Category Archives: Just Sayin’

Random observations on people, life, the world around us.

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Not about the money

Not about the money

As a teacher, most of the people I know who end up leaving the profession early do so not because of pay (merit pay? huh?) but because of systemic dysfunction that pits teachers – the vast majority of whom honestly care about doing their best by and for the kids they work with – against a fiscal system designed originally to meet the needs of small scale agrarian trade vs. the socio-educational preparation of a generation of citizens AND against (as the article notes) a limited but highly vocal sub-set of parents and students who take out their own frustrations, anger and fears on the employees of a system that has been cowed into submission by threats of litigation, slander, and the anonymity and distance afforded by electronic communication. 

Kids aren’t vegetables, they take decades not a season to grow and they are an investment that takes many many years to see come to fruition. When we measure “accountability” in a fiscal or academic year, we are not seeing the true value of education, and we not only put the cart ahead of the horse, we put a wall between the two and tell the horse to push the cart through a thick brick wall – then we point at the horse and say that it’s antiquated, a failure, and we heap abuses on it, regardless of the heart, the courage and the consistent effort it puts forth to move the wall. 

As for the disconnect between parents, teachers, administration, politicians and kids – it is simply an extension of both the benefits and the risks of social media, and digital communication and citizenship at play. I have certainly been on the receiving end of ‘communications’ where people have outright refused to speak to me in person but have been quite free with email expressions of their frustrations. As with any interaction, it is very easy to have a “dialogue” become a monologue, and to have intent be misconstrued, focus lost etc when the face-to-face factor is taken from the equation. This is becoming common place in many modern workplaces, not just in teaching – but because teaching inherently involves kids, there is the added reality of third party interpretation (think of the old kids game of “Telephone” and how no message ever made it in tact around the circle), with people who are by the very nature of the fact that they ARE kids, are in the process of learning the ins and outs of navigating social cues, learning HOW to be emotionally mature – even though they may think they’ve already mastered it – and are going through some of the most emotionally and intellectually intense growth, and stressful times of their lives. The emotional stakes when communicating with, and about, kids are high. Parents have one, two, perhaps 5 or 6 kids they are passionately advocating for. Teachers may have hundreds of kids that they communicate with and advocate for, daily. 

The teachers I know who burn out? They burn out not because they want more money in their pockets, but because they want more support – in their classrooms for their kids, in their classrooms, from parents who try to understand what goes on in a day-to-day in a school, from politicians and bureaucrats who fund programming as though kids are crops not human beings, and that we put band-aid solutions on gaping wounds we know are bleeding society dry through our antiquated approach to education. They burn out because they have given all they have to hundreds of kids – hours of time, their heart’s care, years of not enough sleep, countless millions of ergs of thought energy on how to balance the demands of “accountability” with the needs of 30+ different learners in such a way that it’s engaging AND relevant AND useful AND fits in the time allowed AND will make sure the kids can meet the expectation of a standardized test that is a load of hooey, sound and fury signifying not much that is useful. They have balanced the needs of their own kids and family against “their kids” at school (that’s how teachers talk – “my” kids, “our” kids) investing personal money when there wasn’t school funding for something, listening to personal stories that would break a heart because a kid doesn’t have another adult that they believe that they can trust, taking “I HATE YOU!” on the chin when being the grown up requires pulling on your Big Person pants and accepting that being a teacher is not actually being a friend, it’s being an adult, and sometimes that means making and sticking to the hard choices, and being “The Evil Monster Grown Up Who Just Doesn’t Get It!” even though you do. 

What non-teachers sometimes forget is that your own kids grow up – they go through stages – this too, shall pass, right? A teacher tends to work with a general age group for years on end. On one hand, it’s wonderful, you form a level of expertise, and confidence. It adds up though – years and years of the same thing over and over. It’s ok – the stuff you expect because they’re kids, that’s ok. The stuff that adds up because the system is letting them down, over and over, and letting you down, over and over, and falling apart, a bit at a time, every year, a bit more, over and over – that adds up, and wears at you, as you push against the wall, just as hard as you can. 

All the while, you know that if you just walked around the wall, and got in front of the damned cart, you could pull it along, and you could do it so well, and there’d be others to work with you, along side you – but if you did, you’d be beaten for having the temerity to see what seems so natural to you, and act on it… because it has “always” been this way. 

