Christmas Songs: My Top Ten (Part 2 of 3)

A Childrens’ Winter

by Dermot O’Reilly

Though not necessarily a Christmas song, it’s not unusual to hear it performed in clubs and at concerts this time of the year. The easy D-A-G arrangement makes this ideal as something to loosen up the fingers while also loosening  up a gathering of people who may, or may not know the words, and who may or may not know exactly what it is they have in common. At times like those safe-bets are always a good idea. After all, who does not have memories of being outdoors, playing with childhood friends in new fallen-snow. Those can be shared.

Just stop and think for a moment. Can you see some children sledding, others making a snowman, and still others throwing snowballs? Can you recall the sound of childrens’ laughter, softly muted by the  falling snow?

Christmas Eve in St. Johns

by Gary O’Driscol, performed by D’arcy Broderick

Look around you at the images most people associate with Christmas. Notice the smiling faces and the stuff; the plenitude of material goods, whether they be the gifts exchanged or the food and drink consumed. In so many ways Christmas is portrayed as a time of joyful excess, a time when we party more than we should, laugh just as we should and don’t get too stressed when we notice that the belts around our waists need to be let out an extra notch or two.

Not only are those images everywhere but other aspects of our culture encourage us to only see them. The happy songs, the ads for stuff from the stores, even the, “here b’y have a drop of the Christmas cheer,” all of it serves to turn our eyes towards excess, towards merriment.

And to not look at the others.

Who? You know—the ones who, for whatever reason, don’t feel joyful right now: the lonely, the ones who grieve, whether it be for lost health (their own or that of someone they love), lost employment, or even the loss of a loved one. Them.

Just the other day, while talking to a friend at work about what gifts we were purchasing this year she noted that this year her family had ‘adopted’ another one and were all—adults and kids—purchasing gifts for their less fortunate counterparts. The giving would be anonymous, of course, the way it should be. Funny, though, I could see by her eyes that she was getting so much more joy from planning and handling that project than she was getting from handling the giving at home.

My friend generally has it together, I figure.

Little Drummer Boy

by Katherine Kennicott Davis, performed by Bob Seger

You know how it is with some songs—you can hear them time after time and barely take notice. On one single occasion, though, for whatever reason they just strike your fancy, becoming, at first, a welcome ear worm and then, over time, a song you look forward to with anticipation. For me, this is one of those.

In the version below the focus is clearly on Bob. He’s in charge and the camera loves him. He’s got the kind of voice that can add interest to any type of music and his take on the song it at once passionate, unique yet still accessible.

It looks like an acoustic set but don’t let that fool you. Listen for the horns, out of sight but nonetheless powerful. Now the guitars—played with the apparent effortlessness that only comes from decades of practice. And the backup singers—you can hardly notice them tucked away in the background. The harmonies they layer on top of Bob’s vocals elevate the song.

In the end, it’s Bob’s skill and charisma that bring it to us. But, by themselves neither Bob nor the Silver Bullet Band would be remarkable. But together? Pure passion and magic!

So much of what happens at Christmas is like that, too. The director of the food sharing association is the visible front for hundreds of volunteers and tens of thousands of donors. So too with the kind gentle faces of the SA workers who smile when you put a donation in the kettle and who also don’t judge when your pockets are empty—they are the front for thousands more who work behind the scenes day after day.

And so it goes. Some of the heroes are visible and many, many more are not.

Next, the top three, coming tomorrow or the day after.

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Christmas Songs: My Top Ten (Part 1 of 3)

Number 10: Tinsel Town

by Jimmy Rankin

Christmas is almost upon us. In fact as Jimmy’s opening line, “everywhere you look, everywhere you go,” notes, it’s kind of hard to miss.

Especially on the radio; every station finds a reason to slip in some Christmas music chosen by the program director who, in turn, probably consulted lists of what’s currently popular and what has a history of being played this time of the year.

There was a time when I loved the mainstream stuff. VOCM, the one station we could receive reliably out in my childhood home, has a long tradition of playing seasonal music, and I vividly recall it being on our kitchen radio non-stop. The words of the classics I knew by heart long before I knew my times tables.

Some of my earliest record purchases, too, were of Christmas music. Somewhere in my head lurks a recollection of buying The Hundred Voices of Christmas at Dawe’s Supermarket. How wonderful it was to listen to it on Dad’s old record player! I have an original vinyl copy of Snoopy’s Christmas somewhere down in the basement, its grooves scratched and probably almost worn out, especially around the title song. Did I buy it or steal it from my sister, I wonder. I was also one of those who unquestioningly sent away my mail order for “$19.95 plus shipping and handling” for The Time Life Treasury of Christmas as soon as it was out…and proceeded to wear out all three cassettes in my 1984 Chrysler Laser’s player.

Over time, though, just like the tracks on my records many of the songs wore thin. Worse, the beloved classics were joined by an increasing and increasingly awful parade of new stuff as more and more music executives discovered the ease with which suckers like me would part with money in search of that one great song (ugh—see here for some examples).

Still, though, there are many Christmas songs that I look forward to this time of the year.

Jimmy’s recent song has just made my top ten list probably because it is an accessible, well written and performed song, but one that still feels a bit fresh from year to year as it’s not played much on the radio.

That’s a bit of a shame since the song deserves more recognition as does Jimmy!

His song follows along with the rest on the list. The criteria for inclusion were simple: they are the ten songs I most look forward to hearing, to playing on the guitar and—shhhhhh—to singing, too, when no one’s around to laugh at me.

In particular, to my friends who practice one religions faith or another: I’m not trying to say anything either profoundly positive or negative here. This post is just about music I enjoy and not about either endorsing or insulting anyone’s beliefs. It’s just about me enjoying a bit of seasonal music, nothing more.

Number 9: Drivin’ Home for Christmas

by Chris Rea

Here in Newfoundland Labrador, Canada, we have a tradition of having to leave home for want of employment. In times past, when our economy depended mainly on the fishery and on logging, the men would leave for extended periods, either on fishing vessels or in logging camps. As time went on and travel became a little easier whole families moved away; men and women alike. Toronto at first. As its oil industry boomed Alberta’s beckoning fingers called increasing numbers of East Coasters…and they went. Places like Edmonton, Calgary and Fort McMurray became as well known as the more familiar St. John’s, Corner Brook and Gander; perhaps more so.  In many ways the leaving was like that in times past. Logging camps were replaced with oil and gas work camps or mines, voyages on schooners and western boats were replaced with ones on oil tankers, oil rigs and support vessels. Whole-family moves to ‘the Boston states’ were replaced with ones to cities in western Canada.

The bodies left but the hearts did not.

Thanksgiving and Remembrance Day may have afforded something of a break from the fall routines but now we long for something a bit more substantial. It’s time for a rest and, as we look around to take stock, to see if we have prepared enough, our thoughts once again turn to home, the one place we can recall being fully whole and fully rested, and the longing begins. It matters not where you are. Perhaps, through what, in these modern times, must be seen as something of a fluke, you are lucky enough to still reside in the place in which you were raised. You still long for that thing you call home.

