angry mayor. Who needs to think? Yahoo – take that you Other Side!
Lots of Toronto people though – like my critical minded daughters – are wearing Left-Wing Pinko as a badge of honour today. Especially given that it’s also the day in which many of us are thinking about one particular left-wing pinko and what might have been another thirty years of ideas and music and art – robbed, from a world that could really use them, in one violent moment.
John – I really wish my girls could have lived in the same world you did for a little while. But your messages are not lost on them. If you were here today, you might be as encouraged as I am that there are lots young people around who are able, like you once were, to think beyond a sound bite and imagine a world in which anything is possible.
I’m celebrating all the women in my life today, particularly my daughters and my nieces. In Canada, the theme for International Women's Day and Week 2011 is Girls' Rights Matter, recognizing the importance of equality and access to opportunity for girls and women, and inviting us to not only reflect on the situation of girls in Canada, but to look beyond our relative privilege at home and recognize the situation of girls around the globe.
I’m filled with gratitude that I could raise my daughters to be educated, independent and strong. To be able to choose careers, to choose partners, to contribute to their communities, to vote and to make their own decisions about their own lives. Compared to many, many young women internationally, they are exceedingly lucky.
When it adopted its resolution on the observance of Women's Day, the UN General Assembly was recognizing that the participation, equality and development of women are fundamental in securing peace, social progress and the full enjoyment of human rights (UN Women Watch). We’ve come a long way. And we’ve got a long way to go to implement meaningful change for all of us, not just us lucky few.
To all the women who have enriched my life with your love, strength, compassion, humour, intelligence, generosity, kinship, support, ideas, knowledge, creativity, silliness, thoughtfulness, awareness, kindness, stubbornness, talent, work and art – you are, collectively, a bright and shining mosaic, and beautiful thing number 22.
The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to result in a more caring, tolerant, just and peaceful life for all. ~Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Leader of Burma's Democracy Movement
I hope you have a very Happy Christmas. And whether or not you celebrate the day, I hope it's filled with lots of love, good cheer and peace in your hearts. And I hope you carry that peace with you in the new year to come.
I have always loved the Winter Solstice – it begins a short period of inner peacefulness for me – a kind of peace I don’t experience at any other time in the year. I think it’s because this time – marking the beginning of the transformation of darkness to light – has, since ancient times, been recognised as a time of renewal. The awareness of this transformation was bred into us by our predecessors who lived so much more in tune with the universe and its rhythms and magic than we do today amidst all of our distractions.
I find it beautiful that the hope and optimism of Winter Solstice is married with the bleakest time of year – and perhaps that’s where the feeling of peace continues to stem from. If our predecessors could survive the dark days and frozen earth and still celebrate the promise of the gradually lengthening days and new seasons yet to come, then that courage, I think, has never left us.
I hope you’re settling into some of that peacefulness too.
O Winter! ruler of the inverted year, . . . I crown thee king of intimate delights, Fireside enjoyments, home-born happiness, And all the comforts that the lowly roof Of undisturb'd Retirement, and the hours Of long uninterrupted evening, know.
~William Cowper (1731 – 1800)
The weekend was like the most spectacular gift the gods of late summer could muster: sunshiny, clear, breezy and free of commitment. It was the kind of weekend that enveloped me in its wide, generous arms and wouldn't let go. And I was happy to stay there and honour its whims. It was two days of hanging out in the harbour – people watching, reading, photographing, feeling the sun and relishing the freedom.
None of my attempts to photograph the light on the lake can capture how spectacular it looks – like billions and billions of floating diamonds shining so bright they hurt my eyes.
Me and a strawberry ice cream cone wander into a crowd of chuckling people to find a busker riding the smallest bicycle in the world. Just beyond, a lady dressed in officy looking gear hobbles in painful looking high heels and sips from a giant can of Sapporo beer.
In the middle of one meandery walk I sit on a bench under a tree, and the feeling of the breeze on my skin is like swaths of silk being trailed across it. A man sits next to me and we both try to capture photographs of greedy squawking seagulls going after bits of bread being thrown into the water by some girls. His camera is much more impressive than mine, and I soon give up on the birds and try out some shots of peoples’ feet and legs as they walk by.
I loll on the grass and flip pages of a magazine while I watch the action on the water. People crowding around the perimeters of tour boats and sailing ships. Others kayaking and canoeing toward the island. Sailboats leaning deep in the wind. Plane after plane setting down into the airport.
Sunday, Carly texts me from the baseball game and says she will come down and meet me after. We have a beer next to the bandshell and we’re glad we don’t have to listen to the bad girly hip hop music for too long. Kelsey texts and she’s coming down too so we plan a simple meal and buy a bottle of wine and go back to my place.
We eat baguette with olive oil and fresh grated parmesan and black pepper and we catch up on our news and plans. We admire the colour in our meal: red field tomatoes, yellow corn on the cob, orange and red peppers, green asparagus. We think the corn might be the best we’ve had this season. Later Carly takes off to go meet up with some friends and Kelsey and I finish the wine. I walk out with her to meet the streetcar, and then walk down by the water to try and hang on to that last few minutes of the weekend, feeling thankful for the spontaneous summer supper with my girls.
It’s the kind of weekend that sets you right again. I’m facing Monday with a deeper suntan and a rested mind. And it wasn’t until it the weekend was over that I realised just how much I needed those two days of glorious late summer and doing nothing in particular with them.
I squeezed a few more days of vacation to come up to Manitoulin Island with my family. Rest, food, games, walks and wine. Mostly rest. The island is a gentle and beautiful place. For some reason, this year, I'm wanting more of the gentle and beautiful than I'm going to get. But I sure am appreciating the moment.
The shed and clothesline.
The turtle family working on their tans in the middle of the pond.
Sunlight on new apples.
Daisies and Black Eyed Susans in Dad's garden.
The entrance to one of the local trails in South Baymouth.