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Won’t you be my neighbour ?

Years back, I found Mr. Rogers’ television show for kids slow and tedious, his repetitive sweaters and sock puppets. Yet I also thought Sesame Street a rush of characters, often pondering how teachers would be able to compete with the dazzling two minute segments of colours, charming puppets, etc. I suppose we see life from our own jaundiced perspective and these competing notions of too slow or too fast reinforced in me the Ralph Waldo Emerson mantra of taking the middle road. But truthfully, having to choose in those years, I, and my children chose the flash, dazzle and puppetry of Sesame Street, not comprehending the perhaps deeper more soulful rationale embraced by Fred Rogers.

However, the recent documentary Won’t you be my neighbour made me realize that Fred Rogers had purposely slowed down the world to thoughtfully and calmly incorporate children into it, rendering it comprehensive to wee folk. From Pittsburgh and in league with the best new thinkers of the time, Drs Brazelton and Spock, he worked to open up relationships and encourage children’s voices and feelings. Outspoken against the silliness and violence in Howdy Doody and Saturday morning cartoons shows, his segments attempted to explain the inexplicable in gentle terms: a week on death; a discussion of the meaning of the word, “assassination” when Bobby Kennedy was gunned down; integration with the show’s Officer Clemens in a plastic tub when in the outside world, bleach was poured into swimming pools in which black people swam. Big questions for little people who were beginning to comprehend the wide world of confusion and wondering what to make of it.

I found the documentary wise, engaging, and perhaps a bit slow mimicking Roger’s measured approach as he rejected a life at the seminary for writing, acting and producing Mr. Rogers’ Neighbourhood . He realized the importance of the new medium, television. His insight into its power and impact on developing minds resulted in a show that should not have succeeded for it contravened all qualities of accepted television. I watched and listened to Rogers’ make his case to Senator Pastore during Richard Nixon’s reign in order to ensure PBS continued financial support as he cut quickly to the chase: he quoted a little song,”What to do with the mad that you feel,”about children expressing their anger appropriately and guiding it towards control . Voice shaking, but simply, Rogers’ brief explanation ensured the financial support for his show’s programming.

So many years later when apparently we, the psychologists, most professions are in deed aware of technology’s manipulation of youth, and I am disgruntled by television’s manipulation that has veered from Rogers’ simple straight forward truths. Watch any cartoon, any superhero upon which children’s eyes are riveted and you will be cast back to those first days of explosions, car crashes, confrontations, swirling body parts and worse. Our kids cheer for the overloaded actions of death and destruction, the extensive animation extending, twisting, exploding the gore. Yes, it is fantasy, but fantasy that reaches deep into the psyches of our young, especially as it is reinforced time and again, shockingly normalizing it. When Rogers heard of a youngster hurtling himself to death because he believed he could fly like Superman , Rogers focused his show to explain to his young audience the difference between real and make- believe. Today, figures/ humans easily morf from one state to another, kids embracing the transition, apparelled in costumes and weapons.

Rogers’ defence of childhood likely arose from his own memories of childhood as a fat kid bullied, a sick kid confined to bed, living in his own imagination, a child constantly reminded not to express his emotions by his parents, just behave. Rogers never lost that inner child, wanting above all, that every child be loved and listened too, accepted for themselves. Watching his real interactions, and the long lines that formed to meet him, and hearing a disabled child share a duet with him underscored the passion and authenticity of the man. No flashing lights, fancy doodads, just that handmade sweater and a look focused and an ear attentive. Full attention given.

The documentary reminds us that selling to kids should not be the motive behind television, that the early days that catapulted Sesame Street and Rogers Neighbourhood to fame were centred on making the world a better place for kids: for the poor, to equalize opportunities, to promote principles that concerned reading, education and healthy growth in mind and spirit. Ironically what has been learned about childhood evolution has been scorned and forgotten in the name of profit. It’s a sad tale when research is purposely perverted for financial goals.

Do we hear kids laugh when they watch tv shows today? Yes. Do we perhaps join in their laughter at the bad guy trounced or the explosion? Do we ever think maybe a slower attempt to demonstrate reconciliation through friendship or compromise might be better than swords or spaceguns blazing? Maybe. Some of us, the more thoughtful of us, do we not want to fight with the child occupied in the Ipad while we complete our own work, or not want to dislodge the child from the screen, fearing an outburst. Likely, we figure another 10 or twenty minutes won’t hurt and we are, after all, such busy people…

Rogers wrote,

If the day ever came when we were able to accept ourselves and our children exactly as we and and they are , then I believe we would have come very close to an ultimate understanding of what ‘ good ‘ parenting means.

– Mr. Rogers in Mr. Rogers Talks with Parents

So put down your Iphones, push aside your texts, your computers, folks, for this moment will not come again. Use it as an opportunity to look your kid in the eye, listen to their voice right now. What you are doing in your busy, busy life is so less important than responding or being with your child.

Mr. Rogers knew that.So should you.


The Lingering Taste of Chocolate Ginger

I am not exactly a hoarder, but I have been unable to pitch old books, notebooks and articles, especially evidence of my former life as a teacher. I had finally dragged a pile to the recycling box when I noticed a printed something whose edges did not conform to the rest of the bulk, so I pulled it out.

I discovered a stapled piece that I had no memory of having written: as I transitioned from Oakwood Collegiate as a long term occasional teacher( L.T.O) after five months to Northern Secondary into a contract position in the 1990’s. The move must have been perplexing me because I recorded that I was tossing and turning every night, tiptoeing into bedrooms to rearrange bedcovers at midnight, and I had typed a piece that captured my anxiety at leaving.

My retrieved three pages focused on my Grade 11 dream class, having shed their Grade 10 silliness but not having donned the pseudo- sophistication of Grade 12’s. We had studied a novel entitled Cal, a modern version of Holden Caulfield. For me back then, and even with an interesting backdrop of Protestant and Catholic skirmishes in Ireland, it featured too much teenage suffering and adolescent ennui. But the kids liked it and their comparative essays on books they had chosen demonstrated insight.