And so, here on the Eastern Edge, traveling has long been associated with the Christmas season. Like the fabled magi of old, the wearied travelers plan and take the journey ‘back home.’ Maybe by road, maybe by air, but always filled with a mixture of anticipation and excitement.

Laughter, as well as “snots and bawling” await!

Number 8: Days Gone By

by Fred Jorgenson and the Navigators

As the 25th looms closer and closer days are increasingly filled with tasks to be done—cleaning, things to be bought, decorations to be placed and the endless parade of social events. The quiet moments, it seems, are rare. When they do happen, the opportunity for refuge from the endless lists causes the mind to recall memories of simpler times; of less orchestrated events, of times when it was easier to live in the moment rather than endlessly obsessing with the phones and other gadgets driven by some manic desire to either record the evet for later or, perhaps, to prove to online friends that, yes, you do occasionally put down the phone and actually live in the moment.

And, yes, those memories may well be imperfect. Perhaps the recalled event was instead a collage of treasured events experienced separately, maybe even on different years. But, what odds, the act of spinning our own narrative is one of several means by which we derive meaning or at least preserve sanity. Times when busyness and obligations start to crowd out that which brings life its greatest happiness are exactly time times when we break out that powerful medicine of events, recalled in just the way to suit our own needs.

Number 7: The Season’s Upon Us

by the Dropkick Murphys

We all know those who have chosen to surround themselves only with those who share their values and ideas. Perhaps it’s because they fear the unknown or maybe it’s because their own sense of self-importance is such that there’s no room for thoughts that did not originate with them. Whatever the case, the end-result is always the same—a tendency to become increasingly entrenched in whatever values they have deemed important.

Sometimes this is not a big deal; fans become super-fans; those somewhat committed to a just cause become more committed. Harmless—maybe even good stuff if taken in small doses. More often, though, this leads to the kind of commitment that borders on obsession. With no one around to challenge your opinions how can it be otherwise? Safe in the knowledge that yours is the one right opinion you become more vocal, more convinced, more radical.

Fortunately there’s a readily available antidote for this madness: family. You don’t get to choose it. You don’t therefore get to choose what it says and does. This time of the year you have no choice but to suck it up and associate with those who will say and do things that will bring you far beyond your comfort zone and, in so doing, cause you to take a good hard look on those values you hold so dear—for good or for bad.

And maybe even put a smile on that tired, crooked old face of yours.

Next: Numbers Six to Four

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After 78 Days it’s Finally Over

Back in the day my father had a hand cranked phonograph
and in my boyish youth I enjoyed putting on it my 33s.
At 78 the chipmunked sounds would make me laugh
and best of all boring talk would slip by, just like the breeze.

But now up in Ottawa Mr. Harper and his gang of cons have instead
judged it wise to make the election campaign to last a full 78 drawn-out days
and just as they’ve managed to turn just the best of Canada on its head
78 now means the opposite—no more fun just heaps and heaps of bored malaise.

Ideally a lengthy campaign should the others, their chances impair.
So for the past 11 weeks, from the attack ads there’s been no reprieve:
“Justin just isn’t ready,” and the others  “in it for themselves May and Mulcair.”
We need to be saved from terrorists and niqabs so we should vote for Steve.

And so now after watching the mud and crap being slung for all of 78 days
here we are, election day, at least for those of us who left it to the end.
I’ll try and bring my gang of six to the poll, head home to watch the Jays,
and hope that quite a few, away from Ottawa, in exile, we will send.

If you haven’t already figured it out I didn’t need 78 days to decide
and in fact, with each passing day, with Harper I become more pissed.
Still I will admit the choice was difficult; not an easy ride
to choose between the names that will be on my ballot list.

But which party to vote for? A question not that easy for to address
even when I take out what’s-his-name who’s running for the cons
I’m still left with some good choices, making it hard for me to assess
who I’d like to see representing us here in Mount Pearl South – St. Johns.

The Cons?  The guy—Harper—who won last time through feats of sleight?
Says frig climate change, and we don’t need to hear scientists and women’s voices;
who opposes the notion of water as a human right;
wants to kill off Medicare, international aid, the census, and reduce our choices.

The guy who insists it’s HIS government, not ours, just wants more power, less oversight;
and while insisting only he knows the economy gave us nothing but deficit;
killed the Kelowna accord and dashed the dreams of our aboriginals outright.
It’s clear he cares only about the super-rich and as for the rest of us he doesn’t give a shit.

Liberals? They insist they offer us real change
a break from years of going nowhere fast
so to start it out they plan a bunch of deficits—strange,
isn’t that just what the cons did for the six years that have just passed?

And while free votes and transparency strike me as very good
about remaking the democratic process in 18 months, I have my doubts.
Besides I don’t care about door to door mail so I wonder, like ya would,
once they get their majority Monday night, can they effectively toll this out?

Greens? I will admit that to me their platform makes good sense.
Cooperation, sustainability, climate action and building strong communities
are just the things I want government to dispense—
things the current crowd banjaxed, one by one, and with impunity.

But still when I look at the list of candidates I fail to be inspired
few of them are expected to put up much of a contest
save the leader—a person I admit I do admire,
so a vote for them counts for little more than a protest.

So which one will I vote for? No, that bit I won’t disclose
lest the one who gets in is not the one that I voted for
and I don’t need him to have that stuck up his nose
if I ever have to get something done and come upon his door.

Finally the 19th is here and I’ll dash off from work to make my x without delay,
head home glad the election’s over—thinking what a miserable slog it’s been
and while I’m watching baseball I’ll reminisce on the words I always say:
it doesn’t matter who you vote for ‘cause “The Government” always gets in.

A quiet moment considering what the candidates have said offers a bit of clarity on election day. Mercifully the campaign is finally over.

Posted in Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, poetry/songs | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

Soaked Dida Skin ‘n’ Froze Half Didit

At first it didn’t bother me much
but then I figured something was badly wrong
when even the crowd from CBS admitted
their weather was as bad as in St. John’s.

And icebergs, hardly a one to see,
except the scattered piddly one moving back and forth.
Rumour has it the rain washed them all away,
or the wind blew them back up north.

But worse again, a blocking high
that created this mess, according to “the Snod
will make double digits for the rest of July
as rare as large Atlantic cod.

Prince Philip Drive, just outside  my window at work. In the distance you can (almost) see Mount Scio behind the HSC.

Prince Philip Drive, just outside my window at work. In the distance you can (almost) see Mount Scio behind the HSC.

So those on holiday and the poor unlucky
tourists who have ventured to our shores
can forget visiting the capes, the beaches and the woods,
and are instead amusing themselves indoors.

“Good weather for ducks.” You might remark.
To which I would respond
that I already looked and noticed not
a single one left out on Burton’s Pond.

Burton's Pond. This time of the year it's normally teeming with ducks.

Burton’s Pond. This time of the year it’s normally teeming with ducks.

And upon taking a closer look
it occurred to me they had become so stressed
about the sorry state this place is in,
like so many others here, they must have moved out west.

