Sunday, October 30, 2005

Steve as a Political Campaigner?

A Public Apology
by Steve Martin
Pure DrivelHyperion Press, 1998

Looking out over the East River from my jail cell, and still running for public office, I realize that I have taken several actions in my life for which I owe public apologies.

Once, I won a supermarket sweepstakes even though my second cousin was a box boy in that very store. I would like to apologize to Safeway Food, Inc., and its employees. I would like to apologize to my family, who have stood by me, and especially to my wife Karen. A wiser and more loyal spouse could not be found.

When I was twenty-one, I smoked marijuana every day for one year. I would like to apologize for the next fifteen years of anxiety attacks and drug-related phobias, including the feeling that when Ed Sullivan introduced Wayne and Shuster he was actually signaling my parents that I was high. I would like to apologize to my wife Karen, who still believes in me, and to the Marijuana Growers Association of Napa Valley and its affiliates, for any embarrassment I may have caused.

I would also like to mention a little incident that took place in the Holiday Inn in Ipsilante, Michigan, during that same time. As I was lying in bed in Room 342, I began counting the ceiling tiles. Since the room was square, it was an easy computation, taking no longer than the weekend. As Sunday evening rolled around, I began to compute how many imaginary ceiling tiles it would take to cover the walls and floor of my room. When I checked out of the hotel, I flippantly told the clerk that it would take twelve hundred and ninety-four imaginary ceiling tiles to fill the entire room. Two weeks later, while attempting to break the record for consecutive listenings to "American Pie," I realized I had included the real tiles in my calculation of imaginary tiles; I should have subtracted them from my total. I would like to apologize to the staff of the Holiday Inn for any inconvenience I may have caused, to the wonderful people at Universal Ceiling Tile, to my wife Karen, and to my two children, whose growth is stunted.

Several years ago, In California, I ate my first clam and said it tasted "like a gonad dipped in motor oil." I would like to apologize to Bob 'n' Betty's Clam Fiesta, and especially to Bob, who I found out later had only one testicle. I would like to apologize to the waitress, June, and her affiliates, and to the DePaul family dog, who suffered the contents of my nauseated stomach.

There are several incidents of sexual harassment I would like to apologize for:

In 1992, I was interviewing one Ms. Anna Floyd for a secretarial position when my pants accidentally fell down around my ankles as I was saying, "Ever seen one of these before?" Even though I was referring to my new Pocket Tape Memo Taker, I would like to apologize to Ms. Floyd for any grief this misunderstanding might have caused her. I would also like to apologize to the Pocket Tape people and their affiliates, and to International Hardwood Designs, whose floor my pants fell upon. I would especially like to apologize to my wife Karen, whose great understanding fills me with humility.

Once, in Hawaii, I had sex with a hundred-and-two-year-old male turtle. It is hard to argue that it was consensual. I would like to apologize to the turtle, his family, the Kahala Hilton Hotel, and the hundred or so diners who were eating at the Hilton's outdoor café. I would also like to apologize to my loyal wife Karen, who had to endure the subsequent news item in the "Also Noted" section of the Santa Barbara Women's Club Weekly.In 1987, I attended a bar mitzvah in Manhattan while wearing white gabardine pants, white patent-leather slippers, a blue blazer with gold buttons, and a yachting cap. I would like to apologize to the Jewish people, to the state of Israel, to my family, who have stood by me, and to my wife, Karen, who has also endured my seventeen affairs and three out-of-wedlock children. Further, I would like to apologize to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, for referring to its members as "colored people." My apology would not be complete if it didn't include my new wife, Nancy, who is of a pinkish tint, and our two children, who are white-colored.
Finally, I would like to apologize for spontaneously yelling the word "Savages!" after losing six thousand dollars on a roulette spin at the Choctaw Nation Casino and Sports Book. When I was growing up, the meaning of this word in our household closely approximated the Hawaiian "Aloha," and my use of it in the casino was meant to express "Until we meet again."
Now, on with the campaign!
"The last thing on my mind is the last thing on my mind." Steve Martin.

Let's Get Small

Next month, Steve Martin will receive the Mark Twain award for his humourous antics. And, I say.....................excuuuuuuuuuuuse me! It's about time. S0, to honour this King of the Absurd, this Wild and Crazy Guy who put Czechoslovakia on the map even though it doesn't exist anymore -- to the man who raised the height of humour with his happy feet, white tuxedo and a rubber chicken, I share with you.............The Grandmother's Song.

Grandmother's Song
"Thank you. You know folks, when I was a kid, I was pretty close to my grandmother and she used to sing a song to me when I was about this high. It always meant something to me and I'd like to do it for you right now because it does have meaning in today's world even . . . all these years, you know those, even during the "hip drug days" you know when everybody was supposed to be so cool and everything had double meanings and this little simple tune would keep coming back to me and I think it kinda guided me through those years and I'd like to do this song for you right now, I think it might have a little meaning for you, so here it goes."

Be courteous, kind and forgiving,
Be gentle and peaceful each day,
Be warm and human and grateful,
And have a good thing to say.

Be thoughtful and trustful and childlike,
Be witty and happy and wise,
Be honest and love all your neighbors,
Be obsequious, purple, and clairvoyant.

Be pompous, obese, and eat cactus,
Be dull, and boring, and omnipresent,
Criticize things you don't know about,
Be oblong and have your knees removed.

Be tasteless, rude, and offensive,
Live in a swamp and be three dimensional,
Put a live chicken in your underwear,
Get all excited and go to a yawning festival.

O.K. everybody!
Be courteous, kind and forgiving,
Be gentle and peaceful each day,
Be warm and human and grateful,
And have a good thing to say.
Be thoughtful and trustful and childlike,
(O.K. everybody on this!)Be witty and happy and wise,
Be honest and love all your neighbors,
Be obsequious, purple, and clairvoyant.

(Let 'em hear you outside!)
Be pompous, obese, and eat cactus,
(Everybody sing!)Be dull, and boring, and omnipresent,
Criticize things you don't know about,
Be oblong and have your knees removed.
(Ladies only)Be tasteless, rude, and offensive,
(Now the men)Live in a swamp and be three dimensional,
(Everybody)Put a live chicken in your underwear,
Go into a closet and suck eggs.

"You guys are going to be on a record. Maybe - someday. Not mine of course."

In Search of Grace and Forgiveness

Sarah is a 20 something single mom of a seven year old little boy. She is an exuberant, gifted young woman who is fully bilingual, has many marketable skills, excellent interpersonal talents and has a strong presence. I was drawn to her the first time she walked into my office 18 months ago, seemingly full of confidence with a strong streak of independence. That shield dropped quickly as she openly shared her story. For, despite her many talents, Sarah had found herself on social assistance, with little hope of finding employment. Why? She had stolen money from her employer and was being charged with theft. The possibility of incarceration loomed over her at the time of our first session.

In the fall of 2003, Sarah was struggling financially. Her partner had left her with the sole responsibility of the care of their son, and with a big debt. Rent was too steep for her to manage on her own, and she was getting behind on her bills. Instead of reaching out to her family, she tried to deal with her situation on her own. Pride and denial drove her deeper into a financial quagmire until one day she received a last notice from the Hydro company stating that her power was to be turned off within a week unless her bill was paid in full.

There was a money float of petty cash in the government office where she worked as an administrative receptionist. She decided to "borrow" the money to pay the bill, with the intentions of repaying it before anyone noticed it missing. More bills came in. More threats from companies. More pressure to manage her life and look after her son piled on her. She was very stressed, and very tired from lack of sleep. Worried and not thinking straight at all, Sarah "borrowed" more money. She kept her head in the sand, not admitting that she was stealing until 3 months later, just before Christmas, reality slammed into her. She was in way over her head and had no means to pay the money back. She then turned to her mother and her aunt and told them the story. Undoubtedly they were taken aback by it all, but quickly arranged to support her by loaning her the money to pay the government office back in full.