Change happens, and it is happening, and there are many, many passionate, dedicated, dynamic educators who are working their best with great kids and hard working parents, administrators and communities every day. But EDUCATION is a system and it’s an entrenched WAY. It’s like turning a river from it’s bed. It takes time and effort and it’s wearing and difficult, and the resistance seems inexorable. 

Never doubt it’s worth it, though. It IS worth it.

The Worst Disease

(originally published on FB, July 2013)

I’m saddened by the verdict in the Martin trial.  I am saddened by the death of Cory Monteith.  Although the death of another Hollywood-type may seem like it’s unimportant compared to yet another social injustice – I see the two as related. Not just because they were once both some mother’s baby, mothers whonever expected to bury their sons.  Not just because, in the end, we’ll never truly know what happened in their last moments, because the people who can tell us either won’t or can’t share the truth of those moments.  Not just because there were a million moments when a different choice here or there may have made it turn out differently.

In both cases, young men lost their lives because somewhere along the line our society has become obsessed with the wrong things:  holding power over each other, and fearing each other instead of seeing each other as equals and as mirrors of ourselves; obsessed with finding validation and assurance of our worth as humans from outside ourselves and believing that we need to be almost orgasmically joyous all the time, instead of understanding that we cannot accept love from without until we accept it from within, we cannot be happy with what we do until we accept ourselves as we are, and that peace and contentment are joyful and awe-inspiring, and wonder-full. 

These two young men were sold a bill of goods by society.  One had everything going forhim, the other had little – but both of them had people who loved them, and who mourn their loss.  And both of them are dead, not because their bodies were diseased, but because our society is diseased with hatred.  Self-hatred.  Even the man who killed Treyvon Martin so hated himself that he couldn’t see his own humanity in another person, so feared his own humanity that he could not connect with the mercy in himself.  

We must find compassion for each other.  We must find compassion even for those wedon’t agree with, even for Martin’s killer, who is, although he may not realize it, driven by fear.  Even for the jury members, who were driven to a poor choice and a miscarriage of justice, by fear and by years of being told to fear and entire race of human beings. 

We must find compassion for ourselves each time we make a poor choice, or fear to make the choice we really believe in.  We must find compassion for the angry people who can see no hope and end up in situations that often end tragically.  We must find compassion for those whose hopelessness may seem at first blush to be self-indulgent, but is very real and may be eating them up inside.  We must find compassion for ourselves as a society. 

We must find compassion for ourselves, when we are ourselves are the angry ones, the frustrating ones, the fearful, or self-indulgent, easily mislead or despairing ones.

We must not give up. We must see past the glitz and the anger of moments like this and see the individuals who are losing their lives. We must be compassionate and try to recall that although Cory and Treyvon seem so very different, both of these young men were victims of a society that glorifies flawed things, and vilifies neutral things, simplifies complex things.  It all seems so easy, so lucrative, so appealing in the moment – but it’s a lie, an illusion, and we buy into it at our collective peril.  We separate it into neat little categories like “It’s a race thing” or “It’s these stupid actors” at our peril.  If we do not see the underlying ties that bind these very toxic issues together, then we only ever see and address the symptoms of the disease.  It is not that the symptoms are not real, serious and destructive.  It is that if the root disease is left untreated, new and other destructive symptoms will continue to emerge.  

Look, look closely, look deeply – look into almost every single dividing issue – the underlying disease is almost always fear.

Let us be courageous, friends.  The next time you feel yourself suffused with anger – ask yourself why… what is it that you fear you stand to lose that a particular moment is making you angry?  What it is that you see in someone else that angers you?  Is it something you dislike in yourself?  Something that reminds you of someone who once harmed you and reminds you of the pain you sustained and fear to experience again? Do they have the potential to take something of value from you? Shine the light on your anger, and you may well discover that it is – like almost any fight/flight response, rooted in fear.   While fighting to protect yourself may be an appropriate response, where there is fear, there is almost always an opportunity for compassion, if only towards yourself for feeling fear and anger.

And in the end, is there really anything more courageous than compassion in the face of fear?  To meet a potential threat not with a bigger and badder threat, but with a willingness to be vulnerable and to trust in your own strength and resilience to sustain and protect you?  

