Monday, 18 January 2016

My Fading Youth

It's been a tough few weeks for those of us of a certain age and generation. The recent and far too soon passings of Natalie Cole, David Bowie, actor extraordinaire Alan Rickman, and now Glenn Frey have left me reeling. It is a strange experience to mourn for individuals whom I have never personally met. And yet....there is such familiarity with these artists and the extensive bodies of work that they left behind, that I feel a chasm has opened in my personal history.

I have always been highly suspicious of public outpourings of grief for celebrities and in fact, I have been rather dismayed at the excessive and exaggerated public spectacles of mourning that seem to regularly occur in the internet age. But now it is starting to feel personal.

These artists weren't merely singers or performers. Their work made up the patchwork fabric and soundtrack of my youth. There were the road trips down to Indianapolis when we rolled down the windows and blasted The Eagles at high decibels. There was the smoothness and soulfulness of Natalie as she reminded us of romance and passion. There were the schmaltzy date nights curled up on the couch watching Mr Rickman's brilliance and marvelling at his ability to get me to cheer for his villains as ardently as I did for his leading men. And....there was Bowie. The iconoclast. The individual. The man who taught all of us freaks and geeks that differences are to be celebrated and never dismissed. They were all there for me during my awkward years, my formative times, my growing pains, my youth.

This fortnight has felt personal because it has felt like my childhood and adolescence are eroding and slowing evaporating into the ether. These recent deaths have brought my own aging and mortality into question. It is difficult to look in the rearview and realize that all of those important artistic touchstones have aged right along with me. We collectively mourn these artists not out of some macabre interest in the details of their deaths, but rather to celebrate and remember the gifts that they bestowed upon us. While nobody can lay claim to immortality, these gifted souls left behind work that will be enjoyed and debated about for years to come. 

My sadness metre is on overload this month. I have lost chunks of my history in less than a month. It is difficult for me to fathom that no new works will be forthcoming from this quartet and that is extremely painful. Nobody, least of all me, likes to come face to face with their own decline. And while there are many more artists for me to discover, and to enjoy, and to revel in, there is still a sense of melancholy in the knowledge that some things will never be the same.

Zichronam Livracha...May their memories always be for blessing.




Water, Water, Everywhere, Nor Any Drop to Drink

I had a Facebook conversation with a dear one the other day about the horrific situation that is continuing to unfold in Flint Michigan. A bit of background is necessary. The water in the city is poisoned with lead, and while this information came to public light in October, it is suspected that officials, including Governor Rick Snyder, have been aware of the situation for much longer than that. As a result of this negligence, (and yes I am calling it willful negligence on the part of some of the powers that be...who exactly is still to be determined) many of Flint's children are now suffering from lead poisoning and the long-term effects of their exposure remain unclear. But lead poisoning in children has been shown to lead to lower IQs, impulsivity, learning disabilities, and reductions in cognitive brain function. Ten people have died from Legionnaire's Disease that might have possible links to the water contamination, and residents have long complained about rashes, hair loss, and other health issues all while city and state officials continued to assert that the water was safe. A nearby General Motors plant even stopped using the water because it was corroding their auto parts. To make matters even that much worse, the city of Flint is continuing to send out shut off notices to over eighteen hundred delinquent customers who refuse to pay because the water is poisoned. Pay for the poisoned water or we will shut off your access to the poisoned water. It's like theatre of the absurd. As Libby Nelson recently wrote in Vox:

"This all came about because a struggling Rust Belt city, trying to save money while under emergency management, ended up failing at one of its most basic tasks: providing safe drinking water. And the problem was compounded by ignoring months of warnings from activists who felt Flint's water was not safe to drink. "

Last week, the Governor finally asked for emergency relief from FEMA and President Obama granted that request on Saturday, but because this disaster is not naturally occurring and rather the result of negligence and political orthodoxy and intransigence, the relief funds are limited. The medical costs and the costs of the cleanup could run into the tens of billions.

The conversation that I had with my dear one was not only about the health and environmental impacts of that which has occurred, but also about looking at this disaster as a social justice issue. It is her contention (and I can't say that I disagree entirely) that if Flint was mostly wealthy and mostly white, this would never have happened. I do think she has a point in that poor, ethnic communities tend to be overlooked and wholly ignored until something disastrous occurs to shine a light on their struggles. (Hello Ferguson?) But, isn't there more to this? Shouldn't the ongoing disaster in Flint illuminate a greater discussion as to the role of government in our lives? Even the most ardent libertarian/conservative has to agree with the premise that it should be within the purvey of governments to provide safe, clean water for its residents. Isn't this a basic human rights issue? How can anything that Snyder's government has done be considered acceptable?