And just the other evening there came a knock
a big fellow, creating quite a din.
I opened the door and found a young bull moose
saying, “Sir, I’m cold and wet. Would you kindly let me in.”

So cold and wet even the moose want to come indoors.

So cold and wet even the moose want to come indoors.

But I suppose that it’s not all bad.
It’s true you hardly see any skeets.
They’re all at home shivering by the stove
instead of terrorizing our streets.

And even the RNC admits
that the crime rate’s heading down
it’s just as well ‘cause no officer wants to be
out walking the beat in this town.

Of course if you wonder why the criminals are
not active it’s not hard to see why.
The face masks they use must stay rolled over
on their heads to keep them warm and dry.

And the silence! For the skies once alive
with aircraft heading for YYT
are as empty as the fishing banks
that lie beneath our once teeming seas.

Good luck getting in or out of St. John's

Good luck getting in or out of St. John’s

The planes can’t land so they turn around
for Gander or for Halifax
short runways, low ceilings, rain, drizzle and fog
give most flights the axe.

The back nine at Pippy Park. Care for a round?

The back nine at Pippy Park. Care for a round?

And the golf courses,
sure none of them ever was in better shape,
all neatly trimmed with no divots or holes,
their beauty  leaves your mouth agape.

From atop Mount Scio looking out at the broad expanse of St. John's. The harbour is clearly visible there in the distance, top left :-)

From atop Mount Scio looking out at the broad expanse of St. John’s. The harbour is clearly visible there in the distance, top left 🙂

Don’t be such a sook complaining that
it’s too damp and that you won’t play in the rain
grab your father’s fishing oil-clothes and sou’wester
‘cause he’ll never use them again.

And you’ve got the perfect excuse for not cutting the lawn,
cause the grass is too wet to mow
and the car never needs washing, and besides
there’s no beach or park that’s fit to go.

At least the gardens are all washed nice and green.

At least the gardens are all washed nice and green.

But enough of this I’ve still got summer work to do,
like wringing out my pants,
making sure the roof doesn’t leak,
and draining rainwater off my plants.

Posted in Newfoundland and Labrador, poetry/songs | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Truth and Wisdom: Two Travellers

A young traveler saw injustice, waste, wrongdoing and need
and, set out thinking, “I will show all just how clearly I know
how the wrongs that they spread, like so much damaged seed
tear all we have down, so that no good can grow.”

And so along the road, to everyone encountered
he spread the message but still nothing improved.
No matter the passion with which his story was recounted
the listener nodded agreement but still remained unmoved.

Somewhere along the road he met another—
shoes well-worn and dusty, as were her clothes
and after listening to his story for a while, “brother
our voices blend well; let’s journey together,” she proposed

But the traveler slowly shook his head,
“mine is a journey best taken by myself, alone.
No offense, but you are old and I am not,” he said,
“it’s best that way as I travel into the unknown.”

At length, tired and hungry from a day spent on the road
the traveler ended up at a quiet small town square
and so, upon selecting a friendly looking abode
he knocked to see if they had a room and food to share.

“Sorry, no place have I here for you tonight.
Try somewhere else,” and closed the door again.
Undaunted he turned, seeing many more porch lights
Surely he’d get an offer given the many that remained.

Again and again, no offers were to be found
traveler and message found no food or place to stay
and so, exhausted, he sat down and looked around
and saw a familiar face across the way.

She walked up to the same door on which at first he’d knocked
and to his surprise saw her welcomed right inside.
From his vantage point he saw how they all laughed and talked,
sharing the food and space he’d been denied.

Until at last once again she came back out to the street
and after waving her hosts goodbye did see him all alone.
She held out her hand and helped the traveler to his feet
saying, “come let us find a place in someone’s home.”

“But you can see that I am not welcome anywhere!
Here, I have found no friend or offer to come inside.”
“It will be different, you’ve no reason to despair,
now you are travelling with me,” the gentle friend replied.

I know that you are Truth, bringing a message that needs to be heard
and Truth is something people do not often wish to hear or see.
But I am Wisdom and will help you with your words
and while not welcome by yourself you are when accompanied by me.

And so now, each time you hear Truth calling out aloud
the hard fought things that he has found about this land
perhaps you can go to him and help him search the crowd
for Wisdom, that her guidance will aid Truth and help us understand.

Posted in Newfoundland and Labrador, poetry/songs, Society and Culture | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Can we Come Up with a Better Name for it?

In Canada this is the Victoria Day weekend. Although often referred to as “The 24th of May” or “May two-four” (the double entendre being a tip of the hat to the copious quantiles of two-dozen cases of beer that somehow get used up over the weekend) it is instead set as the weekend which has the last Monday before the 24th. The timing can be a bit awkward. This year, for example, the 24th is NEXT Sunday! It’s a federal government holiday and is a provincial/territorial holiday in most cases; not all. In one jurisdictions (not mine) it’s also a “shops closing” day as well, so just about all hands except the poor souls who work in health care, law enforcement and such can get some well-earned time off.

For those who enjoy the outdoors it’s generally the time when people get out the RV’s or officially open up the cottages if they’re lucky (or indebted) enough to have one. For the younger people it’s also often a time when they head out to a park or a field for a spot of tenting.

Now, before this goes any further, for the non NL readers you need to know this: for most of the year outdoors in this province is enough to freeze your arse off. As the famous NL satirist Ray Guy once said, “summers are short here. Last year it fell on a Wednesday.” While, this time around, it’s not too bad (18 C, yesterday, 16 C Sunday and maybe 12 C Monday if our run of luck continues), it’s not at all unusual to get what most of you would term “winter weather” over the weekend. Just about all of us can recount a—true—story from our youth of waking up in a tent on Sunday morning only to discover that there’d been a fall of snow overnight. Think about it: crowded into a cheap tent, covered with an equally cheap sleeping bag (maybe), hung over, and frigging snow everywhere. Fun eh? Give ‘er!

Today, though, perched in a chair in the back yard, pretending it’s warm enough to just wear the t-shirt I have on and looking out over the  non-blooming-anything in the garden (except for those @$%&*!# dandelions—yes, that will probably take over everything before long; hey’re well on the way. No grass yet, though.) it does occur to me that the name we have stuck on this holiday weekend needs to change.

It’s gotten to the point of stupidity, IMHO.

The “Victoria” we are referring to is Queen Victoria, head of the British Monarchy at the time that Canada became officially a country, and in the minds of some, thus, the “Mother of Confederation.”

Give me a break! Yes, it’s important to observe some waypoints along our history but perhaps it’s time to face a few pertinent facts. First, All of us alive now in the country were born after Confederation and as such were never British Citizens (except, obviously, those who moved here). While we certainly value Britain as an ally, a trading partner and an awesome place to visit we feel no sense of duty whatsoever to the British Monarch.