The next day, Sarah went straight into her Manager's office and confessed. She explained to her that she would have the money back in full by the end of the week. Her Manager was shocked, mostly because Sarah doesn't "fit" the picture one has of a thief, but informed Sarah that she would have to report the incident to her superior. Expecting this response, Sarah wrote a long letter to the Minister and Deputy Minister of her department explaining the circumstances, describing how badly she felt about it, and that she had full intentions of paying it back. She thought that given her unblemished track record up until then, the fact that she got along with everyone, that she worked hard etc, that they would reconsider pursuing the matter with the local authorities. Unfortunately, when management did an accounting of all petty cash withdrawals etc, they found that 3 times as much money had been siphoned off than Sarah was admitting to. They didn't believe her when she told them she didn't take that amount, and quickly contacted the police and pressed charges.

I listened to her story and was perplexed for many reasons , but mostly because I knew that if I had been in the same situation, I may have done the same thing. She was no different than me. In fact, we had clicked because we shared similar personality qualities. Given that she really had nothing to lose by telling me her version of the events, and she seemed gracious and full of remorse, I intuitively believed her. We talked at length about her fears of the impending court hearing, and the reality that she was now living on a small fixed income with no possibility of working for a while until she knew where things were headed. It was grim.

Our conversation then shifted gears as I offered her some hope by arranging for her to meet with a Career Counsellor to explore the possibility of going to university. We talked about her dream of obtaining her degree. It was exactly what I had envisioned for her while we talked and I shared that with her. This bonded our interaction even more. I encouraged her to take the opportunity to focus on her future dreams after the nightmare and penance were over. Then, I gave her the name of her Case Manager, gave her a hug and wished her well.

2 months went by. We didn't meet again, but I kept up to date on her situation. Sarah made the front page of the local paper. She was not going to jail. Instead, she received 6 months in-house arrest, and 6 months probation after that. I called her at home that day to see how she was. Relieved but still shaking and upset she was ready to serve her time. I told her that I was thinking about her and let her know that she could call me anytime.

I never heard from her directly throughout her house arrest period, but knew through the grapevine, that she had enrolled at University September 2004, amazingly starting while still under house arrest and managed to successfully complete her first year. Then two weeks ago, a colleague happened to mention that her morning appointment to apply for childcare subsidy had cancelled because she had withdrawn from university. Because I'm nosey..............I asked who it was. It was Sarah. This colleague was new. She had no idea that I would have had any previous contact. It seemed like a fluke, but as soon as I heard Sarah's name, I knew that I had to act. I wanted to act. I called her promptly to invite her in to talk. Her response was one of surprise and gratitude that I had remembered her and that I cared.

On Thursday of this week, Sarah was back in my office armed with two coffees and a hungry eagerness to talk. In-house arrest was very tough. But, she did it and learned from the experience. She spoke of the incessant need to be self-directed and disciplined during the circumstances. She spoke of the loss of dignity and respect, the feeling of always being monitored, the bottomless sense of freedom she felt when it was over, her relationship with her Probation Officer and how she is still in touch with them (that's a first, I'm sure). Most importantly, she described the impact that the whole awful episode had on her son. He had taken the brunt of the emotional turmoil and was acting it out in school, on the playground, and at home. Sarah felt that she had to withdraw from school, find employment and be present for her son. He needed her, and she needed to have regular work hours to offer him a more secure and predictable home life.

Throughout the conversation, Sarah sprinkled it with comments about forgiveness; finding forgiveness, forgiving herself, believing others have forgiven her, searching for a sense of calm that forgiveness provides. Ridding the guilt. She hasn't found it yet. In fact, she has experienced the freeze out by a potential employer that had initially sought her out and was on the verge of offering her a very good job opportunity. But when Sarah openly told them her whole story, the door was slammed shut. And it hurt. She was stung. So, she continues to to search for the grace to forgive herself and move on, still hopeful that someone out there will give her a chance at redemption.

What are the seeds of forgiveness? Empathy, compassion, understanding, trust, and believing all come to mind. From that grows hope, and a sense of connecting with humanity. Forgiveness can cut the cords and let the oppressive burden of guilt roll away. One is able to unlock the heart, to be able to give and express again.

I believe in Sarah, and am cognizant of the fact that my belief in her stems from identifying with a kindred spirit, which may bias my vision of her. However, I am confident in my counselling ability to recognize her honesty and goodness. We are meeting again next week, and will continue to meet until she finds that elusive personal forgiveness. It will happen, and I want to be there when it does.

Friday, October 28, 2005

A Gift of Grace.

Lately, I have been hearing and reading the word grace. Somehow, the word has quietly slipped by me unnoticed, until this week. And once I finally opened my ears to hear it, my interest was piqued. So far, this is how I would describe my understanding of grace.

  • Grace is so light, no one knows where it may land
  • Grace represents the virtues that we try to live by: Honesty, goodness, love, integrity, goodwill, generosity
  • When you are touched by a moment of grace, you are touched by a rumour of transcendence.
  • Grace is multi-sensual.
  • Grace is compassion and forgiveness.
  • The emotional power behind grace is something outside of yourself.
  • You know when you've experienced a moment of grace.

Instead of trying to dissect the word any more than necessary, I will try to convey it through a story - one that I hadn't thought about for years. Interestingly, it was the first example that popped into my mind after comtemplating grace.

Years ago, I had the golden opportunity to work at an Extended Care Hospital in Victoria, BC. I was hired to start a new day camp program for the residents of Queen Alexandra Hospital. It had never been tried before. The whole field of "Child Life programs" was brand new and experimental with the goal of providing sensory stimulation through various means of intervention. Along with 2 others we started from scratch to design a program on the grounds of the hospital for multiply handicapped children and youth that would provide them with new experiences and connections with neighbourhood able-bodied children. Armed with years of experience running camp programs, and some knowledge and experience working with disabled children, I felt challenged and confident in taking on the task.

Each week, we had a new group of residents attend. New themes, outings and activities were planned. There were a lot of firsts for these campers. Some had never been off the grounds their whole lives, so a trip to the park to experience movement, people, activities, colour, sounds, smells was monumental. Swimming, campfires, Bar BQ's, crafts, wheelchair relay races, lying on a big beach blanket by the shore, listening to music..........basic camp activities. A new world to these kids. The highlight of each week, however was Thursday night when everyone camped out in big army tents that the Armed Forces had provided, on the grounds of the hospital.
It was a lot of work, especially arranging the necessary "MASH" unit that accompanied the sleep out. One Thursday night early in the summer, I had worked all day, physically arranging for the sleepover to occur, carrying and moving kids in and out of their wheelchairs, changing them into their bathing suits, and holding them in the water so that they could float. I had fed some of the kids who weren't able to feed themselves, made hot dogs for the ones who could. I had entertained, sang songs, organized and supervised all day long. It had been a fulfilling and remarkable day, but I was running out of steam and it wasn't over yet. By the time bedtime rolled around, I had been working straight out for over 12 hours. My enthusiasm was waning knowing that I had a potentially long night ahead of me overseeing my camper's comforts and needs. I found myself wondering if I had any stamina left.

One of the campers that week was 11 year old Matthew. Ambulatory, though he had a mild case of cerebral palsy on his left side, Matthew's needs were much less physical. His needs were all involved in connecting with him. He was a good looking kid, with pencil straight sandy brown hair, a face full of freckles and far away eyes. He was born with a severe form of autism and cognitive delay. He was completely non-verbal. No attempts at connecting with him had been effective. It was like Matthew was linked to another galaxy, or that an invisible bubble encased him. He seemed to have no ability to interact with others. If we were involved in doing a craft, Matthew would simply sit there lost in the heavens until you physically place your hands on his and "walked him" through it. If we were involved in relay races, you would have to hold his hand and go through the motions with him. Everyday, we had involved him in all activities, talking and singing and encouraging him, but never was there a moment of recognition. He didn't seem capable of it. He appeared to be a physical shell, void of emotion.

