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Please Hold; Is Your Call Important?

Waiting for Godot… or Bell Canada

Please press the following number for a residential line….

Is this the number you are having trouble with…?

Please pick a time for our technician to come to your house…..

There’s no doubt about it, the Robo-Calls I’ve encountered with Bell Canada have been very effective. Very effective in setting up appointments, and also in bringing disappointment. You see, there’s a cow on the line. A what? A cow. In the olden days, when phone lines were exposed, in the country, a cow could very well be on the line which had fallen to gale force winds the night before. Cow or no cow, my phone crackles more than my knees going up the stairs. And the hum. Like I’ve been stuck in a room full of fluorescent lights. Twice I’ve called Bell, spoken with their machines and set up appointments within a very civilized time frame (as opposed to the other utilities who give you a five hour window and then you step away from the phone to load laundry or chase after the escaped dog and then they call to say you missed them, even though they were about 10 minutes from the appointment expiring, and then you need to make another 5 hour window available…. no? Just me? Ok.) Twice Bell has called on the wrong day to say they are on their way, or on a Sunday morning the very nice technician showed up to do the work, but it was not even remotely convenient for my family at that moment. Twice I have waited and waited… please hold, your call is important… only to have their appointment come and go.
So what gives, Bell Canada? Hello? Is anyone home? I just called to say I don’t love you very much at the moment. I mean, surely, Bell Canada, the land line invented by one of our very own, or at least borrowed from a recent Scottish immigrant, Alexander Graham Bell, needs to retain all the landline owners it can keep? I know many friends who have done away with their landlines. I have always wanted to retain mine as my late night conspiracy radio listening convinces me that we will surely run out of charge for all our cell phones and those cell towers might one day get knocked out by either a solar flare or some foreign launched malware in order to ruin world order. While it’s true, I would be somewhat happy if cell phones were done away with (No more crazy Data bills! Our kids could go to a concert and actually watch it- with their own eyeballs!), land lines have become more obsolete as we become more connected to our disconnected telephones. But, I’m a sucker for the ‘good ole days’, I suppose. And the ‘good ‘ole days’ means speaking with an actual person to make an appointment, rather than a Robot that has failed tweice now to send a technician on the correct day, at the correct time.
So, Bell Canada: I’ll give you one more chance. After that, I may just hang up and pull the plug. Please hold for the next chapter…..

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Looking Up,Way Up

Christmas has come and gone. Well, not if you’re Orthodox, and actually not really if you’re Catholic, as the season continues onto January 6th, The Feast of Epiphany. Yet if you were to look at the curbed Christmas trees on December 26th, the Valentine’s Day swag out on January 1st, the seasons, including our religious ones, seem dictated by the commercial calendar. It all lends everything a kind of breathlessness, filling in our FOMO calendars with “To-Do Lists” rather than “To-Do Less and Reflect More.” Christmas is not about Christmas, or God, both are nowadays an afterthought. As a recent writer wrote in the opinion section of Canada’s national newspaper, “Christmas is a complicated time of year. There’s food, music, and for some, religion.”

But it’s all devoid of meaning. Easter Eggs and the Bunny are all very well and good, but have nothing at all to do with the resurrection, and are expensive displays of- what? Belonging to a chocolate-mad Furry Poop Machine Cult? Oh wait, I think they made a movie about that. Santa Claus too, at least in the west, is a fabrication of Coca-Cola’s R&D department. He used to be St. Nicholas, a feast celebrated on the 6th of December, the patron Saint of children who distributed gifts among them. The Germans sensibly keep things balanced with a terrifying parade of scary monsters, the Krampus, prior to Christmas, who eat the bad children. Krampus doles out dire consequences for poor behaviour, while St. Nicholas stuffs us with toys and treats. No lumps of coal for little Johnny if he doesn’t go to bed on time in Bavaria. Behave, or Krampus will get you, night night!

