Friday, December 30, 2011

Know Any Guardian Angels...?

The Guardian Angel
Pietro Da Cortona

Do any of you folks believe in guardian angels?  I could certainly use one right about now.  I can't remember when I have ever felt so despondent.  For the past several years, I have been supportive of my family through many family problems.  I have assisted with what little financial support I can provide, I have assisted with resources, psychological support, time, effort, care, concern, and so much more.  I have always been the person that folks can call at 3:00 in the morning, and I will be available to help with whatever help is needed.  I sometimes feel like an eight-legged octopus trying to hang onto all the unravelling ends of everyone's lives.  And this Christmas season has been no different.  There has been stress, financial concern, psychological concern; I have been trying to keep everyone stress-free.  I just want everyone to be happy.  But, the realization came to me that it's all for nothing.  I can't make other people happy, and I can't solve their problems for them.  It is burning me out, and it's affecting my health and my job.

People often become so self-absorbed that they can't see beyond their own problems.  On my birthday a few days ago, only one family member phoned me to wish me a happy birthday.  All I want is for my family to actually care about me ~~ Johanna ~~ the person.  It is a very lonely feeling, and today I feel unbelievably sad.  Yet another family crisis has blown up, and yet again I was unable to hold the unravelling threads together.  And yet again I have become the unwilling brunt of the situation.  I am beginning to see a pattern of one individual using me as a tool to hurt another individual.  He uses me to push buttons and to cause trouble, which seems to be a trait of other individuals in his side of the family.  And there has been a pattern of it consistently since he came into our family.  And he's very clever at it.

Today I am feeling rather sad, heartsick, and very, very tired.  I am sorry to be such a downer, but I just needed to vent.  It's very difficult to go through life feeling as if one's family doesn't care, but that is how I feel.  I am not a valued member of my family.  I need to distance myself, because it's better to be alone than to be constantly embroiled in someone else's turmoil, year after year, after year.  If they don't like me, well ... they don't like me, and I can't change that.  I always feel I am never *good enough* and I think, "If I can just be a better person, if I just be nicer, if I just do nicer things, if I help them more, maybe then they will like me..."  But it doesn't work that way.  I get that now.  I get it.  I'm a nice person, I don't need to be a better person, or nicer, or more helpful.  I'm just fine the way I am, and if they don't like me, well, that's okay.  I can't change it.

Okay, I finally get it.

But, I could sure use a guardian angel right about now.  Or a hug.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

I See ... A Rhinoceros ...!

If you ever had any doubt about Woody Allen's genius, please watch Midnight in Paris, and your doubts will be dispelled. It's a wonderful movie, but more than that, Woody Allen's casting of the movie is beyond brilliant. Who else but Adrian Brody could have played Salvador Dali?

Man Ray: "A man in love with a woman from a different era. I see a photograph!"
Luis Buñuel: "I see a film!"
Gil: "I see insurmountable problem!"
Salvador Dalí: "I see a rhinoceros!"

In Midnight in Paris, our protagonist, Gil, is a struggling writer who wants to live in Paris of the 1920s ~~ the era of bathtub gin, writers, musicians, artists, poets, and all that jazz. Woody Allen's movie is populated by all of those wonderful folks ~~ Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda, Cole Porter, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, and so many more. Gil gets to know them on a personal level, and he learns the meaning and the struggle behind their work and their creativity, and we get to know them too. It's wonderful to see Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, sitting in her salon, and just above her on the wall is the famous portrait of her painted by Pablo Picasso, as she sits chatting with ~~ Pablo Picasso. I felt part of the Bohemian café society of the 1920s as they discussed poetry, art, literature...

I think we have all wondered what it would be like to live in a different era. For me, the Edwardian era is where I have always wanted to visit. I have a photo of my grandmother taken as a girl during the Edwardian era, and I have often thought I would love to travel back in time and visit with her. She lived in South Africa, and I would imagine her life to be very much like Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke's, also known as Isak Dinesen, the woman who wrote Out of Africa. My grandmother's parents owned a vineyard in the Paarl Valley, and she and her sisters lived a very interesting and rather privileged life.  I still own some of the china and linens my family used when they lived in South Africa, and they're beautiful.

I find everything about the Edwardian era fascinating ~~ the clothes, the architecture, the culture; it was an innovative period of time politically and scientifically. Some of the most wonderful writers came out of the Edwardian era ~~ J. M. Barrie, G.K. Chesterton, Kenneth Grahame, E. M. Forster, Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, Beatrix Potter, George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, P. G. Wodehouse, Kenneth Grahame, W. Somerset Maugham. During the Edwardian era, automobiles were invented, and the South Pole was reached for the first time by Roald Amundsen and then Robert F. Scott. My guilty pleasure is escaping every Sunday night to Downton Abbey, which is beginning its Season Two in January.  It transports me to the Edwardian era, in all its Edwardian glory.  I love it.  In Midnight in Paris, the young woman with whom Gil became enamored, longed to return to La Belle Époque, which overlapped between the Victorian era and the Edwardian era.  That was the period of my favourite artist, Odilon Redon.  Somehow, everything seemed more beautiful in those days.  If you could escape to another era, or another age, which one would you choose? Does it include a rhinoceros?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Money Can't Buy You Class

To my untrained eye, these two women look very much alike. They could be sisters, and in a way, they are. Both of them have chosen to air their laundry on live television ~~ and what laundry it is.  The woman on the left is Kim Richards from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, and the woman on the right is Sonja Morgan from The Real Housewives of New York City.  The titles of the programs should be renamed as The Real Fishwives... because that is how they behave.  My mother used to say anyone who uses the word "class" doesn't have it, and in this case it is so true.  Money can't buy you happiness, and it certainly can't buy you class.  These women are loaded with money, and so lacking in class it's shocking.  I think that's why folks enjoy watching these shows.  No matter what our circumstances are, these women make us feel better, because they're so wonderfully trashy.

On a recent re-run episode, LuAnn de Lesseps, known as Countess de Lesseps, threw a lavish party on a yacht, because she had been dating her boyfriend, Jacques Azoulay for one year.  One whole year!  An anniversary party.  He looked a bit like a deer caught in the headlights of a car, but that's another story.  LuAnn's good friend, Sonja Morgan approves of LuAnn's new boyfriend. “He’s hot, he’s charming, he’s French, and if I know LuAnn, he’s good in bed!” Money can't buy you class. One of the guests on the yacht, Ramona Singer, announced to one and all that she thought she was pregnant. "My period is late, my period is late, and my boobs are like melons now!" *sigh*  She spent a great deal of time in the yacht's bathroom, doing a pregnancy test.  Well, isn't that what everyone does when their friend throws a one-year-dating anniversary party on a yacht?

Money can't buy you class.