When Thursday night rolled around, Matthew was by my side as I helped the other campers get settled into their makeshift beds inside the spacious army tents. There was lots of excitement, giggling and talking between the staff and the campers because the whole experience was so fresh and new to them. I was at a point, however, where I wasn't taking their excitement in and partaking in their enjoyment. I was exhausted. I had started thinking ahead to the next morning when I could hop in my car and head home to my own comfy bed to catch up on my sleep.
Going through the motions, I helped Matthew put his pyjamas on, brush his teeth, clean him up and walk him over to his tent and bed. By the glow of a small flashlight, I tucked him in as I continued to make small talk, though not expecting a response.

But there was a response. Wide eyes, and wide awake for the first time that I had seen, Matthew was looking around at his new environment, soaking it all in. He connected. I stopped in my tracks, fully transported back to that present moment and watched him look around. Then, Matthew turned his head, looked me straight in the eyes for the first time and grinned from ear to ear.

A moment of grace. And it resonanted through me.

Now that I examine it, that summer was jam-packed with moments of grace as it was also a summer of emotional transitions and personal growth for me as an individual. New experiences, new city, new people, risk taking and lots of memories.......... But by far that one somewhat simple second I experienced with a little boy with faraway eyes will always stand out as extraordinary.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Grace - U2

She takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name
It's a name for a girl
It's also a thought that changed the world
And when she walks on the street
You can hear the strings
Grace finds goodness in everything

Grace, she's got the walk
Not on a ramp or on chalk
She's got the time to talk
She travels outside of karma
She travels outside of karma
When she goes to work
You can hear her strings
Grace finds beauty in everything

Grace, she carries a world on her hips
No champagne flute for her lips
No twirls or skips between her fingertips
She carries a pearl in perfect condition

What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things
Grace makes beauty out of ugly things

The Boys of Summer

" I still get such a bang out of it, playing ball. Same as I did when I first come up. You get out there and the stands are full and everybody is cheering. It is like everybody in the world come to see you. Inside that, there is the players in there yakking it up and the pitcher throws and you're looking for that pill. And suddenly, there is nothing else in the ballpark but you and it and sometimes when you're feeling right and there is a groove there and the bat just eases into it and meets that ball. When the bat meets that ball, you can feel that ball just give and you know it's going a long way. Damn if you don't feel like you're going to live forever."
John Cusak as Buck Weaver in Eight Men Out

This morning, the day after the Chicago White Sox won the World Series, their first since 1917, Shoeless Joe and his teammates are free to walk through their Field of Dreams.

Until next summer.........................

New Learning

Philip Yancey, a noted Theologian writer and editor of Christianity Today magazine recently wrote a book entitled, Soul Survivor; How My Faith Survived the Church. In it, he describes his personal struggle to reclaim his belief in Christianity after growing up in a southern racist church environment that he now sees at cultish. This book, his latest, pays tribute to individuals who have helped Yancey transform his life and work. The thirteen “mentors” identified vary from novelists to leaders to researchers. What they all have in common are similar spiritual roots that have helped guide their chosen paths; and the inspirational motivation to make a difference. It’s an illuminating read.

One of the individuals that Yancey devotes a chapter to is Frederick Buechner – a contemporary who is also an author and lecturer. As an adult, Buechner chose to study to become a Presbyterian Minister while he was a struggling novelist, after attending a church in his locale and experiencing a moment during a sermon that altered his life path. It is Buechner that I resonated with the most.
Buechner's purpose in his writing and teachings seems to be to encourage the reader to ponder more deeply the meaning of their own lives. He does this through personal examples of his life experiences. The fact that he chose a religious path as an adult also intrigues me as I evaluate and consider my own path. Though I have only just "met" the man, I am struck by some of his accessible messages. He already has me pondering..........which of course affects my ability to concentrate on the other duties of the day! This is a true conundrum because he states:

"Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less that in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and the heart of it because in the last analysis, all moments are key moments and life itself is grace."

Ponder, ponder..........think, think..........wonder, wonder..........wander, wander..........

And while I'm busy preoccupied and lost in thought, I've missed out on the moments that Buechner refers to! Ah well. And to think I was a multi-tasker.

Another quote that I have resonated with is:

"Everybody prays whether you think of it as praying or not. The odd silence you fall into when something very beautiful is happening or something very good or very bad. The ah-h-h-h! that sometimes floats up out of you as out of a Fourth of July crowd when the sky-rocket burst over the water. The stammer of pain at somebody else's pain. The stammer of joy at somebody else's joy. Whatever words or sounds you use for sighing with over your own life. These are all prayers in their way. These are all spoken not just to yourself." always seemed so foreign and ritualistic to me. I have never been comfortable praying en masse with a congregation, or consciously praying on my own when I felt I needed to find strength. When I read this passage, I realized that my expression of emotion, whether it was outward or inward is an expressional prayer. I like that. It makes me feel like I belong even though I may go about connecting with a higher power in a unconventional way, and that's alright.

When I read the following passage, I knew I wanted to learn more from this man. He states:

"Pay mind to your own life, you own health and wholeness. A bleeding heart is of no help to anyone if it bleeds to death."

Buechner has written 30 books, some fictional and some memoirs. I'm looking forward to delving into some of them, gathering more ideas to ponder, think, wonder and wander about. Now, if I could only figure out how to do that, AND take in all of life's adventures and daily routine activities at the same time.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

A Woman Who Created a Shift

Rosa Lee Parks, whose refusal to give up her seat to a white man that sparked the modern civil rights movement, died today. She was 92. Mrs. Parks was 42 when she committed an act of defiance in 1955 that was to change the course of American history and earn her the title "mother of the civil rights movement." Her refusal to yield her seat created a major shift in the winds of change. After her action, the infamous bus boycott was organized by a supportive black community, led by a young Martin Luther King. This triggered a chain of events culminating in civil unrest, non-violent (in theory) marches and protests and changes in archaic laws. From the moment she refused to give up her seat on the bus, Rosa Parks was propelled into an international spotlight. She embraced her role and continued to be a leader until the day she died.

One small assertive stance. A whole shift in thinking and acting. Amazing.

Speaking in 1992, she said history too often maintains that "my feet were hurting and I didn't know why I refused to stand up when they told me. But the real reason of my not standing up was I felt that I had a right to be treatedas any other passenger. We had endured that kind of treatment for too long."

30 years after the incident, she stated: "At the time I was arrested, I had no idea it would turn into this. It was just a day like any other day. The only thing that made it significant was that the masses of people joined in."

Just last week, I started reading a book that contained a chapter on Martin Luther King which of course mentioned Rosa Park's role in the path that King chose to take with his life. Since then, I had been thinking about her and the bravery she showed to the world from that day forward. It's funny how that're thinking about someone, or something and then a connection of some kind occurs. Today, I will continue to think of Rosa Parks and remember the lesson she taught, and how she continued to live her life according to the rights and values which she believed. She was and is a true role model.

"I have learned over the years that when one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear."
Rosa Parks, 1913-2005

Monday, October 24, 2005

Stephen Lewis, A Talking Head?

With the Massey Lectures in full swing, the media is all abuzz with articles on and interviews with Mr. Stephen Lewis. His omnipresent loquacious verbosity is difficult to miss, as he continues to lecture and shame us on the plight of the AIDs victims in Africa. Like a hard nudge to the ribs, Lewis forces us to take notice. But, are his tactics effective? Has he made any headway in his fight to bring the AIDs pandemic to the forefront and start to take it down the road of eradication?

