Won’t you be my Valentine?

VAL105_vintage_cowboy_1950s_valentines_day_greeting_cardA year ago, I asked Brenda, my sister, to take a walk down memory lane on Valentine’s Day. She remembered back to the time that everyone now recalls so fondly. Those were the days, my friends that should not have ended. When kids were left to be kids.

So Brenda remembers back to Valentine’s when we walked to school together, went home for lunch and sat as a family around the supper table before going outside to play olly olly oxen free until the sun set.

“Mrs. Chisholm was prim, erect. She was strict yet kind and caring. She always asked Mom about us. (She remembered us because I was a teacher’s dream student – did what I was told – and you were… well, you know :-)).

She drove a dark green car – two tone. if I recall, with a black roof. Probably early 1950s model. Grandpa had a similar one, although it was burgundy (they called it ‘maroon’ in those days). Grandpa upgraded, she never did.

She rarely drove it, which is probably why it lasted so long. “There goes Mrs. Chisholm, probably to the grocery store.” Or church.

We’d make or buy valentines. We bought a book – sort of like a colouring book that you cut out the valentines (this was before perforation – gosh that’s a long time ago!!). At the back of the book were various envelopes that you also cut out on the red lines and then glued or taped into an envelope. And you carefully selected which card for which person. By grade 3 you were very discerning between boys and girls so if you sent one to the opposite sex, it might have been anonymous or none at all.

That was in the days when there was a chalkline down the middle of the playground, separating the boys from the girls. You weren’t allowed to play together at recess and you entered the school through different doors – Boys and Girls.”

My own first memory of Valentine’s Day was after being artificially “accelerated” – or skipping – through grade two because I was smart. Smart-ass is more accurate.  I arrived on the other side of this terrible experiment in education to find myself in a strange and dangerous place surrounded by older, bigger and meaner kids – grade three.

I gave a lot of Valentine’s cards that year but didn’t get many in return. Not getting as many Valentine’s cards as the popular kids means you’re unpopular. Simple as that. Nobody wants to be your Valentine. That hurts. Giving Valentine’s to boys in grade three also hurts, but in a different way.

And the practice continues to this day. Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW – all those letters must mean an expertise – believes we should reconsider some of our Valentine’s Day customs when it comes to our children.

We should also reconsider Valentine’s Day as adults. The Valentine’s Day exchange from years ago is now online. Same thing.

Love, love, love. We must really need love. Love songs. Love food. Gifts of love. E-cards. Very public vows of love between boyfriends and boyfriends and girlfriends and spouses, cats and dogs, and the whole world. It’s a hollow Hallmark holiday – grade school stuff. No social media post can reveal the feeling – that most fragile and inexpressible of all human emotion.

Are we that desperate for public displays of affection that we regress to the third grade?

poohbearLove is given to a beloved with reverence, quietly and romantically. Online devotions are like the icky proposals of marriage that are broadcast on Jumbotrons at sports spectacles. Hardly romantic.

Happy Valentine’s is an intimate whisper not brash narcissism.

Or I might just be bitter because I don’t have a Valentine, again. No, wait. I  do have a Valentine. I’ve had the same Valentine for my whole life. Happy Valentine’s Day, Brenda.


No laughing matter; CBC political pundit’s wardrobe malfunction

In the midst of tension  between Canada’s federal government and the resolve of #idlenomore to address and redress the treaty rights of First Nations, there is this story in the Toronto Star (01/30/13/ – Tom Flanagan wears huge bison coat on CBC: Top 10 jokes.

It’s no joke that this was reported as a joke.

Even Flanagan is joking about it. Despite striking the wrong pose – politically, socially, and culturally – Bullfax,com reports Flanagan is unfazed by the uproar his stunt caused, saying, “… it makes me an icon of Canadian history.” Hardly an icon; more narcissistic.

Some people – particularly First Nations people – might not think of Flanagan as much of an icon, either, and that this is such a laughing matter.


The coat is a troubling symbol of the Canadian governments systemic, terrible treatment of First Nations people – the near extermination of the plains bison by colonial fur traders.The government’s desolation of Indian culture; Indian life. But here’s Flanagan – conservative pundit,  author, educator and former adviser to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper – appearing on the CBC’s political program Power and Politics – with his incredibly shrunken head poking out of the neck of his incredibly over sized buffalo coat. (Get this man a stylist.)

Flanagan yaks about the conservative slant on the day’s political cycle and he’s taken seriously in certain circles. But he doesn’t seem to be displaying any seriousness or sensitivity to #idlenomore; to what David Eaves sees as an “existential threat to what we believed Canada was.”