I have been spending a considerable amount of time in the United States this winter, and I have been overwhelmed by the amount of time the news media has devoted to the upcoming presidential primaries. Every channel, every day. Constant barrage. The trivial bullshit that has been spewed by candidates and reported on with great ardor by journalists has been interminable. With the exception of very few in the media, (Rachel Maddow has been all over this issue for months) there seems to be a willingness to bury this story on the back pages of newspapers or at the end of broadcasts. It simply is not as sexy a sound bite as whether Cruz is a Canadian or if Trump can piss off yet another demographic and survive the fallout. There are real people being affected by real government decisions up in Flint. Decisions that were made because of strict adherence to political philosophies, and candidates for the highest office in the country are choosing to ignore it as if it were a minor inconvenience. Where is the debate on this? Don't the people of Flint deserve government officials that act in their best interests and not in their own? I simply cannot understand why this isn't a bigger story.

My dear one called the situation in Flint "environmental racism". I countered with "intentional criminality." And while we both may have been a bit hyperbolic in our descriptions, I think that there is room for both views. Providing clean water and not intentionally poisoning its citizens are basic functions of competent governments. The people of Flint Michigan haven't just been ill-served, they have been the victims of systemic incompetence and they are paying the price for it with their lives. Presidential candidates, sitting politicians, and journalists owe it to these people to do their jobs and fix the problem....NOW.

The Kotzker Rebbe once said: "I do not want followers who are righteous, rather I want followers who are too busy doing good that they won’t have time to do bad." 

Rabbi Ari Kahn interprets him thusly: "People who focus on being righteous can become self-absorbed and self-righteous. While those pursuing good deeds and actions become righteous." 

The people of Flint could use a few of those types in leadership right about now.








Tuesday, 29 December 2015

An "Out of Her Skin" Optimist's Guide to Her Birthday

Optimism doesn't come easily to me. I prefer to think of myself as a "cynical realist" combined with a hint of wondrous faith when the unexplainable occurs. But I find myself leading a lonely existence in today's overindulgent age of "feel-good" mantras, positive affirmation statements, unsolicited mental health advice, and generally junk science studies on how optimism can lead to longer lifespans. What's a generally cranky curmudgeonly bitch supposed to do in a such a world?

But, it is my birthday and I have been feeling the love all day long, so I will step out of my aforementioned comfort zone and give you my optimistic view of the world for this one specific day. Hey. If you can't live it up on your birthday then when can you?

There are some really great things about birthdays, mostly of the free and discounted variety. I was absolutely feeling the love from the barista at Starbucks when she handed over my complimentary soy mocha frappuccino light. (I even sprung for the more highly caloric grande! What the hell.) And I knew that it must be my special day when the Blue Jays shop sent me a code offering 15% off my next purchase. I must be spending way too much cash on my boys of summer for them to offer up a birthday discount, but loyalty is loyalty and mine is being rewarded.

I have to love a day when even the most ardent of meat eaters will acquiesce to lunch at a vegan restaurant in order to make me happy. It is even more incredible that they actually enjoyed their meals. A birthday miracle on par with the virgin birth.

The best gifts are the most thoughtful; like the chef's knives that my mother purchased for me months ago without knowing that I had been secretly plotting to abscond with hers, or The Husband replacing my Roots purse that literally fell apart from overuse. (I am not a big purse lover, but I missed this one desperately.)

Did you know that Herbie the Love Bug was number 53, the same as my age this year? I had forgotten until The Husband reminded me and decided that it would be hysterical for him to call me his "Little Love Bug" for the year. (My kids might call this a "dad joke".) I think that I would rather he call me Herbie than suffer that indignity.

The interwebs have an incredible way of making one feel loved even if it takes only a minute to comment. Facebook is great for this. My feed has been jammed all days with virtual cards, messages, flowers, and photos. It is kind of amazing how taking just a moment out of one's day to express felicitations can alter the recipient's mood. Little things like this really matter, even to a cynical realist.

End of the year birthdays tend to get lost in the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Who wants to brave a store for something as trivial as a birthday gift when the other December events have simply drained one of a year's quota of enthusiasm? We who were born at the end of a calendar year are used to feeling like a bit of an afterthought. But, today that simply wasn't the case. The sun was shining, the temperatures were grand, the people were smiling, and the caring and consideration was abundant from all. Days like today remind me of a favourite line from a favourite film.