Of course, I realized James Grant and Fanny Horowitz skipped class occasionally and Todd had to be told to remove his heavy feet from the desktop, but truly I adored this group. To extend their learning and exhibit their passion in that class, the students had used puppet shows, panel discussions, debates, oral and video presentations to make the period delightful, funny, winsome. As their teacher, I was so proud that I glowed with happiness in their presence, feeling a mutual give and take, particularly with their burgeoning interests into the study of English.

However, my Grade 10’s provided a counterpoint, reducing a supply teacher to ranting, raving and dissolving into a puddle of tears as she raced into the principal’s office to complain. I recall meeting her later and her comment, “ …but you’re so little” ( which I was not), but I harboured images of her being lassoed and tied to my desk while the inmates dissolved into gangs as they played with their gameboys, laughing, or more likely, ignoring her sober attempts to teach the variables of the semicolon or introduce Lord of the Flies.

My reflection on paper had caught the tenor of the class, as every teacher will inevitably meet a class similar to this one,

“ They appear to be a drawerful of mismatched socks…talkative and rude and ill prepared, easily bored and unable to sit still. Their skills are weak…

The fall was not easy. I never knew the mood when I entered the room, and it was not unusual for students to have forgotten books or pens. I tried group work, self- directed work, Socratic lessons…I often thought that my life would be easier without this bunch…

We had begun our study of Romeo and Juliet. Always pondering how best to engage and motivate, I considered that they are the video generation so, of course, Franco Zeffirelli’s film of gangs and gangling awkward love in the film version of Romeo and Juliet would appeal to this group of meagre learners.

Their first assignments based on character examination through speech, dress and interaction was surprisingly good, and incredibly, turned in on time.

We began with the Chorus’s Prologue. The class participated and responded to my questions, answering and understanding those Elizabethan lines. I assigned roles for the next day’s class, really doubting, but always hoping they would practice them.

Maurice as Benvolio was outstanding. Maurice, always bundled in a heavy black overcoat even on the hottest day, rarely handed in his work. Someone must have confused him with commas and periods as he always punctuated his sentences with the former. Arturo as the Prince, stood tall, his dark eyes commanding the attention of his peers, was likewise excellent. And Roberto, who never produced any work at all, had discovered a copy of the text at home and shyly, but proudly transformed himself into the perfect Romeo. Jocelyn wrapped herself in a flamingo pink scarf and crept into the personage of Juliet, eyes large and innocent, overflowing with first love.

Best of all, this group of disparate souls finally melded into a class. They were functioning as one, all part of the same, all week, all involved, and can you believe it?, actually sharing Shakespeare’s dirty puns and enjoying themselves.And so help me, they found oxymorons hilarious.( Well, who wouldn’t?)

Originally, I believed it a fluke and they would revert back to their former selves: the class no one wanted. But the subsequent classes on Shakespeare replicated the success of the original and I caught myself gape- mouthed, incredulous at the progress the group had shown.

On the second last day before my departure, Marnie Chou-Brown gifted me a tiny silver bag. Inside was a morsel of chocolate ginger. For me, like Proust’s Madeleine, that taste will always conjure my Grade 10 teaching experience. When I sucked away the deliciously velvety chocolate , the spicy ginger caught in my throat and made me cough. Long after the contrasting textures faded, the heat remained.

So I leave with some sorrow and regret, the memory of that chocolate ginger providing a metaphor for remembering my students and colleagues in the English department, and like Romeo murmur, “ O heavy lightness.”

Funny, the things we cannot part with, the memories forgotten or subsumed in a pile of rubbish to be discarded. We carry with us the voices, the tactile remembrances from years back when we were caught unawares by an event, a person, an experience that changed our trajectory. Had the pages not protruded beyond the edges, I might have forgetter the bittersweet taste of that remarkable class.

At the Guggenheim Bilbao This Summer

We are nonstop readers in our family. And although the writer,Dan Brown, is far from a fav, his use of art history and iconography In his books intrigues both Howard and me. OK, Howard has been known to follow detectives by PD James, John Le Carre, Ian Rankin, for example. A few years ago, Brown took his hero to Spain and Bilbao and as the Guggenheim art gallery there was one museum I’d always wanted to explore, we decided we would plan a trip with Bilbao as the focal point.

Here in Toronto, the AGO was reconstituted by Frank Gehry, our own local boy and if you know his work, it’s unique, distinguishable from many mundane buildings in Chicago, LA, Paris and of course Bilbao, Spain. Likely most people come to view the museum itself, but inside it, this summer we discovered exhibitions that complemented the iconic building.

At the Guggenheim, the headsets are free- in many languages-and the commentary is intelligent and helpful- although some may find the analyses of the artworks rather long. On view were shows by Anselm Keifer, Gerard Richter, Jenny Holzer, Lucio Fontana and Gorgio Morandi: likely not recognizable household names to many of the public. Perhaps and hopefully, Jenny Holzer’s is. She, like the others mentioned here, has been exhibiting for over forty years internationally, her voice calling attention to human abuses of power.

Her exhibition at the Guggenheim is entitled Thing Indescribable and contains several sections, each one taking aim at the deprivation of basic human needs. Art objects include Truisms and Inflammatory Essay posters. Her work stands beside the best of artists who have protested issues of social justice. Street art, engraved benches, posters in five languages, stone sarcophagi, metal signs, t- shirts all contain messages that proclaim a fighting stance for human rights. Videos and neon installations take aim at AIDS, rape as a weapon in war and torture. There is nothing quietly alluded to, her work stands boldly and strongly against oppressive governments. In this particular exhibition, her influences of Rosa Bonheur, Kiki Smith, Louise Bourgeois, Paul Klee among others are acknowledged. The museum’s press release states,

Visitors to this exhibition will experience the evolving scope of the artist’s practice, which addresses the fundamental themes of human existence—including power, violence, belief, memory, love, sex, and killing. Her art speaks to a broad and ever-changing public through unflinching, concise, and incisive language. Holzer’s aim is to engage the viewer by creating evocative spaces that invite a reaction, a thought, or the taking of a stand, leaving the sometimes anonymous artist in the background.