I can't hardly wait until next season.  These women are so cheap, tacky, low-class, fabulous, they make me feel wonderful just being me.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas To All My Wonderful Friends ~~ Near And Far

The past few weeks have been rather hectic for me, so I have been away from blogging more than I like. I hope to be back soon. But I want to take this opportunity to wish all of my wonderful friends ~~ near and far ~~ a fabulous Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. This is always a lovely time of year, when things start to wind down, we can take a deep breath, look back in retrospect at the past year, and look forward to the new year and spring. To me, spring begins when the sun goes around the Tropic of Capricorn and begins its journey back to the north, bringing more light. So, as of two days ago, the days began getting longer, and the nights shorter. It's all good.  And remember, there are 12 days of Christmas, so pace yourselves.  Have a wonderful time, and ((((((hugs)))))) to all of you.

"When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things - not the great occasions - give off the greatest glow of happiness."  ~Bob Hope

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Love, Jo

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Before ... And After ... ?

Last night I watched Barbara Walters' special on the ten most fascinating people of 2011. I didn't agree with anyone on her list:
Steve Jobs, Simon Cowell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson & Eric Stonestreet, Derek Jeter, Donald Trump, Katy Perry, Pippa Middleton, Amanda Knox, Herman Cain, The Kardashians. Pippa Middleton? The Kardashians? Really? None of them fascinated me. I am, however, fascinated with the token male in the Kardashian family ~~ the once handsome Bruce Jenner. What in all that's wonderful has happened to his face? All evening I was trying to think of who he looked like, and then it came to me. He has managed to transform himself into Renee Richards, the tennis player and ophthalmologist, who was born Richard Raskind, and through sexual reassignment surgery, was transformed into a female.  To my eye, Bruce Jenner's face looks more female than male as well.

Why do folks do this to themselves? Does anyone remember what Kenny Rogers looked like before he had *work* done? His smokey eyes were his main sex appeal. His face suited his voice, sort of husky, deep, a bit mysterious, and very sexy.  Now?  Well, sex appeal is not the first thing that comes to mind when we see his face today.  He looks a bit like that creepy guy that all his friends try to set up with their wives' or girlfriends' friends.  "Hey, I know this really nice guy..."  Um ... no thanks.

Jane Fonda just keeps getting younger. This picture was taken four days ago, during her appearance on Piers Morgan's show.  Fortunately, she has a great plastic surgeon and has managed to stay looking like ~~ Jane Fonda. On December 21st, this woman will be 74 years old, which means in six years, she will be 80.  She is officially what is known as elderly, a senior.  But through the miracle of modern science, she looks pretty much the same as she did when she filmed "Klute".  Is this a good or a bad thing?  I don't know.  For me, the jury is still out on that one.  Are these folks disillusioning themselves?  Perhaps it's true that if people look younger on the outside, they feel younger on the inside too.  In the alternative, I know folks in their 30s and 40s who claim to feel old, and their attitude about life is old as well.  Perhaps age is just a number, and it's all about one's attitude towards life.  The most important thing is to stayed hooked-in; don't let life pass you by.

I guess the moral of the story is, if you're going to have some work done, make sure you find a plastic surgeon who has a *before* photograph of you on the wall beside the operating table.  Otherwise, you might end up looking like Kenny Rogers, or, like the unfortunate Bruce Jenner, you might end up looking like Renee Richards.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Noisy Noise Annoys An Oyster...

Last Saturday evening, I found this sign on my door. You know that straw ~~ the one that broke the camel's back? This was it. Since 2004, I have had to endure noisy neighbours. The fellow who renovated the house next door, into three separate apartments, rents only to kids from UBC and other local colleges. To give you an idea as to how young they are, the girl in question was turning 19 and she and about 50 or 60 of her closest 19 year-old friends were planning to celebrate.  She was excited because now she would legally be able to drink.  And drink they did.  Do you know what happens to 19 year-old kids when they drink?  Picture it, a group of kids are away from home for the first time.  Their parents live in Winnipeg or Prince George, or in this case, Oregon.  They are supplied with copious amounts of liquor.  They're 19.  *sigh*  During the party in question last Saturday night, I finally had to tell them to shut things down ~~ at around 2:00 in the morning ~~ or I was going to call the police.

This is a photograph, taken from my bedroom window, of the remnants of a party held next door one night last August. It's just one corner of the yard. It's disgusting, and the noise was even worse.  I have had an ongoing battle with the owner of the house, and it was brought to my attention recently that one of the three suites in the renovated house is an illegal suite. The owner has registered the house with the City Planning Department as a duplex, claiming the basement suite is actually part of the main floor.  However, the house is in fact a triplex.  He has also repeatedly denied that his tenants make any noise.  This note is the smoking gun that I needed to make my case.  Not only are they admitting to the noise, but they are also admitting they live in the basement suite.

The owner of the house lives in a McMansion in Port Moody far away from our neighbourhood.  He has nine tenants living in the house next door, and another nine tenants in the house next door to that.  He charges each tenant $700 a month.  That is $12,800 a month he is collecting from a bunch of 19 year-old kids, and then he lets them loose on our neighbourhood.  Long story short, my contact at the City Planning Department has informed me that the next time the owner's tenants have a loud party, both the owner and his tenants are going to be fined $250.  And they will be fined $250 for each and every party thereafter.
Do I feel bad?  Nope.  I may be blonde, but I'm not dumb.  I am very resourceful, and a force to be reckoned with when I'm angry.  I'm like the Incredible Hulk ~~ "Don't make me angry, you wouldn't like me when I'm angry."  Maybe this weekend I will get some long overdue sleep.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Are You Still There...?

Woman in an Orchard, Spring Sunshine in a Field, Eragny
Camille Pissarro, 1887

Isn't this a lovely painting? It feels like spring. In just 18 days, at 5:30 a.m., the sun will swing around the Tropic of Capricorn, and will return to the northern hemisphere, bringing its warmth and light. I can hardly wait. In Ancient Rome the winter solstice festival of Saturnalia began on December 17 and lasted for seven days. It was held to honour Saturn, the father of the gods, and traditionally, everything was reversed. Businesses, schools and courts were closed, and grudges and quarrels were forgotten. Slaves were served by their masters, and wars were put on hold. Wouldn't it be lovely if everything could stay that way?

I can hardly wait for the lazy, crazy, hazy days of summer to return.  This particular fall season seems to have brought out the craziness in everyone ~~ the Occupy movement, the politically correct police, the silliness of the American presidential candidacies, concerns about the Enbridge pipeline in British Columbia.  It has felt rather claustophobic, to say the least.  Folks all seem to be so serious, and so angry.  I have been trying to spend time away from my computer, just to avoid reading about all the nonsense.

The Occupy movement has been particularly annoying.  I don't think anyone disagrees with their platform ~~ whatever that is.  Most people are concerned about unemployment, poverty, the environment, and more.  But the Occupy movement shot themselves in the foot the instant they gathered.  It was as if they said, "Okay, let's organize, and then figure out a way to really irritate the folks we're trying to reach.  Oh, I know, we'll set up shantytowns in the middle of every city, we'll smoke lots of weed, play bongo drums, urinate and defecate in parks, and generally act like blithering idiots.  Everyone will listen to our message if we do that, and everyone will be on our side."


