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Essays

Never say never, especially not about this

As someone still sporting deep ego bruises for having declared Quebec separatism dead a few times too many, I humbly offer a word of caution about Monday’s election. Don’t.

Yes, the separatist parties tanked. But here’s the thing: Separatism was never about separation. It was always about identity. And that issue never dies.

Read the rest on the Ottawa Citizen website.

Aristotle in 3D (loud) animation

Is it possible I’m the only person on earth to take her kids to the multiplex for the latest animated thing (in 3D, with music so loud you can’t make out the lyrics) and think of Aristotle?

Apparently not, or not entirely, but let’s not digress.

Smallfoot. The idea didn’t thrill me but the kids wanted to see it so there I sat with my dorky goggles, waiting to have my senses assaulted. Did I mention it was loud?

Internet summary: “Migo is a friendly Yeti whose world gets turned upside down when he discovers something that he didn't know existed -- a human. He soon faces banishment from his snowy home when the rest of the villagers refuse to believe his fantastic tale. Hoping to prove them wrong, Migo embarks on an epic journey to find the mysterious creature that can put him back in good graces with his simple community.”

OK so Migo accidentally comes into contact with a human whose plane crashed nearby. The contact is brief because the human has a parachute on and it catches some wind, taking him away. (Let’s not discuss aerodynamics at this stage because it would ruin everything.) But the plane wreck is still there. Migo runs to his village to tell his friends what he saw, which of course they can’t believe, so he says come with me I’ll show you so they all run over to the spot where the plane no longer is because a superbly timed and incredibly surgical avalanche took it, and only it, away. (Let’s not discuss the science of avalanches because ditto.) Cue predictable disbelief from the masses and accusations that Migo is batshit crazy. He insists he’s telling the truth and gets banished for it. Then there’s a song and it’s really loud.

And right then and there, over the incredible din, I exclaim to my lovelies “It’s Plato’s cave! Can’t you see it?”

They could see it, of course. My tribe is familiar with the allegory because I may have mentioned it a few thousand times. Plus they know I’m a little obsessed with it. For good reasons, because it’s freaking everywhere.

Migo’s fellow yetis don’t believe anything exists outside their village, and they’re happy because of it. Knowledge scares them. Certainty reassures them. They need peace, quiet. Not curiosity and science. Questions are evil. They lead to thinking. And we can’t have that.

If you watch the trailer for the movie you’ll see that Migo manages somehow to make things right. But not without a great deal of trouble. It’s a lovely tale of persistence and courage (also decency and open-mindedness) overcoming fear and obtuse prejudice, unless that’s an unacceptable pleonasm.

I am delighted to see this kind of storyline in a movie like that, because I want all children - not just mine - to understand that closing your mind off to new scientific possibilities is not living. Also that believing in a god that gives you rules in stone that some self-appointed bigshot conveniently gets to interpret for you or that your universe tumbled out of a yak’s butt is, not to put too fine a point on it, incredibly stupid. Yes, there are good reasons to be cautious, and yes, there are also good reasons not to embrace mindless novelty just because it’s new, unless it’s peach maple pecan cashew-based ice cream. There are excellent lessons in our history (like, say, in Plato’s allegories), and the trick is to find a good balance between being open to new ideas and mindful of our best traditions.

Ideally with the volume turned down a bit.

The meaning of beauty

What does it mean to be beautiful?

There is the beauty that isn’t earned. The pretty face, the symmetrical features, the perfect hip-to-waist ratio. Long limbs, elegant wrists, shapely eyes. Silky hair that flows the way it should, straight knees, ears that don’t look like barn doors. Some people are naturally born pretty, others not so much. It’s all terribly unfair, and there’s not much anyone can do about that. Plastic surgery can correct crooked noses or saggy bottoms, but it can’t make your short legs longer no matter how much money you spend on it.

Read the rest on Medium.