Cinderella Turns 40, Chucks The Glass Slippers and Gets On With It

(update of a reflection originally posted in June 2013)

Once upon a time there was a Little Princess…

She had a Nanny who read her stories about other Little Princesses.

The Little Princess believed that little girls should only wear dresses, and would not leave the house unless her diaper covers AND socks had lacy frills on them. 

The Little Princess would not eat a meal unless there was a full setting of silverware AND a FABRIC napkin, and after every single bite, she wiped both corners of her tiny little rosebud mouth.

The Little Princess spent all of her time with adults or alone; she had no princess sisters or prince brothers no little friends (friends got you dirty, you see).  Her first full sentence, long before she was 1 year old was “Oh my goodness gracious me!”

One day, the Little Princess was taken to a giant Lake, Erie by name, by her noble Uncle, who was visiting from the far away Mountains.  He tried to make her walk on the grass – but Little Princesses are good girls and don’t stray from the paved path.  She was even more shocked when her poor Uncle suggested that she take off her shoes and socks to feel the cool blades of grass beneath her toes.  GASP! Horrors!  Then, he tried to show her how to skip stones on the sparkling water – furious, she promptly lectured him on the fact that he was making the Lake DiRTY and insisted they should go home, RIGHT NOW!

She was a very determined and very opinionated Princess.

One day, the Nanny had to go back to South Africa.  She wanted to take the Little Princess with her, but was not allowed.   They parted then, and never saw each other again.

When the Nanny was gone, the Royal Family was at a loss.  They had no real experience with Tiny People.  The Little Princess was suddenly put into jeans and sneakers, overalls and tshirts.  She learned how it felt to swing your arms, and stretch your legs.  She learned that her Uncle had had a point – it was a lot more fun to go for walks when you could take off your socks and shoes.  She discovered the squish sound of mud and the cool, smooth texture of river rocks.  She learned that if you put a smooth cheek against the rough bark of the tree and closed your eyes, listening carefully, there was a story of decades whispering up from the roots.  She found bunny rabbits leaping in the clouds and brothers and sisters in leaping bunny rabbits.  

But somewhere inside, there were always echoes of storiesand songs of South Africa, and there were always two ways of being – a Little Princess, who was a Good Girl, and a loud and rambunctious hoyden.  A barely remembered whisper said hoydens were Bad Girls and no one liked them, not even Mommies and Daddies and Teachers, and when the Little Princess was yelled at when she played too loudly, or came home with mud on her overalls, or grass stains on her sneakers, or when she lay on her back during t-ball games and imagined stories for the clouds in the skies instead of watching the ball like a good Little-Prince-In-Disguise (tball left field- seriously? c’mon!), it was hard to know what was “Good” and what was “Bad”….

What was a Little Princess to believe?

 

I’m not sure who sold me The Dream. It wasn’t just my Nanny, although she certainly did her best to  wrap me in pink wool and white lace.  It wasn’t just Walt, though he gets the blame; the stories are old as the hills – as old as our fears of being alone, of being without food, without dreams, of fearing that our children might disobey, of being without the hope that even a pauper might aspire to the halls of greatness, of fear that a child, a girl child, might think, of fear that we maybe without saviours be they gods or fey. 

I cannot ever recall ever truly wishing for myself a particular fairytale ending – but years upon years of songs, and books and stories and fearsome warnings about bad girls and models of good girls and praised and lauded engaged girls, and magazine racks full of models and models and models of brides and at some point The Dream infected my expectations.  If only I could do better, look better, BE abetter person… then perhaps, I too, even I could be worthy of happily ever after…

 

Then I turned 40, and I was digging around in my TickleTrunk of Old Dreams, Old Hopes, Old Loves and Old Fears.  I held some of them up to the sunlight forthe first time in years…

Between the faded lines of my own story, and my memories, I found some truths, like shadows, faded ink behind sharper day-to-day cares that cover the surface of my tales. I have no time to sit around waiting on someone’s palace steps to see if they’ll come out to chase me, especially not until the bells toll midnight – frankly, I want the joy of a good night’s rest, and if it’s my lot to look at the rest of the world from The Outside, then while I’m Out There I’d prefer to watch the dance of the Northern Lights, as the stars twinkle against the inky sky.  I’d rather hear the symphony of wind in the trees, rattling the aspen leaves, to the mirage of the fantasy Ball.

