#letsrise – Quick Thoughts on the Toronto Blue Jays and The Hashtag From Hell

I didn’t want to say anything when I first thought this because, like most irrational sports fans and armchair athletes, I am incredibly superstitious and didn’t want to do anything that might jinx my team.  Now that the Jays are solidly in the basement with our Disabled List bearing almost as many impressive names as the current active roster, however, I think it’s safe to assume that we’re well past the jinxing stage and rapidly approaching panic mode. We sit with four wins to thirteen losses for this utterly dismal start to the season. Without Googling, I’m pretty sure it’s not the worst start to a season in the entirety of baseball history, but to steal a sentiment from Pete Campbell on Mad Men when considering how the team I love is doing, I have to think, “Not good, Bob!”

There are a lot of factors at play to blame here, I’m sure. Donaldson started the season at less than 100% and because of that his injury exacerbated itself and now he’s forced to watch from the bench, joined by Tulo, Happ, Sanchez, and I don’t want to take the time to list Pompey and the rest sitting there with them because it’s getting depressing. The team itself is actually playing pretty well for the most part, if not with a little less bluster than expected, and Pillar is a freakin’ superstar so far, but things just aren’t coming together. For me, as what I would consider to be something more than a casual fan but not a statistic spouting fanatic by any means, I don’t see this as a problem with the management or the coaching, and I don’t even blame Jose’s silent bat because I know it’s just a matter of time before that switches back on again (we’ve seen him slump before and everything has turned out fine, so have a little faith, people!).

No, for me, being the kind of fan who runs more on unbridled unreasoned passion and the previously mentioned superstition, I blame that stupid awful and insipid hashtag Jays marketing came up with to represent our season this year:

#letsrise

I had a problem with it from the first second I saw it, for so many reasons that, as I said, I was afraid to talk about for fear of the jinx, but at this point as we’re sweeping the cellar with seemingly few prospects of dropping our brooms and climbing out for at least the next few weeks, so… Yeah.

First of all, the English nerd in me is offended by the lack of an apostrophe. Not to mention that self-same lack of proper punctuation also changes the meaning of the word. They’re trying to say ‘Let us rise’, as in ‘let us rise to the occasion and vanquish our foes’, but instead what they’re saying is ‘lets rise’ as in ‘rent is going up’, so I guess they were really referring to the cost of seats this year?

Second of all, assuming we’re all going to agree to let the grammatical error slip by us and act like it actually does mean ‘let us rise’. It’s still a horribly negative sentiment to start a season with. ‘Let us rise’ presumes we need to lift ourselves up from something. The statement itself, ‘let us rise’, assumes that the top is not where we are or belong. How the hell is that supposed to be inspirational? It’s pretty much saying, “We’re not the best, but hopefully, maybe one day we can be?” I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t make me want to jump up and scream GO JAYS GO at the top of my lungs. It instead leaves me asking, “Go Jays Go?” I mean, if they can’t make it sound like they believe in themselves, how the hell am I supposed to? I’m superstitious, remember?

So yeah, the experts and people who actually know what they’re talking about can blame injuries, slow bats, Gibby, the back-office, or whatever. And they’re probably, like, a million times more right than I am about what’s going on that has led to this painfully slow start.  But, me?  I blame the marketing team and the person who approved #letsrise in the first place.  That hashtag is a curse, and regardless of balls, strikes, swings, hits, homers, injuries or errors, it all comes down to surrounding ourselves with a negative sentiment. Words have meaning, and words have power. That’s why we use them. Words convey what we’re thinking and what we’re feeling, and hashtags are meant to turn that feeling viral, which I guess worked because look where we are.

The bottom.

With no choice left but to rise.


Some Quick Thoughts on International Women’s Day, The Big Bang Theory (the show, not the concept), & Pay Equity

As a man who has lived his entire life surrounded by strong and independent women who own who they are and have often shown their superiority, much less their equality, I love the fact that the world celebrates International Women’s Day every year, and I hate the fact that we have to.  I mean, the Equal Rights Amendment has been around since we were kids, right?  Almost all of my best teachers from nursery through university were women.  Most of the best bosses and managers I’ve ever had ever since I started working at age 14 have been women.  A great deal of my favourite characters and role-models from television, movies, and books, have been women.  Authors and actors, directors and doctors, I have never once thought that their work could possibly be less good just because they don’t have a penis because a penis has nothing to do with doing good work.  Women in the workplace and women in business leadership roles have been normal to me for the entirety of my existence, and I have never once in my personal career met with the occasion that I was forced to question someone’s capabilities based on their gender – Stupid decisions are gender neutral.

Yet, here we are, in 2017, still in the position where females are not paid in parity with their male counter-parts, and are for some reason still considered as ‘less than’ in the workplace and society – “Of course they’re capable of taking on executive roles in our organizations, but compensate them similarly?  Surely, you jest!”  Because why would providing equal pay for equal work be a thing?  It seriously drives me a little bonkers because there is so little sense in the way that it works right now, and there is absolutely no justification for that mentality.

Which brings me to a news story from last week that at first I celebrated, but then found myself really bothered by as the day progressed.  I don’t know if you watch The Big Bang Theory on CBS, but surely you’ve heard about it at this point as it has been on for about a decade and is one of the most successful shows in the history of television, and despite what you or the critics may think about it, it is consistently one of the most viewed shows on the small screen and therefore brings in bucket-loads of advertising dollars for the network and the producers.  Last week, there was a feel-good news story about how the four male leads of the show took pay-cuts so that their lead female co-stars could get raises up to an equal salary, which makes perfect sense since the girls on that show are just as funny (or not, depending on your taste) and important to the story as any of the guys, and definitely more-so in the case of Mayim Bialik’s “Amy” who at this point is the main driving force for pretty much all of Jim Parson’s “Sheldon’s” character development.