Flanagan is a regular pundit at a round table debate about serious political issues – in this case, trying to make clear the ominously named Clarity Act. (It legislates how the federal government would handle the question of succession by any province.) I watched the segment and was unable to pay attention to anything that he said, seriously. So distracting is the coat and  so insightful its meaning, is it any wonder that none of what he had to say about the Clarity Act was reported or remembered?

Flanagan explains that he was wearing the coat because it was cold in the CBC Calgary studios on the day he appeared for the show’s segment. As a former CBC news anchor, I sat in that same studio under similar studio lights and I can tell you that it never gets cold enough to warrant wearing a great, woolly, fur coat. If you’re cold – and even more so if you’re conservative – put on a sweater vest, for heaven’s sake, not a beast.

Could there be another reason? The American-born Flanagan, according to his Wikipedia entry,

“… has focused on challenging Native and Metis rights. In connection with his multi-year research and publications on Louis Riel, Flanagan published a reinterpretation of the North-West Rebellion, defending the federal government’s response to Métis land claims.

At least we know where he stands and what he wears. Perhaps he should interpret this:

“Fools… wear their hearts proudly on their sleeves, who cannot control their emotions, who wallow in sad memories and allow themselves to be provoked this easily — weak people, in other words…” – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Time runs out

First Nations Warrior flag

First Nations Warrior flag

Some observations on the First Nations pow-wow showdown with Canada’s federal government:

Bewildered reporters have been chasing around Ottawa all day breathlessly saying how the situation is changing by the second. Toting their cameras and notebooks, they haven’t been able to keep up. It would be comical (if they weren’t all white) if it wasn’t so critically uncertain.

This isn’t unusual for anyone familiar with the expressssion “Indian time” and that includes aboriginals  I am not being insensitive. I am simply repeating the reality of what a friend, and prominent Metis leader and businessman, taught me years ago one summer afternoon outside of the Treaty 4 Governance Centre in Saskatchewan’s Qu’Appelle Valley, and within a few miles of the former Lebret Indian Residential School that his mother had been forced to attend. He taught me a lot more than that, too, including how the Bands are really run.

Natives don’t run on the same colonial clock as the rest of us. To see them forced to the tipping point so quickly is surprising and unsettling for them and us. The Chiefs take time to talk, sometimes at great length, and are not held to deadlines.

But, did they have a choice? They were forced into action by circumstances, in part, beyond their control. Up to this moment, they have been held frustrated and in anguish over the inexcusable state of their people and their living conditions, health, education: the list is lengthy.

When a centre isn’t coalescent it fractures. There was a centre in all of this, once. Attawapiskat Chief Teresa Spence was the rallying point but has now been shoved to the sidelines and uninvited to some of the meetings that came out her demands in the first place. She seems irrelevant in any discussions between the the two nations – Canada and aboriginal. Spence, once a Chief of peace, started it all by going rogue with her hunger strike. That resulted in the grassroots Idle No More movement. That has forced the Chiefs hands to take a militant stand with talk of warriors bringing Canada to it’s economic knees.

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Sean Atleo is no Phil Fontaine. Fontaine, who was National Chief of the AFN for three terms (1997-2000), held much more sway with the Chiefs during the Jean Chretien and Paul Martin Liberal terms than Atleo has today. Atleo is cerebral and, up until today with his display of uncharacteristic outburst, a moderate. Fontaine, although a graduate of the University of Manitoba, was from the gut. Most of the Chiefs today are of that character. The truth of that is in some of the militant statements made by the Chiefs throughout the day.

There is only one person in Ottawa tonight more angry than the Chiefs. That man is Prime Minister Stephen Harper and he’s sure to be fuming in a painted corner; in a tizzy because he’s not in control. But then, nobody is in control right now.

The Montreal Gazette says it’s Harper’s biggest challenge yet. It is historical fact that Canada’s First Nations have not been involved in Canadian politics, proportionate to their population and grievances. They are now, and they just might break Harper’s vice-like grip on this country, especially with parliament about to sit in a few days. Harper’s government can no longer continue in it’s flawed and incremental native rights policies.

On the eve of what will or will not be the critical meeting – between all of the Chiefs or some of the Chiefs or none of the Chiefs and the Prime Minister and the Governor General… or not – we do know one thing, other than nothing at all, and that is no one is idle any more.

A vote for Adam

(A blog from before that I like and updated, first published on 4/27/11.)

Adam, his dadnand younger brother, Greg.

Adam, his dad and younger brother, Greg.

A year ago, cousin Gordon and I – he, the country boy, and me, from the city – talked about his oldest son, before a birthday milestone that the boy would reach..