Besides the lack of any religious recuperation for the soul, a much needed thing these days, our calendars need less stuff, not more. We rush to get turkeys, crackers, Secret Santa presents, decorations, table runners, wreaths, lights, and 18 foot inflatable Santas ( I once drove down a street and there were eight enormous Santas- eight! Imagine the confusion of the little ones.) During the holidays, and I use that term lightly, most people are exhausted during the holidays, just when you think you can sit down and have a wee drink while admiring the handmade ornaments and twinkling lights, it’s all over and you’ve got to take it all down again. You can’t even drink fast enough to get a well-deserved hangover. Then the calendar speeds through New Year’s to Valentine’s Day, to Easter and Halloween, to Thanksgiving and then to Christmas again. Fortunately, no-one has mass marketed the Summer Solstice yet- or presumably we’d all be bearded, unwashed Wiccans in Stone Circles. I suppose it’s still a bit of a dreary one and hard to theme your decorations around.
But what about Jesus? His birthday? Is it not relevant? Even if you’re not a Believer (not Justin, the other ‘J’), surely there is something in the message of the innocent child sent for us all to find renewal, innocence, tenderness and trust. Surely, there is something to reflect in our responsibility of care for the children, for the Future? That’s something isn’t it? Something more than tinsel, that’s for sure. The author’s piece was centred around the wastefulness of Christmas, the effects of which are harming our planet. Yes, true. But what about the waste of the soul? The vapid reduction our our children’s self worth to ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ dependent upon the curated IG accounts of medically enhanced bubble dolls. What do our children mean now? Are they just two legged creatures wandering about from store to store?

One part of the article has stuck with me, “…something needs to be done. God knows we can’t rely on leadership from above.” While her piece was so obviously secular, concerned with the material waste of Christmas, I wonder why then did she incant God at all? Couldn’t the saying be now, ‘Amazon knows why?” Because when you get right down to it, commerce not Church has far more in its congregation, regardless of the season. And it’s precisely because of this that we should look up, for leadership from above. If we weren’t rushing around wasting our time, rather than spending it on the preservation of Faith, in each other, in ourselves and, most importantly, in something Greater than ourselves, we may keep our egos in check enough to realise that Amazon doesn’t know it all, and neither do we.

Spend less cash and save more of your soul.

SNC Lavalin and Trudeau’s Apology?

Dear Editors,

I listened with interest this morning to Mr. Trudeau’s much anticipated news conference to address the now three week old SNC Lavalin affair. I listened carefully, straining my ears above the morning hum of my busy household’s morning routine to get out the door. Crickets. Nada. Zip. This was Trudeau’s opportunity to make right with his public the recent spate of defections from his cabinet, most notably his former Attorney General, Ms. Wilson-Raybould.
What I did hear was a kind of political sophistry, a verbal nod to political cues and hot buttons for re-election which, I suppose, he presumes the public would pick up on: protection of jobs and middle class; reconciliation with First Nations; Women’s rights; grow the economy and look after pensioners. Hmm. If I didn’t listen carefully enough, I could swear I didn’t hear an apology, but a voter base platform. A speech written by a campaign director, not a leader of a country.

He then went on to reference his father, his successful portfolios on Assisted dying amongst others, and then he asserted an external investigation would take place, that he was a leader who felt listening was important, and that ‘over the past months an erosion of trust occurred and that he was not aware of that erosion and that he wished he had been told.’ No ownership of the defections was offered, and there was a deliberate passivity to his tone as if he expected absolution through ignorance.

Mr. Trudueau, now is not the time to list all your accomplishments and avoid the white elephant in the room. Mr. Trudeau, now is not the time for speechifying or avoidance. We all know words matter. Choose what you say carefully, and what you DON’T say with equal attention. In his speech, he mentioned ‘justice’ several times, yet no justice to the truth was offered. He asserted that the last few weeks he has learned many lessons, yet he has not learned one very important one that I asked of my children when they were little: “Who made this mess?” If they answered with a shrug, “I dunno” or worse, “It wasn’t me!” I knew I had more ‘lessons’ to teach. Namely: own up, be contrite and make it better. I am sorry. Three little words, but powerful ones that your busy constituents need to hear when they’re trying to get on with their lives paying bills and chipping their way into their ice draped cars. Denial or ignorance aren’t adult responses, and neither gets to the truth of the matter which all leaders must have the moral courage to seek. Mr. Trudeau failed his lessons today.