There's something about the shorter days and the lessening of the light that seems to bring out the seriousness in folks.  Bring back the light, bring back the sunshine.  Bring back summer!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Waiting For Christmas...

Waiting for Christmas
Grandma Moses

If Grandma Moses were to paint this wonderful little folk art painting today, she would have to name it something else, as it would no longer be politically correct to call it "Waiting for Christmas". It would have to be named something like "Waiting for Santa", or even worse "Waiting for the Holidays". Bah humbug. Every year Christmas slips farther and farther away from us, until it has become something we don't recognize anymore.

As a teenager, I read George Orwell's "1984" and it disturbed me so much, it stayed with me. I remember thinking, "Thank goodness we live in a civilized world where such things could never happen". But they have happened, and are happening now. There is a dictionary of "1984" Newspeak, and it is chillingly similar to much of the politically correct language we use today.

Newspeak - The official language of Oceania. Newspeak is "politically correct" speech taken to its maximum extent. Newspeak is based on standard English, but all words describing "unorthodox" political ideas have been removed.

Oldthink - Holding on to old ideas and patterns of thought not consistent with current government policy. Maintaining a belief that is no longer acceptable, but was normal just a few years prior.

Crimethink - To even consider any thought not in line with the principles of Newspeak. All crimes begin with a thought. So, if you control thought, you can control crime.

Sound familiar?  We have allowed this to happen. I know people ~~ real, live actual people ~~ who are afraid to say the word Christmas. "Shhh, you can't say that word."

It's still only November, but the stores are filled with Christmas Holiday decorations and music, the television is filled with Christmas Holiday advertisements and slogans ~~ "Give like Santa, save like Scrooge".

Bah humbug!

I want Christmas back.  My Christmas.  The one that feels magical just saying the word Christmas.  It has an aura about it that evokes the smell of cinnamon and pine trees and a crackling fire.  Oh, I know, I know, it was originally a Pagan celebration of light, and we ursurped it and turned it into something else.  I get that.  But most cultural holidays have evolved in one way or another.  I just don't want my Christmas evolving into something crass and sterile, like Pottersville in "It's a Wonderful Life".

In our culturally sensitive world, we celebrate the holidays of all folks ~~ Ramadan, Rosh Hashanah, Diwali, Yom Kippur, Tet Nguyen Dan, Chinese New Year, Hanukkah ~~ and so many more.  We would never dream of asking them to change the name of their cultural festivals, just to accommodate us.  Why on earth are we doing it to accommodate other folks?  Whether we are Christian, non-Christian or atheist, it is not *Holiday*, it is Christmas, and it is celebrated by over one-third of the world's population.

I love everything about Christmas.  It's a really lovely time of the year.  Next Thursday is December 1st, and I can hardly wait for Christmas.  Let the fun begin.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving to my American Friends

The First Thanksgiving
Jean Louis Gerome Ferris

I am still having trouble on and off logging onto Blogger. Argh. In any case, Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends. I hope everyone is spending today with folks they love, and are having a wonderful meal, perhaps watching some football, and then a lovely, long snooze.  Enjoy, everyone!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

JKF ~~ 48 Years Later

Today is the 48th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and yes, I can remember where I was what I heard the news. JFK was the first president to have been born in the 20th century and his presidency was a pivotal turning point in history ~~ the civil rights movement, the Peace Corps, the Space Race, the beginning of the Vietnamese war ~~ all defining moments that changed who we are.  If JFK were running for the presidency today, would he be a feasible candidate?  The way we scrutinize nominees for any office, I doubt very much whether he would survive his life being put under the microscope; he definitely had feet of clay, and he had made mistakes both before and during his presidency.

In the fullness of time, I think President Kennedy is best remembered for how he stared down Premier Kruschev and the USSR between October 14 and October 28, 1962.  That was the closest the world has ever come to annihilating itself.  It took a man of great courage to do what he did.  I remember my mother was hanging her laundry on the line, and before she could finish, she came inside, sat down on her chair, and stayed there until the crisis was over.  She believed it was the end for all of us, and in her own way she was making peace with the world's demise.  The Secretary General of the United Nations, U Thant, asked both Kruschev and Kennedy to have a cooling off period.  Kruschev said yes, Kennedy said no.  He insisted the U.S. Navy would stop and inspect all Soviet ships arriving off Cuba, beginning October 24.  After one Soviet ship was stopped and boarded, on October 28 Khrushchev agreed to dismantle the missile sites subject to UN inspections, and the crisis was averted.  My mother got up out of her chair.

It took a man of great strength to do what Kennedy did.  It was the ultimate game of *chicken* and he won.  That is true leadership.  It is rare to see leadership like that today.  Folks are too busy trying to please everyone.  It is for that strength and leadership that JFK will be remembered.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Secrets, Lies and Promises...

Toulouse Lautrec
Museum: Toulouse-Lautrec Museum

How do you tell someone that their drinking is ruining their life, and the lives of everyone who loves them?  How do you stop pretending that no one knows and that no one is being hurt by it?  Secrets, lies and promises...  It has not been a secret for years, and now that it is progressing, people cannot continue with the lies anymore. The sad thing is, no one is being judgmental, just extremely sad ~~ and powerless to help. 

Alcoholism is not a solitary disease; it is insidious and has a long-lasting ripple effect on everyone in the alcoholic's life.  The alcoholic drinks and their loved ones suffer.  Alcoholism is a progressive disease, and as it progresses and destoys the alcoholic's life, it takes down everyone else in its path.  And, the most destructive aspects of alcoholism are the secrets, the denials and the promises, especially the promises.  When parents drink to excess, it robs children of their innocence.

Alcoholism can ~~ and does ~~ happen to anyone.  Some folks can drink socially for years and not become *hooked* on alcohol, while others can become addicted after just a few drinks.  It is easy to understand the *hows* and *whys* of why a person starts drinking.  Sometimes it's to cover pain and unhappiness; sometimes it's just the *occasional nip* to endure an otherwise unendurable situation.  Sometimes it's to bolster one's confidence when a person is feeling insecure, lonely or confused about a situation.  Sometimes it's just to get through the evening.  Unfortunately, there comes a time in the process when the little nip becomes something much more, and the alcohol takes over.  The once funny, bright, warm-hearted individual becomes irritable, angry and mean-tempered ~~ their personality changes and they are no longer themselves, but an alcohol-infused ogre.  And the sad thing is, often they are not even aware.

Trying to describe the process of becoming an alcoholic is like trying to describe air. It’s too big and mysterious and pervasive to be defined… [T]here is no simple reason it happens, no single moment, no physiological event that pushes a heavy drinker across a concrete line into alcoholism. It’s a slow, gradual, insidious, elusive becoming.  Caroline Knapp ~~ "Drinking: A Love Story"

I had a close friend who was an alcoholic, and I sat by and watched her life deteriorate, like a slow-motion train wreck.  I could not help her.  One day she came to me and said she had joined AA and was determined not to let alcohol have any more power over her life.  Since then, I have watched her life blossom in her sobriety.  To me, alcoholism is the darkness, and sobriety is the light.