Second, speaking of which, most of us have been taught that “the crown” in reality is now, in Canada, a snobbish “I know more than you do” way of referring to “the people.” The notion of “the crown” is a useful one since it lets us remind Harper and others like them that we don’t serve them (I’m not sure he gets that though), but, rather, that he serves the crown—us, that is. Fine. But here’s the thing: we’re not all that stunned and we don’t need a figurehead (the monarchy) to help us understand that. News flash—we are capable of abstract concepts. We understand the “the crown is the people” thing and for those that don’t get it, having a Governor General as a figurehead for the crown is enough. We don’t have to pretend that he or she is “the queen’s representative” and that, perhaps, it’s her that is in charge. Do we? By extension, then, why do we have to keep honouring someone, long gone, who probably could not have given a royal crap about the place anyway? Ever hear the “fox hat” joke? I’ll tell you someday.

Finally, though, the whole “Queen Victoria is the Mother of Confederation” bit just rubs me the wrong way. The notion of empire, of the implicit superiority of while people (British ones in particular) over all others, especially the aboriginals who were here for thousands of years before the “European Invasion” (and who, by the way, have managed to still remain—fancy that) just seems so offensive. In fact, as far as I can tell, the only way it could have been worse is if the monarchists who proposed the name had found some way to pretend she was male. I’m surprised they didn’t at least try.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This is not to suggest that we should simply drop the holiday. Absolutely not! In fact, if I thought there was any way it could be pitched to the retailers and oil companies who run this place I’d like to see holiday expanded to include non-government workers (as is the case in Prince Edward Island and Alberta—oh, wait, check out the names of the provinces, small wonder, wha?) so that the rest of the serfs who want to enjoy it would not have to dip into their supply of annual leave (or call in sick, eh b’y) in order to join the happy throng.

No, I just want a better name.

I tried hard to come up with one, but the best I could do was this: “drink beer, freeze in a park that has not so much as a blade of green grass yet, eat too much, and hopefully drown a few worms trying to catch a few really tiny trout day ‘cause we’re all REALLY sick of that rotten winter that lingers on and on and just want a break regardless of the awful weather weekend.” Yeah, I know—not quite there yet; needs work.

Help me out, luh. Here are the parameters:

  • No names from “great men” allowed. Cripes, there’s been enough of that, and besides, how dumb is that anyway? This is Canada for the love of Pete (whoops—there I go with the great men again, but you gotta admit the big M’s brother was one helluva hockey player) and we should know by now that pretty much everything we’ve done has been a team effort even though we’ve allowed a few egoistical ones to claim all the credit. After all, in most cases, what they did was push themselves to the front of the line and get to be the ones that were in charge when great things happened (and generally done by those whose names will never so much see their name on a plaque).
  • No names from great women either. Please don’t crucify me for this. I’m not stupid enough to pretend we don’t have ones sufficiently wonderful to deserve it and, yes, I’m well aware that I’m proposing to remove perhaps the only woman’s name from the list. No, I’m not picking on women—didn’t you see the first bullet? Il even go so far as to say that if I had my way we’d remove most of the great men’s names from the holidays and such too. Why? Because there are simply too many great ones for us to take this track. We could take up every day, many times over. Let’s also be aware of the simple fact that time goes on, memories fade and new stars shine. We can’t just leave all the glory to the few lucky enough to be around in the early days of confederation, can we? Oh, and then there’s the issue of replacing one old name with a new one. What a brouhaha that will be every time it comes up!
  • Absolutely not “May Two Four.” We’re not all frat boys.

So, what we need is a name that is symbolic of something that matters. We’ve covered some lasting ones: peace, nationalism, honouring our forces, honouring our workers, and new starts (you figure out which holiday is which there). Perhaps we need to look a little closer and see what’s been left out and come up with something better, a name that represents something else we hold dear.

Now, I don’t claim to have all of the answers but it does occur to me that there’s an almost obvious choice. Let me run a few names/events/organizations by you. Think of what they represent. Maybe we could come up with a good name based on that trait or traits, use it and spend the weekend honouring it while we enjoy the present and look forward to what summer might bring. Here’s a partial list: Calbech is ‘first,’ Confederation Bridge, DART, David Suzuki, Henderson Scores, Land Claim Agreements, Marie-Joseph Angélique, MCP, Michaëlle Jean, Roberta Bondar, Terry Fox, the Charter, Tommy Douglas, Kellie Leitch. There’s loads more. I just wrote the few that came to mind as I wrote this. Perhaps we could agree on an appropriate name for the holiday and celebrate one individual, institution or event each year; something that truly means something.

Who’s with me?

Posted in Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador, Society and Culture | Tagged , , | 12 Comments

A Little Cuffer, or Maybe Not

The diagnosis was gallstones and the suggested response was laparoscopic cholecystectomy, a commonly-performed minimally invasive method in which 4 small incisions are made in the abdomen, through which small tubes are inserted. One of them contains a tiny camera and the others carry surgical instruments. The gall bladder is cut and then removed, along with the pesky stones, through the belly button.

I had been waiting my turn for well over a year and in that time had learned the habits that resulted in the painful attacks and thus avoided them; no fatty foods; no eating after 8 pm. By no means a hard regimen to follow, but with the realization that whatever process had created the stones in the first place was one that would continue, and thus worsen the condition, there was no doubt. I was going t get the procedure done as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

It had—a call out of the blue at work indicating that a cancellation had presented itself and that I could come the following week— and here I was, standing in line, waiting my turn to check in at Day Surgery.

“Jake? Sandy?” two of my students (and one another’s boyfriend/girlfriend) took their place in the lineup behind me. “What are you two doing here?”

“I’m finally getting it fixed for good,” said Jake, holding out his hand, the injury he’d received years earlier while still in school still clearly visible. Josephine, just back from parking the car, joined us. We all chatted until our turns came to be checked in. After that Jake, along with Sandy went to orthopedics and Josephine and I made our way to where we were sent.

It was, by all appearances, a typical hospital ward. Eight (or so) hospital beds were set out along the wall and sliding curtains afforded the degree of privacy that was necessary. Nurse A greeted us and led us to one of the beds. She indicated the two “Johnny Coats” laid out on the bed. I was to put one on the standard way and would don the second back-to-front as an improvised dressing gown. She spoke in a gentle voice, telling me to remove everything but in a way that could not be misunderstood, then left me to change.

After a few minutes she returned. From outside the curtain she inquired, “Are you ready?” and then came inside when I answered. She asked me the questions that had already been posed at check-in: name, address, type of procedure, and so on. She took my vitals and gave me an injection of something that would prevent clotting. “This will sting for a bit, but that will go away after a few minutes.” She was correct. When finished she smiled, got up, and then returned with a warm blanked which she placed over me. “You can recline that chair and get more comfortable while you wait. Would you like me to do that?”

“No, it’s OK,” I replied and she left after assuring me I would not have long to wait.

Dr. Smith, the lead on the procedure, dropped by soon after. His eyes showed that he recognized me from the consult, even though that had been eight months prior. No mistake—he recalled what we’d been talking about at the time; remarkable. He asked if I had any questions. I did. When could I expect to be active again after the surgery? He gave me a detailed answer. “It’s been a while since you signed the consent,” he chuckled, handing me another one which I signed. “See you inside. It won’t be long.”