Nice story, right?  Co-workers looking out for each other, sticking it to The Man so that everybody can be treated equally?  But then I thought about it.  Not to take anything away from what the guys of The Big Bang Theory did because it was a marvelous gesture to give up some of their admittedly ridiculous salaries so that their female friends could have equal pay, but you know what?  No.  The fact that they felt like they had to is a real and serious problem, and instead of celebrating the kind gesture those men made, we should be raging about the fact that they were put into a position where they felt like they had to make it.  I mean, seriously – Watch the show and tell me that there’s any reason why the seven lead characters should have been making different salaries in the first place, regardless of their genders?  They’re all lead characters – it’s an ensemble show – so should they all be paid as leads?  It’s 2017 – Why the hell is this still a thing?

For the people who know me or have read my blog before, you were probably expecting a couple of bad and/or inappropriate jokes to be thrown in here, but you know what?  I don’t find this funny at all and this isn’t a laughing matter to me.  The struggle for equal rights for women has been around since before I was born, so seriously, what the fuck, society?  I love International Women’s Day and everything it stands for, but I really hope that by the time my days on this planet are over that it is no longer something we need to note or celebrate because we’ll be too equal to care.  That’s my wish, and if there is one thing I know, wishes can come true.  Let’s all work a little harder for this one, though, because the reality of the situation as it stands just doesn’t make any sense and is frankly unacceptable.  We all do the same work in the same ways and with the same outcomes, so why the hell aren’t we paid that way?


How I Think Donald Trump is Going to Make America Great Again (not a satire)

For those who know me, that’s probably a pretty shocking title to see coming out of my pen (or, keyboard, as the case may be). For those who don’t know me and may have found this blog by accident, first let me say hello!  Hi!  My name is Jamie and I am not a fan of Donald Trump.  Like, at all.  I believe that he is a bombastic, bigoted, billionaire boy’s club blowhard and a bully who is only interested in his own self-edification and aggrandizement.  If you’re wondering why I believe these things, it’s because I have eyes.  And ears.  If you’re a supporter of his, that’s fine, and I hope and pray that your man proves me wrong, but in the twenty-five or so years that I’ve been aware of his existence, dating back to when he was nothing more than tabloid fodder set up by his PR team to try to make a celebrity name for himself around his highly publicized divorce from Ivana, he has done nothing to dispel me of the notion that he will.  If anything the last few years have only made him worse, turning himself from a B-rated circus sideshow freak into an A-rated circus sideshow freak in the Oval Office.  If you’re okay with celebrating someone who brags about grabbing your wives or daughters by the genitals, or stereotyping Mexicans as criminals and rapists, or any of the other asinine and insane things he’s said over the last few years that I don’t have time to get into because I’m just quickly spitting this out on a short break from work, but if you’re okay with those things, I suppose that’s between you and whatever compass of morality and common decency you adhere to, but I know that it’s not the same as mine.  Doesn’t mean that we can’t be friends, but we should probably avoid discussing politics, and you’ll understand if I keep my mother, sister, wife, and nieces away from you.  And don’t give me that line about locker-room talk.  I’ve been in plenty of locker-rooms, and while some crude things were thrown around, I never witnessed anything on that level of pure creepiness and narcissistic self-assurance.

So, if I am so diametrically opposed to Donald Trump and just about every single thing he stands for, why the hell am I writing a blog about how I think he’s going to make America great again? That doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?  Except for that it does.  You see, I’ve spent the last couple of months since the election experiencing a myriad of emotions.  First, just feeling defeated that the election went in the opposite direction of my personal values – I believe in openness and inclusion, I believe in freedom from persecution, and I believe that all are equal before the law, but instead the election, and the reaction to Trump’s ascension, went a little backwards from those values.  It was a sad time, and then it was an angry time, and there may have even been some feelings of metaphysical malaise mixed in there as well.  And neither the news reports about his cabinet picks, nor his reactions to celebrities and comedians making commentary on his actions and opinions only made those feelings worse.  I don’t have kids so I may be off the mark, but he comes across as a petulant toddler throwing a tantrum because he was told that he had to wait until after dinner to have his dessert, but dammit, Donnie wants his ice cream now!  Waa!  Donald Trump is reactionary and dangerous, and as of tomorrow he will be one of the most powerful people on the planet.  Terrifying.

Okay, yeah, I think I’ve established that I really don’t like the guy, so why on Earth am I sitting here on the day before his inauguration finding myself filled with a great amount of optimism? Seems kind of counter to everything I just wrote down, doesn’t it?  But it isn’t.  Because, you see, I have not been alone in these feelings, not by a long-shot!  People are angry, they are scared, they are fed up, or to put it in acceptably geeky pop-culture terms, they’re mad as hell and they’re not going to take it anymore.  In the last two months I have seen people organize, I have seen people get engaged and involved, I have seen people from opposing walks of life come together in protest and I have seen that with my own eyes.  Today on the news, I see people in countries all over the world gathering together in solidarity for women’s rights, getting ready to march against this crude excuse for a man, this snake-oil salesman who somehow scammed his way into the highest office in America.  I see anger and despair being transformed into a fighting spirit, I see apathy melting away and being reborn as passion, and I am filled with the joyful light of hope.

Do I think the next four years are going to be easy? Nope.  Not even a little.  And I expect to be angry a lot, I expect that I’ll be screaming at my television on a fairly regular basis during the six o’clock news, and I expect that things are going to get worse before they get better.  But, my American friends, you’ve got this.  Stay involved, express your outrage when appropriate, engage your local and state representatives and don’t stop engaging with them, stay in communication with each other, and continue to stand up every time they try to shove you back down.  They may be the Right Wing, but that has never meant that they’re right, and you’ve shown me over the last few months that you’re going to do whatever you can in your power to prove them wrong, and that’s amazing!  I honestly never would have expected it after surviving through the Bush II years.  But this guy, your new President, and let’s get this straight, whether you think he’s legitimate or not, he IS going to be sitting in the chair of the President of the United States as of tomorrow, is so divisive that people have just had enough and are finally making their voices heard in tones both loud and proud, and that is how Donald Trump is going to make America great again.  Good job, Donnie!  Go get ‘im, America!


Wisenheimers – A Short Story

I decided I wanted to try to write a sad story. This is what came out.

WISENHEIMERS

The forlorn looking little boy stood near the edge of the crowded room with tears in his eyes and the old man couldn’t remember if he’d ever seen another soul who seemed so alone.