The disease of alcoholism is not something to be ashamed of.  In the 21st Century, we have become enlightened about so many diseases, including the disease of alcoholism.  It no longer carries the stigma that it once did, and thank God for that, because it is in pretending the disease doesn't exist that people suffer.  Like any disease, alcoholism can be treated and cured.  The first step on that journey is removing the denial and the secrets.  The second step on the journey is to accept just how badly it is affecting one's life, and especially the lives of the people who love that person.  The third step is to do whatever it takes to stop drinking, before any more damage is done ~~ to everyone.

To anyone who has become caught in the trap of alcoholism, I say, please get help.  The life you are slowly but surely destroying is not only your own, but all of the people who love you.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mutilation By Mirror...

There is a show on television called "1000 Ways to Die", but I have never watched it because the premise of it seems too morbid to me. According to Wikipedia, "1000 Ways to Die is a docufiction anthology television series. The program recreates unusual supposed deaths and debunked urban legends and includes interviews with experts who describe the science behind each death. Up until the end of season one, the final story of each episode showed actual footage of dangerous situations that almost ended in death, along with interviews with people involved in the situations. A portion of these deaths have been nominated for or have received a Darwin Award. A frequently recurring motif is that of unsympathetic individuals' choices backfiring on them, resulting in death. The show is filled with black humor (particularly in the narration) which tempers the otherwise somber theme of death. It portrays the deaths using live-action recreations of the events along with expert and sometimes witness testimony, also using graphic CGI animations, similar to those used in the popular TV show CSI, to illustrate the ways people have died." Well, they can add one more unusual way to die to that list: death by mirror.

I have a large plate glass mirror in my bathroom. I have lived here for 14 years, and only recently I noticed the mirror was slanting forward. At first I thought the room was crooked, and then I realized the mirror was not properly anchored and was beginning to tilt forward from the top, and was slowly leaning away from the wall.  I was able to push it back until it was secured between the side wall and the shower, and then I phoned a handyman to come in and fix it. Immediately.  When he fixed it, he said that it had never been properly glued to the wall.  I have been living with that mirror hanging over my head ~~ literally ~~ for the past 14 years, and it could have come crashing down at any time.  And that thing is heavy.

Can you imagine?  You're sitting on the *throne* just doing minding your own business, and *boom* ~~ death by mirror.  Make that "1001 Ways to Die".

What Is A Community...?

What defines a community? A broad definition of a community is "a group of interacting people, possibly living in close proximity, and often refers to a group that shares some common values, and is attributed with social cohesion within a shared geographical location, generally in social units larger than a household. The word can also refer to the national community or international community." A city is a community. Folks who live within a community understand that, in order to have cohesion and mutual respect, there must be laws in place to protect every member of the community, and it is the responsibility of each member of that community to obey those laws. Also within that community are certain right and freedoms. A perfect community is one in which the laws are counter-balanced by the rights and freedoms. Everyone knows what is expected of them. It is on that basis that I object to the invasion of my community by a group of people who claim to represent me. They do not.  They are, in fact, holding me hostage in my own community.

The balance sheet for the Occupy movement has not been in their favour.  In most cases, the original organizers have bailed, and the sites have been hijacked by less savoury folks.  There have been drug overdoses, deaths, rapes, murder, and a rise in crime in the districts close to the occupation sites.  In Vancouver, the street vendors and business owners were interviewed, and all of them report a 40% drop in their business since the occupation began.  The occupiers are actually hurting the 99% of the folks they pretend to be helping.  A few days ago, a city worker was doused with urine when one of the occupiers tossed it out of his tent.  The Vancouver site stinks to high heaven of feces, urine and other odors which are unidentifiable.  It's a slum.  Under what condition is that acceptable, ever, in any civilized community?

Last night, the mayor of New York ordered the OWS site to be dismantled, and to everyone's amazement, a judge ordered it back.  That does not bode well for the injunction application against the site in Vancouver.  My question is, what happened to the rights of the citizens of the community that these occupations are harming.  The message of the *occupation* has been lost, and the majority of folks want the tents taken down.  The occupiers have no one to blame but themselves for how badly their movement degenerated into something negative and pointless.  Did they really think that sitting in stinking, fetid tents, getting stoned and playing bongo drums would bring governments, corporations and regular, hard-working folks to their knees?  In fact, it had the opposite effect.

Most of their message was actually one with which I agree.  We ~~ all of us ~~ need to do more to help folks who are less fortunate than ourselves.  But making general, sweeping demands is not the way to do it.  It has only created an "us" or "them" mentality; if you're not with us, you're against us.  That is a form of emotional blackmail, a passive aggressive attitude that has torpedoed their movement rather than convince us to get on board.  It has made me really angry, and I have posted about this twice in the past few days because I want those slums out of my community.  They don't represent me, or anyone else I know.  The folks who are sworn to uphold the laws ~~ for all of us ~~ need to do whatever has to be done to restore our community to the true majority of folks who live here and abide by the laws of the city.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

I'm Baaaaaack

For some strange reason, I have not been able to log onto my Blogger account for the past week. It wouldn't accept my password. So I have been unable to post here, or to post comments on all your wonderful blogs. But today, et voila! it's working again. So, this is just a brief note to say hello, and to show you my new ghastly rain hat. Isn't it a hoot? I'm definitely not a hat person, but with all the torrential rains we have been getting lately, a hat has become a necessity here in Vancouver. I have always chuckled at people who wear hats *ironically*. Some hats are sort of like the ironic beards men have effected lately. You know they're wearing them just as a way to say, "Look at me, look at me..." The Tilley Endurable hat is the most ironic of them all, and it makes a statement about the wearer: "I've been to Africa; I've been to Australia, you can tell by my hat..." I actually thought about buying a Tilley Endurable hat, but then I thought the irony of it would be just a little too pretentious. So, I ended up with this gawd-awful thing. But, hey ... it works. I wore it in the pouring rain yesterday, it kept me dry, and best of all, when I took it off, I didn't have hat hair. All in all, a good investment.

It's lovely to see you all again.  I'll be back soon.



Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Young Man

Young Man With a Blue Cap
Vincent Van Gogh

Young men in caps and hoodies always make me nervous.  There is something slightly sinister and foreboding, particularly about hoodies, especially if there is a baseball cap underneath the hoodie.  I always suspect the young fellow is up to no good, so I was a bit apprehensive when I saw the young man walk into the restaurant yesterday.  It was Friday, the end of the week, and I didn't feel like cooking, so I stopped at a McDonald's for a hamburger and root beer.  Shhhh...  don't tell anyone, but I also occasionally ~~ as in once every six months ~~ like to have an A & W momma burger.  Anyway, the place was crowded, and I managed to snag the last remaining table.  The young man came in, took his order, and walked around the restaurant with his tray, eyeing my table.  He circled twice, and then came back and asked if I would mind sharing my table with him.