 

My magic is inside me, as is the divine, and if it comes to having to “save” me, well, that’s inside me, too. And that’s ok, because I know lots more than just bibbity-bobbity-boo! (Although it rolls so delightfully off the tongue!)  I am my own Fairy Godmother – when I need a drive, I’ll earn the money to pay for it, when I need a pair of shoes, I’ll decide what I want to wear and what’s needed – steel-toed boots for some self-protection? Crocs for kick-back comfort? Fluevogs for kick-ass-funky stylin’? Polka-dot Gumboots to get my own work done?  Fuzzy slippers when I need a full body hug? Solid hikers for dog walking, Sorrels for snow wading, snow-shoes for — traipsing lightly across the crust of a pristine landscape …  Back up Imelda, I got it covered!  I don’t have time for breakable shoes, and if I lose one, I will NOT wait around for someone to try everyone-BUT-me against the perfection-litmus.

Lovely big dresses are fun to try on, and I drew them when I was a girl, but they’re horribly restrictive and then I can’t breathe. When I come to dance, I come to MOVE!  I am not a confection with feet, and half way through the night, if I don’t need a change of clothes, and the walls themselves aren’t sweating, well then, the party hasn’t even started yet.  Ribbons and furbelows just can’t keep up, so let them stay in pictures and fantasy poses where they don’t crumple and wilt with reality.

 

I don’t need one night when I am somehow better than everyone else to make someone see me.  If they don’t see me as I am every day, then selling them a fakery, one moment, one night, one month of dazzled infatuation does no one any good, because the clock will always strike, and anyone who cannot see the magic of my smile when I’m wearing a fuzzy nightgown, Sorrels, and a parka, humming “Sexy Boots” on my way to the outhouse – well, they just don’t get my brand of magic. 

 

I don’t need other women to be Ugly or Evil in order for me to be Good or Pretty by comparison – feel free to compare me to who I have been, and who I may yet learn to be, but comparing me to anyone else isn’t useful for anyone.

 

And if I’m covered in cinders, it’s because I’ve risen from the flames, again and again, a little stronger each time, tempered and more able to stand the light, and fly higher, a phoenix in shades of aurora lights.

 

Yup, I have many flaws and quirks and I’m not anyone’s idea of a supermodel.  I’m not photogenic, sometimes (read: often) I’m awkwardly honest and I’m oddly naïve in my determination to believe that people “should” behave ethically.  I don’t always “get it”.  I try too hard, and a heart on a sleeve tends to get a bit tattered looking, it’s true.  

 

I remain a work in progress.  

 

I have met many princes and princess so far in my life… None of them, as lovely as many of them have been, have been my prince (although I was always flattered when any showed an interest in me, and if a princess showed interest,  I always rather felt guilty for being a prince oriented kinda lady – after all, any interest is a compliment, and it never feels good to be told “no”). I have met Frogs.  I have even tried kissing them. I have never been the Transformative Catalyst for anyone’s amphibious state.  I have met snakes, and other vipers; I have been bitten and stung. I have crumpled and I have fallen to my knees.  I have wished myself into the ground, and up and away into the stars.  I have always gotten back to my feet, I have always carried on, my wounds have always healed, and I have always been a little stronger, a little more inured to the poison, a little more able to tell the snake oil salesman from the shaman, and the magic from the illusion or delusion.  

 

Most of us have a bit of everything in us – most of us have been someone’s prince or princess, someone’s frog, and most of us have bitten or stung someone.  Few of us are entirely innocent and even fewer of us are anything like evil. 

 

If a prince is out there and decides he wants to catch up with me, and he happens to be “my” prince and I’m his fuzzy-pj-motley-foot-wear-dog-family-princess, I’ll know.  He’ll give me a Ring Pop not a diamond ring, he’ll go adventuring with me, not try to save me, and instead of trying to take me off to his castle in the clouds, he’ll want to build something with me that is all our own. Until then, I’ll meander on my way, Princess Solo, sans Hans, sans Charming, sans Genies in Lamps, Fairy Godmothers or other mythical critters.

 

We are all of us characters writing our own stories, but they are choose-our-own adventures, not fables, and while we might venture into the realm of fantasy sometimes, and visit pretty much all of the genres at one point or another, this Cinderella is walking off the pages of the predictable but unattainable. 