Her expose on the American government’s coverup of the Robert Mueller’s Report entitled Redacted is here, pages enlarged, the words and complete sentences blacked out. Wall after wall features the documents, words unreadable, patterns established by the consistency of marks that destroy or hide truth. Inscribed on linen, Holzer has digitally magnified the contents of the documents, meticulously tracing and faithfully reproducing both the text and the numerous examples of censorship in these paintings. Color and metal leafing have been applied to the surfaces of certain canvases in order to intensify or dull the information . Her aim is multifold as the works substantiate pictorial images in terms of their own materials and technique, but, as well, viewers cannot help but attempt to read and decipher what has substantiated evidence of Russian meddling in the presidential election of 2016. The sheer size of the art and, the notions of coverup are stunning. The exhibition is redolent of Picasso’s Guernica, Kathe Kollwitz’s wartorn subjects, abusive kingship etches by Goya, Ai Weiwei’s installations, the AIDS Quilt and so many more who employed art as a means of protest.This show is riveting , causing the viewer to reflect, mull, stand back and think: that involvement, that plea to be present and react motivates Holzer’s work.

Gerard Richter is a different kind of artist, metaphorical and his direction differs from the political stance of Holzer, for his concerns are primarily visual.In Seascapes, Richter manipulates the pictorial qualities of his paintings, addressing the viewers’ perceptions. Based on two different photographs of sea and sky in every work as others have done in the past, Richter draws on disparate realities that disorient his viewers. Suggestive of the awe one feels for the beauty of Nature along with the terror the sea can transmit, his works are vast, dislocating and overwhelming, causing one to be adrift,a bit unbalanced. In deed, one might think these are, in deed ,photographs, not realistic, but trompe- l’oeil paintings.

Comparable to Caspar David Friedrich, the German Romantic painter, Richter’s paintings suggest Wordsworth’s sense of the sublime in Nature, its expansive hugeness. However, unlike Friedrich who utilized humans in his paintings to provide scale to his landscapes, Richter does not, so we cannot know the boundaries, the breadth, the magnitude or scale of his endless seas, for we only observe breaking waves and vast skies, no trees, no foliage or people with which to gauge the size of the landscapes. Paint is thinly applied and diluted , even blurred in places like some travel snapshots.

In the Guggenheim, we also encounter Lucio Fontana’s On The Threshold. I had believed I knew the two dimensional qualities that the Abstract Impressionists championed. They had focused on stylistic elements, not pictorial ones for example, pure applied colour that eschewed figurative and landscapes that established three dimensional illusions of depth or place. Instead they worked with their boards and canvases as two dimensional surfaces that accepted or absorbed paint. But Lucio Fontana extends my understanding by cutting and slashing his canvases. Often he waits until the paint on his canvas dries and shapes the slash. Often his intent is providing a backdrop, a secret story to his monotone pieces. Often the effect is to blur sculpture and painting, veering into the theories the Abstract Expressionists had initially extolled. The surface is observed as surface and one works with it, not composing and creating an imaginary mountain or forest because the properties of stretched canvas, a manmade space, differ from that of earth or Nature from which real things can sprout. The artists did not magically transform a slab into what it could not be; however, the intrinsic qualities of canvas could speak for what they were, manipulated in their own sui generis, torn, reshaped, heaped with paint. And now pierced by scissors.

A twentieth century artist with a backdrop of Cold War, space exploration, a witness to cultural, technological and political transformations, Fontana commandeers the knife that becomes a means of “ cutting through” the traditions of years of using canvases. That idea of space behind, also around motivates his thinking. Not an atypical instrument to use in artworks, scissors do play a role in collage, Mylar, design projects, but here the strong slashes or deep holes to evoke the possibilities of depth or even three dimensions,( not illusions), as in something behind or beyond the pictorial surface is intriguing, permeating our thoughts and hurling us into a new cogitation of space. Both thoughtful and material, his works pioneer new thinking, extending how we have thought about painted surfaces. I react and giggle because, why not?

In Widewalls, reviewer Balasz Takac comments that Lucio Fontana, a leading European figure from Italy has exerted a major influence on an entire generation of artists in the 1960s and 1970s, particularly in the Arte Povera movement, and especially in Italy and Argentina. According to recent scholarly contributions, this artist can be considered one of the first European practitioners of installation art and is considered an early Conceptualist. He has influenced art movements in Futurism, and Neoclassicism. At the Guggenheim this summer, he slashes canvases, even copper, shows us ceramic, watercolour, bronze in a new light and rearranges geometrical shapes. It’s as if we can see freshly, centuries of traditional appropriation of artistic materials extended and made new.

Perhaps most traditional is A Backward Glance: Giorgio Morandi and the Old Masters for unlike themes of protest, the composition of canvases, Morandi’s pieces comprise small size vases and still life, the traditional topics the viewer has come to associate with museum painting. Although originally influenced by the early Italians, Massaccio, Uccello and Giotto, who struggled with form and folds in their religious frescoes, particularly depicting saints, and moving on to Cezanne and the later Futurists, Morandi began to seek the mystical or metaphysical nature of ordinary objects. Bottles, boxes and even humans seem to shimmer in his muted grays or off- white paintings as if he has reached beneath the surface to the inner essence of his inspiration. Shaky outlines, an awareness of an Italian light that slightly distorts in the heat, a powdery pale color scheme , a quietness that consumes but renders simple objects timeless pervades each scene of simple objects. Frayed and muted objects exude a feeling of “cherished relics”: John Berger opines that his objects as beautiful, intense, timeless and intense.

The Art Story concurs, “Although this subject is unremarkable in itself, Morandi believed it carried important potential, describing how ‘ even in as simple a subject, a great painter can achieve a majesty of vision and an intensity of feeling to which we immediately respond’. This desire to reach beneath the façade of his subject would push Morandi to focus on the development of formal qualities of line, color and composition.”

