Monday, January 26, 2009


While much of the world (myself included) is going ga-ga for President Obama, I think they're doing it for the wrong reasons.

Yes, he's the first African-American president in history, and yes, he's a welcome antidote to eight long years of Dubya, but everyone is intentionally overlooking the most important aspect of this extraordinary individual:

His left-handedness.

As a fellow left-handed specimen of humanity, I'm thrilled that the Oval Office continues to provide a vibrant, living example of how much us southpaws can contribute to society.

From a young age, we're made to feel like the mutants of Marvel's X-Men. Given 'special' scissors with green handles. Forced to use pencil sharpeners, gear shifts and water fountains callously designed for the right-handed majority. Having no choice but to watch as the side of our left hand smudges blue pen across each and every word we write on line after line, page after page.

And yet, the irony is, lefties have ruled the world for the past forty years.

Whoever sits in the Oval Office is, unarguably, the most powerful person on the planet.

So, let's look at the list:

Gerald Ford?


Ronald Reagan?


George H.W. Bush?


Bill Clinton?


George W.Bush?


That speaks for itself.

Four lefty presidents (sandwiched between Jimmy Carter) and the world did just fine.

And then a righty was once again let into office, and boom! We had eight disastrous years of mayhem.

(And even if Obama had actually lost, I still think America would have been absolutely safe and secure; after all, John McCain is a lefty, too.)

With left-handed President Obama now in office, balance has been restored to the Force, and the universe is once again properly aligned, and lefties everywhere can rejoice.

Although, truth be told, I fear for the future, especially 2012.

Sarah Palin, by all accounts, is right-handed.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Are we really meant to be up there, aloft, afloat?

I think not.

It's a conspiracy, I say.

In fact, I don't think anybody actually hurtles up into the sky at all.

More on this startling realization, but first:

Hearing about the airliner that dived into the waters around New York City, all my anxieties about flying in general (and crashing in particular) bobbed to the surface.

Not that I have all that many hesitations about flying. Some of my earliest memories revolve around flying with my father (who had his pilot's license) in that little plane he steered so skillfully into the skies from the small airport in St.Catharines, Ontario. We would soar in the little two-seater above the streets of my hometown, as he pointed through the window at the little Fisher-Price house that he assured me was my real, actual home that we had left only an hour or so earlier.

Flying that young, in a plane that small, seems normal when you're four or five. (Of course, everything seems normal at four or five. "Eat snot? Let's do it!")

It was only later, years later, that I started to get a wee bit uncomfortable about the whole hovering-above-the-earth-thousands-of-feet-in-the-air thing.

What freaks me out the most is: it never feels like you're moving. In a car, or a bus, or a train, you can look out the window and see cows eating grass and children playing catch and mothers hanging laundry out to dry in the fresh spring air, and you zoom on past them, and your brain starts to wonder who they were and what they were doing, and whether they are happy, and whether they think the same things about you as you hurtle past, your face for them a one-second glimpse-through-a-window.

In a plane, you usually get none of that.

Once the plane takes off (the only really mobile part of the journey, in my opinion), everything after is simply shaking. Jostling. Yes, you can look out the window, and see clouds, and mountains, and various bodies of water bobbing next to each other, but it's all in the abstract. ("That's Alaska? Cool...")

You can't see the frozen breath of a forest ranger as he walks through the woods. You don't catch a glimpse of a little girl's sarcastic roll-of-the-eyes at the latest warning from her mother as they stand on the edge of the highway, scouting out traffic. All sense of proportion is reduced, narrowed, diluted.

The plane shakes, and four, eight, ten hours later, you're in another country. As if you stepped into some kind of science-fictional contraption that bashes you around like fruit in a blender. Like you are not moving at all, in fact, but everything around you is shifting and altering its molecular state.

Perhaps that's what's really happening.

A car-wash world, in which the illusion of movement is necessary to perfect and uphold the illusion itself.

Planes do not lift off at all, I'm thinking.

The universe, instead, rearranges itself, physcially discombobulates its quarks and neutrons, its atoms and cells, folding in on itself until we emerge from the plane, thinking we have moved a great deal, when, instead, the air and space around us has accomodated itself to our geographical desires. A constant, unending Rubik's Cube of a planet that contorts itself to fit our moods and whims.

Which would mean my cherished childhood memory of flying in my father's plane might very well be an illusion. Authentic, yes, yet nevertheless a ploy designed to make a child feel safe and ennobled.