Clarence: Remember, George: No man is a failure who has friends. (It's a Wonderful Life 1946)

Thanks for the birthday love. Tomorrow, I return to my cranky, cynical self. Well....maybe.


Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The Bullshit Tradition of Chinese Food and a Movie on Christmas.

Members of the Tribe...this one is for you.

Can we stop pretending that Chinese food and a movie on Christmas is some kind of sacred tradition in which we all must participate? Can we not be honest with ourselves that there is no real correlation to Jews and Chinese food on Christmas other than the obvious fact that for a very long time, those were the only establishments open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day? So why has this activity become something akin to latkes on Chanukah?

I have recently read article after article extolling the "history" and the "cultural significance" of this kitsch custom and frankly, I am baffled. Yes, it is true that many of us order lo mein on the 25th, (with or without the kosher-offending ingredients) but there is only one true reason for this supposed foray into a "newish tradition".

ACCESSIBILITY!!!

When I was a kid, my mother would work each and every Christmas. Being a floor nurse at a local hospital, she happily worked both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day so that those who celebrated the holiday could spend it with their families. She would often trade off New Year's Eve and the deal worked well for all concerned. My dad, not being all that well-versed in the culinary arts, would take my brother and me out for Chinese food and a movie simply because in "blue-lawed" Toronto of the 70's that was the only place one could get a non-homecooked meal. Believe me, if he could have found a deli, a Thai place, (not yet available in my parochial hometown) or some other food type, he would have taken us there too. My dad has never been one for limiting his food choices.

But today that simply isn't the case. There are other non-Christian ethnicities that open their restaurant doors to customers on Christmas. And...braving a movie theatre in 2015 on the one day where the majority of North Americans have an off-day is sheer lunacy. Haven't any of you ever heard of Netflix? Have we Jews become so enraptured with this season that we feel the need to turn Christmas, which is in no way, shape, or form our holiday, into something that matters to us by virtue of some invented tradition?

There really isn't a need to "find something to do"on Christmas. How about family time with board games and books? How about a walk? How about some exercise? Or how about cooking a meal together? A movie? Sure. But don't pretend it is some kind of a tradition.

I do have wonderful memories of those Christmases with my dad and brother. They were special times brought on by the confluence of mom working and a holiday that didn't cater to us. But I refuse to pretend that there is some kind of time-honoured Jewish tradition that requires Chinese food and a movie on the 25th, kitsch as it may be because that would mean that I look at this holiday as one of my own and, honestly that is a wee bit insulting to my Christian friends.

And anyway...there is a major Jewish holiday being celebrated this year on the evening of the 25th. It's called Shabbat. Try that instead.







Monday, 7 December 2015

Demagoguery

Tonight I lit Chanukah candles with a gentleman from my building who happens to be a Holocaust survivor. Since this is South Florida and it has been unbearably humid, he was suitably dressed for the climate in a short-sleeved golf shirt. As we chatted, it was difficult not to notice the numbers tattooed on his forearm. I have had many conversations with this man over the years and I have always marvelled at his strength and fortitude in keeping his horrific experiences alive in the hearts and minds of the next generations through his participation in education programs, speeches, and countless trips back to Auschwitz on March of the Living. But tonight, we were just a group of Jews lighting candles to recall our people's struggle against another tyrant living centuries before the one he survived.

And then I came upstairs and watched Donald Trump's latest foray into demagoguery. I watched as supporters at his rally shouted "Heil Donald Trump-THE ULTIMATE SAVIOUR"  and it sent shivers up and down my spine. Trump's completely fascist call to bar all Muslims from entry into the United States can no longer be dismissed as the ravings of fringe entertainer. Tonight he and his supporters entered a new realm of right-wing jingoism, Neo-Nazism, and totalitarianism that every thinking person in the United States and around the world should vociferously denounce. Usually I am loathe to evoke memories of or comparisons to Hitler, and I can't ever remember calling up Godwin's law before, but Trump and his  supporters are definitely skirting a dangerous line. When protestors are physically attacked at his rallies; when overt hatred of Muslims is spouted by his supporters; when white supremacist organizations are now a solid part of his base; we can no longer ignore the comparisons.

I have had several conversations recently with Jews who are ardent Trump supporters and I have to admit to being baffled. Now I am just disgusted. It is no longer acceptable for Jews (or anybody else) to support this dangerous fascist bigot knowing what we know and knowing the extreme consequences of actions like the ones he is proposing. Trump's call to isolate and bar Muslims is one step away from the Judenfrei policies of Hitler's Nazis.