Metaphysical painting originated with the Surrealist de Chirico in Munich, Germany, where he was influenced by 19th-century German Romantic painting along with the philosophers Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche, all impacting on Morandi’s evolution. Theirs is a belief in a hidden essence that definitely evokes a disquieting response in viewers. This feeling is shared by all of the artists exhibited this summer at the Guggenheim.

What unites these remarkable artists is a desire to go beyond their object and amplify their qualities: to obscure, disorient, tantalize, provoke. Where Holzer shakes and shouts through her pieces gathered from our society, Richter magnifies his, suggesting a breadth, a power, a relationship with Nature that dwarfs us and twists our perceptions. Fontana too changes our perceptions that concern what and how we work with the materials associated with artmaking. Morandi, as well, goes deeper, casting beyond bright colour and the accepted description of the commonplace used for centuries in the pursuit of realist painting. He pierces the surface so the essence of the mundane can grab our attention and hint at the hidden, what lies beneath.

When people ask what separates run-of -the -mill artists from the great, it is these concepts of art history and a way of making the world relevant to a contemporary audience that distinguishes the ordinary from the mundane. Whether posters slapped on a wall, canvases distorted and reshaped, or the transformation of seas and bottles, these artists invite us to see more deeply, loosen our worldly perceptions and expand into fresh understanding . Just as Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp shook us to view soup cans and urinals in a new way, that tradition of revisiting old mantras in these shows crown Gehry ‘s incredible building that houses them.

I’m impressed and even 4 ½ hours of witnessing these works merely scrapes the surfaces in a place that looks to be constructed from tin cans and fish scales.

Spain Again

Maybe fifty years ago I listed Barcelona as a must-see on my three month travel circuit. In those days, when you got off your train, purchased previously with a three month Europass, ensured your valuables such as your passport were safely tucked into your clothes , you headed for the kiosk that would direct you to a cheap hotel, especially if you were sharing the cost; otherwise it was the local hostel or nunnery.

Those years back when I first arrived in Barcelona,I was given the name of The Ritz and amazed by the cost, and of course, familiar with the name, practically jumped for joy, imagining pristine white sheets. Backpacks heavy down our backs ( before ecologically balanced), off we trod. The first look should have sent us running , and a second look for sure should have revealed that someone was laughing at poor travellers by the misappropriation of the name, but we, I and my recent traveling companion, were young and foolish so we dropped our packs and headed out to explore the sites of Barcelona.

Indulging in the local food, I soon found myself feeling mighty queasy. Sprawled uncomfortably on what I recall a bed very close to the floor, I noticed the walls were constructed of brown paper and not much more. Maybe it was bad shell fish in a greasy paella, my first by the way, ,but the next three days found me unable to move from the spot. My friend came up with bottled water and that I recall was even hard to keep down. Of my initial experience in Barcelona, I think I may have managed the Joan Miro Foundation, for I brought home posters for friends and family. As you might imagine, I swore off paella and was in no hurry to return to Barcelona.

Over the years I did retrace my steps to France and Italy, especially with my kids, my husband and one year, we visited the Alhambra, Toledo, Seville, Madrid…but not Barcelona.

But this summer, bravely, I returned and spent three wonderful, wonderful days in Barcelona which properly re-introduced me to the Spain I had missed. Our focus was on the architect, Antonio Gaudi and his marvellous architectural creations. Unable to find tours that would explore the specific buildings I wanted to see, I managed to gather together eight hours of viewing with a helpful guide.

Now it is true Gaudi’s work suggests a chaotic lively hodge podgy of features drawn from sources in Nature, diverse cultures, previous artists and movements such as Art Nouveau and books by Viollet-le-Duc. Still for his time, his work begun in 1882, his constructions are in deed unique and I must admit being surprised that his unusual oeuvre could garner support.

Our first stop, early in the morning so as to avoid massive crowds, for three million people a year visit, is his Sagrada Familia. In 1984, it was designated an UNESCO World Heritage Site. And it is impressive- connoting 15th Century Gothic-style towers that aimed to pierce the heavens and touch God. Records report it is one meter shorter at 170 meters than Montjuic, the highest mountain in Barcelona. We twisted our necks upward to follow the ascent of the towering church. As the guide points to the tomb in the basement, he explains that Gaudi on his way to the Sagrada Familia was hit by a trolley in 1926 and is buried here.

Because of the upcoming 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death and a surge to finally complete this enormous project, there are huge industrial cranes surrounding the structure. But the first view is awesome as we notice fruits such as oranges at the tippy top of the spires,Gaudi’s reminder that to the east of Spain, those sweet treats are grown. And to the west are pomegranates, a sample of the fruits from that locale. The entrance is carved with relief and free standing sculptures of the life of Christ. These scenes once educated the parishioners of the trajectory of Christ’s life. But I noticed the fine detailing of the pieces.

Inside, each side of the cathedral glows with the colours of the day, stained glass bathing either green or orange, overspilling onto floors, warming or cooling the space with a kind of sacred light quality. Because this is Gaudi, there are numerous design elements, organically shaped as in sprouting trees, squat turtles and other animals, or alternately hard edged cubist religious sculptures, and other surprises tucked into the tiniest crannies of the soaring, dizzying heights. Some might suggest it is a cacophony of shapes, colours and designs, but everywhere your eye searches, there is a something strange or wonderful to behold. I imagine it would take days to categorize and discover both natural and human- inspired elements here, but we have more Gaudi to see, so we drive to the next spot.

We move on to Park Güell, also unfinished: Gaudi’s dream of a neighbourhood, but unfortunately never fully realized. Fantastic coloured mosaics decorate communal sitting benches reminding me of Lima’s undulating ones that face and reflect off the sea. Here at Park Guell, there is a tunnel that replicates the experience of being caught in a wave as it curves from top to bottom. A school, a few apartments, a church built into a composed landscape suggest how magical this project might have been before in- fighting among the buyers began.