The little boy stood straight with his arms held tightly to his sides, his small hands clenched into fists, his tousled hair tossed and askew, and his wide eyes set in a thousand-yard stare, clearly taking no notice or care of the teeming masses of moving bodies thronging through the fog around him.  He was wearing his favourite pajamas, the soft fluffy blue ones patterned with a thousand tiny dancing snowmen and that had the snuggly feet for extra winter warmth, but he appeared to be feeling no comfort at all.

The old man recognized the boy, and he knew that lost look ever more well than he wished to.  A meek but cordial smile appeared on his face as he approached the little boy.

“Oh, dear me, hello little one,” the old man said in a kind voice that gave off the sense not of your wise old grandfather, but rather your grandfather’s cooler brother who is willing to share the tricks and family secrets  that your grandfather would never reveal. “I know and remember you well, kiddo, and I recollect you as being much happier than this, so tell me, what’s the matter? Why are you crying?”

The little boy sniffled deeply, his tears spilling over and down his cheeks as he came back to himself from wherever his wandering thoughts had stranded him. “I lost my friend,” he said softly, and dissolved into sobs as he ran to the old man and embraced him around the hips, the little boy’s pudgy face pushing warmly into his soft belly, causing the old man to absently wonder if he’d ever been that short, that small, that young, and concluded that even though it seemed impossible, he somehow must have been.  It may be impossible to remember it, but we all were babies once upon a time.

After a moment or so of comforting the child through his tears, the old man put his hands gently around the boy’s arms and moved him back so that there was enough space between them within which to make eye contact as they spoke. There were three roundish stains on the old man’s white shirt, one for each eye and one for the nose, where the boy’s tears had soaked through to his skin, and the old man couldn’t help but feel his heart break for the pain he knew the boy was suffering through.

“What do you mean, you lost your friend?  Do you need help finding her?” The old man asked, hopefully.

The tears sprung up again in the little boy’s eyes. “No. We can’t find her no matter where we look.  Daddy said she’s gone and that I can’t see her anymore, but I really, really want to!” He finished this by thrusting himself deeply into the old man’s arms and falling once again into a fit of uncontrollable weeping.  The old man gave the boy a few soft pats on the back in a vain attempt to give comfort, but he knew he wasn’t helping. This was fresh grief, and as any old man could tell you, the only thing to settle fresh grief is time.

“Do you mean you’re not allowed to see her anymore?” the old man asked, “Or, do you mean…” His voice trailed off as though he knew all the right words to say, but he’d forgotten how to say them.

The blankness came back into the little boy’s gaze. “I don’t know. They don’t tell me. And when they do tell me, they don’t tell me the truth. And when they do tell me the truth, they don’t tell me all of the truth.”

The old man’s heart wept and all of his sympathies went out to the small, lost, and confused child before him. He knew what this was now. He knew where this was going. He looked tenderly at the boy and waited for him to continue, knowing that the first step to excising an internal hurt is to bring as much of it to the surface as possible, and the only way to do that is to talk.

“You’re talking about Patricia.” The words tumbled out of the old man’s mouth bluntly with numb emotion, but the little boy’s eyes looked up at him with a fresh clarity of understanding all the same, like a dog in a desert who realizes that drinking dirty water is better than drinking no water at all.

“They took her to the Big H building, the hospital,” the little boy replied, pronouncing the last word slowly and carefully, recognizing that he had the penchant to pronounce it ‘hopsital’ when he got too excited or spoke too quickly, the word being so new to his vocabulary and his young tongue still unpracticed in shaping its sounds. “Daddy said that she would only be there for a few days before we could play again, then he said that Patricia’s daddy said it would be a week, and then today he told me that she’s not going to come home at all and I don’t know what to do!”

The old man’s heart melted like a candle whose wick was a neutron bomb and this time it was he who pulled the boy in for an embrace, a vain attempt to give succor to a confused child who couldn’t even begin to comprehend the misery he was currently drowning in.

“I’m not going to tell you that I know how you feel because I know that won’t help, but know that I do know, and that what I’m about to tell you comes from a place beyond grief, from the experience of surviving the worst of the worst and learning how to smile again,” the old man spoke the words gently and quietly into the little boy’s ear and felt the trembling in the child’s shoulders and chest subside enough to let him know that the boy was listening.

“This is the worst you’re ever going to feel, and this is not the only time you’re going to feel it. I wish I could say that it was, but it’s not even close.  And it’s just as horrible each and every time. Sometimes it’s more devastating than others, sometimes it takes longer than others, sometimes it will strike you numb, and sometimes it will drive you insane, but the one true dependable constant in life is that you will lose people, not even always to death, and it will hurt every single time.”

The boy drew back and gave the old man a look that said that the old man was clearly a crazy person if he thought his words were coming anywhere close to doing anything to help make him feel better.

“I know, I know,” the old man said tut-tuttingly with a gentle smile, “and you’ll think I’m even crazier when I tell you that the hurt you’re feeling is a good thing because it shows that person left an impression in your heart, and that’s vitally important and imperative to what you’re going to need.”

“What I’m going to need?” the little boy asked in a tone loaded to the brim with curious trepidation.

“Yes,” the old man said warmly, then leaned in conspiratorially and quietly added, “what you’re going to need, because, I’m going to tell you a very big secret.”

The boy moved in closer again and gave a small smile for the first time, saying, “I like secrets.”

“Of course you do,” the old man chuckled. “Everybody likes secrets. Until they don’t. Not all secrets are good to know, but this one is. This is a secret you’re going to like.”

The little boy looked up at him expectantly.

“You may have lost your friend Patricia,” the old man said, “but what if I told you that not all of her is truly gone?”

The little boy’s face gave a quick indication that he was puzzling this over, and just as quickly revealed that the results were not good. “But she is gone. Daddy said she’s never coming back. That she can’t come back! Believe me! I tried to convince him otherwise, to let her come over and play, but he said that he couldn’t, and he explained it to me, that gone is gone and dea…,” his small voice cut off, unable to finish that ever so short but ultimately ever so ugly final word of his sentence.