Tonight, in response to Trump's announcement, Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Centre of Reform Judaism issued the following statement:

While we take no position on Mr. Trump's candidacy for president, we condemn in the strongest terms his comments calling for barring the entry of Muslims into the United States. As Jews who too often suffered persecution because of our faith, we cannot abide religious bigotry.
Our nation, founded by those fleeing religious persecution, is rooted in principles of religious freedom. The absence of religious tests for entry or for office and the freedom of every individual to practice their religion are sources of national strength, not weakness.

It is time for Jews of all political stripes to speak up and finally suppress Trump and his dangerous rhetoric. Jewish Republicans need to find another candidate and they need to say this man is anathema to everything that Americans hold dear. At this season when we recognize light over darkness, religious freedom over persecution, and rededication over hate, Americans must commit themselves to vanquishing this dangerous hyperbole before innocent people suffer. It is a debt that this generation of Jewish Americans owes to people like the man in my building.



Monday, 30 November 2015

NaBloPoMo Happy Dance

It's over!

Another blogging challenge confronted and met with success. I do hope that you all have enjoyed it. It was creatively exhilarating and emotionally exhausting. Thanks for reading. I really do appreciate all of the support.

And now....we dance like an Animaniac!





Sunday, 29 November 2015

Dead Blog Post File

We are just about at the end of this gruelling November ritual of 30 in 30.

Good thing too. I am just about at the end of my creative rope. Viable and interesting ideas have become scarce and frankly I just don't lead an interesting enough life to keep you all entertained for another thirty days. This post is a fine example of the fact that I have run out of ideas. I herewith present you with The Dead Blog Post File. These are ideas that I jotted down throughout the month hoping that they might evolve into somewhat coherent thoughts. Obviously they never did. You should all thank me for halting the process before it even began.
  • I chose not to blog about politics at all this year. It didn't start out as a conscious decision, but it definitely worked out that way. Frankly, I was emotionally spent after the October Canadian election and the clown convention that is the American primary season is just too sad for rational thought. It seems as if the entire Republican field is attempting to out-asshole each other, and the venom and hate being spewed is just too heinous for rational discourse. It just felt cleaner for me to stay above the fray. It still does.
  • I tried on three separate occasions to write about my favourite show on TV these days, The Affair. It is smart, complex, sexy, and so much more than the run-of-the-mill murder mystery that it is being advertised as. The shades of grey involved in the story telling and the various points of view being investigated are unbelievably compelling. If you haven't started watching it, you really should. It requires attention and a substantial time investment, but it is truly worth it. And as an added bonus...the Fiona Apple theme song is the best minute and a half of music on television right now.
  • I had a strange experience at the pharmacy a few weeks back when the entire customer base was comprised of dozens of men in their 80s, complete with walkers and caregivers, all lined up for flu shots at the same time. I kept thinking that I was in a scene out of a Mel Brooks comedy, but I couldn't come up with anything else to write about it, and so that was that.
  • I really did want to write about where people find complete joy; that is their "happy places". I actually have several, but then I couldn't find a hook to connect the piece, so I abandoned it. I would still be interested in hearing about your "happy places". Maybe for next year. 
  • I am still suffering from baseball withdrawal, but really, other than me, who cares?
  • The Husband and I went to view the terrific Andy Warhol exhibit that is currently on display at TIFF in Toronto. I was mesmerized and gave great thought to the making of an iconoclast. It still does intrigue me, but again...maybe next year.
  • Why are the windiest days of the year only on garbage days, so that I have to chase our blue boxes and cans down the street to retrieve them? (You can see that I was getting a bit desperate.)
  • The Husband has been raving about his new Tesla for months now. It is a technological marvel and an incredible gift to the environment, but that's his story, not mine.
  • Did you know that A Charlie Brown Christmas turns fifty next week? Do you care? I'm certain that there are plenty of stories in there to tell but damned if I could find them.
These are just a few that never made their way to full blog posts for the month. There are several others, but frankly they don't even merit decent consideration for the dead blog post file. It's been a slice of life all. Hope you've enjoyed the ride. Me? Well...I have eleven months to consider once again if this is a worthwhile exercise.

**I would love to hear from all of my faithful readers. Let me know if this month was a joy, a pain, a distraction, an intrusion or just plain fun. Thanks for the support.