Most interesting and only recently opened to the public is Gaudi’s Casa Vicens where one can begin to notice how Gaudi incorporated styles from diverse cultures and employed different materials, such as iron, glass, ceramic tiles and concrete into this fantastic summer house. Moorish influence is very strong as the house actually demonstrates male and female sections: there are decorative blinds that cool the house while sheltering women from prying eyes. There is an elaborate blue dome- shaped smoking room for men, and in one bedroom, there is a separation of ceramic ceiling decoration with different objects, the walls, too, painted and embossed with different ferns and flowers to denote the separation between the sexes. However, it is the budding styles commingled in this house considered Art Nouveau that foreshadow the artist’s attention to the possibilities of technique and material that is so exciting.As in the previous buildings, colour plays a major factor for it is not quiet, but rather strident, attracting, even riotous in the blazing sun of Spain.

La Pedrera meaning “ quarry” is a famous apartment complex where people continue to live, but also the building is an exercise on undulating shapes. The resulting layout is shaped like an asymmetrical “8” because of the different shapes and sizes of the courtyards. The balconies in wrought iron surprisingly low but twisted into vinelike structures that suggest the material has come to life augment Gaudi’s design, but are not created by him. Here the rooftop harbours bulbous whimsical forms decorated with mosaics that contrast stiff concrete columns of statute heads of helmeted Roman soldiers. As well, there are small arched tunnels and more colourful mosaic details celebrating the four seasons.The complex also known as Casa Milà was created in 1905 for wealthy investors in coffee from South America. Casa Milà was not completed to Gaudí’s specifications. Disputes with the owner’s wife were responsible for the building diverting from the architect’s original concept.Additionally, the local government ordered the demolition of elements that exceeded the height standard for the city, and fined the Milàs for many infractions of building code.

There is still Casa Batlo and Guell Palace to see.I reflect on Gaudi’s worldwide attention, linking him to another architect of the day Friedensreich Hundertwasser from Austria because of his use of biomorphic forms and fascination with tiles. In contemporary times, I’m thinking of Frank Gehry, his appropriation and transformation of fish scales, bold architectural shapes and unusual materials that make his work identifiable, unique and dazzling. In Toronto, the AGO, and in Bilbao, the Guggenheim cause the viewer to stop and react, calling them to respond to the architecture in a visceral way.

It is no doubt the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi is a treasure to Barcelona, attracting millions of tourists yearly and establishing many of his works as UNESCO sites. Our recent visit confirmed to me Gaudi’s role in the development of architectural style along with the other greats who have caused the evolutionary eruption of thinking that pertains to art in architecture. This focus on just one of Barcelona’s treasures made me wonder what else I had missed here over the years. But just as a twenty year old mellows and matures, so too does a city, relaxing and growing into itself so that it can provide venues and attractions that will attract both young and old. Well, maybe old-er.

The Rapture of the Raptors

If you are a sports bug as I am not, games whether soccer, tennis, baseball or basketball take not even second place to arts- related endeavours ; however, I must join the chorus applauding the Raptors’ success as NBA champions. And in truth, because public school gym classes introduced me to playing baseball and baseball, I at least have some understanding of scoring and the flow of the game. In deed participated briefly as part of an all girl basketball group, hardly a team, who called themselves The Spazes, one tiny highlight of high school life wherein I felt myself part of a team that was certainly accurately described by its name.

Because the men in my family are crazy sports people in spite of my best attempts, especially my son who was dragged around Europe several times to every church and art gallery, he has inculcated a driving passion for all things- sports in his own boys even though his oldest would rather roll around in the dirt and observe bugs when the runner goes to third. However, just as I once enjoyed the camaraderie of a few like poorly coordinated teammates, so too do my grandsons enjoy being part of a sports club, all similarly clad in logo marked shirts, and of course postgame snacks.

So reluctantly I too engaged in following the Raptors’ progress in the championship. Yes, perhaps unwisely we had given up our seats recently because of the crazy price of attending games, but I do now freely admit enjoyment of the initial Raptor beginnings that eventually grew into the impressive team that triumphed Thursday night. And yes, as an introspective person, I liked the controlled demeanour, the reserve and focus of Kawhi Leonard, his quiet way of being not flamboyant and causing a fuss: that interested me. In contrast to the mouthy spectaculars who seek to draw attention, Kawhi was the eye of a storm broodingly capable of vanquishing all that stood in his way.

The series went beyond sports; there was humanity in it , as all the best productions demonstrate. Not an instantaneous and clear, clean victory, there was drama, defeat, challenges as the Raptors had to battle their equals, particularly in the shape of Steph Curry and Klayman Thompson, seasoned competitors and at a one point loss early in the game last week put us on the nail biting, aggravating hold your breath edge. And in that game when Kevin Durant fell, succumbing to a calf injury, it was our Raptor boys who not only helped him off the court, but also shushed the crowd. Previously Fred VanVleet took an elbow to the head, losing a tooth and receiving 7 stitches beneath his eye too. So as in all riveting stories, there was blood and battle too.

Thursday night they came out hard, Kyle Lowry dropping ball after ball in the net. But not a game of discrete heroes, this basketball game was a thing of beauty achieved by team cooperation. Gasol, Ibaka, Danny Green, Iguodala, Siakom reassembled the ticking movement of a finely crafted clock, each humming together in harmony.

Even I did not go to the kitchen for tv watching snacks.

And as always Kawhi’s deep, controlled focus, watching, waiting, moving with the team kept drawing my eye to his positions on the court. Sure he missed four of his shots in the fourth quarter: and that drew my ire and worry that with in such a close game, the tide might turn and again, one or even two or three points could catapult our players into a sixth game so there was that extreme sensation, that cliff hanging, that tottering nervousness that drew us into the last seconds of a possible loss instead of a victory.

But wow. They won with two more free throws for Kawhi, his reward MVP, his second, placingin the same winner’s circle with LeBron and Karim. Double Wow.