“Adam turns 18,” Gordon said. “He’ll be able to vote.” Not that his son was eligible for the hockey draft, his plans and pride that he would attend his alma mater, or that he could now look forward to his son moving out of the house. That Adam will be able to vote is all Gordon needed to say about his aspirations for his son.

Later, I said to Adam – an intelligent, talented, musical, athletic, good-looking and well-liked teenager – “Eighteen, huh? You’ll be able to vote.”

“Yes!” He pumped his fist like he’d just scored the winning shot in a church league basketball game. In our family, political roots grow deep in the rich, dark soil around Moosomin, Saskatchewan. It is in our genes, like the dirt ground into our jeans. Adam, and his younger brother, Greg, were taught by their father, who learned from my Uncle, who was raised by our pioneer grandfather whose father was a plains settler, that it is more important to defend democracy than your own end.

I wouldn’t hazard a guess that my young cousin will cast his ballot for the NDP – although, it’s likely. It did seem he wanted to rid the country of the Harper government. But, alas, that must wait for another day. I would never attempt to influence his or another’s vote, but really. Harper? (I do, however, insist that he, and everyone in our family, be a Yankees fan.)

Adam’s father and mother raised him to make good decisions. The freedom to choose. A choice that traces its origins, in part, to the United Church of our grandparents. But he, like any teenager, sometimes takes a few swings and misses before hitting the right one. Sure, Gordon would prefer his son to vote Liberal, but he’d readily admit that decision is out of his hands. After all, his father, my uncle Fred, was a staunch Liberal until he moved to spend his retirement years in Alberta. Go figure.

I also know – as a native of the province that gave rise to the party of the revered Tommy Douglas – that the NDP can govern, and govern well. And, unlike the other federal parties and their provincial counterparts, the NDP is Canada’s one, true national party – born and raised in Saskatchewan.

Douglas’s CCF was formed by common Canadians who believed the Liberals and Conservatives weren’t ideologically equipped for relieving the real hardship that thousands suffered during the Great Depression. My dad, who road the rails during the Dirty 30s, was a “Douglas man.”

Under Douglas’s leadership and, later, Woodrow Lloyd, the CCF governed for twenty years. During their 20 years of leadership, Saskatchewan was enlightened, innovative, fiscally sound, and broke through social barriers.

With the brilliant Alan Blakeney as leader, the party (now the NDP) was just as bold in governing the province for 11 years – investing in it’s natural resources through new Crown Corporations including Saskatchewan Potash and SaskOil. The Blakeney government was also instrumental in the repatriation of the Canadian constitution and the development of the Charter of Rights.

When Roy Romanow’s NDP beat the ironically named Devine Conservatives in 1991. Under Premier Grant Devine, Saskatchewan’s government was rife with corruption and near bankrupt. Romanow balanced the budget and restored the province’s fiscal health through tough choices and unNDP-like choices as spending cuts and higher taxes. By 1995 the budget was balanced and the government focused on many social justice issues.

The values and beliefs of the federal NDP are framed within Saskatchewan’s neat borders and they inform anyone who calls the province home. Whether grudgingly or not, everyone from Saskatchewan has some socialism in their veins. The numbers are vast and spread across this country. If you want proof, go a Canadian Football League game when the Riders are the visiting team.

I remember being 18 and a member of the Saskatchewan Young New Democrats. I shared a dilapidated old house with former Saskatchewan Justice Minister Frank Quenell. It was a flop-house within a few short blocks of the legislature where young social democrats from all over the province and Canada found a piece of floor, a plate of spaghetti, political arguments and all night parties. The NDP, not the house, was then and remains, the anti-establishment party. It speaks to common Canadians. And, if I were to hazard a guess, there are more of us common folk than have been willing to admit.

Not so, young Canadians. They’re fearless. They seem willing to take a risk that will shake this country out of its lethargy. To put it simply, for most Canadian young people, the NDP is not their parent’s party. And the late Jack Layton is seen as more like the cool teacher who they would invite to a party than their dorky dad. Layton was, for most part, fearless. What else do you call a leader who campaigned full-out after prostrate cancer and hip surgery, and was willing to re-open the constitution?

The kid world is the social network and their numbers are great. Why would it be any surprise that the majority of them are drawn to the social democrats. They call social media open source. They call it and protect it as democratic. It’s socialism, online or off, and its clicking.

So Adam, take seriously this responsibility because your family fought for it. You come from a family and a place that has always talked politics around the supper table and has always voted. You come from a province that grows good things and great ideas. You’re cutting your political teeth in a time of great importance in Canadian political history. And Adam, remember to tell your son or daughter the story, and make sure they’re Yankees fans.