He didn't appear to be the type of person I would necessarily want to break bread with, so I made some sort of motion with my hands, and said, "No, I would rather not..."  but he didn't understand me, and he thought I had said, 'No, I don't mind..."  So, he sat down.  I sighed and continued eating.  And then I glanced over at him, and underneath the baseball cap and the hoodie was a very sweet face.  He was about 22 or 23 and had a lovely expression.  I immediately felt very bad, so I said, "This restaurant is very crowded this afternoon", trying to make up for my earlier rejection.  He features immediately relaxed, and he smiled and said, "Yes, it is".  He had an unusual accent, and I think perhaps he was from a country in South America.  I wanted to ask him where he was from, but I wasn't sure if he wanted to be drawn into a conversation.  So I finished my hamburger, and as I got up to leave, I smiled at him and said, "Enjoy your meal".  He smiled a very sweet, open smile, and I left.

Afterwards, as I was heading home, I felt very bad about the whole encounter.  I could have been more friendly.  I could have made him feel welcome.  Perhaps he was a visitor here, and he wanted to interact with someone from the country he was visiting.  My own brother has travelled to many countries throughout the world, including South America, Asia, Africa and all throughout Europe.  He always had stories of the people he met there, and the conversations he had had with them.  Here was my opportunity to be part of this young man's story of his visit to Canada, and I missed it.

How many of us do this?  I'm as guilty as anyone.  I size people up by how they appear, how they dress, or how they present themselves.  I wonder how many times I have been completely wrong.  That young man had the courage to sit at my table; I should have at least had the courage to be more friendly and outgoing towards him.

“Fear makes strangers of people who would be friends.” ~~ Shirley MacLaine

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Occupy Vancouver ~~ What Am I Missing?

The words "occupy" and "demand" are two words I have a problem with. In my opinion, they are not the words of democracy, and in that regard, I am having difficulty understanding the Occupy Movement. They claim to be peaceful, but my feeling is that in fact they are passive aggressive, which is the most malevolent type of aggression.  Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to help me to understand why I should be sympathetic towards this movement. So far, I am not, and I am moving farther away from any understanding as the days pass.

According to the October 14th issue of Time Magazine [page 22], "The movement started in Canada, of all places. The editors of Vancouver-based anticonsumerist magazine Adbusters called for a Tahrir Square 'moment' on September 17 in lower Manhattan to protest what they called the disproportionate power of the U.S. corporate elite."

It started in Canada? Oh, good grief, those rabble-rousing Canadians.  The only problem is, Canada is not in the same economic situation that many other countries are in, including the US ~~ not even close.  Canada did not have a housing bubble, and did not have a housing collapse. We did not have mortgage failures. Our banks did not get overextended, did not have to be bailed out, and are still lending. Unemployment and poverty are not rising in Canada, but are actually lower than at any other time since the 1960s.  There are so many jobs in Alberta, Canada's immigration department is fast-tracking applicants from other countries who want to come here to apply for work.

So, what am I missing?

So far, the only effect I have seen of the Occupy Movement is that the Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in London has been forced to step down. "In recent days, since the arrival of the protesters' camp outside the cathedral, we have all been put under a great deal of strain and have faced what would appear to be some insurmountable issues. I hope and pray that under new leadership these issues might continue to be addressed and that there might be a swift and peaceful resolution." St. Paul's Cathedral has done more to help the less fortunate of London over the centuries, than any ragtag band of people living in fetid stinky tents. The church saved people's lives during the blitz of World War II. Again, what am I missing?

A list of Occupy Vancouver's demands are here, if you care to read them. I don't blame you if you don't. Some of them are so out-of-date that I wonder if these folks are actually in touch with the 21st Century. I love number 17: Repeal the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. All synthetic drugs and hard drugs (including cocaine and heroin) should be distributed by prescription through a pharmacist. All botanical drugs should be distributed like coffee beans. Human medical autonomy must now be respected by all.

My favourite is number 11: "The CBC should get enough funding so it can go commercial free and not have to depend on big business for advertizing. Then it can be truly independent." Well, we all want that, don't we? I mean, wouldn't it be wonderful to watch Coronation Street all the way through, without commercials?

Oh, good lord...

Every year in December, the Santa Claus Christmas Parade is the biggest fundraiser for the Vancouver Food Bank.  This year it is being disrupted by Occupy Vancouver.  The street vendors and other businesses around the encampment report that their business is down by 40% since the "occupation" and their livelihoods are being threatened.  So, the very people these "occupiers" claim they want to help, are the very people who are in fact being detrimentally affected ~~ by Occupy Vancouver.  And to add to their credibility, one of the occupiers overdosed on drugs at the Occupy Vancouver site last night.


As I said, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to convince me why I should support these folks.  I have an open mind, so, you don't need to agree with my point of view.   I really, really want to know what it is that I am missing.  So far, I am not convinced.  So, please convince me.

Update: OccupyVancouver protesters given until 10 am tomorrow to remove all tarps, unoccupied tents & open flame heat sources by Vancouver Fire Department.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Separated At Birth

Yesterday, when I read that Kim Kardashian had filed for divorce, I saw a picture of her with her soon-to-be ex-husband. When I saw the picture, I thought, "Hey, wait a minute ... Kim Kardashian was married to the guy from the Twilight movies...?  How did I miss that...?" It is the same guy, isn't it? I must have missed that marriage, because I blinked and it was gone. I need a program to keep up with all these folks who flash across the screen and then fade back into oblivion again. At one time, I actually thought Kim Kardashian and Snookie were the same person. Who are these people? I mean who are these people? They show up on the covers of magazines, the headlines on CNN and other news sites, countless TV programs, and I really have no idea who they are. These folks are all interchangeable, aren't they?

Kim Kardashian just received about a kajillion dollars for airing her wedding on television, and another bazillion dollars for selling the photos to various magazines. I don't think the ink was even dry on the cheques yet, before she announced her divorce ~~ and it was the top headline news yesterday.  Does anyone care?

Who are these people?

(Does anyone else think these two guys look exactly alike...?  Or is it just me?)

Monday, October 31, 2011

Seven Billion People ... And Counting

As of today, October 31, 2011, the population of our planet has reached 7 billion people. And yet, as we speak, folks in cities all over the world are sitting in fetid tents in squalid encampments, protesting that they don't have a big enough piece of the pie. Well, the pie just got a whole lot smaller.  Unfortunately, the areas of the world least equipped to accommodate extra people are the areas where population is expanding at the most rapid rate. In North America, however, the population is expanding so slowly, governments are concerned about maintaining productivity. In the bigger picture, the earth is made up of the *haves* and the *have-nots*. As we edge even more quickly to the 8 billion mark, here are some things to consider.