And even the denouement of the game was great.Here Kawhi even waving his arms in the air, openly and finally giving into sweet smiles. The Raptors hugged each other, but also their opponents, the Golden State Warriors as if they had been rumbling a bit in the schoolyard after school, a get together with friends. Not those fast, hope you die, hand touches we see at the conclusion of baseball, but real meaty hugs, the ones that we only see men give one another in athletic endeavours, unafraid to display real, messy and true emotions. That they clung to one another unduly long, clapping backs, bussing cheeks, allowing the true feelings of success to spill over was a further endorsement of the game.

And Kyle Lowry who in-spite of taking Warrior fan abuse when he stumbled in the crowd second last round in Oakland but maintaining his cool also worked to demonstrate to kids who watched that one stupid move does not deserves another. Rather, he took the high road walked away, reported the action and the guy, a provocateur, Golden State Warriors minority owner Mark Stevens was fined $500,000 and banned him from games and all other team events for the next season. Shoving and name calling is not cool.

And last night Lowry brought his own boys on to the podium to stand with his Raptor teammates, to be part of something important. When Doris Burke interviewed him, reminding us that us that he was a North Philly boy, criticized for his limitations in height and ability, Lowry underlined that he was a kid who tried and tried and triumphed, shouting out one of life’s lessons: not to listen to people who would discourage you, but to respond to your inner voice and take your shot. And if you have been to North Philly as I have –and stopped in the ghetto by cops who ask you, white people, if you are lost, you would understand the struggles a kid in that neighbourhood needs to overcome : a hero just to emerge from that scene.

The girl in the wheelchair at the Tony Awards on Sunday, the Winner of best featured actress, Ali Stroker in Oklahoma! In her acceptance speech said much the same, encouraging by her success other talented actors to -cliched as it sounds-follow your dreams.

So, The Raptors games gave us an amazing show, the excitement, the back and forth of grabbing, taking, missing the ball- true collaborative teamwork, men like Kawhi and Kyle as role models to kids demonstrating control, energy, focus and body grace, and a narrative whose crowning achievements exemplified that every person no matter their size, their background, could play a game that resulted in the body’s victory.

So too kids can learn that getting up off the couch, practicing moves, relinquishing the IPad and computer games can be wonderful diversions. The muscles honed, the arms extended, the legs jumping must have lead the ancient Greeks into the creation of the first Olympics in Greece, from 776 BC through 393 AD. That fascination with the body, what the body can achieve must have driven them towards that pursuit of excellence.

So along with fascination of body potential ( I draw weekly from nude bodies ) , there is for watchers the exhilaration of team work that anticipates one another’s needs, and culminates in the expression of emotions of joy. Mind, body, spirit , brains required to gain the next level, figure out the riddles and move the players along towards a treasure pot and self- actualization.

As audiences, we cheered, we empathized, we applauded our champions, role models and exemplary proponents of not only how to play a game but how to lead a life.

That is why sports ( and arts) are essential to education and our governments must sustain not just the momentary celebrations but the daily ongoing programs that engender values and body worth in our kids and communities. Not cut them, enhance and support them.One day, one might grow up to be a Kawhi or Kyle.


The rise of the little guy

James Holzhauer, a 35 year old Las Vegas gambler with 32 correct responses whose average win was $76,944 was beaten by Emma by Boettcher on April 4.

We used to laugh because our parents would gather on the couch, to watch Jeopardy after supper. But, we too succumbed to the show recently because of the astounding brain of James Holzhauer. We taped his appearances or made sure not to miss a single show. We were transfixed, the half hour viewing obscuring the rest of annoying life from our purview.

While a quiz game allows you to pit your knowledge against the quick witted, fast responding expert, the audience ( me) even knowing the answer, fumbles in her head, grasping at an idea once there but now eluding her. But the expert is quick on the recall, knowledge much more readily available,reflexes more able to respond and ring in. We do it all the time, playing these mind games, trying to remember the name of so and so, recalling a street, a fragment of a conversation, something that seems to have passed through our heads like clouds or a summer breeze, so we hold a shape of an idea that remains unretrievable even though we are sure we know it and can actually feel its presence, even recalling when or where or why that piece of information is important. We can even pinpoint the place or the scenario that frames it. And unable to come up with the intel, we goggle it.

Ah yes. Of course.

But for James Holzhauer, it appears all of that that information was all there, literally at his finger tips, floating or sufficiently prescient to respond to the huge diversity of Alex Trebek’s questions: from sports to novels to rhyming slogans to history and geography. It was all there.

Until a librarian beat him.

I love the fact that James, an Everyman, unassuming, awkwardly acknowledging his growing stash of earnings in the opening intros each day shyly almost embarrassed by his wins seemed just an ordinary guy. Not with flaming coloured hair or bombastic aplomb, he was just a guy, an ordinary guy. Maybe someone you were standing in line with in Starbucks. Maybe he had a newspaper in his hand and when someone pushed in front of him, he just looked askance, shrugged his shoulders and didn’t create a fuss, his smile ironic even.

That a librarian, a guardian, protector, lover of all things word, research and books also triumphed gives me great pleasure. Yet all ready there seemed a quality of odd about her. Those of us who are a bit different identify that something immediately. Even the choice of her thesis on the context of trivia, if I’ve understood it, seems particularly strange. Her master’s thesis explored whether certain characteristics of a “Jeopardy!” clue could predict its difficulty level. Boettcher said she wanted to determine whether or not a computer could predict if a clue was easy or difficult based on the words used or the length of the clue. She concluded, among other things, that the number of component phrases in a clue could help a computer predict its difficulty. As well, She shared with Trebek that she had run a series of text-mining experiments to see if a computer could determine difficulty,” based on factors including its length, syntax and audio or visual elements.” All righty, then.

Why spend perhaps seven years of research in a doctoral study( OK, I did mine in way less than four) into such a strange phenomenon? A Masters is only two focused years, however…Was her life’s goal to appear on Jeopardy? Ok, graduate students do pursue nebula,chasing the tiniest facts whether in science or the arts. But truly, talk about impermanence, fluff. But obviously she has other interests as she stated her desire to visit cities with the letter “O”, revealing both London and Toronto were tops on her list. Well, that mindset placed her in the winner’s circle.