Yours in Apologetic Expectancy,
Catherine Brennan

Today’s Lesson: Saving Souls

“Come away! O human child, to the waters and the wild
For the world’s more full of weeping
Than you can understand.” The Stolen Child

Yeats’ words could not be more prescient in the climate surrounding a child abuse case in a Toronto school. A private school where a child under their tutelage received a public humiliation on a level so heinous that I shudder to type the details at all.

What makes this act so vile is that the perpetrators were children themselves.(You’ll forgive me if I fail to use ‘allegedly’ repeatedly here, as the sadists involved filmed themselves, revealing both lack of any intelligence and indeed any shred of moral decency). That one innocent child could so violently attack the dignity of another child is unthinkable. And yet we will now need legislative intervention to show public disapproval. Sadly, we need to remind our kids legally of the repercussions of such behaviour. Sadly, nowhere along their short lives spent on this planet did any adult teach these children that such acts against another should have been unthinkable or at least immediately stopped while in the process. Sadly, the adults in charge of the school thought first to hide the act from the police, rather than out the attackers.

What of the victim himself? His soul in peril of complete dissolution? While we Twitter away, while media men and women harass the other children whose school mate was so horrifically abused, still the media men pursued their story, oblivious to the fact that the children they were hounding for a story were themselves also the victims in this dark story. Where was the newsman or woman who remained adult enough to call off their pursuit of the story, racing after school boys for a quote, or worse, a picture? What example does the adult newshound offer? That anyone is game?

A few years ago, first the book, and then the movie, “The Hunger Games” was released. I allowed my girls to watch it, but squirmed throughout. The premise to me was vile: entertainment on a mass scale where children are pitted against each other to the death. The adults in the story did nothing to provide direction or protection for the most vulnerable: they merely acted as blithe voyeurs.

And yet, as the saying goes, there is nothing new under the sun. This dark story is not the only one where humans have acted in a most degrading manner to each other. This is not the first time a ‘respected institution/authority figure” has tried to sweep their story under the carpet. Nothing to see here. But in this case, in all cases, truth has a way of surfacing. And thank God for that.

So where does this leave us? Despair? Denial? Pithy verbal apologies? Clearly when the system is rotten to the core, the centre cannot hold, to quote Yeats again. The house needs to be cleared for brighter eyes who value Truth above all. And Hope. Let’s choose Hope. Let’s choose Hope and Love and healing and work at it harder than ever. Harder than any sports drills or times tables. Let’s choose to work harder at looking after each other’s souls, so that no child faces such peril again, so that no company of young boys should fear each other, so that no adults should hound children in pursuit of the story, so that the Care of the Soul becomes the story that all children grow up to respect and pass on to the next generation.

Postscript:
I have been reading (and reading) Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life and I found the following words timely:
“Each human being has an immense capacity for evil. Each human understands, a priori, perhaps not what is good, but certainly what is not. And if there is something that is not good, then there is something that is good. If the worst sin is the torment of others, merely for the sake of the suffering produced- then the good is whatever is diametrically opposed to that. The good is whatever stops such things from happening.” (ibid, p. 197-8)

A Letter to The Globe and Mail

Dear Editors,

It is with great sadness and much recognition that I read Natalie Fader’s “First Person” piece in today’s G&M.

First, sadness that she should feel such social isolation when choosing to stay home. Second, because I recognise that social isolation. What I am about to say may upset many readers, please sit down if need be. Ready? The Feminist revolution, the Feminine Mystique of Betty Friedan and the “fish-not needing- a- bicycle- Feminism” of Gloria Steinem, has done much to undermine the need for cooperation between the sexes. While it certainly unveiled sexism as an insidious and backward blight on society, in its quest of equality, Feminism ignored the fact that all humans are equal and that we do very much need each other to pedal that bicycle.