“Yes, that’s all true, but just because her body’s gone doesn’t mean that she’s all gone.”

The little boy looked first confused, then frightened. He whispered, “Do – do you mean she’s a ghost?”

The old man’s cheeks reddened with amusement as he tried to stifle his laugh; he should have expected that question, but he hadn’t. “No! No, not at all. I don’t believe in ghosts. Not that sort of ghost, anyhow. Do you?”

“Sometimes,” the little boy admitted, “but Mommy said that’s okay because I’m just a kid and I’ve got lots of imagination.”

“Well, your mother’s right, and you know what else?  It’s good that you’ve got a big imagination because that just so happens to be the other thing you’re going to need.”

The boy looked up into the old man’s eyes with great expectation for the secret that was about to be revealed.

“You see,” the old man continued, “That hurt you feel in your chest when you think about Patricia, even though it doesn’t feel good, in its own very particular way, it is good. Because that pain is a spark, a tiny little light going off in your heart, and that twinge is not only the love you feel for Patricia, but also all the love you’ll miss from her now that she’s gone. Which sounds not so great when I say it out loud, I’ll admit, but there’s more!”

Thinking of the Patricia again caused the little boy’s eyes to threaten water again, but his curiosity remained. “More?” he asked.

“Why, yes! Of course there’s more. There’s always more. Which is a secret in itself, but not the one I’m going to tell you about now,” the old man said with amusement and almost lost his train of thought, but quickly managed to find the track again. “Now, that bad pain that I said was actually sort of good, that spark, it actually has a job. It does something. That spark belongs specifically to Patricia, and every time it flares it sends a message to your imagination, and from there they get together with the most important thing you’re going to need out of them all.”

“The most important thing of all,” The little boy said with a sense of awe and a hint of wonder. It could have been a question, but it wasn’t.

“Memory,” the old man said, giving the word all of the reverence and importance it deserved. “You see, as long as you keep that spark in your heart and allow it to drive your imagination, then you can use it to see and spend time with all the people you know, all the people you’ve ever known, and all of the people who will ever touch your heart. It’s really quite an amazing gift, when you think about it.”

The little boy had heard what the old man had said, and more, even thought that he understood it, and although his tears seemed to have gone back to wherever unspilled tears go when they’re no longer needed, the consternation in the little boy’s eyes still betrayed a longing that showed he hadn’t quite grabbed onto the concept as much as the old man had hoped.

“I know it’s hard to believe, especially coming from as young a perspective as you are,” the old man said, trying to reassure the sad child, “but, it’s true. You see, I know that this is strange, but right now we’re dreaming, and do you see all of these people around us? These are all of those people. Everyone we’ve ever met, from the pediatrician who delivered you into this world, to the new doctor I met just the other day.”  To which he then added in a slightly more sardonic tone than he intended, “Old men meet a lot of doctors.”

The little boy looked out into the crowd, noticing them for the first time as something more than a muddled mass of moving grown-ups all hurrying about their ways like grown-ups always do, and thought he might have recognized his grandfather among them.  He said, “So, if I can feel that spark in my heart to…”

“Ignite your imagination,” the old man helped.

“Ignite my imagination, then I can use my memory to see Patricia? Like, not actually see her, but sort of see her all the same, only just inside my imagination? Just inside my head?”

The old man smiled warmly at this success. “Precisely!” he said with a nod and a smile. “And what’s more, you can even talk to them if you want to, and sometimes, and this is the really great part, with the right mix of imagination and memory, in some ways, they can even talk back to you!”

The little boy backed away at this, frightened by the concept. “I don’t want my dead friends to talk to me!”

The old man recovered quickly. “I don’t mean that they actually speak to you, but sometimes, in certain situations, you kind of know what they would say, or how they’d react, and that can be both a sad and beautiful thing.”

The little boy pondered this for a moment, then said, “Sort of like if I was building a sand castle fortress for my army guys, Patricia would tell me that was stupid and that I should build a palace for her Barbie?”

The old man laughed with delight. “Sure, that’s one way. Or sometimes, for me, if I’m about to do something stupid, I can still hear Mama’s voice giving me a stern warning, but it’s more than that. Sometimes, often times, late at night, I’ll talk to my wife. I mean, I’ll have full conversations with her. I knew her so well that I know what she’d say to everything, like she was such an important person in my life, and we’d spent so much time together that she became an actual part of me. I don’t hear her voice out loud, but she speaks to me all the time. Just like sometimes you’re going to hear Patricia speak to you, and tell you that your sandcastles are stupid. Which they’re not, by the way. You can always buy a house for Barbie, but toy soldiers need a fortress to either defend or attack or else they simply have no reason to exist.”

“That’s exactly what I told Patricia!” the little boy agreed excitedly, to which the old man replied, “I know.”

They shared a companionable silence for either a moment or a month (it was hard to tell as dream-time has the propensity to behave oddly), and then the little boy once again spoke a sentence that should have come out as a question. “You really miss your wife, don’t you.”

“More than any other single thing in this world,” the old man agreed, but then looked into the crowd and pointed into the mist around them, and a beautiful lady with the loveliest smile in the universe became solid and clear despite the fog. “And look at that,” the old man said with a flourish and a grin, “there she is, just as gorgeous as she was on the day we met. That’s another great thing about the gift. When you remember someone you loved, you can remember them at their best. Like that woman there. She has all the love and experience of a lifetime together, but she looks like whatever way I remember or imagine her.” As he said that, the svelte young woman suddenly shifted into a handsome elderly lady, still wearing the loveliest smile in the universe. She blew them a tender kiss and receded back into the concealing smoke of lost memory.

The little boy reached out to hold the old man’s hand.  The old man, of course, grasped the boy’s small hand right back as they watched the faces from their life weave in and out of the moving tapestry before them.  Sensing that this dream would soon be ending, the old man began to speak, calling out the names and memories that passed before them.

“Look,” he said, “there’s brother Joe and sister Anne, oh, how we miss them so. And there’s Mrs. Wright from the Third Grade! And over there, do you see? There are Mama and Daddy!”

“I see them!” The little boy agreed excitedly, but his voice sounded faded, as though it was spoken from a great distance.