I may never have actually been up there, between the clouds. I was granted the perception of flight, and yet the truth was more mundane: that little speck of a house, which I was told was mine, had been an untruth concocted by my dad, a picture painted outside the window, designed specifically to give me a sense that the world was both smaller and bigger than I could imagine, that I could elevate myself, and yet still see my home from such a great height. That the world could simultaneously be viewed from a vantage point both high and low. We could go from here to there and remain intact; we could see where we came from, even though we were so far away (and above).

How intricate such a plan was!

I did not go up. The world rearranged itself for me and me alone.

An adult's scheme to make a child feel comforted in a vast, cold and disproportionate world.

So that's what it's all about, I'm thinking.

I've got it figured out.

All of these airports and airplanes were designed by adults to make kids feel that they were actually going somewhere.

I mean, come on: who actually believes that thousands of planes are above us, daily, hourly? It's absurd. Much easier to acknowledge the truth -- that when we step onto that plane, and settle into our seats, and fasten our belts, we remain immoble.

I'm waiting for when the truth is finally revealed, via an email, or a midnight phone call, or a knock on my door on a late-winter's morn. The simple message will be delivered by men in black suits and somber ties and silver shades when they've judged that I'm ready for its impact: It's a vast conspiracy, this whole flying thing, something grown-ups have invented to reassure kids that we can move from left to right and yet still maintain a sense of ourselves. That we can somehow control all of our flights and our falls.

The truth is, as we all soon learn, we never truly go anywhere.

(We think we do, yes, and we feel we do, certainly, but the world cannot truly be that wide. Such lateral and horizontal mobility cannot tangibly be that simple.)

The world comes to us, and we make do with what we have before us. Bending the world, for good or ill, to suit our needs, hopes, heartaches and longings. Going anywhere changes nothing; only that which comes towards needs to be confronted, and comforted, and loved. The shaking we feel on a plane is a shoddy replication of what trembles within us on a daily basis, but it invigorates us, this jostling; it makes us feel that we have the power to withstand tension and emerge, more or less, intact.

But: shhh!

Keep it yourself, this knowledge, as you would your mother's secret or your sibling's sickness.

For right now, at this very moment, somewhere in the world, a child is in a small plane with his father, staring down at their family's house, believing that the world can so easily be divided into up and down, large and small. Not understanding, as no child possibly can, that the true journeys we take are always stationary. That the world does with us what it will, and we have to be ready and open to embrace all that stands before us after the shaking subsides, when the final illusion of landing fades away like morning mist.

Thursday, January 15, 2009


Have you touched anyone today?

One of the things that infuriates me about modern mass-media and its relentless focus on celebrities' personal lives is the fact that actors are rarely asked anything at all about what they do on a daily basis -- namely, act. How do they do what they do? What choices do they make when preparing a character? Why this or that particular reading of a line? Instead, the reporters ask about the stars' personal lives, and the stars dutifully answer, instead of saying: "Next question." (Of course, if they actually said "next question", they wouldn't appear on the cover of the magazine, and their movie wouldn't be shoved down everybody's throat, and their per-picture salary would go down, and they wouldn't be stars anymore, so they give in and give up and decide to play the game and talk about this or that aspect of their friendship/courtship/marriage/divorce, and then have the audacity to be pissed off at all the media attention, when they've spent the last several years letting everybody know about their girlfriends/boyfriends/wives/daughters/sons/exes etc.)

But I digress.

Michael J.Fox, appearing on Inside The Actor's Studio, actually bucked the trend and mentioned an honest-to-god acting tip, one that I found startling in its simplicity, one that could be applied to all arts, and, indeed, all life, if one so chose.

One of his first gigs after moving down to the States from Canada was a TV movie he made with veteran actress Maureen Stapleton, and she advised him, in every scene, to touch someone. "Physically touch someone?" he asked, and she said no, no, it didn't have to be physically, although it could be. Just touch someone. With your words, voice, intent. Touch someone. It was advice he subsequently thought about in every scene he ever did from that point on.

Touch someone.

I kept thinking about that thought.

I had never been able to articulate what was bothering me about the internet in general, and blogs in particular, and life in even more particular, but that comment kind of crystallized a couple of things for me.

The internet is designed for such high-speed, quick-read access that it sometimes seems so impersonal and glossy and slick and superficial that any real focus, any real meaning is inevitably buried beneath a blizzard of blogs and links and websites and homepages, until the whole ungainly mess begins to appear, more and more, less as a source of information and inspiration and more as a repository for all our half-baked, ill-thought out thoughts and conceptions. Our venom, spite, sarcasm and self-embellishment.

Thinking about the stuff I read, the newspapers and websites, I realized that very few, if any of them, touched me.

Made me think, yes. Made me laugh, certainly.

But moved me?

Actually moved me?

Thinking about life, too.