In preparation, she commandeered toilet paper rolls and tested out different shoes to find the most comfortable pair.In any case, Boettcher lost in just three shows, her knowledge base obviously circumscribed in a way James Holzhauer’s was not.

I was sorry to see him lose, now returning to Veep,Fosse/Verdun and Y&R for my nightly high-lows of excitement.

What’s Normal?

My late mother-in-law held very strong views, most often beginning or ending her observations with a rhetorical comment, “ And THAT’S normal?” Gone were the days of no white pants in winter, buzz cut haircuts or clothes unadorned with holes. For the longest time, my generation ( and hers) grew up with notions of what normal looked like: Paul Bernardo’s good looks obscuring the hideous monster beneath. The façade of polite WASP society the desired mask overriding all else.

There is the old saw revisited by Howard Stern, most recently in his interview with Stephen Colbert, in which he lays blame squarely on his upbringing while simultaneously championing his psychotherapy to mediate his understanding of self and make him a nicer guy. And I think it is true that one’s upbringing, the environment in which our genetic roots are sown, can make or break us, or at least twist our stocks from growing straight, for our families are in deed, the soil from which we rise or fall. But it is a complicated tale and from now till forever will we debate which, heredity or environment, exerts the greatest force.

When thinking about Howard Stern, one often immediately links his potty- mouth words and attention- getting schemes, most often commandeering sex, sexual antics or perversions to draw attention. In his conversation with Colbert, he discussed his support for Hilary Clinton, having wanted her to humanize herself on his radio show, humanize not in terms of her sexual proclivities, but her hopes, dreams, growing up stories that might have brought her story to enough viewers to make her the presidential winner. In a very grown up, no expletives manner, he discussed how the Donald was able to reach out to his audiences. It was a fascinating calm analysis, not one we have come to associate with the showman Stern.

Yet often, the sex- talk is only the coverup. We’re watching a British show on Prime called Fleabag, considered as Howard Stern is, in- your- face sexual ribald even unspeakable outloud humour. Written and performer by Phoebe Waller- Bridge, creator of Killing Eve, the pilot sets up the focus on the unnamed narrator who enjoys a good poke, is sarcastic, likeable, funny, able to take it in the rear, laugh at herself, is even willing defer to her artist stepmom, the horrible ( but incredible)Olivia Coleman of Oscar fame. As Kevin Spacey did in House of Cards she confides to us, the fourth wall, the viewer, wisecracking her offcolour thoughts while noting the behaviours of her mates.

She has a tortured but caring real relationship with her sister, but not so much with the men in her life. She fancies a priest, her father finds it almost impossible to speak directly to her, her brother-in-law an insipid fellow lying about his attempts to kiss her at his wife’s birthday party. Her one true relationship with former friend Boo riddles Fleabag with guilt. One fellow after another drops her for other women, she all the time finding faults and describing their unsuitability as lovers, or even men. Each time, however, she believes she is the object of their affection: her comments quick, funny, to the point and spot on.

Yet as always, under the joking, the splash, the conquest and quick ritual of sex there is a desire for sex that is the extension of love and communion and meaningful wherein sex is more than “ the little death” as coined by the French expression, “ le petite mort” : defined as the feeling of shame, one’s soul dying a little inside after masturbation or meaningless sex. But for Fleabag, it is in deed, for her the big death: of loneliness, of self- recrimination, of self worth , of alienation, of identity search. Our wisecracking thirtysomething gal with the big smile has deep issues that a momentary physical fix smoothes over but cannot placate the pain in her soul. Here too the death of her mother, the on-again off again competitive relationship with her sister and the fumbling misplaced attempts by her father undermined by his horrendous wife are not soft sanctuaries for Fleabag to sort out or even voice her problems.

In Normal People, Sally Rooney’s best seller, it’s similar. For the female protagonist, her cold mother, abusive father, her maniacal brother do not give Marianne a safe haven. Although blessed with brains and good looks, not unlike Fleabag, Marianne seeks sex and fulfillment with childhood heart throb Connell, son of her mother’s house cleaner. He tells her he loves her ( in bed ) , but does not invite her to the prom in high school, and even at university and post- grad, couples and uncouples with her, always betraying her for another. It is a pastime of secrecy, miscommunications, and anxiety and unease against an Irish background of social hierarchy in class. Her words could easily be murmured by Fleabag, “ I don’t know why I can’t be like normal people … I don’t know why I can’t make people love me.”. A need for being sexually dominated does not fill her void either. Intimacy in bed while it lasts is a stand in for fulfillment.

In an NPR interview, we acknowledge that Rooney’s characters may be academically gifted, but they aren’t sure how they want to live or what they want to do with their lives. In response to emotional injury, they sometimes seek physical pain. When overwhelmed, they detach. Connell reflects on his connection with Marianne explaining, “She would have lain on the ground and let [me] walk over her body if [I] wanted, he knew that…of a sudden that [I] could hit her face, very hard even, and she would just sit there and let [me].” A crippling sense of unworthiness chafes against feelings of intellectual superiority.” Similarly the dry wit of Fleabag, obviously bright and personable only covers over the need for self- abasement- perhaps any contact better than none, the characters suppose. And just as Rooney is remarkably comfortable writing about sex, so too Fleabag is likewise, easy quipping about masturbation, anal sex, the size of her” tits”, all subterfuge. In The New York Times Dwight Garner writes, “Rooney employs this artery-nicking style while writing about love and lust among damaged and isolated and yearning young people.”

In The Only Story by Julian Barnes a relationship between a 48 year old woman and her 19 year old tennis partner from the countryclub persists for years. In a compassionate reflection on his years with Susan,Paul reviews and parses the problems that eventually accrue from the liaison as Susan leaves her husband, abusive Gordon, a drunken brute who slams her face into the doorjamb. In three sections, we are privy to changes that not unexpectedly drag down an initial love story : such as alcoholism, regret, depression, pill- taking, the unrelenting deterioration of the physical body as aging sets in.