The old man persisted, desperate not to lose this moment. “And there’s Rufus, our German shepherd, and there’s Gina Marchese, the first girl I ever kissed, boy, is she ever a heart-spark!”

The old man could no longer feel the boy’s hand.  He was slipping away.

Still, the old man went on. “There’s Auntie Anna, she was always so tall, and you know how much we hate when she comes over because she always pinches our cheeks, and, hey! Look! There’s Patricia herself!”

“Patricia herself,” the old boy repeated in the same voice.

The old man was stunned.  Frightened.  He continued to look straight ahead, directly into the shrouded crowd. “And there’s cousin Albert Wise. Remember cousin Al Wise? He was always such a cut-up! Funniest guy we ever knew, right?”

Silence.

“Yeah,” the old man continued, his voice taking on a wispy quality to its cadence. “Cousin Al. He was hilarious. And he had those cousins from the other side of his family, remember? And they had an act. A real comedy act. Played the summer circuit. They were big in the Catskills, weren’t they? Remember?”

There was no boy next to the old man to respond. He was gone.

“Who was I talking to?” The old man asked himself. “What was I talking about?”

The dream was ending.

What dream?

“Cousin Al, wasn’t it? And his act with his other cousins. The twin kids from the other side of his family,” the old man tried to remind himself, but there weren’t too many straws around for him to grasp. “What did they call themselves again? Al and the Wise Guys? No.”

The wandering souls of his memory had now all receded back into the ether of his mind.

The little old man started to quietly panic. “No, that wasn’t it. Not Al and the Wise Guys. It was Al and the Wisenheimers, wasn’t it? Yes, I think so. That was it, wasn’t it? Al and the Wisenheimers? Or was it Al’s Wisenheimers? Was that it?”

His confusion was mounting. “Wisenheimers? Is that a thing? That doesn’t sound like a thing. Wisenheimers? Alz…”

The little man was tired, lost, scared, and confused. He was awake. He knew that. And he was in a room, but it wasn’t a room that he recognized.  He felt like he should know where he was, but he didn’t.  He did know that this feeling wasn’t new.

He looked to his left and noticed that there were bars on the side of his bed, presumably to keep him from falling out. On the night-table was a picture of three smiling teen-aged kids, two boys and one girl, all with curly tousled hair, and beaming behind them were whom he could only assume was their parents. The father was a sturdy enough looking fellow, but the wife was a real knock-out, with possibly the most beautiful smile in the universe. He felt like he should recognize the people in the picture, but as far as he could tell they were just pleasant looking strangers.  Probably one of those pictures that came with the frame.

But the wife’s smile nagged at him. He thought that he really ought to know who she is.  He tried to puzzle it over and figure it out.  He concentrated, but for the life of him, he just couldn’t quite connect who she was.

A forlorn look settled upon the diminished man’s face.  He wasn’t sure that he’d ever before felt so alone.  He was sure he must have.

But he couldn’t remember.


2016 – My Year in Reading

I haven’t blogged in a long time now.  Just about a year, actually, and my last blog was also about the books I read that year, so this seems like a fitting way to return to talking to myself.  It’s not that I haven’t wanted to blog – I have!  So many times, so many things to say.  2016 has been nothing but eventful, from Bowie to Trump, so much has happened and I’ve had so much to scream about, but I haven’t.  I can make a million excuses, but really it’s because I’ve just been doing other writing – I’m currently in the middle of three different, long pieces of fiction that will likely never see the light of day, and in a vain attempt to stay focused I decided not to blog and to instead spend my writing time on whichever one of those had the most of my attention at the time.  I don’t know if that was a mistake or not, but in retrospect I do think that it was unfair to all of the other thoughts that deserved to make their way out of my head, so I am going to make a more concerted effort in the coming year to pay more attention to my other writing and not just the wild fictions of my apparently vast imagination.

The other, and usually far more enjoyable, thing I’ve done a lot of this year, is read.  I generally read a lot, but this year I seem to have outdone myself, according to Goodreads where I’ve been dutifully logging every book and graphic novel I’ve read.  146 books this year – astounding!  Now, many of those were, as I’ve said, graphic novels, and I know that a lot of people don’t count those (which is incredibly small-minded, in my opinion, as they’re just as viable a form of literature as a novel, and sometimes superior!), so for the sake of argument let’s cut those books out of the picture for this blog, which leaves us with an even 50 novels read (although I think I’ll get in two or possibly three more before New Years, if I’m being honest – I’m doing another read-through of The Dark Tower and I’m already half-way through Wizard and Glass, and as time to read is abundant over the holidays…).

I love reading.  Always have.  Always will.  If I ever lose my eyes, just kill me; audio-books don’t cut it when it comes to bringing worlds of words into my mind.  I’ve learned more from reading on my own than I ever did in school, and I continue to do so.  The food for the mind is of the vitally important kind, and I read my feed with voracious greed.

Over the past year, I decided to challenge myself and read a couple of those more intimidating novels that I’d always avoided.  The first of those tackled was Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace.  A lot of people love this book, and I can see why as the story-telling is incredibly immersive, to the point where you practically know not only every single thought of every single character, but also the background and reasoning behind them; immersive, but really tedious at times, in my opinion, and the copious flipping back and forth between the often unnecessary footnotes was annoying.  I liked it and I’m glad I read it, but I don’t think I’ll be going back for seconds any time soon.

I also faced-off against Ulysses by James Joyce this year, a tome that has beaten many a better reader than I to abandonment, so I was incredibly intimidated going into it.  What if I didn’t like it?  What if I didn’t understand it?  What if I can’t finish it?  I almost never leave a book unread once I’ve started it!  What if I failed Ulysses?   Well, I actually did finish it (that last chapter, though…), and I actually did enjoy the parts that I got, but I’m going to admit that there were some points where I honestly didn’t know what the heck I was reading regardless of how often I’d flip back to try to pick up where I’d lost the train.  One of the reviews I read for Ulysses said that the reviewer wasn’t sure that he’d actually read Ulysses, but he had certainly looked at every word on every page.  I think that’s fair, and I almost think that was the way it was intended.