He was right and after a few minutes, pretty much 10am on the dot, just like I’d been told, I was led to the operating waiting area, but only after Josephine insisted on a parting kiss. “See you in a few hours.”

Nurse B led me to the waiting area, showed me to a comfy chair and brought me another warm blanket. In the minute or so it took to get there we discovered that in all likelihood the Volleyball team I coached almost 25 years ago had played hers on several occasions. I laughed and admitted that I hadn’t recalled winning any games against her team since Dave had been such a good coach. Dave. She stopped, turned to me and started saying, “Dave, you know what happened—“ I interrupted, “Yes, Dave and I remained friends long after we’d left the schools we were teaching in at the time. I know. It’s been three years now. So sad.” We shared a few more memories of our old friend and chatted some more until another person arrived. Nurse B went on her way.

It was one of the surgical residents. He introduced himself and verified my name and the procedure I was to have. He asked if I had any questions. I didn’t. He smiled and left, saying “See you in a few minutes.”

Another visitor arrived; the anesthesiologist resident, late twenties, bright eyed and smiling but with a gentle friendliness more suggestive of someone older. Once again she asked me all the usual questions. I answered them all again matter-of-factly, but thinking of how some patients must react from time to time. “What—again?” some must say, “I’ve already answered these a million times!”

But, of course, that’s the way it has to be. Each day, each medical professional here sees many, many souls, each with their own history, and each with their particular circumstances. Safeguards have to be in place to ensure that the correct things happen and if a few questions have to be repeated, so be it.

She went more in depth: allergies, previous medical history and so on. Of course she was only verifying what was already before her. Dr. B had already asked those same questions during the pre-op a few days previous. The anesthesiologist arrived—a huge man (or so it seemed from my vantage point in the comfy chair) but with the same gentle manner. “Any questions?” I shook my head, “No. I’m good. Let’s do this.”

“Then let’s go.”

I followed them to the OR. It was more or less what I expected. Clean, brightly lit and furnished with the things you’d expect. I walked to the table. “Give me a sec while I adjust it,” I heard and I stood awkwardly by the table as it was lowered. In that time the other people in the room introduced themselves. I tried hard to repeat the names but know that they wouldn’t stick. The gentle tones of voice they used both with me and amongst themselves and they went about their duties would, though.

I laid down and felt a little pinch as my hand was deadened, then (sort of) felt the tube being inserted at that site. “This is for the anesthesia.” I heard. A mask was placed over my nose and mouth.  “This is oxygen, just breathe normally.” I did. “We are going to give you something to relax first. A pause, and I felt myself get strangely light headed.

“Can you feel it?”

I blinked, signifying “Yes.”

“We are starting the anesthetic now—“

I opened my eyes and quickly found the clock on the wall. It was just after two in the afternoon.


My eyes scanned the room, clearly the recovery area. Six or seven beds lined the walls, some of which were occupied. Two nurses were quietly going from patient to patient. I moved a bit to see how I was doing and my hands easily found the bandages that covered the four incisions. Strange—there was no great amount of pain even though all of my senses were back in order.

Nurse C soon noticed I was awake and came by me. “How are you doing?”

“I’m ok.”

She checked the machines by the bedside then turned to me saying gently, “Good. You need to rest some more now.”

I obliged, drifting in and out, comfortably occupying that space just between sleep and wakefulness. Time passed slowly, measured in ten-minute increments, as the big hand went all the way around, once. Nurse C made frequent visits, checking the machines by my bedside each time.

“Any pain?”

“Nope. On a scale of one to ten I’d give it a two or a three; nothing much really.”

“Do you need anything for it?”

“No, I’m ok as-is.”

“Good. Funny the two of you who just came out both feel that way. It’s not always like that.”

“I guess Dr. Smith and the team are good.”

“They are.”

At three she stopped and spoke. “Let’s work on waking you up now.” I tried, but you know how it is—sometimes you just want to rest. You try and wake up but keep dozing back off again. I saw Nurse C pick up the phone and heard her say, “no, he’s just chillin’ there in the bed now. I’m a bit concerned about his blood oxygen level.” She conversed with the voice at the other end for a bit then hung up and came over, repeating the concern I’d already heard.

“That was the anesthesiologist and he said to give you something to open your airways a bit more to address the issue. I don’t want to release you just yet, ‘cause you might just stop breathing and we don’t want that!”

I nodded, fully understanding and thinking, “It’s not everyone who can say that quite so well and not scare the pants off you.”

She smiled, gave me the stuff, and came back a while later. “It seems to be working. Try this.” She handed me a spirometer and I breathed as instructed.

“Excellent.” Keep it up.

I did.

After a while she said, “You’re fine now. Let’s bring you back.”

She wheeled me—bed and all—back to exactly where I started out earlier that morning. We chatted a while before she left, returning to the recovery unit.

A group of nurses were nearby at a desk. It was shift-change time and they were doing the briefing. It ended with some light casual talk. One of the nurses, let’s call her Nurse D, said something which made the others laugh. It made me smile too. She caught my eye, “You heard that.” She grinned widely and walked over to my bed. “Looks like you’re about ready to go home. Are you able to get dressed?”


“I’ll call—,” she checked the chart she was holding, “Josephine?”

“Yes. You have the number?”

She said it back to me and I nodded. “Take your time getting dressed.” She left, closing the curtain.

I slowly got out of the bed and got dressed, then sat in the chair. A wave of giddiness swept over me and I know it would soon turn to nausea. I got back on the bed and laid back down.

Nurse D must have sensed it as she came right back to the curtain, “are you okay?”

“Feeling a bit light headed,” I replied.

“That’s normal for this. They put a lot of air in your belly when doing that procedure and almost every recovering patient feels some nausea.” She laid a cold cloth on my forehead. “Better?”

It was…so much better. I closed my eyes and the giddiness soon passed. Everything is relative I suppose but as the nausea went away it was replaced with a huge feeling of relief. I felt just fine. Josephine came in. She looked concerned. “You’re white as a ghost!”

“Nah, I’m good.”

An attendant came by with a wheelchair and brought me to the entrance where Josephine was waiting with the car. We drove home.

That was Thursday. Today is Saturday and I’m sitting at the dining room table typing away on the laptop. Aside from a little tightness in the belly and some light soreness around the incision sites I am experiencing no undue discomfort. A little time for rest and everything will be as before, no, better than before.

Thursday, the day of the procedure, was budget day in the province of Newfoundland Labrador. It could not be a good news budget since NL has allowed itself to become far too dependent on oil revenues. The falling price of oil therefore means lean times ahead. The governing party had a difficult task, specifically to bring down a lean budget in an election year. Simply put, the knives are out. The parties not in power, as well as individuals who enjoy a good bloody match of politics are all having a fine time criticizing it. The lead-up happened before my procedure and after I returned home I took the time to read the document and create the previous blog post, one that reflected my general feeling of guarded optimism, asking the political types, “instead of criticizing, can you please state what you’d do if you had the chance?”