 

I already live Where the Wild Things Are – so next I shall try a wild endeavour – to live and experience the chapters of my life as I ‘write’ them, as “scripted improv” as it were. To choose a deliberate direction – not that which society has inculcated in me, but neither will it be a simply reactionary direction either, like a ball in a pinball machine.   I will adapt my story as I live it.

 

My story is no fairy tale – it is my adventure and will remain so, ever after…

 

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Cinderella Turns 40 by RobinCarrey is licensed under a<a>CreativeCommons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License</a>.

Am I an Enemy of the State Because I Did Not Vote For The PC Party? Or Because I Think Stephen Harper Has Lego Hair?

(originally posted on FB, July 2103) 

The sense of ‘fundamentalism’ implied when a political party starts using terms like “enemy” gives me a profound sense of the willies.  One of the things I’ve always been proud of – as a Canadian – is that while we (the sort of collective “we”) – may not agree on the finer details of issues, for the most part there has been, historically, a sort of over-arching small-l-liberal open-mindedness in our dealings with each other and with other nations.  By no means has Canada been perfect or flawlessly socially just, but we have in many ways been willing to negotiate with with each other, to listen to each other, and to make at least a modicum of effort to shuffle along together -with harumphings and grumpings – in a direction which, generally speaking, was aimed at a greater social good.  Most days. 

For our elected government to feel, even for a few moments, that it was at all acceptable to publish and distribute to it’s members a document that uses words like “enemies” to describe Canadians who happen to disagree with them, indicates – to me at least -a profound level of disregard for what I think of as the baseline social agreement that makes Canada what it is.

 Further – and many will disagree with me here – this is not, I think, “just” a matter of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, or of Stephen Harper.  I think itgoes back to the old axiom “Power Corrupts, Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely”.  While there is virtually nothing that I have seen or heard of Stephen Harper as an individual or as a political player that gives me reason to respect or trust him, the level of perfidy has increased exponentially since the PCs gained a majority government. Therein, I feel, lies the danger.  I get that minority governments are slow, ponderous beasts.  It takes what seems like forever to get things done, and as ever, there are political maneuverings that range from unfortunate-but-needful to downright despicable, but that’s a truism in politics.  Right now, however, there is never a need on the part of the PCs to concede a point, to enter in to real dialogue, and there are virtually no mechanisms in place halt what appears to be an increasingly desperate set of machinations designed to do little more than to staunch the bleed out of support Harper is losing even within his own party.  

What worries me most is what else will it cost the country as a whole, as he focuses on trying to save himself – even at the cost of the PC as a collective, with over 2 years left?  I cannot help but hope that in the next Federal election we see the re-emergence of a minority government, one which will once again force leaders to dialogue, to be accountable to each other, when question period won’t come down to sound and fury signifying even less than usual, and votes in the house being an absolute waste of time, because not a single vote doesn’t go Stephen’s way.  This is aman who used a measure designed for emergency situations (proroguing Parliament) when his MINORITY government was threatened, and did it TWICE.   How is it that his own party members didn’t foresee the lengths to which he’d be prepared to go in order to maintain control’?  How is it that the country did not? 

At what point do the actions of a majority government potentially cross the line, and begin exerting a level of control that borders on or even jumps smack dab into fascism?   How is it that in our country, where we have had the right to dissent for so long, that now a group that questions – just questions, not even necessarily accuses – the government’s point of view can be and is openly labeled an “enemy”?  

 Does anyone else find this chilling?  I mean blood-curdling, spine-shivery, there’s-still-more-than-two-years-of-this-to-go-my-gut-is-roiling chilling.  Take a good look at this man’s smile.  This isn’t snide, honestly.  Really look at it, then consider the following:  a sense of humour is, in terms of brain function, the ability to identify the dissonance between the way something is and what is appropriate, what is acceptable and what is normative.  Look at Stephen Harper’s smile.  It is often / usually very forced.  If you watch him live, he is often the last to laugh at a joke – he takes his cue to respond from others around him, rather than responding spontaneously.  I believe this – I really do – that he is so focused on what he wants, and how to get it, that his sense of what is acceptable and appropriate in the governance of human beings (vs. the running of a business that was entirely without impact on human beings) is almost completely lacking.  While he may connect to specific human beings in his immediate sphere, those outside of it are not truly ‘real’ to him.  When he makes nice speeches and says nice things, he does it in part because he’s learned the social fake and because he has speech writers and media control staff (as do all political leaders – that’s fine) to prompt him.  