The great thing about having worked through Ulysses was that it prepared me in more ways than one for what was for sure one of my Top Five reads of the year, Jerusalem by Alan Moore.  The influence of James Joyce was obvious in this book, including having his daughter Lucia appear as an incredibly important character (and has the most Ulysses-like and hilarious chapter in the whole massive book), and if I hadn’t have read Ulysses first, I know I wouldn’t have gotten as much out of Jerusalem as I did.  I have loved Alan Moore since childhood, so I went into this, the first prose-novel of his that I’d read, with great expectations, and in return I was greatly rewarded.  This is the pinnacle (so far) of all of Moore’s work, and truly a masterpiece for a writer who already has many under his belt.  I loved it so much I immediately ordered his other novel, Voice of the Fire, that I didn’t even know existed, and actually loved it even more.  Of course, that love was helped by having read Jerusalem in the first place, and so everything comes full-circle.  They may not be the first things I recommend to someone who has never read any Alan Moore, but if they’re already familiar with him then I will beat them with a shoe until they read these two great additions to his already incredible ouvre.

I’m getting long-winded here, so I will just mention two more books that I read for the first time this year that I just loved.  The first is Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson.  I actually grabbed this on a whim.  My wife was rushing me out of the bookstore because we had to home for some important event or other that I have now completely forgotten, and this one just practically jumped off the shelf and into my stack as we walked by towards the registers.  I mean that almost literally.  We were hustling by, the cover caught my eye and the title was cool, so I just grabbed it and bought it without even reading the back.  I’d never read any Stephenson before.  I have since read six of his incredibly intelligent and well-written books because Cryptonomicon was so highly enjoyable – Who knew that WWII cryptology mixed with internet banking could lead to such high adventure?

Grabbing that book off the shelf was a whim I will forever cherish, especially because it led me to the other book I want to mention, Seveneves, also by Stephenson.  This novel sparked my imagination more than any other thing I read this year.  The premise is that the moon explodes and humanity has to deal with the aftermath of what that is going to do to the earth, and comes down to the very survival of not only our species, but all of them.  Well-researched and scenarios so plausible that the tension is palpable, without giving any spoilers, this one blew my mind.  For readers who are afraid or unfamiliar with science fiction, don’t be dissuaded.  Yes, there are some tech-heavy descriptive parts.   Read them.  It all comes together and you’ll be glad that you did, and Stephenson explains it well enough that if you pay attention, you’ll get it.  And if not, it still serves as a good bridge for setting up the next round of action.  Whatever.  My sister is not a sci-fi person and she’s currently burning through it despite the science parts that she doesn’t like, so that’s as good a recommendation I can make as any.

Okay, I’ve rambled enough for now.  It felt good.  If you want to look more into my bookshelves or see other recommendations: https://www.goodreads.com/JamieSigal

 


2015 – The Year of the Great Re-Read

After realizing how much money I spent on books in 2014, I decided last December to deem this year, 2015, “The Year of the Great Re-Read”, and have pretty much stuck to it except for a couple of books that I just couldn’t resist, namely “Fear the Darkness” by the incorrigible, adorable, and inexhorable Becky Masterman, “The Martian” by Andy Weir (had to read it before I saw the movie, obviously), Armada by Ernest Cline (I probably could have waited for this one), “Secondhand Souls” by Christopher Moore (I’m a sucker for sequels), and The Tales of the Captain Duke by an inspiring young author named Rebecca Diem. Other than those and a couple of random graphic novels, everything else I’ve read this year has been a re-read.

Now, if you know me, you’ll know that re-reading is not a very big deal. Usually about half the books I read in a year are re-reads, but this year has stuck out because I set out to do it on purpose.  I love re-reading books.  We listen to music over and over again, and we watch our favourite movies repeatedly, so I don’t really understand why more people don’t revisit their old books.  Yes, the time commitment is a lot greater than a four-minute pop-song, but so what?  It’s a book – You can pick it up and put it back down at will, whereas I don’t really see anybody doing that with music.  “Oh, I’ve just listened to the first half of Beyonce’s ‘Halo’ – I’d better save the rest for later!”  I don’t think anyone in the history of anywhere has ever said those words.  When you listen to Halo, you listen right through because that’s how songs were designed.  Books are different – Most of them are broken up into chapters for exactly that reason – So that you have a stopping point when you need to finally get some sleep as opposed to reading non-stop all night until you get to the end (which, in all honesty, I am also guilty of).  Art is art – You wouldn’t go view the Mona Lisa once, limit yourself to five minutes with it, and then swear to never look at it again.  That’s not what art is for – Art is meant to be enjoyed, appreciated, analyzed, connected with, loved or loathed.

I’ve revisited and rekindled some great fictional friendships over this last year. Reading Saul Bellow’s Herzog from this side of forty was an enlightening experience – Last time I read it I was twenty-four, and although it’s the exact same story, it really was a different novel in a lot of ways from my more, um, let’s call it ‘mature’ perspective.  I still love the character Moses Herzog as much as I did when I was in my twenties, but now that love comes tempered with pity instead of awe.  Watching Catch-22’s Yossarian fight insanity with insanity seems a lot more sane from my current perspective and knowledge of war and politics (and ridiculous beaurocracies).  My understanding of Findley’s “Pilgrim” is quite different than it was when I first read that treasure about fifteen years ago because I came to it without the mystery of who Pilgrim really was, so I was able to pick out the clues and hints around it, and see it all in a new light.

I’ve re-read so many books this year that I feel almost like I’ve given myself a gift. When I’m re-reading a book, and maybe this is just me, but I’m not only going over the words, but I’m also remembering where and when I was the first (or second, or most recent) time I read it.  This happens every time.  I get to page 666 in James Clavell’s “Tai Pan” and I’m instantly transported back to a seat on a bus in Israel in 1992 when I realized that I had to keep reading because stopping on that page would clearly cause me bad luck, what with the symbolism of the page number and all, and then I remember how great that weekend trip up to Rosh HaNikra was and how much fun we had.  I’m in the middle of Tom Robbins’s “Skinny Legs and All” and I’m suddenly back floating on a blow-up chair in my parent’s pool in Florida in 1995, enjoying my mid-semester break with a book and a beer.  I’m in the middle of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and I remember the stomach ache I had the first time I read it, and how I worked so hard to ignore my discomfort so that I could race through the book before anyone spoiled it for me, and at ‘that scene’ I’m suddenly back in my bathtub crying all over again (although I’m really on the sofa trying to keep my drastically dog-eared edition of the book from falling apart as a read it).