In 1974, the population of the earth was 4 billion, and in just under 30 years, we have almost doubled. China makes up 19% of the world's population. 50.4% of the world's population are male, and 50.5% of the world's population live in cities. One in three of those city dwellers lives in a slum. The median age of the world's population is 29. A staggering 73% of the world's population does not use the internet. One in eight of the world's population is undernourished. One in three of the world's population lacks a hygienic toilet. The birthrate in Germany, Canada, Russia, Australia and Brazil hovers between 1.4 and 1.9. The birthrate in the United States is 2.5. The birth rate in Niger is 7.2.

According to an article in this week's Time Magazine, the earth has enough resources for everyone on the planet, the resources are just not being distributed to everyone.  People don't have access to resources because of extreme poverty and corrupt government regimes.  I am fortunate enough to live in a country that did not have a housing bubble or any housing collapse or mortgage failures. Our banks did not get overextended, did not have to be bailed out, and are still lending. Unemployment and poverty remain lower than at any other time since the 1960s. There are so many jobs in Alberta, the immigration department is fast-tracking immigrants from other countries who apply here for work. Our country is really one of the more fortunate ones.

The economic crisis is world-wide and impacts everyone on the planet, but probably none more so than the billions of people who live in extreme poverty. We need to slow down the population expansion before we hit 8 billion, in 14 years.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Do You Know Where That Hand Has Been...?

Donald Trump once said he would never shake hands with anyone, because he "didn't know where that hand has been". Ew... think about it. It's true. A study reported yesterday that the dirtiest thing people touch on an ongoing basis is the handle at the gas pump. According to the study by Kimberly Clark, "People have a 71 per cent chance of picking up a dirty pump when filling up. Mailbox handles come in at 68 per cent, escalator railings at 43 per cent, ATM buttons at 41 per cent, parking metres at 40 per cent, crosswalk buttons and vending machines at 35 per cent."


With global travel, it's easy for microbes from one side of the globe to hitch a ride to the other side of the globe. Our immune systems may not necessarily have built up an immunity to foreign microbes, so we get sick.  I'm not a germaphone ~~ per se ~~ but I am aware when I am in a restaurant that the salt and pepper shaker or the ketchup bottle are handled throughout the day by hundreds of other people.  So, if I pick up the ketchup bottle and put ketchup on my French fries, and then pick up the fries with my bare hands and put them in my mouth, I have just created the perfect transmission for whatever is living on that ketchup bottle.

Some of the epidemiologists where I work have just completed a study on the mechanisms of contagion, and the study is going to be published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  For several weeks, each of us had to wear a medallion with a chip in it, and we were tracked throughout the office.  One of the medallions had an "infected" chip in it, in order to track the infection.  No one knew who the "infected" person was.  However, in our office, that study isn't necessary.  We have one or two people who always come to work sick, and almost always infect their co-workers.  The hours of manpower lost is off the chart.

How many of us are aware to wash our hands after touching bank machines, elevator buttons, debit and credit card devices, escalators, bannisters, etc.?  We go to the movies, pay for our tickets and buy a lovely, hot, buttery container of popcorn ~~ paying cash.  Then we go and sit in the movie theatre and stick our hands into the popcorn.


It's true; when we shake hands with someone, we don't know where that hand has been.  But moreover, we don't know how many folks we will go on to infect, perhaps not getting sick ourselves.  The study of contagion fascinates me.  I can hardly wait to read our researchers' publication in JAMA.

Purell is my friend...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Hello, everyone. No, I have not disappeared completely, I have been feeling a teeny, tiny bit under the weather. Typhoid Mary has struck our office again ~~ this time with a new and improved bug. *cough*

Whenever I get a cold, I am unable to sleep.  So I am spending the day curled up under my fluffy white duvet.


I will be back very soon.  Try not to have too much fun without me.



Saturday, October 22, 2011

Craigslist Free Stuff...! Part Two...

Sometimes when I'm bored and need a chuckle, I like to look through the Craigslist Free Stuff. Yes, I know, I need to get a life. But the Free Stuff ads on Craigslist are some of the best ways to spend half an hour ten minutes for a free laugh.  It's mind-boggling the things that people actually give away ~~ for free.  What's even more mind-bloggling is the fact that people actually go and pick these things up, and take them home.  Through the magic of advertising, everyone's flotsam and jetsam can be circulated from one household to another.  Who knew! Here are some of this week's junk treasures, complete with their descriptions.

"Male Crested Gecko - approximately one year old. Adoption fee is $25."

Well, that's just false advertising.  First of all, it's not free, and second, why would anyone give away such a cute little creature?  Can you just imagine that little face staring at you over the breakfast table?  It's like a snake with legs.

"Rock surrounding the fireplace. You remove."

Actually, I rather like the look of the stone in this fireplace, and I can't imagine anyone giving it away ~~ for free. It's rustic and very West Coast looking. It would look lovely in my cabin up at Whistler Mountain, don't you agree? I think I just might rush over there today with my back hoe and pick this little item up. Oh, wait, I don't have a cabin at Whistler Mountain ... or a back hoe. Darn the luck.

"Lou is a mean cat. She will probably bite and scratch you. She will pee on your carpet. She will not go out of the house. She is spayed. She has to go to new owners."

Well, that just says it all about poor old Lou.  Will anyone give her a good home after that endorsement?  I have a feeling that, sadly, Lou's days are numbered.  Truth in advertising...  Poor Lou.

"A new (used once) ankle brace. I rolled my ankle playing soccer but ended up not needing this brace. This is a medium brace for the right leg. You pick up..."

Just what we all need, right? A (used once) ankle brace. I'll bet there's a rush on this little item.

Can anyone see what's wrong with this picture?  Anyone?  I know you're all observant.  What's wrong with this picture?  Anyone?


The following is my personal favourite.  It is a novella, complete with a back story all in one advertisement:

"I have a wooden mirror similar to the picture for pick up - except mine doesn't have the fancy carved artwork, however mine does have a small drawer at the bottom. I don't know wood all that well, but I'd say it's a Cedar/Red Pine colour?? Mirror can tilt 360. Currently the mirror is not assembled. It's in near-excellent condition, except that I have disassembled and reassembled it so many times (I move a lot) that the screw-holes have been worn through. A handyman could simply fill the current holes, re-screw them and VOILA - Good as new. I have all the pieces & screws. I've kept it in my closet for THREE YEARS waiting on a promise from my boyfriend to fix it for me because I love it. However, that never happened, and now I'm tired of it collecting dust.  Pick up available today after 4:00 pm."

What, the mirror or the boyfriend?

Craigslist Free Stuff ~~ check it out.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Unconditional Love...

Several of my friends have pets who are ill at the moment, and may perhaps be in their final illness. My heart breaks for my friends, because I know how much we can love our pets, and how much our pets love us ~~ unconditionally. They are our best companions, never judging, never asking for more than we can give, always affectionate, always ready to please. All they ask from us is our attention, love, and perhaps some food and water ~~ definitely food and water. That's a pretty good quid pro quo.