 While I’m in no way suggesting that Stephen Harper is a sociopath – nor am I in any way authorized to make any such diagnosis – when I recently encountered some writing by M.E. Thomas, a self-proclaimed and outted sociopath (who went on to have herself diagnosed by a psychiatrist mostly to give herself credibility) there were ways in which her tone and behaviour reminded me of politicians we see today.  If you’re in any way interested in reading her work, her entire book is available as a PDF at http://pdfuploader.com/uppdfs/817/Confessions_of_a_Sociopath_ME_Thomas_2.pdf and her blog site is http://www.sociopathworld.com   Again, not being an expert, I cannot attest to the accuracy of her blog entries, nor that of her readers’, but it seems to me that the attitudes demonstrated by Thomas and some of her adherents/readers/fellow bloggers reflect a similar attitude to some of those who see being a politician as being less a matter of being a leader in service to the public and more a matter of achieving and holding power and authority over others, at almost any cost.  In the case of our civic leaders, is this a matter of having chosen leaders with an actual disorder, of the brain and body, or do we have a disorder of society?  Note: sociopathology is a disorder of the brain and body, no question.  But is our willingness to accept, or at least tolerate the behaivour that is becoming normative among politcos simply a matter of our wonky expectations making a good home for those with very particular states of mind, or is it closer to psychologist Phil Zimbardo’s notion of the Lucifer Effect – most people are generally good apples but put in a “bad barrel” – a flawed and corrupt system, with a few corrupt apples, the essentially good apples will, in turn, become corrupted?  (For more info on Zimbardo’s Lucifer Effect watch http://www.ted.com/talks/philip_zimbardo_on_the_psychology_of_evil.html). 

Where are we going wrong?

For Just One Day…

Perhaps it is my overly vivid imagination, but Remembrance Day is still a “holiday” that rather gets to me.

Here in the Yukon it is still observed as a “day off”, and I’m oddly grateful – not as you might expect, for the extra day to get things done, but because I really do find myself reflecting on the notion of armed conflict.

Recently, I was reviewing quite a lot of material for a Socials 11 course, the content of which covers both of the so-called “Great Wars”… so called, of course, because it was thought that the drastic changes in technology which in many ways (it appeared) had changed the face of combat forever, would make violence of that scale unthinkable in any future beyond the conflict itself.

Not only was the technology of war machines and deadly substances and tools vastly different but these were some of the first times when the stark realities of the war could be captured and shared with those were not present (although that was scrupulously avoided by propaganda mongering governments that desperately needed bodies to send into the theatres of war). We have some of the first viscerally horrifying still images, silent films and audio recordings from this time, documentation of what it was like to ‘go over the top’, and be cut down moments later. Recall that this was decades before access to visual and audio media was commonplace, and certainly long before access to graphically violent images was widespread.

After a 7 hour day of reviewing old film footage of WWI, I felt incredibly worn. It struck me, again and again, that the faces I was seeing on the digital screen in front of me were not actors in a Speilberg film, or in a public broadcasting dramatization (although many of them were from CBC). The photographs and letters were of real men – boys – who had been led to believe that there was a pressing need for them – personally, individually – to go and fight a battle that they might not survive. It struck me, too, how the shape and lines of the faces changed. While I realize that obviously directors and editors choose what you see when you watch a “documentary” the reality is that there was a plethora of images of gaunt men with grimly set mouths, to juxtapose against the earlier images of round cheeked kids certain of their fortitude and inevitable indestructibility.

I learned new things that day, too. That (at least in WWI) Canada put deserters to death, as per the policy of Great Britain. Australia alone of the Commonwealth countries refused to comply with that policy (recall that this was prior to the Statute of Westminster, and so even though there were Canadian commanders etc. on the field of battle, the lines of command were subject to the will of old Haig et al). Not only was a deserter put to death, but the firing squad responsible for taking his life was made up of the men of his own section or platoon and members of his company or battalion (depending on who was available and not at the Front, fighting) would be forced to walk by afterwards to observe the results of trying to flee. Court marshals were apparently swift, lacking representation, especially for the non-commissioned soldiers, and the results a foregone conclusion. Worse, the shame brought to families (if they were notified) was extended to not allowing the soldiers’ names on memorials later on. There was no room in the military mind – in the field, at that point – for ‘shell shock’, or at least shell shock was no excuse to flee.