America, it is time to choose

US President Barak Obama will deliver his inaugural address on Sunday, January 20, 2013. What can Obama learn about leadership from a previous present – John F. Kennedy – in the aftermath of Newtown, Connecticut? A lot. How might JFK have responded to the challenge of gun violence? We might wonder if he would say, “We choose to end it?”

That’s right, it’s time to make another Kennedy/Obama comparison. If you’ve read my blog before, you know I question the validity of comparison. The Kennedy/Obama parallel has long been refuted by stronger arguments than we need to revisit, Besides, this isn’t a comparison so much as it is a lesson.

One of the last major US gun control initiatives was in 1968.  It was propelled by Kennedy’s assassination. President Lyndon Johnson – who Obama could learn a thing to two about getting bills passed by the US Congress and Senate – signed it into law. Interestingly, this omnibus crime bill included a ban on mail order guns. Kennedy was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald with a mail order gun.

JFK Assassination

Rifle used to kill Kennedy

America can choose to end it’s gun control crisis. After all, if you believe, they put a man on the moon.

Canadian writer and Director Stephen Hall, shared these thoughts about JFK, America and choice.

Whenever I hear politicians, or their designates, describe problems as “complicated” — as Jay Carney did earlier today when asked about the WH response to the Sandy Hook shootings — I am reminded of JFK’s “We choose to go to the moon…” speech. I consider it a lesson in how to approach solving ANY problem — whether it is complicated or not.

First, JFK said “we choose to go the moon in this decade and do other things…”

He didn’t say “we’ll TRY to go to the moon”. He said “we CHOOSE to go to the moon”. So, the first part of the lesson is that solution to a problem — even a really complicated one — actually starts with something that is quite simple: a choice.

A choice isn’t an aspiration. It isn’t a goal. It isn’t even a target. It’s a selection between options. And, in this case, like so many other supposedly “complicated” problems, it was a binary choice: go to the moon or don’t go to the moon. Which one is it?

Solve the gun problem or don’t solve the gun problem. Which one is it?

After stating that they had chosen to go to the moon and to “do other things”, JFK said, “not because they are easy, but because they are hard”.

“Because they are hard”. I love that line.

JFK had no allusions about how difficult it would be to achieve the choice of going to the moon, but he was boldly confident that it was an achievable choice, and the work that was required to realize that choice was something that Americans enjoyed doing. At that time in history, choosing to do big complicated things was a trait that defined Americans.

But now things are different. They’re “complicated”.

If America is to reclaim its role as a country that happily chooses to do big complicated things BECAUSE they are hard, and because they have the mettle, tenacity and intellect to be able to choose to do them, then it must stop whining about the problems being “complicated”.

It must simply choose to do the things that need to be done.

And then do them.

– Stephen Hall, Canadian director and writer

Newtown, Connecticut; the last puppet show?

Ronnie Burkett is a life-long friend, an award winning and world-renowned puppeteer. His one-man Theatre of Marionettes is genius, exploring the darkness of life in our bewildering world. It is an art form that reaches back to the very beginnings of storytelling, to the very beginning of our self awareness.

Do you remember your first puppet show? Do you remember the wonder of it all? Do you remember laughing at the funny antics of the strange people and animals and all sorts of things? Do you remember when you first realized that puppets were on strings?

Throughout the long history of puppetry – with irony, humour and metaphor – it has been a mysterious hero against tyranny, a wry wink at society’s morals and norms, an expression of hope and a champion for children.

Ronnie’s puppet shows are for adults. The origins of his craft childish. But Ronnie doesn’t do Disney’s Pinnochio – even though his creations are cousins of the puppet who wished to be a boy and the fuzzy, lovable Muppets that all 20 of those poor children adored.

Here are their names. Here are their ages. Again, I am stopped in my tracks. I believe within the specific exists the universal, and the only way I could read those names and ages was from that specific age myself. So, this is me, between age 6 and 7. I’ve had a long conversation today with that self, and some decisions and promises have been made. If you want to go find a picture of yourself at the same age as these 20 child victims of semi-automatic gunfire were (as well as their 6 adult protectors), it’s an interesting private chat to propel personal politicized adult reaction.224828_197492963712953_662783654_n I happen to love this picture more than any other of my life, and I also tend to love that 6-7 year old version the most, so I listened. It may surprise you to take a moment to find your own picture and think on this horror from that perspective. Just a thought, as you read these names and ages:
Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Olivia Engel, 6
Josephine Gay, 7
Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6
Dylan Hockley, 6
Madeleine F. Hsu, 6
Catherine V. Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Jesse Lewis, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace McDonnell, 7
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi,6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison N. Wyatt, 6
Rachel Davino, 29
Dawn Hochsprung, 47
Anne Marie Murphy, 52
Lauren Rosseau, 30
Mary Sherlach, 56
Victoria Soto, 27

So i did what Ronnie suggested and knew the exact picture I would use. My sister and I.