When my brothers and I were growing up on Vancouver Island, our home was almost a menagerie. We had the usual dogs and cats, and my brothers ~~ both animal lovers ~~ were always rescuing stray animals, much to my mother's consternation. Fortunately, we had a large closed-in back porch, which was turned into an animal hospital on a regular basis.  My father loved dogs, and we would often have two or three following along behind us.  The dog in this picture ~~ Shep ~~ insisted on having his picture taken with us, and my brother had to hold him still because he was such a show-off.  My brother went into a deep depression when Shep passed away, and refused to love another dog.  That is, until he met Sporty, our border collie.  Then it was love at first sight ~~ again.

One of the more unusual animals we had in our menagerie was a baby bear. His mother had been accidentally killed by loggers, and he was found crying in a hollow log. My father, ever the softy for baby animals, agreed to look after him. Of course, the task ended up being done by my mother, and she used to feed the little bear with a baby bottle from one of my dolls. The little bear cried just like a human baby, and loved being cuddled and rocked ~~ just like a human baby. Unfortunately, baby bears grow very quickly, and he soon became too big for us to look after him any longer. My father gave him to the forest ranger, who raised the bear to adulthood. Our little baby bear, when full grown, was often seen picking berries on the lakeshore road. We always called him "our bear", because he had stolen our hearts forever.

Another unusual little creature we had in our care was a North American Murre, a cousin to the penguin. He blew into our town on a huge typhoon storm that came in from the Pacific Ocean, and once again, one of my brothers rescued him and brought him home. My mother set up a galvanized wash tub full of water for him to paddle in, but he much preferred following her around the house while she did her chores. He could be seen padding along behind her on his little two feet, like a small child. He had a strange little call that sounded almost like a seal barking, and whenever my mother was out of his sight, he was grievously anxious until he could find her again. What a cacophony... He especially loved the warm laundry basket, and if we couldn't find him, we knew where to look. There he would be, buried under the towels and face cloths, having a snooze. Our little murre lived with us throughout the stormy winter, and in the spring my father released him back onto the open ocean. However, my mother had bonded with this strange little creature, and she missed him for months afterwards.

At one point we also had a shrew (or mole). He was an odd little thing, and he lived in an Eddy's matchbox filled with cotton wool. We called him "Moley", and the only food Moley ate was live spiders. So my father and brothers had to dig around underneath the porch, armed with tweezers, in order to bring Moley his dinner. They would slide the match box open, call "Here Moley, Moley, Moley..." and a little snout would pop out, grab the spider, and retreat back into the cotton wool. I'm not sure why we had this little fellow in our possession, but we all loved him. My father took the little mole outdoors and released him to the spider smörgåsbord underneath the porch, where he could dine to his heart's delight.

My favourite dog was Maggie, our Scottish terrier. Her full name was Margaret McTavish of Windbrae, and when we first brought her home, she was a fierce little thing. My mother and I were always jumping onto chairs, to avoid Maggie's sharp little teeth. She mellowed as she got older, but she was still fiercely protective of our home. Her bark, however, was much bigger than her bite. A special treat for Maggie was to sit in front of the fireplace in the evenings. Like all dogs, Maggie loved car rides, and she especially loved going to the lake.  A friend of mine had a pier and diving board out over the lake, and Maggie loved taking a flying leap off the diving board. Then she would paddle to shore, run along the pier and take another flying leap off the diving board. We were all heartbroken when Maggie was no longer with our family.

My most recent pet was a Siamese cat named Samantha. Oh, goodness ... what can I say about Samantha. She was evil, she was wicked ... she was the most wonderful cat I have ever known and I adored her. She didn't know she was a cat, and I didn't have the heart to tell her. Whenever I chatted on the telephone with any of my friends, Samantha would stomp up and down beside me, hollering, "Oh, yah! Oh, yah! Oh, yah!" My friends would ask, "Who the heck is that?" Of course, after a while, they knew not to ask. Siamese cats are famous for "adopting" other people, and Samantha assumed everyone in the neighbourhood was "hers". I would often get a telephone call from one of my neighbours saying, "Um ... Jo, your cat is sleeping on my chesterfield again; can you come and get her?" I cried for two weeks straight when my bad old Samantha was no longer with me. I still miss her, and sometimes I can see her, out of the corner of my eye, looking for some way to get into mischief.

My heart goes out to my friends who may be losing their wonderful companions. I wish there were something I could do to ease their pain, but I know from experience there is nothing I can do. We have all felt it. Unconditional love.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Are You A Twit...?

I love the word Twitter, don't you? It sounds like something old Aunt Agatha would say when she's had one too many glasses of sherry.

"Ohhh, I feel all a-twitter..."

It's a silly word, and it really does describe the practice of tweeting. On Twitter.

I have to admit, I have a Twitter account.  I have used it once.  It just seems silly to me ~~ almost like a form of Tourette's syndrome, where people are shouting out strange utterances, but they're doing it on line.

"I'm drinking a cup of coffee!"

"I'm driving to Spuzzum to visit my cousin Betty-Lou!"

"I'm out of toilet paper!"

Omigawd, how did we survive without announcing our every waking thought and action?

In 2009 an American research company analyzed Twitters' tweets, with the following results:

Pointless babble – 40%
Conversational – 38%
Pass-along value – 9%
Self-promotion – 6%
Spam – 4%
News – 4%

From what I have read of Twitter posts, it's more like 90% pointless babble.  It's a very strange phenomenon that this is how the human race has been reduced to communicate.  As of 2011, 200 million users were generating over 200 million tweets per day. What I want to know is, what the h*ll are they all saying?  When Michael Jackson died on June 25, 2009, Twitter servers crashed after users were updating their status to include the words "Michael Jackson" at a rate of 100,000 tweets per hour.

Twitter messages are completely open to anyone in the public who wants to log on and read the *tweets* written by *twits*.  And some of it is ... well ... very personal.  If someone has, say, 400 followers, whatever that person tweets broadcasts out to those 400 people and their followers too.  We share our deepest, darkest secrets with "friends" and often we don't know their real names or where they live.  We know them only by their monikers and their avatars, and yet somehow we trust them ~  and 400 of their closest "friends" ~~ with our confidences.  Where did this come from, this need to be hooked in with so many people from all over the globe ~~ people who are, to all intents and purposes, complete strangers to us?

A friend of mine was quite a philosopher, and he believed that it was just possible that mankind was simply a collection of bits inside a giant computer. His philosophy pre-dated the Matrix movies, but had much the same idea. He felt we are plugged into something much bigger than we are, and we are just imagining our existance. He surmised that we are the components that go into making a separate entity, and that the entity needs us, much as our bodies need cells. We were the cells in the entity.  It made for interesting discussions, but the more I think about how we are all so closely connected by computers, the more I am beginning to realize my friend's theory may not have been all that unusual.

My Twitter account will stay disabled, mostly because I find the whole premise of it just slightly creepy.  Do I really want to know Demi Moore's private thoughts about Ashton Kutcher?  Or that Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber have the most followers?  Or that the vapid Kim Kardashian has almost as many followers as the President of the United States?  Do I really care about these people?