I have lost count the number of times I have received an eye rolling dismissal from others who undervalue my position as a stay at home mom. Oh- what a waste of education, they mutter. Is that all you do? No wonder mothers are driven to distraction to post online their other achievements. When did bringing up socially and morally courageous new humans become such a piteous pursuit? Ms. Fader’s piece highlights the social disconnect and degradation of motherhood generally: being a mother is no longer enough.

We have traded aprons for welding masks, and this is all good: I am all for equal pay and job security for women. Nonetheless, we have allowed society to nudge out motherhood as a valuable part of human life. Just look how two incomes are now necessary to make ends meet, and while both parents are away, mothers/fathers/parents/guardians, who looks after the kids? Apparenty extended daycare, or nannies. And who pays for the extended daycare? And nannies? Well, that second income if you are lucky, or government subsidy.

Hold on to your horses! I am not saying that women should stay home, shackled to their stoves. But surely we can recognise that the economy cannot support this insane attempt to have both parents in the workforce. Surely we can see that flexible work hours would be a better alternative to more cars on our already congested streets, that a second income could be used towards retirement savings, and that kids don’t need to be shuttled to daycare extending their days from 9-5 to 7-7pm, or something similar?

Make a single income a decent way to support our families- a return to a living wage, giving people back their sense of value. Make motherhood normal and not an airbrushed Instagram post. We’d have less wasteful traffic, less emotional stress on families, and more time for dinner and homework.

Considering Canada’s poor Math scores, that’s something that adds up nicely.

Yours Sincerely,

Catherine Brennan
Mothers- For – Parliament
(Just joking)

Baking Saved My Life

 

It was 1987, summer and I had just moved to Canada from Ireland. I was barely into my teenage years, (tragically difficult at the best of times) and found myself lost in a sea of permanently tanned, long limbed Canadian girls who spoke about “awesome weekends” (What was an awesome weekend? Mine was always okay and it took me some time to realize that their weekends were the same as mine – only their adjectives were superlative). While they threw their arms around everyone, boys too, in a permanent state of friendly affection which made my 13 year old Irish self squirm, I wondered if I’d ever fit in or be as comfortable as they were. School was fine- I did very well. So well that I skipped a grade mid year. God. Now I was a browner. A browner who had to make friends all over again.

Back at our house, it wasn’t quite a home yet. It still smelled of fresh paint and contained no memories at all for us. Just bricks and mortar and glass windows. We were building ourselves inside it, one pillow case at a time. While my parents got on with the bills and my brother was at his new school, I would come home every day after school bored and restless. I had made some friends, but they weren’t quite close enough to hang out with after school. I only knew the route to and from school on the TTC so my freedom of movement was also limited. And then there was winter. Itself a limit to movement. I didn’t know cold until my first Canadian winter, and I certainly had never seen as much snow either. It was hard settling into new life in Canada. Days moved slowly after school- repetitive and quiet. And then something happened.

One day after school I dropped my bag, walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge which contained NOTHING to eat. I believe this is a universal teenage truth: that there’s never anything to eat despite fully stocked fridges and pantries. I closed the fridge and saw on the dining room table a brand new mixer. A mixer!!
“Hey mom!” I hollered upstairs. (Also another global universality: teens will holler around the house through closed doors and ceilings. They will not walk to wherever you are at any time.)
“Yeah? Hello – how was school?” my mom asked.
“Oh- fine.” I answered vaguely. “Whose is the mixer?” (I still had a thick Irish accent.)
“It’s for you. And, well, the house. But I thought you’d like it. You’ve been copying out those recipes from your Aunt’s cookbook and I thought you’ll need one to get cracking on those delicious desserts!”
And so my life began again. A purpose. A method. Even the recipes started with a method after the ingredient list. I looked forward to coming home. I looked forward to making myself part of the new house, the new home in Canada. Every day a dense flour-fog developed in our kitchen as I sifted and measured and mixed. How my mother allowed me to create such domestic havoc, I’ll never know. But she knew better. Mothers always do. With each new batch of iced fairy buns or another perfect chocolate layer cake, I was feeding ourselves better. Each evening after the dinner plates were cleared and the yawning evening hours beckoned, I had baked something delicious to look forward to. It wasn’t sophisticated therapy but it worked to sweeten our collective homesickness. I tried to recreate a lot of the cakes and biscuits from home, translating them into cups from the ounces I’d learned as a kid. Baking allowed me to bring our old home into our new one. Slowly we relaxed a little into our new routines, and the baked goods were brought to bake sales or parties or school lunches to be shared with new friends. It was my ticket. An easy sell, sure- a kind of confectioner’s bribe. But it conquered my culture shock. Food, delicious food, is something that speaks to all peoples and it gave me my in. Crucially it busied my idle hands, making them useful, putting in the work of thirty minutes or more and ending up with something concrete to prove it. Whatever the day brought to us in that first difficult year, tea was made, a plate of cookies or cupcakes presented, and there was nothing that my baking couldn’t solve.