I have veterans in my family and among family friends. They have said that, if anything, memories and dreams of the wars have gotten sharper and more difficult to bear, over time. A few, who have slipped, with age, into dementia and Alzheimer’s seem particularly prone to being trapped in vivid and vicious memory loops.

After one day of just watching images, hearing letters, and imagining all of this – I was aching with weariness and numb and horrified by things we do to each other, over and over and over again.

And we keep doing it.

Shortly after I got to the Yukon, I attended our bi-annual Teacher’s Conference. One of the keynote speakers was Roméo Dallaire. If you have not read his books, Shake Hands With the Devil and They Fight Like Soldiers But They Die Like Children, I recommend them whole heartedly but they are profoundly distressing. Profoundly not only in their depiction of the horrors we perpetuate on each other, but on the callous disregard for human life that characterizes the behemoth that is the international political machine – a legacy from the time after The Great Wars.

Roméo Dallaire’s point was simple – the world is changing, and if our expectations do not change along with it, if we do not see clearly, with compassion and with understanding, and if we cannot see that it is not technology, not really, that has changed the world but rather HOW we think and therefore what we can and are willing to do with technology (“headware” vs. “hardware” to quote the book Literacy is NOT Enough, 21st Century Fluencies Project – look it up!). The team that Dallaire led into Rwanda was blindsided not by technology but by the fact that the war that was being enacted all around them wasn’t being played out under rules he – a general trained in the European and North American style, had experience with. It was tactically guerrilla warfare, it was emotional terrorism of a people on their own people as well as on the representatives of international agreements never agreed to by the people who eventually used machetes on each other until blood actually ran – like streams – down paved streets, and bloated bodies actually damned up entire rivers.

Yes, I take the time on Remembrance Day to think about war, and armed conflict and human depravity. I think of the faces of the boys I’ve seen in those pictures of WWI and WWII, of the emaciated bodies of Holocaust survivors and soldiers alike. I think of the Cellist of Sarajevo (the real man, not the lie Galloway made of him in the novel) and of Africa’s ongoing Great War that we seem to forget so quickly every time we’re reminded of it. I think of vets from Vietnam who have been denied assistance because, well, that wasn’t a “real” war, and I think of the ways in which Korea and Vietnam and Cambodia and their people were deeply wounded and continue to live with those wounds, still.

Yes, I wear the poppy. Not because a Canadian wrote a stirring poem. I wear it because for a few days a year, for just ONE day a year, I think it is vital that we make a deliberate effort to Remember that millions the world over have died in armed conflict – and it’s usually not those who stood to gain, usually not those who sent out the call to arms and usually not – ultimately – for the reasons asserted in the propaganda.

If we don’t Remember, how much worse might our indignities towards each other continue to become?

For Just One Day 2011

On A February Afternoon

Just outside with the dogs, on an afternoon that feels like a sigh: grey but not quite glum or gloomy, not stormy but snowing a misty sort of snow that blurs the edge of the bare tree boles and branches and twigs, and leaves the sky to melt into the landscape below it.  It’s quiet – the kind of quiet where the silence itself is loud.  There is no wind, no sounds of airplanes or people or dogs barking or snowmobiles or anything but the silence and the occasional muffled creak of the snow under the dogs’ paws as they shift, staring at me – “what next?, what now?”.  I sigh.  The world is muffled by snow – piles of it on the ground, on the tents, on the porch and the dog houses, mounds that will be uncovered to reveal things I’ve forgotten I’ve left out and will be vaguely surprised to rediscover in a few months, but just at this moment, there’s just snow.

And then, into the almost deafening stillness, from the middle distance, from a direction I can’t determine, one, brief, mad-cap, joyful, trill of birdsong.  Spring, inexorable, inevitable, thumbing it’s nose at winter, promising, laughingly, it’s almost-imminent return.  I smiled.  The dogs wagged their tails.  

And for now we turned our backs on the snow, on the grey, back into the warmth and light of the house, cheered by the cheeky determination of that little bird in singing spring’s welcome on a ho-hum February afternoon.