Like many Canadians, I was first "introduced" to Mr. Lewis while listening to the weekly debate and discussion with Dalton Camp and Eric Keirans on Morningside with Peter Gzowski. Of all the "threesomes" that Gzowski moderated on his show, Keirans, Camp and Lewis were by far the most revered and interesting. It was a "must listen to" no matter where I was at the time. The issues of the day were bandied about while the three jousted and and cajoled, for the most part in a respectful way. Three politically astute raconteurs with different personas, passionate about the newsy topics, strategies, and the analysis of it, sharing the airwaves, making their points. Camp used humour and wit. Keirans was a slower perambulator but always managed to get his point across. Lewis, the young idealistic buck, used demogogic language and emotion to swing into action.
Stephen Lewis is the last one left of the threesome, well foursome really. He continues to carry on in his chosen role as part of the Canadian conscientiousness. He holds 20 honourary degrees from Canadian universities and has been appointed a Companion of the Order of Canada. He speaks knowledgeably on subjects as diverse as international relations, economic and social development and management excellence. His recent work in Africa is merely an extension of a life-long dedication to social causes and improving the human condition. Mr. Lewis is never ashamed to be both passionate and emotional when he is speaking about his cause. He has a strong following, but he also has the tendancy to turn people off.

As much as I initially think, "oh there he goes again," when I hear him being interviewed or giving a speech, I am always drawn to what he has to say. He has the same resonance as a magnetic Preacher. What impresses me is his drive and compassion. What impresses me is that he has such a strong foundation of convictions and he isn't afraid to express them. What impresses me is that he has followed up his verbal diatribes by spending countless days in the frontline learning, absorbing, and exhaustingly advocating for a large group of people who have no voice; the children and the women. He does grab my attention.
I may not be on the same page as Stephen Lewis politically, but I do recognize an individual who is giving his energy and his soul to a cause that seems hopeless and overwhelming. Some may think he is an irritating broken record, taking on a task that is insurmountable. But, we all should admire his fortitude, focus and just plain guts to throw his voice out into the wilderness of needy causes. Stephen Lewis is quoted in the Globe and Mail article as saying that he's tired. But, I still believe that he manages to wake up every morning motivated with hope and conviction. He may be dog tired, but he can still rev it up.

Is he effective? It's difficult to gauge. There are many antecdotes that describe the crowds of followers wherever he goes. No doubt the Massey Hall Lectures will be a packed to the rafters with people who want to learn from him and hear what he has to say. In the long run, Lewis may not be the one who succeeds in turning the crisis around. But, he is definately the one who has motivated many others to take it on and carry it from here. I wish him well.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead.


Shadows lingering, lurking, and forcefully ignored
Causes internal tremors of personal discord.
Slipping quietly aware in the dead of night
Sending shaded profiles through flickering light.

Forced to face the recesses within
One must recognize a foreboding sin.
And as the confrontation battles on
The consciousness alights with a brand new dawn.

On being a Counsellor, part one

The role of a counsellor varies depending on the connection made between the two individuals. Many variables have to align before there is a flowing openness.......a movement in the conversation that evolves from polite safe topics to the client's story and eventually to the identified issue. The key to this happening always starts with a connection built on trust and respect. Often it doesn't happen if one of the two aren't alert to the process and have decided to remain asleep and fearfully unaware. If it does occur, the chemistry and the client's prospect of establishing a sense of self-recognition, altering of perceptions, and making decisions to forgive and move forward are limitless. On the other side, the counsellor leaves fulfilled knowing that they have witnessed growth by being a guiding agent of change. Never is there a time when this connection occurs that the counsellor and the client leave without a strong bond and new learning. When it happens, it is very fulfilling. It is what motivates my desire to continue in this career.

The roots for all effective counsellors must be embedded in a genuine desire to help and an interest in communicating at a deeper level with others. Often taking on the role of "private eye", they must also have a strong foundation in critical analysis, puzzle solving, quick intuitiveness and of course curiosity. Counsellors are inherently nosey. The fertilizer around the roots is enriched with empathy, authenticity, thoughtfulness, and respect. Using attentiveness and light, the client has the potential to stretch,and develop in strength and personal veracity.

The counsellor is a leader, confident in providing the light and the path for a lost individual. Sometimes, the path is a dark unknown to both parties. Still, the counsellor must be able to project a sense of safety and trust to maintain a conviction that will allow the process to be fruitful and to judge the timeliness of the "aha" moments for the client.

Paradoxes need to be confronted daily in the life of a counsellor, and these stem from the very reason he/she has chosen this field in the first place. One has to have the ability to care and to show concern, to be receptive to whatever issue has been thrown out for resolution, and the ability to accept deeply felt and expressed feelings from others. These qualities can ultimately leave a person open for taking on another's problems and trying to solve them. Balance is key. On one hand, the counsellor must continue to be receptive. On the other hand, he/she must take all precautions to protect themselves from becoming a "saturated sponge" full of other's issues. The counsellor must keep a distance, maintain objectivity while also feeling for the person in conflict.
  • It's easier to make the bed than teach your child to make their own bed. Take the time to teach the skill.........
  • It's easier to make the dinner and feed your family than to teach them how to become more self-sufficient. Take the time to teach the skill............
  • It's easier to jump in and "parent" the client by taking control of the problems, finding solutions and moving on, than to patiently wade through it as a guide and allow the client to retain ownership and consequently regain their confidence and self-esteem. Take the time to develop equality and balance.

Sometimes, it isn't possible..........the story is too piercing. The counsellor finds his/herself in a quandry, wrestling with issues that he/she don't logically own, but have somehow managed to get under their skin. It's important to be able to recognize when this occurs and learn ways to let go of it or it will ultimately affect their life outside of the counselling environment and eventually cause burn out. This takes experience and an understanding that selfishness is a necessity in this field.
It also means that a counsellor needs to take time to go back to their own roots and re-evaluate just why they chose this career path in the first place. The answers all lie within their own cultivated and ever changing garden, full of light and shadows.

There is no greater joy, nor greater reward than to make a fundamental difference in someone's life.
Sister Mary Rose McGready.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Our City's Finest

At 4 pm today, I found out that I was a criminal suspect. How come no one told me? Let me backtrack................

Last June a co-worker was organizing a baby shower for another co-worker. She had been collecting money to buy pizza for the party, and kept it in her desk drawer. Her office, like everyone's is behind a locked door for safety and security reasons. The public and clients have no access to our offices unless "buzzed in" by reception. Normally, she locked her drawer at the end of the day, but on this particular day..........2 days before the shower, she neglected to do so. The money was stolen. About 100 bucks. Gone. Strange, sad and true.

The police were notified and they quickly went into steaming hot pursuit of the thief. NOT! Two weeks passed, and then all of a sudden they asked for a written statement from the co-worker victim, and a list of individuals who worked in the vicinity of said victim's desk. Like any effective office environment, rumours ran rampant. Who could've stolen the money? Could it have been the cleaning staff? What staff from other parts of the building were loitering in and around the victim's vicinity? Who could be that petty to steal pizza money for a baby shower? The victim felt violated and angry that such a thing could happen. She trusts everyone. This malicious act, in her mind, trounced her belief in people. It verged on histrionics, but I kept quiet about my opinion.

In the meantime..................possibly our city's finest checked the building's security cameras, and the staff security passes which would indicate if anyone had entered the building after hours. Who knows? What we do know is that some of the staff on the list began to get phone calls from the police station requesting to take Polygraph tests! Yes! 3 hour polygraph interogations were in order to solve this nasty heinous crime. I was never contacted, but you can be sure that I heard about this crazy police investigation and the anxiety it caused.

Day after day, I counselled and listened. That's my job. I tried to show them the absurdity of it. I cracked jokes about what someone could buy with 100 loonies. I soothed, cajoled and rolled my eyes in private. But, as soon as I thought we were making headway and forgetting about the unfortunate mess, Detective Keener Polygraph Guy would leave another voicemail. The decibel level in the office would increase. Morning discussions throughout the summer hinged on trying to solve the crime. 2 months after the theft, one of my co-workers received a request to meet in the Keener's interogation room, where she told him that she would "give her life" for anyone of her co-workers whom, some of whom she had worked with for over 30 years. And you know, I believe her. She is the purest, most innocent woman I have ever met. She'd have a funeral for a fly if she knew she had killed it. She couldn't sleep for the week before her interogation because it was the first time she had set foot in the Police Station.