A vacation for the mind

“After all, a vacation is not a matter of place or time. We can take a wonderful vacation in spirit, even though we are obliged to stay at home, if we will only drop our burdens from our minds for a while. But no amount of travel will give us rest and recreation if we carry our work and worries with us.”

-- Laura Ingalls Wilder, essay September 1919

 

Recently I started thinking about why I talk so much. And resolved to say less in order to write more. It's not an easy thing for me to do, and it requires constant discipline, which I'm sorry to say I don't quite have. 

Yes, I talk less than I used to. But I have a long way to go yet. Old habits die hard, they say. And they're right.

There's a certain comfort in unburdening my mind on others. Because it's easy and comfortable for me to do it. I don't wear slippers on my feet, I wear them on my face. The minute I start opening my mouth to yak about the tornado of thoughts that live in my head, I feel the familiar and warm contour of the faux fur enveloping me. It's molded to my lips, not custom-made but custom-worn.

The problem with slippers is, they're the wrong footwear for exertion. Nobody has ever pushed past their limits wearing them. They're the antithesis of effort. They're fulfillment prevention tools.

I still find myself reaching for mine. When I let my guard down, my loose lips get going. I lose myself in comfort and familiarity, temporarily forgetting my resolve. Instead I close my mind and sink into my mental la-z-boy. The one you can't help but fall asleep in.

It's a trap alright.

In the last two weeks, I've become more aware of it. I still let it tempt me, but whenever I fall a little bit into it I yank myself out of it hard. I'm sure the people around me have noticed the change. Instead of continuing to let words tumble out of my mouth, I suddenly stop and become slightly withdrawn. I may even scrunch my eyebrows on occasion. That's probably because I'm mad at myself for being so damn weak.

I haven't found an elegant way to skirt the trap. But at least now I recognize the little bitch, even after it has grabbed hold of me and is dangling my mental slippers in front of my nose, and swat it away.

The good news is, I have been writing more. The ideas and thoughts and feelings I have in my head find their way onto the electronic notebook page. I have an entire folder with "random thoughts". At last count it contained 20-odd files, plus over 30 essays in various stages of completion. Not everything deserves to see the light of day, but it all needed to come out of my head. If I just babbled instead of writing this stuff down, it would be lost forever. Now at least it will stay in the electronic notebook and serve as inspiration or springboard for what I hope will be writing worth reading.

It's a small beginning. A blip of progress. One that comes with a benefit I never expected: The feeling you get on vacation when you finally hit that point where you start believing you're entitled to relax.

Your chest opens up. Your shoulders feel less heavy. You breathe better. Your mind is clear. You see yourself as a beautiful work in progress, with amazing potential. You know, the opposite of the harried stressed-out perennially dissatisfied wench you brush your teeth with most mornings.

I just had that moment hit me this morning, as I drank my coffee while reading the New Yorker after a reasonably decent 10km run. I was in the moment; I wasn't thinking about all the stuff I have to do today. I was entirely bereft of stress. I was enjoying my coffee and my article. Purely, thoroughly, and refreshingly simply. Secure in the knowledge that more of my thoughts and ideas were safely written down (synced and backed up, too; I love my electronic notebook), and that my creative energy was no longer a resource I squandered mindlessly, as though I was afraid of making a permanent mark on the world.

Working more, and with better purpose, has allowed my mind to become unburdened and my spirit finally to sit back and relax for a spell. I never saw that coming. But I sure plan to have it hit me again soon. 

Why doing things for people undermines everything

All my life I’ve been accused of trying to be the center of attention. And told it was wrong to do so. By people who I suspect very much resented not having the guts to shine in their own way.

Not that it makes it OK for me to seek the spotlight. It doesn’t. But by the same token, criticizing someone for being successful at getting attention because you’re jealous of them has its own share of issues as well.

For one thing, it doesn’t avoid the problem of seeking the spotlight as a substitute for doing your thing without thinking about rewards or consequences. And for another, it makes you uncontrollably addicted to doing too many things for others in a fruitless quest for validation.

It’s twisted and wrung ass backwards.

Read the rest on Medium.