Flour, sugar, butter and eggs; that wonderful alchemy of ingredients rescued my restless hunger to belong to Canada.

World, Interrupted

I was watching the news the other night and was struck by how little I heard. The sound was up, people were talking, many, many people indeed. But I couldn’t hear a single voice. Not one. The problem was that everyone was shouting to be heard, everyone was interrupting and the result was a cacophony of noise. Each voice indistinguishable from the general malaise that seems to have fallen prey upon our southern neighbours. My righteous indignation will trump (yes) and thus interrupt your righteous indignation, they bayed at each other. It was difficult viewing, poor television, as it was like trying to watch TV while the satellite kicked in and out. The world has become interrupted.

On. Off. On. Off.

The absence of synchronicity has made it impossible to hear a common melody, a voice in unison. Rather than hearing, listening to our differences, so intent have we become in asserting ourselves (our rights! our individual rights!) that harmony cannot be found.

Case in point: Charlottesville, Virginia. A sea of angry faces. Young, white men, angry that their voices haven’t been heard so they came to shout. Met too by an equally angry mob, who despite being rightfully disgusted by the Aryan rally, were violent in word and movement. As anyone who knows basic physics: what happens when two negatives come together?

They repel. They repel.

Race in America, or in Canada, or across the world, is not a simple thing. It is entrenched in history, seeping through family carried grievances about the ‘other’. Memories of tribal warfare handed down globally through the centuries. Memories of the other side of the divide, wall, line in the sand, of a kid throwing a stone, a petrol bomb at that other kid who hit or killed your brother. That’s where racial hatred likes to breed. Down low. Street to street. Smaller memories that get translated into grand tales of Warriors and Holy Wars. The Noble Savage Indian, the Negro, or Punch magazine’s grotesque caricature of the Irish, all have a common thread of the elite distancing itself from the alien invader, the other, the not us. This projection of otherness on the stranger is a sophisticated way to allow hate to take root. Those whom we cannot identify as our fellow brothers and sisters on this very delicate planet are, therefore, more easily hated. They don’t look like us, pray like us, eat like us… Of course it’s hard to communicate over the shouting what we do share: one common race- the human one. But you’d have to stop moving your mouth to hear that one.
And while we’re talking about race- the arms race is another threat to our common human union. The template is the same. Unite one against another, not with one another. Thus an isolated state, North Korea, identifies the West as ‘the other’, and therefore a threat to their identity. They don’t want to hear us or see our TV programs (probably very wise, though HBO has some good stuff) or wear our clothing. So intent are the North Koreans in asserting their cultural superiority, they fail to want to hear our melody. Theirs is a solo only.

Therein lies the problem. The quest for specialness. That my voice is important. We are constantly interrupted by voices saying that mine undermines ours. That transgender rights matter. That black lives matter. That She is now Ze and He is now… whatever is the latest lexicon on our politically correct, pestered, universities who are neither political nor correct anymore.

No, chatterboxes. What we need is less finger pointing. We need to matter less. That is the individual needs to matter less. You aren’t that important. Your voice needs to fit into the world. The world doesn’t need to fit into your micro grievances. We need to recognise that we are just a pimple on the arse of humanity and that the only voice that matters is our collective human one, raised in harmony, but in UNISON, to sing our songs and to look after one another, for God’s sake, before we succeed in one thing- mutual mass destruction.

Thank you for not interrupting.