So, today, I was asked to attend a meeting to hear the results. Predictably, the day was full of more rumours discussed, decreased productivity, increased emotions for my co-workers. I carried on with my day which kept my mind occupied and oblivious to the anxiety level until 4pm. Turns out the investigation is closed. Lack of leads. Lack of funds. And, I was on "the list." Emotions burst forth and spewed out at Management for "allowing" this crazy interogation to happen. It was messy. And, I sat there stunned. I had been on the list?

All of a sudden, I felt different. All of a sudden, I was thinking.................people were wondering about me stealing? How often was the finger pointed at me and I didn't even know? How had I missed out on this piece of information. Why wasn't I called to the Keener interogation room if I was a suspect? I've always wanted to see what a real polygraph system looks like. What techniques would Keener have used on me? Finger nail pulling......bright lights in the eyes........water torture.....sleep deprivation? How anxious would I have felt answering his inane questions? People thought I was guilty? It's amazing how quickly one can go from calm to paranoid!

And as the meeting came to a close, and everyone else had calmed down and resolved their stuff, I left all riled up over the ramifications of being on a Police short list. It'll be a long time before another baby shower pizza party will be organized by this team of staff.

"When the whole world is crazy and everyone is out to get you, paranoia just makes good sense."

Monday, October 17, 2005

So, you can't read. You're not alone

One of the most satisfying things to do in life is to pick up a good book and get lost in the story. The whole world continues to evolve and implode, while you are whisked away into a plot of imagination and creation that can't help but broaden your thinking, expand your knowledge, and entertain your senses. Reading is a pleasurable escape for many. But for close to 60% of the population of New Brunswick over the age of 16, reading is nothing but a stressful burden. This province has the second lowest literacy levels in Canada. That's appalling.

Illiterate individuals can't read the newspaper, read a story to their child, fill out an application form, read a transit schedule, locate information about events, can't complete an order form, can't access any information from the internet. They can't read their children's report cards, or other letters from the school. They are dependent on others for information.

Research shows that there is a strong correlation between families who have low literacy levels and low income. There is less value placed on reading and writing skills, less emphasis placed on the importance of formal schooling. Due to this, the drop-out rate is high with this group because of the ongoing difficulty or failure to succeed in the system.

Families with low literacy skills are more likely to be poor. It's the cycle. Minimal formal education, minimal marketable skills, lead to low paying or non-existant jobs.

Literacy is one of the major negative influences on health status. If you can't read or write, it is very stressful to arrange for medical appointments. You have an ache, you go to your doctor. The doctor arranges for a variety of tests, the information is passed onto you via a letter. Can't read the letter. Don't want to ask for help. Too much of a hassle. Life is stressful enough. Forget about it.

Low literacy impacts self-esteem. That's a given. Think about the daily overwhelming roadblocks one would encounter. Most days, it would be better just to stay in bed.

The reasons for illiteracy are many, and I've heard several variations in my line of work. Reasons range from abject poverty especially in a rural areas, to serious learning disabilities left undetected until adulthood, to growing up in a home where abuse is so rampant that survival supercedes all other "luxuries." One woman I met who was enrolled in an adult literacy program determined to learn to read and pass her GED (Grade Equivalency Diploma), told me that she lived in such poverty with many siblings that the only ones who could go to school were the first three out of bed who could grab one of the three pairs of underwear that the family owned. If you weren't one of the lucky undie owners, you were SOL! This woman was only in her 30's and grew up in rural New Brunswick. Not too long ago. Abject poverty is still alive and well in this province.

Our interventions have been hit and miss. Since the onset of CASP (Community Academic Service Program) which sprung up throughout the province during the McKenna era, many adult NB'ers have enrolled and attempted to upgrade their skills. Set up in as a community based program, accessible to anyone for free, and run by qualified teachers, one would think that the percentages would have declined. And yet.............why havent they? It's time for an overview of this program. Hard questions need answers. Taxpayers dollars are funding CASP and yet, there is little accountable information on the success or failure of them.

In the meantime, more than half of the adult population in this province live disenfranchised and disconnected. Their silence is deafening. You just have to open your ears and listen.

On Listening

A Meditation by Anthony de Mello

"Every word,
every image
used for God
is a distortion
more than a

"Then how
does one
speak of God?"

"Through Silence."

"Why, then, do you
speak in words?"

At that
the Master
laughed uproariously.
He said,
"When I speak,
you mustn't listen
to the words,
my dear.
Listen to
the Silence."

Walmart Greeters and other Big Fat Phonies.

Have you heard any of these token phrases lately?

Please stay on the line, because your call is important to us.

Have a nice day.

I'm here for you 24/7.

It's not you. It's me.

How are you?

How may I help you?

It's a good thing.

At the end of the day...........

Let's do lunch.

It's been a pleasure............

Winning isn't everything.

In the grand scheme of things...........

It's time for change........

Your future is NOW

How now brown cow....?

I'm living in the moment.

What would Jesus do?

Change is a good thing.

A darn good start.

Ride that wave!

Not like there's anything wrong with that. It's perfectly natural.

I'll do anything for you.

Have your people call my people.

Trust me.

Don't worry.

I'm there for you.

Yadda, yadda, yadda...............

Don't go changing to try and please me................

You're perfect for this company.

I'll be in touch................

I love you just the way you are.

And your point is???

No wonder we're a bunch of skeptics! Cliches, slogans, dismissive sayings, throw away lines.....
we're engulfed by them. We're choking on those disrespectful tokens of trash. Has sincerity been tossed aside with manners? How do you know when someone is being sincere? What is it in their actions and/or tone of voice that resonate a purity of regard? When do you know that someone means what they say? It seems like it is getting more and more difficult to be able to trust your own instincts when you finally meet someone who genuinely cares. Is sincerity a parody? Is it really just bullshit?
It's true that we're surrounded by phonies who are only looking out for themselves. The people who won't look you in the eye, who can only offer you a limp handshake, who would sell their souls. But, I still believe that there are genuine individuals who do care, and who don't have an ulterior motive. Where are they, you ask? Sometimes in places you least expect.

How do you know when you have encountered someone sincere?

You gotta be awake! If you're fast asleep, going through the motions, you're never going to be able to distinguish between the phonies and the one's who care. Sincerity is shown through actions not words. Look for it. Sometimes, you may get it wrong............there are lots of clever manipulators out there. Stay awake...........don't let a manipulator force you to put your head down and not believe in the goodness of others.

You have to learn to trust again. This takes time, and will only happen if you can find the strength to be just a little bit open to a positive connection. Maybe you are able to trust others. Maybe this comes natural to you. But maybe, like most who have been burned too many times, you don't trust anymore; that your belief in others has been polluted by the "nasties." Sincerity is shown through unspoken emotions, like when someone allows you to look into their eyes. It's shown by the way they shake your hand, by the confidence that they display when they are listening to you.

You have to continue to live your own honest, respectful life and to be true to yourself. People respond to this. Sad but true, most people are sound asleep, sludging through their lives oblivious to the world around them. They won't be affected by your genuine candidness. But, the ones who are awake - the ones who are seeking truth and honesty, they'll respond. They will recognize a kindred spirit who is aware that manners and caring for others still matter, and they will warmly acknowledge you.

Who knows, maybe even a Walmart Greeter is sincere. Gotta be open to the possibility.....
Hmmmm..........Don't think I'm there yet.

There's nothing so delightful as being aware. Would you rather live in
darkness? Would you rather act and not be aware of your actions, talk and
not be aware of your words? Would you rather listen to people and not be
aware of what you're hearing, or see things and not be aware of what you're
looking at? the great Socrates said, "The unaware life is not worth living."
That's a self-evident truth.

