Writing


 

“Why are you bothering to learn guitar?  It’s such a waste of time.  I mean, you’ll never get any good.”

What a statement.  It was all he could do to contain the disappointment.  It’s surprising, he thought, what people you call friend can sometimes say.

A few minutes into practice, he paused in frustration thinking about the question ‘why bother’.  Why bother doing anything creative?

“Let me ask you a question.  Do you remember how Aristotle described language?”

“Vaguely.”

“He described language as sound with meaning.  What do you make of that?”

“That makes sense.”

“It seems about right to me too, until you really think it through.  Now ask yourself, which came first, the sound or the meaning?”

“Well, I guess you’d have to first create the meaning before you create the meaningful sound.”

“I think you’re right.  It’s what goes on inside the mind first that’s the prime mover behind our creative efforts.  So it may turn out that Aristotle, in a sense, had it backwards.  Language is most likely meaning with occasional sound.”

“What’s you’re point?”

“I’m answering you’re question.  Our language or ‘higher’ intelligence, however you want to describe it, gravitates towards the imaginative.  Poets, philosophers, photographers, particle physicists, Lascaux cave painters and yes, budding guitarists all do what our minds instinctively do:  liberate our most inspired thoughts.  And in these times, the world needs more poets and physicists, the more the better. People should be free to create in whatever way suits their talents because it’s the essential and inextricable part of being human.”

His friend sat silent, quietly deliberating. It was a risky quiet.  He knew from experience that friendships, like wayward vessels, can sometimes unexpectedly run aground.

But then the jury of one calmly stood up, walked to the kitchen and grabbed two beers.  On his way back, he picked up the guitar.

“Will you teach me how to play this thing, please?”

 

Paint me a picture

Weathered and wise

Today not tomorrow

Leave the disguise

 

It’s not hard to see faces

Worn and weary cases

Drifting between raindrops

And the silence between spaces

 

So paint me a picture

As tall as the moon

Show us some wisdom

Say now never soon

 

 

He was born with a small mind.

Nonetheless, over time his head ballooned to epic proportions, yet the mind within this vapid space remained stubbornly small.  It was his good fortune however to live in a time of smallness, of pettiness, a time when the smallest minds ruled the world and were granted the greatest rewards for their smallness.  No accolades too grand for these masters of petty thoughts.

Surrounded by many other small minds, they pillaged a planet, while lost in a sea of smallness.  But in the unbounded euphoria of the age, it was very popular to be small-minded; indeed competitions flourished to manifest the greatest degree of small mindedness.

Of course there were great thinkers and ideas in this era of hollow pursuits, but they were not permitted to see the light of day.  They were not allowed to enter the consciousness of the modern mind since they ran the risk of expanding it to new horizons where new ways of living might be perceived and, dare it be thought, realized.

The dictates of the smallest minds could never allow this to happen.  The perniciousness of their souls would never allow this to happen.

And so the tyranny of smallness, untethered from reality, continued its wayward trajectory until what minds of greater acuity predicted would happen, happened:  mother earth rendered her omnipotent conclusion to this parade of pettiness, infantilism and smallness.

Future archaeologists of extraterrestrial origin possessing vastly higher levels of intelligence and experience would later explore this cosy blue and green backwater, discover evidence of a once thriving ‘civilization’ and render their own conclusion:  once again an emerging species of ‘higher’ intelligence made the classic mistakes of allowing their technologies, greed and fatal dismissal of their own environments to outpace their moral, social and intellectual development.

So concludes another small story.

018

 

As humans we share a wide array of characteristics, endowed with the unique property of language, or better understood, a system of thought, which allows us, unlike any other species on the planet, to imagine, manifest and transform the world in ways that were not possible until very recently in our evolution.

But one of our greatest skills, which we’ve had the misfortune of perfecting during our brief history, is the unusual ability to design complicated and impenetrable institutions, and then imprison ourselves within them.  Rigid by design, these hierarchical structures frame our understanding of the world in a manner that is most often imperceptible, incompatible with reality, and in direct opposition to our natural instincts for survival.  It’s only when we make a jailbreak and gain some well-earned perspective that we can look back and go, ‘What were we thinking?’