I still haven’t heard any sensible replies to that question and, as expected, nobody had paid much attention to my opinion anyway. After all, why should they? I’m just one tiny private voice of reason (or so I hope) among half a million others, some reasonable, some not. The cacophony of ego-fueled anger, resentment and outrage has effectively drowned my voice out, that’s for sure. Besides, here, as everywhere else the phrase, “if it bleeds it leads” is the watch word. Who wants to hear, “what would you do instead,” when it’s so much more satisfying to just vent.

So what has that got to do with the rest of this? Just this: the overwhelming roars of derision  that have been let loose against the budget remind me of the many negative  stories reported regarding bad experiences patients relate regarding our health care system. Week after week we are treated to yet another story of an experience that leads the listener to conclude that “the health care system is failing us.”

Week after week, anecdote after anecdote. What else can you conclude?

But then there’s the personal experience, outside that one hears reported. Stories of the many that come and go, day after day, get treated and then return home, getting on with life. You don’t hear those. After all, those are just more, tiny, private voices of reason; small and quiet, never reported.

That exactly is the point here. We only hear when things go wrong. “Everyone I met was super—professional and caring—and everything went according to plan,” doesn’t make much of a story, does it? No grief, no conflict, no big emotional resolution means, effectively, no story.

Well, that’s it, then. I have no story for you. Only gratitude to the skilled, hard-working, selfless, caring professionals I encountered last Thursday.

Posted in Newfoundland and Labrador, Society and Culture | Tagged , , , | 24 Comments

Talk about the NL Budget 2015–Can we Stop with the Games?

I’m at home today—a bit of down-time following minor surgery. All’s well, thanks to professional, caring service from Eastern Health.  Normally I would be listening, offhandedly, to the radio while going about my business but today it’s off. The ensuing silence is so much better than the steady drone of complaints from the political types not on the government side regarding the provincial budget followed by the defensive tones that ensure from those that are.

It’s too much.

I found the “estimates” file from the government website and skimmed through it for myself.


The Estimates document, which summarizes anticipated expenditures for 2015-16 in NL


Here’s what I got from that excursion: A series of decisions that took root back in 1979 with the discovery of oil on the Grand Banks has brought us to a place where our economy is heavily dependent on the revenues we are now realizing from the subsequent development. We all had a part in it. The recent—unexpected—downturn in the price of that commodity has left us in a hard place, financially, and that will continue for the next few years. This budget is one that seeks to balance the decrease in available funds against the need for continued service.

That’s it. It’s far from perfect but with something as complicated as a government budget, what do you expect? Well maybe you might expect something better but I don’t. Instead I will make do with whatever it is and hope for better times ahead after the next election.

What I could do without right now is the one sided so-called conversation that’s playing out on social media and such. It’s all about what’s wrong with it, all about what people feel should NOT happen. You know—complaints about raising the sales tax, raising service fees and such. Oh, and that over-used mock that includes the so-called “war of attrition” against the civil service. Give me a break.

Don’t get me wrong—there’s nothing inherently wrong with complaining if it’s done right. How else can you effect change unless you state the problem, right?

Well…right. Fine.

Sort of.

Sort of, because that is only the start; just pointing out the problem is the easy part. Frankly, anyone could do that. None of us wants to see job losses, higher fees/taxes. Like the rest of Canada we are all heavily in debt so any change in costs, however small, will have a significant effect on our lives. It’s frustrating, frightening even, and it’s hard not to feel at least a tinge of anger. BUT, no, the harder—but in the end much more useful—thing to do is to suggest what should be done instead. Regardless of how we got here—regardless because we all know how that happened and there’s no need to waste time listing what’s been expounded elsewhere—we now find ourselves in a difficult situation financially and we need to come to a collective understanding of just how we are to address that, at least in the near to medium term ahead.

Sadly, though, there’s not much more than silence on that front. While critics are quick to point out the current problems and point fingers of blame they are stubbornly reluctant to outline just what they would do to rectify it if and when they were given the chance.

That’s problematic, not just for all of us who want to live happy, productive lives here in this province but also for those would aspire to leadership positions within it. Petty complaining may well appeal to masses, to mobs of those who gather at public places—coffee shops, malls, bars and, yes, online on social media—and have some fun and playing at armchair politics. It makes for a great game. In quieter moments, though, people tend to be more reflective and, thanks to the secret ballot, have no need of being ashamed of voting for those they really think will make the right decisions and not just those who know how to pull the public will in any given direction, just for the moment, with the drop of some predictable pithy phrase.

So here’s my bit of advice to all who wish to offer themselves in any of the upcoming elections: balance the complaints regarding the misdeeds and failings of your competitors against the positives that YOU bring to the landscape. Sure, pointing out the faults in others may result in us NOT voting or them but if you want us to vote for YOU instead you need to show clearly just what you stand for and what you will do as a consequence.

Some call politics a game and, in many ways it is. Like any gaming situation it has a stated goal, has agreed-upon limitations that are effected as rules and the play draws heavily on competition. In that light, playing nasty often does offer an advantage, and yes, we all know one should not play a contact sport (which politics in NL surely is) if one is afraid of the scattered bruised knee or bloody nose. That said, beating up on the competition is not always the best strategy for a win (a notable exception being the Broad Street Bullies, of course). Most would agree that more wins come about by figuring how to get the puck in the net more often than the other team does. In this case that means painting a clear picture of how your side will put us all in a better place for the few years you expect to be in office.

As for me, politics, and life in general, is not a game but rather a serious search for betterment in the lives of those with who I share this place. I plan to do my part by working as best I can and continuing to pay my taxes and other bills to the best of my admittedly imperfect ability. It is my wish that those who aspire to lead me will do the same.

Posted in Newfoundland and Labrador, Society and Culture | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

The Day After International Women’s Day (they only Get One Out of 365)

Moments of clarity have this thing about popping up when least expected. When they do appear, though, they have the knack of stopping time and causing you to revisit all of that which recently happened. One such moment happened recently and has some bearing here on the day after International Women’s day.

A Ph.D. student invited me to participate on a panel she was hosting on the general topic of feminism. “Why ask me?” was the obvious question, given—in addition to the obvious fact that I’m not female—my almost complete lack of formal education in that area. It came down to a few simple facts. First, I was available and second, other than me the panel was entirely female—as it should be. I was the token male.

The focus group played out more or less as you’d expect. A series of questions was posed and, one by one, we offered a response. I more or less represented the Canadian perspective inasmuch as I could. Besides me, the other respondents were from France, China (2) and Iran; three Ph.D. candidates, one MBA candidate and me. When my time first came I offered an apology, acknowledging the self-evident fact that my contribution counted for very little. This was not to inform the others—that was completely unnecessary; they were more than capable of judging my (lack of) worthiness. It was rather just to acknowledge that I, too, was aware of my lack of chops and that it would be perfectly alright to vigorously challenge and refute anything I had to say; no need to spare my fragile feelings.

Why, exactly did I do that?