Most people don't live aware lives. They live mechanical lives, mechanical
thoughts--generally somebody else's--mechanical emotions, mechanical
actions, mechanical reactions. Anthony de Mello.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Hope and Optimism

Yesterday, I met with a 49 year old man receiving Social Assistance to discuss his situation and plans to re-enter the workforce. For the past three years, he has struggled with serious health problems, mostly related to his heart. Since his first heart attack, he has learned that he that he is a victim of bad heart genes. He has undergone two separate by-pass surgeries, and was told that he will have to live with his arteries clogging up.
Before this major turn of events, "Joe" was an actively hard working man. He had skills as a millwright, welder, and carpenter. He was always employed. He was married, had a home, and owned all of his trade tools. Life was good. One day, he was literally knocked down and couldn't take an unlaboured breath.

The downward spiral began in earnest.

He went home to recuperate. His health insurance from his work covered some of his salary, and he lived on that hoping to return to work. Then his insurance "responsibilities" were finished and he needed more time to recuperate. He was told to apply for "long-term disability" through the federal government. While he waited 6 months for his application to be processed; when he had no income or money coming into his home, his wife left him, his company laid him off, and he had to sell ALL of his tools to pay his rent and his bills, he had another heart attack.

Real person.....................unreal circumstances.

Then, he had a nervous breakdown. Small wonder. After a short stint in the hospital, he struggled to move forward. He now lives on $490.00 a month. His rent is $300.00 a month.
He decided to move into a cabin far away from the stresses of the city to recuperate. While moving his basic belongings, the transmission blew on his truck. Despite the distance he is to the community, he decided to stay in the cabin surrounded by beauty, nature and tranquility and sell his truck as is. He began to take long walks, breathe in the fresh air and marvel at the deer that visit him every evening. He is reading, sitting by the woodstove, listening to the radio and relaxing while he tries to process the turn of events.
This week, Joe's doctor told him that he will never be able to work in the construction fields that defined him. He will never be able to weld, build, or even direct a construction site. The doctor suggested that because he isn't "totally disabled" that he decide on a new career. So, as Joe recovers in his corner of the woods, he is thinking and analyzing and hoping as he gradually accepts his fate.
Throughout our meeting, one would have expected a broken man. He wasn't. His description and stories of his "streak of bad luck" was expressed with animation and humour. He always referred to "not giving up" and "being hopeful." I was so impressed with his outlook and optimism and his ability to look at the events and say............."can you believe that????"

Joe's biggest struggle right now, apart from trying to live on such a meagre amount, is redefining who he is. He stated that he wants to work so badly that there are days when he is willing to put his health at risk and go back to the construction site.
Next week, Joe starts working with a Counsellor colleague to explore new ideas, funding sources and educational options. He's nervous, but excited at the prospect of heading down a brand new path. My feeling is that he will find his way again, because he didn't give away the most important tools he needs; hope, optimism and the belief in himself.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The State of Childcare

In honour of the return of the local CBC Information morning show, here is a list of "Just Wondering" questions on the state of Childcare in New Brunswick:

  1. What is happening to the federal childcare dollars offered to and refused by the Province of New Brunswick over a supposed difference of opinion on what constitutes the childcare needs of this province?
  2. Is it just me, or was the timing of the Federal Gov't's refusal to bail out the NB gov't/NB Power Point Lepreau debacle AND Lord's refusal to sign the Childcare agreement which would've meant much needed $$$$$$$ to improve the quality and numbers of spaces in licensed daycares, too close in timing for the two events NOT to be linked? Hmmmmm...just wondering just what Vegas game our Premier is playing. Craps for Kids?
  3. Why didn't the Province of New Brunswick send a qualified expert on Early Childhood Initiatives AND the Minister of Family and Community Services to a crucial federal/provincial meeting on settling the issues surrounding the Early Childhood Agreement, like every other province did?
  4. How many unlicensed daycares have been reported and investigated over the past 10 years? What are the ramifications of running an illegal and unsafe daycare?
  5. Is it true that Early Childhood Daycare providers are the second lowest paid in Canada? What is their level of formal training/skills? Is it true that millions of dollars were set aside under the Early Childhood Development Agenda to address the educational needs of frontline childcare workers in 2001? What is the status of this program. And if the training opportunities are not in place, where was the money spent?
  6. Why aren't all the Standards and Regulations consistent across the country?
  7. Why arent the high quality centres not recognized and promoted for their excellence?
  8. In the past 10 years, how many daycare centres have been shutdown due to serious violations of the Standards and Regulations legislated by the Government of New Brunswick? How can a parent access this information when trying to ensure the safety of their children?
  9. How many Centres have multiple violations to the Standards and Regulations and have been given multiple warnings over the past 10 years and yet have never been shut down? When there is a serious violation (illegal staff/child ratio, incomplete records of registered children, unsanitary conditions, insufficient food provision, unsafe outside play area etc) are the parents notified? Can other consumers access this information?
  10. Whatever happened to the e-coli inquiry of a Childcare Centre located at the Saint John YMCA that resulted in the death of a child? Was anyone ever charged or held responsible?
  11. Annually, each licensed Childcare centre is to receive 3 unannounced spot checks and 1 unannounced license renewal investigation conducted by the Province of New Brunswick. Is this necessary standard met? If not, how often are these licensed centres visited?

These questions, unfortunately are the tip of the iceberg.

The Early Childhood Development Agenda encompassed a 5 year funding and program plan which began in 2001. So far, millions of federal dollars were passed onto each province, including New Brunswick, to fortifying existing services as well as to develop new ones that would support the youngest members of this country and their families. In New Brunswick, there have been some successful services brought forward, namely the Prenatal Benefit Program which was established in 2002 which offers some financial assistance to low income pregnant mothers during the last two trimesters of their pregnancies. However, a large portion of the money was to go directly into improving the quality and state of Daycare centres. It is unclear if this has occured. No updates on the ECD Agenda have been posted since 2003 on the Government website. So, what's up?

It's unfortunate that the Provincial opposition party has a leader who has shown no ability to rally his troops and hold the Lord government accountable. There are many such issues that need to be brought forward and revealed to the voting public. So, it becomes the role of the media (owned for the most part by one family in this province.......) to make this government accountable.

Now that the local CBC staff have been given the golden key to unlock their doors, let's hope they undo the 12 week free ride this government has had, start asking some pointed questions, and start digging up the dirt. The answers are buried somewhere in the deep dark recesses of provincial statistics and archives. They just have to get past the psychospinbabble found in all those glossy published reports, and they will find some of the answers.

The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity. Dorothy Parker

Monday, October 10, 2005

Pettigrew's Paltry and Pathetic Financial Aid

The pictures and descriptions showing the devastation of towns and villages and the unrelenting grief of the victims in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan after the latest environmental disaster to hit our global community are horrifying. And as we sit wondering how we can provide some solace and comfort, our government has come forward with a paltry 300 grand and a few Hudson's Bay blankets. With estimates of over 40,000 lost lives, 10's of thousands injured and millions homeless, the Government of Canada has once again blown it............on Thanksgiving weekend, no less. Our undignified offer is a hard slap in the face.

Didn't this Liberal government learn from the outpouring of discontent after the Tsunami disaster when initially they offered a couple of Johnny-on-the-spots and a Coleman stove to Sri Lanka? Eventually, they managed to get a plane over there with the DART team and a water cleaning system. Whoopeee! It was the efforts of the individuals of all ages that rallied to provide donations that prompted the government to jump on board and match the amount raised. Shame on them! one ear and out the other........................Does this Government suffer from short term memory loss? Yes they do, along with many other ailments.

I recall a story last Christmas about a qualified Sri Lankan born Canadian doctor who was ready and willing to offer her skills to her home country but she needed assistance to do so. The lackeys in Ottawa couldn't arrange to help her. And yet...............Martha Stewart was cleared to cross the unsecured border between Canada and the United States to paddle a pumpkin in the Anapolis Valley this weekend cause it was a "good thing." Cost of Senior bureaucrat and Cabinet Minister's salaries to right this wrong: Priceless............well, probably more than 300 grand.

Our Minister of External Affairs, whose constituency is located on the Left Bank happened to be slumming it in Montreal this weekend when the disaster struck. Now that's a first. He, who pads his expense accounts to pay for his chaffeur/lover/Left Bank cafe companion, used his "sharp as a tack" political acumen, arranged to make his generous announcement on behalf of all Canadians in the middle of a Pakistani grocery store. Slap, slap, slap!