As expected, perspective is hard to come by in the modern world, a world embedded in its own myopia, where reason is told to take a number and wait at the back of the line.  I imagine the theoretical Martian, observing our tiny planet from afar, would have much to say about, for instance, our self-made and rapidly escalating environmental crisis.  She would see us systematically destroying our own ecosystem at a pace that we now know will soon lead to our demise.

‘Is there no intelligent life down there?’ , asks our Martian friend.

And yet we proceed undeterred, with more determination than ever to do what our institutions insist we must do, regardless of consequences.  The Martian, from her lofty perch, would simply conclude that our species has gone mad, with no small measure of justification.

From another perspective, imagine asking a child, whose instincts for common sense have not yet been subverted within the vast labyrinths of modern institutional thinking, the following question:  if this box is as big as we can get, can we get any bigger than this box?  I imagine after some careful thought the obvious and correct response of ‘No’ would instinctively emerge.

Is there no intelligent life in this new world?’, the child ponders.

As for the rest of us, we would carry on as usual, weaving very long and complicated narratives to sustain the myth of institutional infallibility, while privately, when no one is looking, concede with an envious smile the wisdom of Martians and children.

And how long do we have, one wonders, before our children, striving for their moment in the sun, look back at us and ask:  ‘What were you thinking?’

092

 

The trees whisper secrets

In the silent woods

Voices of mother earth

Under ancient skies

 

The eagle descends

In the silent woods

Watcher and keeper

Lofty and wise

 

The waters speak sonnets

In the silent woods

Of words left unspoken

That teach us no lies

012

 

In the light of the absurd and immoral depths to which our species willingly descend to obscure reason, defile the earth to achieve power for its own sake, subjugating all living impediments opposing this myopic pursuit, building impenetrable institutions that deny truth and justice, designed to exalt and protect the smallest minds among us behind their gated walls and nonsensical litigious fictions serving only the material world on the hamster wheel of our endless human parade…

I wonder, perhaps in retrospect it would have been wiser to be satisfied with the discovery of fire, and left well enough alone.

001

 

As sequestered from reality as one could be, buried deep within the lower bounds of the plutocratic percentile, Wellborn couldn’t understand why those outside his gilded cage were so heartless towards his feelings.

“Don’t you little people see that I’m a superior person?  Why won’t you kiss my ring?”

His narcissism aside, it was difficult not to feel a measure of pity towards this self-anointed master of the universe.

“To be blunt, people don’t like to be treated like they’re inferior, as if they’re obligated to worship those with more wealth.  It’s undignified.”

But it just didn’t sink in.  Wellborn had worked his way up the corporate ladder, first as a small town banker, all the way to the inner sanctum of the Wall Street elite.  From his euphoric perspective, he lived at the centre of the universe, his sense of gravity and entitlement so profound, he believed everyone and everything should orbit his ego.

“Undignified?  I am the essence of higher culture.  I am up here, and you and the worthless multitudes like you are down there.  I am what humanity was meant to be.”

“With respect, I’m not the one dolled up in a gold sequined dress with the label ‘neophyte’ across my chest singing an ABBA parody ‘I am the Bailout King…’.”

Wellborn pulled back as if someone had dowsed him with a bucket of ice water.  Silent and shivering, his mind grasped for words.  His indignation was obvious, but below the surface something else was emerging, something that could only be described as fear.

“Hold on, you’re not a waiter.  You’re a reporter, aren’t you?

“Yes.”

Instantly, it was like watching a superhero lose all his powers.

“Mr. Wellborn, you’re turning blue.”

“I’m sure you’re mistaken…” his voice trailing into nothingness.

Like all other problems he encountered, Wellborn reflexively turned to the only solution his self-centred mind could comprehend.

“How did you get in here?  Wait, we can work something out.  Please understand, you just can’t imagine the embarrassment this would cause us if people found out what goes on behind these closed doors.”

“Well, I can take a guess.”

“Listen, we can get you anything you want.  We can give you unlimited funding, whatever, anything for your career.  Just don’t reveal any of this.”