Ah—the moment of clarity. It happened right about the time that I sat down with the group. It was in my “spot” (I coordinate the activities of the Teaching and Learning Commons at the Faculty of Education at Memorial U) since it was an obvious choice for the event and, so, I worked at my desk until I saw the second-last member arrive. They all turned to me, the only male, and I really needed to neutralize that not-so-simple fact. I needed to make sure that everyone else in the group was comfortable with the knowledge that I knew what a complete buffoon I might just be and that it would be okay to just let me have it of the situation arose.

Why? Because males seem to enjoy a privileged place even in Canada, a place often judged by the rest of the world as being somewhat egalitarian in most respects. It hit me: What a crock.

I responded as best I could to the questions that were posed. Rather than talk about feminism I stated outright hat I was a bit more comfortable responding from the position of representing what I did know about the issue of gender equity and decided to leave the distinction undefined. Interestingly enough—and not-to-surprisingly given the simple fact that Canada is SUPPOSED to be founded on the triad of our common English, French and Aboriginal origins (hmmm—now there’s a topic for a future post) I found much in common with the respondent from France and, rather than go into detail I often found myself just saying, “In Canada it tends to be a lot like what Louise just described.” … things like universal suffrage, federal and provincial offices dedicated to womens’ issues and so on.

That only got me so far, though, and at the end I felt compelled to share a bit of my moment. I said, “Here I am—one male surrounded by a group of intelligent and well-educated women. I’ve been careful not to say anything stupid (they all smiled) since, if I had, I would have been immediately…corrected (they laughed a bit).

I continued, “suppose, though, that the gender roles had been reversed and that, instead, there had been just one female. I wonder how things would have been different. I bet that at least one participant would have found it quite acceptable to make some pandering, sexist comment ad that the speaker would have expected grunts of assent from all gathered around, regardless of what that meant for the one female in attendance.”

I let it stand right there for a while and, for a little while, there was nothing said. Everyone just looked at me. The conversation resumed and the focus group eventually ended. My own thoughts continued though.

Canada, being a more-or-less Nordic country that supposedly embraces the idea that we are “of the land” and not masters of it, is often judged as a place where fair mindedness and egalitarianism of all kinds is something that is highly valued. Perhaps that is so but increasingly it’s obvious to me that so much is just plain not right.

Sure, women have the vote here and we have fairly powerful government ministries that represent the “status of women” but, when viewed through a clearer lens so much of it all seems like window dressing; coverings that conceal some inconvenient facts. How about positions of real power and influence—try some of this:

  • The House of assembly (the legislative/executive assembly of NL’s Provincial Government) has 48 elected members. Six of them are women.
  • C-NLOPB, which helps ensure that the offshore petroleum industry complies with the Federal/Provincial legislative framework, consists of 4 males and 2 females.
  • NOIA, Canada’s largest offshore petroleum association has 9 members on its governing board. One of them is a woman.
  • NATI represents the province’s advanced tech sector. Its governing board has 9 members. Two of them are women.
  • Even school boards—the one place where you might expect a bit of gender equity. The province currently has only two districts, an English board and a French board. The NLESD, the English district, is by far the larger of the two. Its board of trustees consists of 14 members, none of which were chosen democratically. Two of them are women.

But there’s more. The university at which I work has, besides the various traditional academic units numerous professional schools. Try this:

  • Engineering and Business are based on a co-op program that alternates academic terms with work terms (internships). These work terms are paid positions.
  • Social Work, Nursing, Pharmacy and Education also include integrated internships. These are all unpaid positions.

Notice anything odd? Engineering and Business are male dominated and the ones noted in the second bullet are overwhelmingly female. Not enough to guarantee a causal relationship, acknowledged, but if ever there was a smoking gun, that’s it.

Just last month the provincial government announced a committee charged with redrawing the electoral district boundaries. The committee consists of 5 members, chaired by a judge appointed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Two members were nominated by the governing PC’s and one each was nominated by each of the other two political parties. All five are males. When challenged on this those responsible for the nominations opted for the belligerent (as opposed to rational and truthful) response, “we feel confident that the tasks associated with this panel could be performed equally well by men as by women” a response that has all of the intelligence of “na na na poo poo.” This comment, aside from being more or less devoid of any sense of credibility since it was made by a collection of males, smacks of the same sense of clueless male dominated paternity one sees in the likes of the well-intentioned but still off-base movements such as “Be good to your woman” (no this is not The Onion—that really does exist. YOUR woman??? Really??? Yup.).

There’s such a long road ahead. Sadly, many are unaware of just what it took to even get this far. That which is taken for granted tends to be lost when the pinch comes.

Let’s look for just a minute at politics. My province’s record of women in elected positions is nothing short of shameful, a fact that begs the question, “why is that the case?” Offhand there seem to be two answers. First, there’s the indisputable existence of an active Old Boys’ network. Witness the male-dominated boards, paid work-terms in male-dominated sectors and such. But that by itself does not adequately explain all of it.

Perhaps it’s got something to do with vulnerability. Researcher Brene Brown has written extensively on the topic after almost two decades of study in the field one thing that’s become quite clear is that an incredible amount of courage is required to overcome the sense of vulnerability that comes from everyday life. It’s so much more the case, though, for those who appear as public figures. For a woman, off-base suggestions that her weight, level of physical prowess, or attire, for example may be  in any way sub-par are going to hit straight where it hurts most.

So what? So this: people who offer themselves for public office are subject to the most excruciatingly intimate degree of public scrutiny possible. Nothing—nothing at all—is off the table. One would think that public scrutiny should be limited to performance in the portion of the public arena that is work related. Performance in the area of drafting legislation, debating public policy, contributing to committee work and responding to emerging needs of constituents, sure—those are fair game. But it never ends there, does it? Everything gets mentioned, reported and commented on: family life, previous work and education and, yes, all those issues related to body image; the things that hurt the most.

One most then ask, “why would any level headed woman offer herself for public office given the widely-accepted toxic climate they must endure from the general public?” Why indeed.

As far as women are concerned such a long road lies ahead, does it not?

Posted in Society and Culture | Tagged , | 27 Comments

New Brush Strokes on a Painted Canvas

An artist friend once told me that when it comes to paint and canvas there really are no mistakes. An unwanted detail can be altered or removed. A smudge, created through a moment of inattention, can simply be blended in with the background. Failing that, one only needs to wait until sufficient time has passed and then reapply the stroke, but this time in the correct manner. Best of all is the possibility that always exists for any of those accidents to result in an improved outcome. Perhaps the extra attention to the imperfect spot will result in finer details, better lighting or, maybe even nuances not envisioned in the original concept.

Sometimes, when we look at a recent memory it's almost as if the gate has been closed. 'It is what it is."

Sometimes, when we look at a recent memory it’s almost as if the gate has been closed. ‘It is what it is.”

So too with memory; no recollection can be considered a finished piece. Previously unrecalled details may surface, all by themselves, revealing aspects previously unrealized. Perhaps the sharing of a memory with a friend who was also in that time and place may result in additions as their details blend with yours. There’s the very real possibility that alterations to your own situation may result in changes being made to your memories. Conscious or otherwise, sometimes this just needs to happen.