Who thought up this great idea? Can't you just hear the "experts" in Ottawa directing Pettigrew from their Blackberries while sitting in front of their fireplaces in their summer homes in the Gatineaus............."Surround yourself with grieving, emotionally distraught relatives far away from the worst disaster in their cultural history, and make the announcement. It'll look good on the evening news." Yeah, right! It's like offering them the equivalent to an olive on a toothpick.

And as this horrendous disaster unfolds; as the local villagers use pickaxes to chip away at the rubble in search of the bodies of their children who had just arrived for a new day of learning; as they use their hands to clear away landslides that have blocked the only roads to some villages; as the President of Pakistan pleas for international help, all other large countries rallied quickly with money, helicopters, food, water, and skilled searchers. We offered an olive. It's shameful.

One last thought that keeps cropping up...........can't seem to shake it.........................Dorkhead Dingwall's expense account? Excuse me? Tell me that it's not larger than the international aid we are offering to three countries that are burying their children, neighbours and family members as we sit around our dining room tables and share our thoughts about what we are all thankful for?

Uncle Max's Summer Savory

I spent the day preparing a Thanksgiving feast, and found myself enveloped in memories of previous repasts shared by family and friends. Since moving to the Maritimes, we have spent most Thanksgiving weekends in Spencer's Island in the house that my mother-in-law grew up in, that we have grown to love and call our haven. It's always the last hurrah of the summer, when local friends, family and Fredericton friends gather to share a harvest meal and toast to our health and good times.
This year, we stayed in Fredericton. It was a different feeling staying home and not venturing to our haven, but life is about change and this is a time of transition. We shared our table tonight with friends whom we have celebrated many occasions, Christmas' and Thanksgivings with. I consider them as close as family.
Up until two years ago, Uncle Max always sat at the head of the table in the dining room in Spencer's Island, eating heartily, regaling us in stories, and sharing his garden bounty. It was also the house he grew up in and I think he always enjoyed sharing a meal in the dining room that I'm sure brought many childhood memories back to him personally. Max was the best dinner guest because he always exuded compliments with exuberance and gratefulness. Everything on his plate was delicious to him (and devoured) and he always made me feel that I was comparable to Julia Child. After any offering, he would lean back, stretch, pat his full stomach and with a large smile on his face, wax poetic. I loved him for it.
Uncle Max was the constant whenever we visited the old house. He lived in the community and loved it more than anyone. It was Max who would help us open the house up in the spring. It was Max who joined us every morning for coffee and a chat in the kitchen by the woodstove. It was Max who cooked the lobster and prepared it for a summer feast (he always ate the most of it too). It was Max whom you could count on to fix, chop, feed, converse, fish, laugh, tell stories, share a beer and provide the heartiest hug whenever we arrived for a weekend retreat. He spent his days doing exactly what he wanted........making maple syrup in the spring, planting and gardening in the summer, cutting wood in his forest, raking his fields of blueberries, lovingly feeding his fish in the trout pond, setting fish nets to trap mackerel, or helping out a family member. It was Max who constantly encouraged me to write more.
Twice a year, he would pack up his truck and head to the Miramichi or Labrador to fly fish. He said that fly fishing was better than sex, but he always had a twinkle in his eye like maybe the two activities were tied in importance or something. One will never know.
Uncle Max died during the nasty storm in 2004. It was sudden and jolting despite our knowledge that he was struggling with heart and health issues. Spencer's Island has never been the same without him, and I still struggle to come to terms with his death. Despite the fact that for the most part, he conversed with his nephew more than he ever did with me, his constant presence was an integral part of my love of the place, and I always had a feeling that he felt the same of me. I miss the old fart like crazy.
Today, I used up the last of Max's Summer Savory that he grew in his garden and gave me two years ago. It was hanging in a paper bag wrapped tightly with twine, in my basement and I knew that I only had enough left for one more turkey dinner. I lovingly crumpled the savory leaves into the stuffing, and thought of how much I miss cooking for him, and more importantly how much I miss seeing him bound out of his truck, up the walkway and into the kitchen humming and ready to give me a bear hug.
I didn't tell anyone tonight about the savory. I just kept it to myself as I imagined him proudly sitting with us as we toasted to summer glories, good health and and fondly remembered times.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

A week of Perplexing Paradoxes

This time last week, I was a guest at the Waldorf Astoria, surrounded by serious money. The trip to NYC was a planned treat for my sisters and I, compliments of my Mother. Her intentions were to blow our "inheritance" on us. Game, we definately put a major dent in it, and had a blast doing so.

Arrangements were made for me to meet up with them at the hotel as we were flying in from different directions. This plan gave me some limbo room to do as I pleased for a couple of hours before the game began. Somehow, I managed to snag a white limo drive from La Guardia to the hotel a couple of hours ahead of them. This, of course was a shared drive, though a limo drive nonetheless. So, on my first trip to NYC, I was stylishly joined by a cash cow couple from Cleveland, two Toronto chicks escaping mommydom (somewhat like moi) and a Montreal Soprano-couple with an attitude that oozed entitlement. I liked the latter the best, simply because they had attitude and weren't afraid to express it. I think they liked me too, because I kept laughing at their attempts to take control over the limo driver's scary driving tactics (like the driver really cared) and when they weren't doing that, they were chatting it up with me. More than anything, I was revelling in the absurdity of the experience, wondering how I had the brash nerve to go along with the limo driver when he offered me a ride while I stood in the Taxi line unbeknownst to the mode of transportation. Leap of faith? Guess so.

Chances are, no one was paying attention to me as I disembarked at the entrance of the Waldorf, driver opening the door, graciously handing me my beat up old leather knapsack, and taking my fare and tip. If they did, I hope they thought I was an eccentric "old money Mainer" or a famous (but they couldn't place my face) novelist/journalist type, who chose to wear her beachcombing duds and carry a pack on her back that has seen better days. I didn't care! I was playing the role as I made my momentous entrance into the grand foyer of the Waldorf Astoria!!!! And it was GRAND and full of historical splendour. Loved it! Quickly I realized, however, that there was a cornucopia of people milling about, some who looked quite similar to me, and others who arrived for a weekend (?) with a multitude of matching luggage custom made in Milan or some such fancyschmancy place. I didn't stick out. I somehow fit in to this vastly different world than I normally live in.

It was amazing how quickly I acclimatized to the dark wood floral scented surroundings as I waited for the Concierge to place my bags in a secure storage area. I could get used to this life, I thought. Then, I wondered.............where do these Service staff go at night? How far do they have to commute to afford a place to live? How do they feel about serving so many guests who have gobs of money and cares that only the rich can afford to have? Thoughts of my real life working with people looking for employment, and trying to clamour out of the cycle of poverty are never far from my thinking. It's just the way it is, always has been. The paradoxes of life.

The weekend was a whirl of intense bargaining for knock off fashion accessories on Canal Street, rubber necking all famous landmarks in lower Manhattan, inhaling the visual stimulation of Times Square, marvelling at Lady Liberty, emoting at Ellis Island and wishing my grandmother was there to enjoy the moment inbibing, enjoying, watching, listening, feeling, talking, absorbing, laughing, riding, running, walking, writing, looking, discussing, with us. She would've loved it. And, as I sat glued to the stage watching the Twyla Tharp dance production to the Billy Joel music that has played the most integral part of my life since I was 13 years old, I was struck by my good fortune. Throughout the weekend, wherever I went, however, I saw the glistening glow of richness and the wallowing poverty of homelessness and loneliness. I recognized and acknowledged the ones in the middle, the individuals in the "service industry" who also struggled daily and went home every night exhausted to pick up their family lives and perform more services and more importantly, who kept the city that never sleeps awake and vibrant. Haves...........have nots. Haves.............have nots............and the ones in the middle keeping the world moving along. The perplexities of life.