“Look I’m sorry I just can’t help you.  Believe it or not, some people can’t be bought.  Integrity does exist you know.”

Feeling ill, Wellborn wandered into the nearest washroom for a splash of cold water.  Mopping his brow, he couldn’t help coming face to face with an unexpected stranger:  the person he used to be.  There was no hiding in that brightly lit room, and staring back at him in the mirror was not the infallible king of Wall Street, but an alien, an alien dolled up in a gold sequined dress with the label ‘neophyte’ across its chest.  And in that moment the small town banker, who once vowed to never leave his cosy backwater, laughed out loud.

“Dignity, yeah right.”

040

 

I believe in free speech, as well as other quaint notions like evidence based decision making and civil dialogue.  It seems however that these ideas, to say the least, have not been the prime movers driving our little myopiamobile of late.  How did we get here?

Back in 2010 when Canada hosted the winter Olympics, ads began appearing in the media of an idea called ‘owning the podium’, a government sponsored promotional device for Canadian athletes in their bid for Olympic gold.  Most people probably saw this as a benign effort to get Canadians into the spirit of competition.  But in one rather menacingly sounding add, the narrator spoke of a new Canada, of something very different suddenly stirring in our hearts, a story that spoke of a new nationalism and a willingness to do whatever it took to win, however winning was defined and never mind the consequences. Sadly, the seemingly benign is sometimes anything but.

Many seemed intoxicated with this adrenalin rush of self-importance, imbibing the ‘us against them’ paradigm.  But to me it was clear this was about much more than the Olympics; it was about tilting the cultural tone from an enlightened affability towards an aggressive and often belligerent nationalistic ethos, setting the stage for what would then ultimately emerge:  leadership embedded in the mindset of authority, of absolutes, of simplistic fact-free emotionalism over thoughtful rationalism.  And for the most part its succeeded.

While it’s a good thing for me I still retain my sense of humour, it’s a far better thing for everyone that some retain a sense of historical memory.  Stephen Lewis, the former U.N. ambassador, activist and politician, not long ago came out to say what many, including those in the media, seem too fearful to say:

“There is a radical ideological agenda gripping this country, but it’s not the environmentalists or the other targeted groups committed to the quest for social justice; it’s the political leadership.”

He goes on:

“Vitriolic nastiness in debate does not breed respect, nor does adolescent partisanship, nor do pieces of legislation of encyclopedic length that hide contentious issues, nor does the sudden emergence of frenzied TV attack ads, nor does the spectre of a Prime Minister’s Office exercising authoritarian control.”

Yet too many Canadians, with the help from an enthusiastically feckless fourth estate, have been sleep walking through this process, our frog in the boiling water experiment, unaware that the Canada they think we are is not the Canada we’ve actually become.  As the late great author Farley Mowat said to journalist Michael Harris in his book Party of One, a reference to Stephen Harpers’ one man spectacle of a Prime Ministership:

“Canada is a fermentation process that has gone wrong…  Instead of wine, we got vinegar.”

The endless array of paid acolytes in their lofty spaces will of course disagree on cue, after all that’s what they’re paid to do, but one should not sell themselves; one should not harbour illusions.

For my part, I long for a Canada that remembers its peacekeeping traditions, one that, unlike our recent democratic regression, valued democracy, civic engagement and that long-lost emotion called empathy.  And crucially, one that once respected the vital work of environmental stewardship and not environmental destruction.

In other words, the Canada that was, or at least strived to be.  A Canada that valued much more than a pathology insisting we value nothing more than ‘owning the podium’.

200

 

Deep in the forest

Where stars shine so bright

Not far from the embers

That glow in the night

 

Like moths to the flame

We gather to learn

What fools never fathom

The wisest will yearn

 

But speak not a word

For words would not do

Mother earth beckons softly

Her silence is true

050

 

We are one among many, not one above all

No masters of all things audacious and small

 

Yet we flatter ourselves we of clever design

So processed and packaged, polished and primed

 

But under the trees lies the roots of true worth

Steeped in her wisdom, bound deep to the earth

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