No.  I guess I'm a twit...

A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood...

The sun is just beginning to rise over English Bay, and there's the promise of a new day. Like a fresh piece of paper, a new day is a chance to make a fresh mark, start anew, and perhaps even learn from the mistakes we made yesterday. No, I haven't started wearing cardigan sweaters and f*rting rainbows... I just think a beautiful new day like this is full of so many possibilities, don't you? Let's make the most of this beautiful day. Go out and make it a good one, boys and girls.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Beyond Here, There Be Dragons...

The story I am about to share with you is one I have never told another living soul ~~ until now. It is up to you to decide whether or not you believe it, but it is a true story. It was something I experienced as a child, and as every child knows, not all their stories are necessarily accepted as the truth. And that is why I have never told my story.  I convinced myself, as well, that it was something that I had imagined, it had not actually happened, and it was consigned to that area of my brain known as ~~ perhaps ~~ unreality.  But now that I am of *a certain age* I can remember that it did indeed happen;  I did not imagine it.

When I was growing up on Vancouver Island, my parents decided to build a home on the edge of a dense old growth forest.  It was a beautiful old forest of Sitka spruce, western red cedar and Douglas fir. Every weekend we cleared the trees and burned the underbrush in a bonfire.  My mother loved roasted potatoes, so she used to bring potatoes and throw them into the fire to roast.  We would have a picnic of cold chicken, hot coffee and roasted potatoes from the bonfire.  It was delicious.  My mother kept some of the giant ferns growing in the underbrush and later planted them in her garden.  My father saved a couple of the old growth trees, and they shaded our house when it was built.  My mother designed the house, and my father and his friends built it by hand.  Some of the two-by fours were planed from the wood of the giant trees, and it was wonderful to watch the house taking shape.  I was allowed to choose which corner of the house I wanted for my bedroom.  I love the afternoon sun, so I chose a corner facing west.

We moved into the house in the middle of winter, when I was 11 years-old.  There were still natural ponds in the forest, and my friend Sherry and I used to go ice skating on them.  I taught her how to do figure eights, and then we would trek off to her place for hot chocolate and some of her mother's world famous cinnamon buns fresh from the oven.  Afterwards I would walk along the forest trail that connected her house to mine.  I never felt comfortable walking through there alone, and I was always aware that I was not entirely alone.  I could feel things watching me.  There were eyes on me, and they didn't necessarily have my best interests at heart.

Every morning my father woke me up for school before he went to work, and one morning he said, "Be careful, kidlet, there was a cougar out there last night.  I could see its footprints in the snow, and they were the size of tobacco can lids..."  But this was the forest, and cougar, deer even the occasional bear were to be expected. This was their territory, and we were encroaching on it. We had learned to respect those animals, and they left us alone.

But I knew something else was out there.

Then one morning I saw it, just beyond the edge of the forest, and its tracks were still visible in the snow.  At first I thought it was a bear.  The tracks led from the forest to my bedroom window, and then back to the forest.  They were not cougar, deer or bear.  And they were not human.  They were barefoot and they looked like a flat-footed ape.  With very big feet.  The Coast Salish have a name for this creature ~~ Sésquac which means "wild man". The Cowichan People gave him the name Thumquas which means "hairy giant". They believe he is omnivorous and nocturnal. And real. The Coast Salish also believe the Sésquac steal salmon from the fishermen's nets. He is seven to nine feet tall and there have been hundreds of thousands of sightings of him in Western Canada, and 700 footprints collected. There is folklore of these creatures living on every continent except the Antarctic, however, no one has ever found one of these creatures, nor any of their remains. Scientists claim there are still over five million species waiting to be found on our planet. Could the elusive Sésquac be one of these creatures?

Slowly the forest receded from our house, as more people built homes in the area, and now it is a residential district. Some of the old trees still remain, however, and I can still feel the spirits in them. And when I am walking through an old-growth forest, I can still feel something watching me ~~ and it isn't animal, and it isn't human.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Third Wave

The Wave
Gustave Courbet

In 1967, at Cubberley High School in Palo Alto, California, a history teacher by the name of Ron Jones conducted a social experiment that became known as "The Third Wave". I had not heard about this experiment until a couple of days ago, when I saw the documentary entitled "Lesson Plan" on PBS. It was fascinating. During the experiment, Jones told his students that the movement aimed to eliminate democracy. Jones felt that democracy emphasizes individuality and therefore was a drawback to society as a whole.  He emphasized this by coining the motto: "Strength through discipline, strength through community, strength through action, strength through pride" and he had his students chant this over and over until they were indoctrinated.

The Stormy Sea
Gustave Courbet

The experiment began as an exercise in discipline, with the students being told to sit up straight, behave in an orderly fashion, and address the teacher as "Mr. Jones". He made up a salute, and students were ordered to salute each other even outside of class. Everyone complied. And then a strange thing happened; the experiment took on a life of its own, and students who were not in the class wanted to join. His classroom went from 30 students to 200, with standing room only. The students were issued a membership card, and some of the students elected themselves to be "police" or "informers". Mr. Jones was amazed to find that some of the students started reporting to him when other members of the movement failed to abide by the rules. Anyone who broke the rules, or spoke up and said, "This is wrong", were immediately banished to the library, and were shunned by their fellow classmates.

La falaise d'Étretat
Gustave Courbet

By the fourth day of the experiment, Mr. Jones was alarmed at how the students had become immersed in the experiment, and rather than thinking as individuals, they were thinking and acting only according to the rules of the community, with loyalty only to the group ~~ complete with discipline, a membership card and a salute.  Individuality disappeared.  But the really frightening thing was how many people wanted to join the group, and fights were breaking out all over the campus when folks disagreed with each other, so Mr. Jones terminated the experiment.  However, even today, when the students are interviewed, they remember the feelings they had of joining the group, and then being afraid to be individuals.  They were merely part of the whole, and once they were part of the whole, they were terrified of taking a wrong step and being banished.  Folks would say and do things they no longer believed, just to remain part of the group.

Beach in Normandy
Gustave Courbet

A year after the experiment, Mr. Jones was terminated from his employment, and he never taught again. But his experiment was successful in proving how peer pressure can be very similar to Nazi Germany, and that was the point of his experiment. The definition of peer pressure is: the influence exerted by a peer group in encouraging a person to change his or her attitudes, values, or behavior in order to conform to group norms. Social groups affected include membership groups, when the individual is "formally" a member (for example, political party, trade union), or a social clique. A person affected by peer pressure may or may not want to belong to these groups. They may also recognize dissociative groups with which they would not wish to associate, and thus they behave adversely concerning that group's behaviors.

Mr. Jones' experiment proved to be more enlightening than he first imagined.  It also proved that perfectly normal, reasonable people can get caught up in this mindset, and since we are all human, it can happen to any one of us, at any time.  The thing is to recognize it for what it is and to try to avoid it.  It's not always easy, though.