When I returned to my corner of New Brunswick, to a city that also has the paradoxes, though on a much smaller version, the scales tipped in favour of the financially impoverished. I advocate and work with them every day, so it's a normal transition. And, I also counsel the frontline people in this service industry which was also requested of me this week. So, the 7 days after my trip of luxury to the Waldorf were teeming with forceful recognitions of the lives of the individuals I work with. It was like................yes you can go see how the rich and well-off live and play, but you will remain awake and alert to the needs of others. The contradictions are humbling. It is what grounds me.

"Life is a long lesson in humility." James M. Barrie

Saturday, October 08, 2005

P.F.O. Letter.

Ottawa, Canada

Dear Awareness:

Thank you for your interest in applying for the position of Director of the Mint located in our fine fair Capital. We were astonished by the overwhelming number of applications, recommendations and underlying coercive demands that we have received over the past week specifically about filling this kushy job.

Unfortunately, you didn't make the short list. Despite your strong financial background and nifty promotional ideas, (which we intend to use if we don't have to declare porkbarrel bankruptcy) you don't have enough "white matter" in your Prefrontal Cortex to be able to lie, manipulate, and spend the tax payers money liberally enough to be able to maintain the level of consistency that is the norm in Ottawa. You're too darn honest, not red enough, and not connected to the Quebec wing of the Liberal party.

If you ever intend to apply for another patronage position, please do not send your application through regular channels. It is best to pay off, sleep with and/or stroke a Liberal Cabinet Minister, financial Bagman, or an advertising executive in order to get anywhere in the competition. Please try to be discreet about it. Normally, you can find one of them sneaking a smoke out back of one of the 5 star restaurants (purchase Canada's restaurant guide) across our country. They aren't too hard to find if you know where to look.

Enclosed is a sample of our updated version of the Remembrance Day quarter (not a loonie). Instead of the traditional red poppie, we have gone with glow in the dark poppie montage that if you rub softly will play the tune, "Farewell to Nova Scotia." It's our little tribute to our past (and heartily missed) Director who has recently accepted a post as Ambassador to Switzerland. We wish him well.


The Patronage Coordinator.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Minted Cover Letter

Dear Patronage Coordinator:

I hear you're looking for a new Director of the Mint, and I gotta tell you, I'm the person for the job. Please find enclosed my exemplary CV for your consideration.
Presently, I'm working on the frontlines of the local Welfare office. We dish out measly amounts of loonies to desparate individuals once a month and teach them how to budget. So, I have some financial experience, and can recognize all the coins produced at the Mint. I especially like the loonies you distributed last year with the disappearing poppie on it. How cool was that? As a back up if I need it, I also have a friend who has a degree in Economics who would be on call to meet me for filet mignon and expensive bottles of french wine in one of your 5 star restaurants in this fair country's capital. We both love beef and vino.

The government department I work for doesn't have a budget for professional development. Consequently, I have a wish list of courses and various worldly destinations that I would like to pursue. Since every country has some form of currency, I would be open to go anywhere to learn. Fiji, New Zealand and Tasmania and Istanbul, however, are top on my list. They have cool looking bills. Plus, I'd like to return to Istanbul to shop at the Bazaar. I'm great at negotiating deals on purses and tacky earrings, which I need more of, and could hone my skills there as I shop. I believe that these skills are quite transferable and applicable in the position you are trying to fill.

I have a slew of super ideas to help make more money for our money making establishment. For example......Creating a 5 dollar coin and we could call it the "mullooney5" after our best prime minister ever, keeping our Mint operating 24/7 to make more money for everyone, laminating all bills so that they last forever, making looney cakes for birthdays filled with coins for promotional distribution through our Tim Horton's outlets.......I've got lots. People say I'm an idea's person, so I can share more with you when we meet to discuss my salary.

I realize that the previous dingdong dorkhead who held the position is stumbling aimlessly on the links of Bell Bay in Cape Breton trying to sort out his expense account issues. What I can promise you is that I won't ever spend more than he did. I'll do my best if you want me to, but if I can't live up to your expectations, I promise I will quit so that you can provide me with 1/2 a million pin money to keep my mouth shut.

One thing I have to admit is that I wouldnt be caught dead with a Liberal membership card on my person. However, at age 10, I was in the crowd and saw Trudeau live in Hamilton once oh and I watched part of his funeral (caught the Justin eulogy), and I did meet that side talking "little guy" in a pub at Wilfrid Laurier years ago. Hopefully that counts.
In the meantime, I will be sloshing money into my upstanding lobbyist business that I do on the side waiting with baited anticipation for my offer.



View from the Frontline

Over the course of the past couple of months, the pace and number of registration appointments for people applying for social assistance in my corner of New Brunswick have increased tremendously. This is due to a combination of factors: new types of services processed such as Childcare subsidies and Prenatal Benefits for individuals for low income earners, lack of cover-off for the frontline screening and registration team during the summer months when they take their much earned vacation time, no cover-off when someone is ill (which occurs often due to the many viruses and colds carried in by the public), staff turnover and training of new staff with a steep learning curve to overcome, and the fact that a year ago it was decided to decrease the number of appointments a day from 5 to 4 per worker in order to allow time to process necessary legislative paperwork and to help with burnout conditions. (5 appointments should never have been allowed in the first place. It was too much) The time between a telephone "screen in" where the applicants provide pertinent information and the registration/verification appointment has gone from 2 days to 2 weeks.

This is unacceptable and barbaric. The Social Assistance office anywhere is the last stop on the road to financial help. People who call for help are in crisis financially, emotionally, spiritually and often physically. Whatever the reason, they need help and they need it fast. By the time a person hits the bottom of the humiliation mountain cliff and sucks in their pride to sound out their cry for help, waiting 2 days is often a burden. 2 weeks is a bloody lifetime, especially for a family with young children and no other familial supports in the community. Where are they to go and what are they to do??

Anyone who qualifies and who can jump through the multitude of bureaucratic hoops called policy and legislation has to have exhausted all means of help. Even then, there are many ways to "screen out" and disqualify them before they enter the front door. The most notorious blockage is the Economic Unit policy, which was first introduced by the McKenna Liberals and maintain by the present Lord Tories. Designed to avoid multiple cheques going to one address a la Kate and Allie scenario, the policy has been used and abused and changed and altered and bastardized along the way. It disallows a single person who would receive $290.00 per month to move in with another to share rent. Excuse me? How much is rent???

Today, I observed two of my colleagues put in the third day without one of their teammates who was out sick with a respiratory virus. The doctor has told her to stay home for a week. Stretched both cognitively, and emotionally after accomodating for 6 appointments a day, juggling various emergency applications AND training a new member of the team, my two colleagues left the office exhausted, stressed and very unhappy. These are two women who have dedicated their 30+ working years to the frontline of New Brunswick, helping individuals and families; the sick and the mentally ill, the transient, and the recently abused woman, the recividist, the drug addict, the alcoholic, the depressed, are on their own. Aside from the everyday emotional assault of listening, caring and helping people who are at the end of hope, they now have to deal with the over-the-top angry and frustrated applicant. Frontline means frontline..........they are the first face of government and they get the brunt of the results of cutbacks in the wrong areas and bad decisions that add more work processing under the umbrella of integrated services (looks good on paper) without more staff.
Their Manager has tried to raise the red flag, and has sent various memos indicating the severity of the situation. She's been asked to write a business plan filled with statistical bullshit and high falootin' crap in order to justify the need for some breathing space. Like she doesn't have anything better to do. She has the largest number of staff in her unit, and juggles various issues and requests for bullshit statistics daily. I guess if she pulled an all-nighter, she'd be able to find the time to grant the Red-tape request.

I say...........excuse me Senior Management people................let me invite you to my piece of New Brunswick for a day........get your head out of your ass and come listen to the human stories that make up the improverished community........the human stories that wrench your heart and make you tear up......the everyday human stories that make you think there for the the grace of God go I.........and then I dare you to ask for a business plan.