There’s so much more to re-reading a book than just revisiting a story and some good old friends. Reading is so much more personal than any other art, in my opinion, which might be why I love it so much.  You actually need to make an effort to read – Listening to music is passive, looking at a painting is passive, watching a movie is passive – They don’t really require much effort because the work is already done for us.  Reading, on the other hand, requires a commitment, requires time, requires you to actively take part in working your way through it, and therein lies it’s beauty – The reader is as much a part of the art as the author – Maybe even moreso.  I know I’ve written many, many things that will never be read, so really, the reader is key to the art in a novel or a story!  It couldn’t exist without us, whereas a song or an image can be shoved down our throats through any one of a dozen mediums, usually through some form of advertising.  You can’t do that with a book.

I don’t really have a point to this except to write something a little less serious than my last few posts, and to remind people that re-reading a great book is never a waste of time. I love it.  I’ve got five or six new books on my to-read list right now, but I’m sticking with my pledge (even with the new John Irving that I’m literally salivating over) and not cracking a single uncracked spine until the new year.  I urge you to do the same – Take some time and visit some of your old fictional friends.  They may not have changed, but you sure have, and every time you meet them again you’ll bring something new to the relationship.  Enjoy.

And maybe visit or add me on Goodreads as I always want to know what everyone else is reading so that I don’t miss the boat on anything! https://www.goodreads.com/JamieSigal


Where Do We Go From Here?

I grew up at the height of the Cold War.  In the 1980’s complete global annihilation was just the push of a button away and could happen at any time.  Between our friendly neighbours in the United States, and the evil communist aggressors of the USSR, there were enough nuclear weapons to entirely wipe out every living organism on the planet twenty times over.  In my adolescent mind, the end of literally everything basically came down to the whim of a lone man or woman (thank you Margaret Thatcher for allowing me to say that) in a room some place that was thousands of miles away from where I lived.  The world was on the brink utter destruction every single day, yet I feel more afraid now than I ever did back then.

Ever since I flipped on the news on Friday at 4:45PM Toronto time, my mind has been aflood with the chaos and horror that has permeated throughout the news and social media with an understanding abundance as we find ourselves as a culture once again trying to make sense and to find some human comfort and solace in the midst of abject terror.  It was horrible when it happened in New York fourteen years ago because New York is our cultural home, where so many of our great novels, movies, television shows, and music soars out to a world that longs to hear what it has to say.  It’s horrible now in Paris because the City of Lights is the city of our dreams, home to art, romance, and the modern concept of freedom and liberty as an alienable right for all people.  It’s horrible nearly every single day when it happens anywhere, as it so tragically does.

Terrorism when carried out in such a brutal and evil manner as this is sickening, heartbreaking, infuriating, rage-inducing, and just plain old sad and depressing.  When this latest horror was still taking place, a friend on Facebook asked the very simple question: “What do they want?”  To which I flippantly replied: “To perpetuate hate.  That’s all that ever comes of nonsense like this.”  I meant that, and I still do.  The people who carry out such atrocious attacks on innocent people who have no pony in their race, who open fire on average people out for a nice dinner on a Friday night after a long week of work or shaking their shit at an Eagles of Death Metal concert, the vile beasts who want to take the safety, security, and enjoyment out of all the things that make our open society so incredible and send a suicide bomber into the centre of it all to spread waves of terror out among us, they are a real enemy and a serious threat, and even a staunch pacifist like me knows with unflinching certainty that something needs to be done to ensure that these types of atrocities never happen again.  I am not content to live in a world where a single child anywhere is afraid to go to the market for fear that they may not make it home again.

So, the question is: Where do we go from here?  For the first time since WWII, France closed her borders on Friday night – A reasonable and justifiable response amongst the confusion of the evening.  What hasn’t been as reasonable or justifiable are some of the responses I’ve seen in the media or on the internet, and I respectfully invite all of you who are spouting hyperbole and vitriol-fueled racism in helping to find an acceptable answer to all of this, because I don’t have one.  How does one respond to violence that seemingly has no motive other than to create chaos?

This isn’t like Hitler marching over Europe in the 1930’s because Hitler had a country and a military industrial complex at his back – something physical for freedom lovers everywhere to wage war against.  ISIS doesn’t have that.  They don’t have a government, and they don’t have an army as much as they have a bunch of disparate militias.  ISIS are an idea more than they are a group, and how do you declare war on an idea, especially when the believers in whatever that idea is are spread out in and amongst innocent people who are only trying to live peaceful lives?  The thing is, we’ve been trying to fight this war for decades already, and I honestly can’t look at it with any objectivity at all and not realize that it’s not working out very well for us.  To call whatever we westerners did in Afghanistan and Iraq a success in any way, shape, or form, would be akin to calling Jay Leno a funny guy – You may want to believe it because of the way it’s been packaged and sold to you, but it’s just not true.  And don’t try coming back to me with “Well, we got Bin Laden,” because we got him neither in Afghanistan nor Iraq, but hiding within the borders of our supposed ally Pakistan, and don’t dare bring “Well, we got Saddam” into the argument because, firstly, he had nothing to do with any of these terror attacks on the west, and all we really accomplished with our police actions in Iraq was to destabalize a huge region in the Middle East and allow ISIS a highway within which to speed and spread their evil throughout. From my perspective, we’ve gone in and infiltrated areas where we weren’t wanted and didn’t really have any business being in the first place, killed people, destroyed property, and then walked away and go on to actually wonder why the people’s whose lives have been trampled upon might possibly hate us.