Time passes. You revisit the memory. Some things are not as clear as they once were but, merged as they now are with previous thoughts, sometimes new perspectives emerge.

Time passes. You revisit the memory. Some things are not as clear as they once were but, merged as they now are with previous thoughts, sometimes new perspectives emerge.

When it comes to memory it seems that most of us find ourselves on a continuum somewhere between two extremes. At the one end are those blessed/cursed with almost perfect memories. No detail is too small to be remembered. They can often tell you much of what happened to them at any particular day! More importantly, though, the stories they relate are consistent. Ask them the day after, say, they got laid off from work and they’ll re-enact the whole event painful detail by painful detail. If you happen to encounter them several years later and the lay-off incident happens to come up, they’ll again describe the event exactly as they did before; all details perfectly recalled; the incredible sense of hurt and betrayal no less intense as it was the day after it happened.

Ask a question and get an accurate, frank response. No sugar coating. Simply put, these are not the people you tend to go to when what you are seeking is unquestioning affirmation. They are, however, the ones you seek out when frankness and accuracy are what’s important.

At the other extreme are those whose memories are completely fluid. No story is exactly the same in the retelling. Details are added here, omitted there. Sometimes it seems that for those people it’s all about suiting the story to the moment, not about accurately relating any of the events as they were witnessed or experienced. These are the people you go to whenever you want help seeing the positive side of something as they tend to be especially gifted in the art of framing; of portraying particular sides to events and issues.

The thoughts that comprise this post came to me one morning while strolling along the beach. I saw the now, almost unused fish plant (it's far cheaper to ship raw fish to China for processing and then ship it back than it is to process it here. Revisionists love to say how stupid we were to build so many fish plants. I think those people are mostly egotistical narrow minded fools... How COULD we foresee the future, blinded as we were by the present!

The thoughts that comprise this post came to me one morning while strolling along the beach. I saw the now, almost unused fish plant (it’s far cheaper to ship freshly-caught fish to China for processing and then ship it back than it is to process it here). Revisionists love to say how stupid we were to build so many fish plants back in the day. I think those people are mostly egotistical narrow minded pretenders more interested in self promotion than in portraying us the way we are… How COULD we foresee the future, blinded as we were by the present?

Most of us fall somewhere near the middle of the spectrum. We are able to recall many of the details, but by no means all. We notice this especially whenever we try and compare stories of recent events. Everyone, so it seems, remembers things differently, will emphasize different details and may attribute causes to different factors. And so it goes. Mostly it’s not much of a problem. Yes, sometimes we may argue over the finer points but mostly we find ourselves just merging “facts” supplied by others with the ones we recall. Through this, our stories evolve and drift somewhat but mostly remain true to the original.

Or so we think. (Yes–pun intended.)

Perhaps you have heard of a longitudinal study out of Harvard often referred to as the Grant study. Starting in 1938 until 1944 a group of white, male sophomores from Harvard were chosen and have been studied on a regular basis since that time. The results have been rather enlightening (especially if you are white male, one supposes) and have been often related through the popular press. If you are interested just do an internet search using the keywords grant, study and happiness and you will find loads of short articles from the popular press that outline a few key points, especially ones relating to whatever the authors have decided that happiness entails. Go ahead if you are interested…

…this little post is not about that at all. It is, rather, about memory and how recollections change over time.

Over time this fishing stage has undergone many, many changes. It's been repaired on an ongoing basis but parts of the structure pre-date WW2. Alex used it all of his life. He's retired now and none of his family now pursues the fishery so it's use is no longer for commercial purposes. Some may inyerpret this as a reflection of a declining fishery, of a way of life that has died off in the wake of the new oil-based economy.

Over time this fishing stage has undergone many, many changes. It’s been repaired on an ongoing basis but parts of the structure pre-date WW2. Alex used it all of his life, as did his father and, for all I know, his father before him… He’s retired now and none of his family pursues the fishery so it’s use is no longer for commercial purposes. Some may interpret this as a reflection of a declining fishery, of a way of life that has died off in the wake of the new oil-based economy.

Given the time at which the group was selected it so happened that many of the original participants in the study went off to fight in WW2. (I’m using some of the writings of Bessel Van der Kolk as personal references. Sample here.) Most of them survived and became part of the permanent study cohort. Shortly after they returned they were interviewed. Most related stories of the horrors of war, of how they spent so much time, scared, just fighting for survival. Overall, the dominant thinking was on how the war was such a horrific experience.

But the study proceeded, and, from time to time, the researchers would check in and re-interview the participants. In the 1990s another major round of interviews revealed an interesting item: most of the original participants’ recollections of the war had changed significantly. Rather than focusing on the horrors they’d experienced, most now spoke of how the overall experience had been one of huge personal growth. They were also exceedingly proud of the contributions they had made in the name of freedom and democracy.

Not so, though, for the ones—and this was a small minority—who we could say suffer from what we now know as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. For those few unfortunates every horrific detail, every fearful experience was as vivid as it had been almost fifty years previous.

Panning just a bit further along from Alex's fishing stage reveals details not shown in the first shot. Evidence of continued, sustainable efforts.

Panning just a bit further along from Alex’s fishing stage reveals details not shown in the first shot. Evidence of continued, sustainable efforts.

It seemed that those who chose to alter the narrative they related were better able to process the events, better able to get on with it. Those that did not or could not were, it seems, doomed to relive every single grim detail and remain haunted by the terrible memories for the rest of their lives.

Turning a bit forther to teh right reveals even more. The fishery here is far from dead. It has undergone radical changes, yes, but it continues on.

Turning a bit farther to the right reveals even more. The fishery here is far from dead. It has undergone radical changes, yes, but it continues on.

Based on this it would be reasonable to assume that revisiting past events and modifying the overall story is not such a bad thing. That’s not to suggest that it’s healthy to selectively cull out the inconvenient parts of our past: the times we were less than completely honest, the times we made bad choices, reacted in anger, took revenge and so on. No, those need to remain, to nag at our conscience to the appropriate extent and, in so doing, hopefully sow the seeds of positive change.

A more realistic picture shows the old and the new living mostly in harmony. Life continues on, always changing. Who can predict what will happen? As we move forward and change with the times, so, too may our views and interpretations of the past and that's not necessarily a bad thing.

A more realistic picture shows the old and the new living mostly in harmony. Life continues on, always changing. Who can predict what will happen? As we move forward and change with the times, so, too may our views and interpretations of the past and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Perhaps they don’t need to remain as-is, though. We change and grow as we continue on this grand journey of ours. Does the bitter pain of an unpleasant memory need to remain exactly the same long after we’ve atoned, sought forgiveness or at least made it so that past mistakes won’t be repeated? That question, of course, has no single correct all-encompassing answer (except for the mostly useless “it depends”). It is worth considering, though, from time to time whenever we take the opportunity to recall and share memories of times past.

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