How we wander day to day through our family and peers, co-workers and strangers. A joke, a wave, a sigh over here; a good-morning, what's up, not-too-much over there. Everybody looking like they're so contented and ready to face the day. Or else visibly pissed-off, barely holding on, suffocating with real or imagined stress. (Which ultimately are one and the same thing, I guess.)

One of the few spiritual gurus that I actually find a) insightful and b) practical is Eckhart Tolle, whose first book The Power of Now I kind of, sort of think is somewhat profound, especially in its focus on the present moment being the source of all power, hope, life. This moment is all we have, and since life is lived in an eternal present -- the past erased, the future never arriving -- the fluid continuum we inhabit becomes all the more precious.

Isn't it depressing that we have to describe athletes and writers as 'being in the moment'? As if it's a rare thing. As if living in 'the moment' can only be attained through monumental diligence, and enacted only under extreme situations of competition, concentration, or duress.

What if we focused on 'the moment' constantly? What if we were conscious of the who we are and what we're doing and who we're doing it to at all times?

It's something I try to do, more and more.

Be present.

Be aware.

Not become caught up in things that are gone, and things that may never be.

Focusing on what is before me, and not judging it, and not cursing it, and not blessing it, and simply allowing it to unfold.

The person serving you drinks at Starbucks. The boring wait-in-line at the immigration office. The mind-numbing traffic jam that inches along, inch by infuriating inch.

All of these receiving equal attention.

A little abstract, I know, but I find it can actually work, this focus on the present.

You start to become more and more aware of not the stuff of life -- the things and the roads and the people and the weather and the ground and the lights -- but the space in which all of these things exist.

And by being comfortable in that space, simply, I don't know, resting in it, you can be aware of how subtly you can manipulate it.

Mostly by touching someone.

Giving them their attention. Deflecting away from yourself. Smiling. Letting the ego descend within. Being conscious of the fact that you can actually alter a circumstance by your words, gestures, actions and comments. You can sometimes bring a miniscule amount of joy, or contemplation, or solace, or levity, merely by allowing others in.

Too often we trudge through life as if we're wearing snowshoes and the whole earth is thick with deeply packed snow. We carefully glide along the top, worrying about falling. Getting stuck. Careful not to press too hard against the ice, fearful of cracking its fragile surface.

Who shall I touch today? I sometimes think. A student? A friend? The person taking my pizza order? Will they notice? Will they even care?

Outside this internet cafe, on this crisp January morning, Session Road is humming along. I can see the KFC across the street, the endless array of white taxicabs slowly driving by, patiently scanning for passengers. A generic pop song floats through the air.

A minor life moment, it would seem.

And yet, I am, as you are, exactly where I'm supposed to be.

Waiting to touch, and be touched.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


"There's obviously a good aspect to competition -- the development of the mind, the body, creativity," Mr.Vanier says. "But there's something where we can walk very quickly on
people -- I want to prove I'm better than you. How to find a world where the essential thing is to work for peace, to work to build something together?" He notes that the United Nations has recommended that the study of non-violence be included on all school curricula.

"I'm amazed that this is not being done. What is more important is that I should go back home and show that I'm better than others...The pain of parents comes when children don't seem to be doing as well as others. Everything becomes competition."

If humans -- part of a strange and immature species that is still only a little more than 100,000 years old -- are still evolving, then what's the next step? We have now reached the level of consciousness, something that dinosaurs, in all their millions of years on this planet, never did.

We know we're going to die, and that troubles us. And so we mask that anxiety in the veil of anticipation, hoping against hope that we will someday be better than those around us. We will become strong because others we will remain weak. We judge our success based on the fact that we are doing better than the person before us and behind us.

But what if we surrounded ourselves continually with those who have no vested interest in that struggle? Who aren't playing that game? Who are what society calls 'weak' to begin with, but who may, in fact, be the metaphorical finger pointing to the destination we as a species have to eventually reach?

If the collective human ego is still morphing over the millieniums into something larger, which I think it is, then the next step must somehow involve an acknowledgement that we cannot continue to judge our own worth as human beings based on how much higher, faster, stronger and smarter we are than those beside us and below us that breathe our same air.

Some kind of symbiosis may be in order, a necessary, mutual realization on the part of all of us that life exists for its own sake, and has not been designed or accidentally developed so that we spend years and years trying to prove our self-worth to indifferent others who are immersed in their own cocoon trying to prove their self-worth to us, with neither side watching the other yet each flank nevertheless futilely trying to impress an invisible, future mass of spectators who could care less.

The meek may not, eventually, inherit the earth, but they certainly can, at the moment, enlighten it.