So, again, where do we go from here?  I see a lot of people saying that this is a Muslim problem.  It’s Islam rearing its ugly, hateful head.  And yes, that’s true to the degree that the people perpetrating these crimes have been Muslims, but to say that all Muslims are evil because of ISIS is a really frightening leap to make.  There are 1.57 billion Muslims in the world.  At our estimates, there are about 40,000 people in ISIS, but by ISIS’s own boasts that number is actually closer to 200,000.  Now, keeping in mind that I’ve never been one to brag about my incredibly poor math skills, even I am able to work out that even with the exaggerated number of 200,000, that means that only .0001% of Muslims are ISIS, or one blade of crab grass on an entire eighteen-hole golf course.  Would you burn the entire fairway just to rid yourself of one weed?

But this where we seem to be coming – People are scared, we no longer feel safe, and unlike the abstract threat of nuclear winter, these terror attacks are real, visceral, and continuous.  They’re nearly impossible to stop because of the very freedoms we love and that are under attack by these extremists protect our right to privacy, and in order for our rights to remain protected, everybody’s rights must remain protected.  That is the paramount hallmark of our free society.

I think the question we need to ask ourselves is not what do the terrorists want, but rather, what do we want?  Who do we want to be in light of these attacks on our civilization?  The next logical steps, if we look at history, are to further marginalize our Muslim neighbours – We’ve already started to take steps to do this in Canada with Bill C-51, but is deeming someone a second class citizen really the smartest way to take a person who may be questioning their place in society and sway them towards the realization that democracy and freedom are better for everybody?  What are we telling them by doing this – Our way of life is better for everyone, but maybe not so much for you?  Oh, you’re already angry at a perceived racism that’s been suppressing you and impacting your psychology for years?  Well, let’s just make sure to increase that disenfranchisement for you.

Seriously, where do we go from here?  The first steps that are already being recommended already smell a little bit too much like fascism to me, and after these don’t work, where do we go next?  Do we start a Muslim Registration Act?  Make them wear silver moons on their coats so that we can easily identify ‘them’?  Do we exile them after stripping them of their citizenship, thereby creating even more refugees?  Or perhaps we should just put them in camps!  I’ve heard that worked out really well in WWII… And I’m not just talking about the Nazis, as any Japanese person living in North America at the time will heartbreakingly tell you.  And if it does come to camps, I think we all know where it goes from there…  Or, maybe you’d suggest doing what Bosnia did in the early 1990s and just rounding up all the Muslims and shooting them down indiscriminately?  Or, no, wait, we deemed that a war crime already, so clearly we can’t do that again.

I do want to editorialize for a moment and remind all of you who are spouting and preaching hate and intolerance without any semblance of critical thought applied to the subject, this is where you’re solutions are most likely to lead, so maybe think before you speak and react.  Nobody wants to look like the next Hitler or Milosevic.

So, again, I’m sadly left wondering where do we go from here?  Our new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, wants to pull the six Canadian fighter-jets we have engaged out of the civil war in Syria, and I can’t say that I honestly disagree.  We’ve already proven that violence only begets more violence, and it’s not like he’s pulling us out of the military effort completely – He would just rather concentrate our funds and our efforts on training Syrian ground-troops so that they can fight and win their own civil war.  What a concept, right?  Why are we blowing up neighbourhoods filled with civilians when we could be training the civilians to take up arms and protect themselves from the ISIS incursions?

Personally, if I’m going to be completely honest and transparent with you, I would like our troops to be out of Syria altogether.  There are reportedly 20,000 ISIS fighters in Syria right now.  I believe that number because they’re only holding pockets of the country right now, and I believe it even more because they haven’t attacked their sworn enemy and neighbour to their direct south, Israel, yet and risked waking a military with an actual vested interest in their destruction because they know they’d be decimated and none of the surrounding Arab militaries would have their back because they hate ISIS much as the rest of us do.  But it’s really these surrounding Arab militaries I want to talk about here.  Why are the US, Canada, Russia, et al, involved in Syria at all?  Between the surrounding Arab countries, you know, the ones who stand a direct threat from ISIS coming in and taking the minds and hearts of their citizens, they have standing armies totalling approximately five million soldiers were they to unite in a short coalition to protect their Syrian neighbours.  Five million versus twenty-thousand – Even with a strictly ground invasion, it wouldn’t take more than a couple of weeks to a month for a functioning military to secure the entire country.  We can’t do that because we’re outsiders and infiltrators in our own right, but what the hell is stopping their neighbours from helping out?

I can’t help but feel that the attacks against us in Paris, New York, London, Sydney, Ottawa, and where ever else in the freedom-loving western world are a direct result of our continually going in and flexing our military might where it has historically been not only not wanted, but not even necessarily needed, so let’s just stop.  I’m not an isolationist, and I’m not saying we need to stop helping, but let’s stop bombing and let the natural enemies take care of themselves.

Because, yes, I haven’t even mentioned yet that this is a cultural war at the heart of it all, but not a war of East against West, or Judeo-Christian values against Muslim fundamentalism as it has been painted in the media.  This is Sunni versus Shiite.  I dare say, this is the Muslim Reformation.  We cannot direct it for them.  How would the Christians have felt if the Jews stuck their noses into Martin Luther’s business?  I think we already know the answer to that, don’t we.  Let’s leave Islam to find out what it wants its identity to be in our world moving forward – I believe that if we remove the external enemy (us) from within their midst, they’ll have no choice but to face themselves and that the will of more right-minded people who just want to live their lives and raise their families and not be forced to flee their homes for fear of violence will prevail.

So, where do we go from here?  We go home.  I suggest we take measures to ensure the security of our cities, infrastructure, and borders.  Look at our internal safety.  Investigate why so many of these terrorists actually seem to be home-grown and haven’t even spent any time in the Middle East, try to discover what’s causing them to lash out, and then fix it.  I know that we can lead by example and embrace our freedoms and our liberties by enjoying every day in a society that allows for all beliefs to come together and find the common ground of togetherness and neighbourly love.  We don’t have to be colour-blind, and we’re probably not going to stop being afraid any time soon, but we don’t have to become monsters either.  All I’m thinking is that instead of continuing to hurt, we should be concentrating more on trying to help.  That’s where we should go from here.  If they want to perpetuate hate and chaos, then let us equally perpetuate love and civility.