I know Ronnie to be a learned and worldly man who has remained wide-eyed and childlike. He is a man who has been playing with puppets his whole life. How great is that? His art demands the rare skill and imagination to create worlds; magical worlds that we first remember visiting as children. There is a profound and poignant metaphor in puppetry, and what Ronnie has to say about Newtown has been a struggle – even for such a brilliant artist as him – that is deeply personal, melancholy and angry.

I didn’t know what to do with myself when I heard the news of the sacrifice of children to the continued delusions of gun loving legislators and lobbyists, so I cleaned the studio. I mopped the floor three times, because I needed to DO something. I tidied everything, because I could not look at chaos (even – or especially – chaos of my own making), and this was my only way to feel there was some sense of order. And while putting books back on the shelves, I noticed the front endpaper in Puppetry Yearbook 1937; inscribed to British puppeteer William Simmonds by American writer, publisher, puppeteer Paul McPharlin in 1938, and subsequently bearing the bookplate of The Hayward Marionettes (British, as well). 74092_197176213744628_1818237520_nWhile none of those people are still on the planet, the book bearing their names ended up in my hands, in Canada. This is why I love these books. Again, for a brief moment, I felt responsible for, and connected to, a history that does bear repeating and reflection and remembering, not the madness of repetitive history and laws that should have been amended a long time ago and deserve not a moment of my respect.

The artist breaths life into inanimate objects. Manipulating them. On strings. I imagine him in his workshop – like Geppetto – surrounded by the heads, bodies, legs and arms that he will make lifelike but never alive. And then I imagine the horrific carnage of mangled angels left dead by a deranged devil

I know Ronnie wishes he could breath life into those 20 lost children in quite Connecticut and cut the strings of those puppets who are to blame.

In an email to me, Ronnie wrote:

Funny, isn’t it…the moments, unexpected until they appear, that re-politicize us? So many things happen that grab my attention, but when something grabs my heart in such a visceral way, I know I am changed again, whether I wanted or expected such change. These 20 dead children have propelled me into many, many thoughts.

For the sake of comparison

This seems as good a first post as any to capture the sense of this blog’s intent – desolation, invisibility, silence, sound and hope.

A mashup of the great, final speech at the climax of Charlie Chaplin’s classic The Great Dictator.

Mashups are for modern times. They are supposed to be “a distinct way of spreading ideas” but rarely do. Instead it’s rehashing old ideas. If mashups are a blend of media materials, how are they distinctive? Too many of these imitating mashups are all flattery and no substance. I’m all for the creative process behind re-working source materials. What is classical music or Shakespeare, if not reinterpretations? They work for today’s generation of simpletons as a teaching method but as a way of raising awareness and advocacy for the challenges we face, please.

MelodySheep’s cleverness can’t bottle the magic of Chaplin or the real dangers he warned of. Simply titling their knock-off Let Us All Unite! doesn’t fool anyone and their add-ons are poorly thought discards and take away from the original power. Rather than copy Chaplin’s message from the past, I’d have preferred an idea for solving the problem. I’m sorry, but as in Chaplin’s day, too many people want to be emperors. Too few like to help anyone.

Their project does serve the purpose of keeping words and ideas alive for new generations that are disinterested in original thought and like to have others do their thinking for them in two to five minute segments that they can quickly fast-forward through. If ever there was a film to reach a new demographic, The Great Dictator is one of them. The irony here is in the authenticity of the copy. Chaplin plays copies of himself – the good, a simple barber, and the bad dictator. The mashup, though not quite a copy, is nothing but a remix.

I’m not one for comparison unless it’s between small appliances. Comparison usually limits real thinking, unless its logical – A=B /B=C/therefore ?… Comparing apples to oranges leaves little to the imagination. In fact, can you name any of these mashups, so popular with new media but so reliant on the old, as better at conveying the original artists intention or vision? For the sake of comparison only serves the weaker argument.

Nothing can compare with the scene from The Great Dictator and if MelodySheep isn’t looking for comparison, what is their purpose? Not even lifting the uplifting scene from the last reel, laying down beats, editing in a few incongruent scenes and, most annoying, fiddling with Chaplin’s beautiful voice.

However, here’s the non-robotic original if not for comparison than for its simple perfection in expressing an idea in film. You be the judge because that’s what comparison calls for.