Bored young Paul, drawn to Susan’s “laughing irreverence,” hoping to overturn “ the normal” and relishing a scandal, boasts he has “landed on exactly the relationship of which my parents would most disapprove.” In a small English suburb where his activities will be the topic of gossip, he hopes to expose the bourgeois mentality of the people who lead and champion their normal lives. He dismisses conventional families and describes the townspeople as “furrow-dwellers”. Initially, Paul is drawn to her irreverence, her criticism and mockery towards the boundaries in her unexceptional life,” She laughs at life, this is part of her essence. She laughs at what I laugh at. She also laughs at hitting me on the head with a tennis ball; at the idea of having sherry with my parents; she laughs at her husband, just as she does when crashing the gears of the Austin shooting break.”At 19, one expects those attitudes, the insouciance- and the reader can understand the adolescent attraction of being charmed – by an adult who seems to deviate from socially acceptable norms. Besides which, she has these cute little ears!

The story told in this case from a man’s point of view albeit from first, second and third person narrations accompanies each shift in the romance so that the reader can be empathetic, sympathetic, even critical ascertaining a love affair not usually considered normal. Barnes writes, “In love, everything is both true and false; it’s the one subject on which it’s impossible to say anything absurd.” Barnes differentiates among various kinds of sex- good sex, bad sex- but worst of all- sad sex. The sad sex, of course, is the most painful as persons allow or even encourage their bodies to be the receptacles to deaden their souls that yearn for true affinity. Truly, that petit mort.

In Fleabag, Normal People and The Only Story, we have three different cases, three different scenarios in which apparently normal people try and fail at normal life. In all three cases, sexual relationships are at the forefront in attempts to stabilize and maintain happiness. In all three, success is only achieved in the satisfaction of physically linking up, and obliterating painfully daily life. Time in the bedroom is indeed the be-all and the end-all.

These are days of quick fixes, online dating in which a quick linkup is the goal. Accepting that the quick shag is the goal rationalizes the deeper need for talk, affection, caring, significance in a world so fraught with the appearance of breaking normal. But in truth, the normal trajectory of a real relationship is the desired end.

Thinking about Jean Vanier

In my car a few days ago, I heard on 99.1 snippets from an interview with Jean Vanier founder of L’Arche in Trosly-Breuil, France. Of course I knew the name from my days at OCT and considered him a particularly special human being by the work he had done with the disabled. But listening to him, even a few slow thoughtful words held me momentarily in my seat. The quiet reflective quality of his words was wistful, thoughtful and able to pierce my consciousness.

He said “Growth happens in the dark”,that we never SEE when change occurs and he even suggested that pinpointing the actual moment of conception is difficult.Yet we are quite aware once it happens. I concurred in my head that it’s true. We cannot observe our children transition from cherubic babies to gangly adolescents, the process incremental -until one day as we stand back in awe, we wonder, when did that happen? But metaphorically, darkness, unknowingness, confusion most often precedes insight, struggles that push us forward.The cliché of dark before the dawn. Foreplay of questions, queries, back and forth proceeds the eruption of action.

Although Vanier’s strong religious devotion is far from my own, I was interested in his theories, some gleaned once he worked with his challenged crew of people, especially the mentally challenged . Formerly a student, scholar and professor of the mind in his studies into philosophy, he transformed his beliefs into body- based ones, simplified through personal observations. In Becoming Human, Vanier attests that his initial experiences with Raphael, Philippe and others at L’Arche changed him from the hurried, goal-oriented person he was and “brought me into the world of simple relationships of fun and laughter. It has brought me back into my body, because people with disabilities do not delight in intellectual or abstract conversation. They were not very interested in my knowledge or my ability to do things, but rather they needed my heart and my being,” he stated. Further, Vanier was convinced that he needed to be present in a concrete way with those suffering from various mental and emotional disabilities.

I often thought I lived in my head even as a girl, for my feet as I manoeuvred the ledges of sideway curbs on my ramble to school catapulted me onto the road, knees scraped and bleeding.How many times would I return home with scrapes and cuts, my mother bandaging and wondering how a simple walk to school could cause these wounds? My tottering body held/ holds sway over my head, calling out, directing even overpowering my thoughts. Much later, the years of herniated disks filled my being with not much more than the pain of movement, overriding or cancelling out any lofty contemplations or deep discussions. Only with the passage of time and learning how to reroute the pain could I silence the voice of my body that shouted out over my other extremities.

Vanier refers to “ goofing around”, simple antics when he worked with his followers, and who can discount deep laughter or meditation disrupting pain? L’Arche Sudbury here in Canada hosts numerous events such as dances, art programs, laughter yoga, cooking classes and music therapy, all focused on a single goal “to reveal the gifts of persons with intellectual disabilities through mutually transformative relationships.” The focus on doing is foremost in the activities that are structured to produce tangible,feel- good results. I think of that delight of doing, the smiles: as my grandson described the Eggs Benedict prepared for his other grandmother last weekend , even though there was no ham! And as we laughed together, we shared a communion of sorts, entering into each other’s presences, aware of not much more than the sound of one another.

Living in the body includes that laughter, even chortling that can overcome and disrupt pain. Scientifically, there appears to be investigation and support for the idea. Humor in a study entitled” Humor Therapy: Relieving Chronic Pain and Enhancing Happiness for Older Adults” has shown to increase lung capacity, strengthen abdominal muscles ( sure. You feel laughter in your tummy, right?) and increase immunoglobulin A, which is one of the major antibodies produced by the immune system. The researchers found that humor caused reductions in cortisol, growth hormones, and epinephrine. “Following laughter or other humorous encounters, natural killer cell activity, immunoglobulin G and immunoglobulin M levels increase[d] for as long as 12 hours, and these evaluations br[ought] about beneficial health outcomes. The use of humor consistently result[ed]in improvements in pain thresholds. Humor also lead to the release of endorphins in the brain, which help to control pain [30]. In a laboratory study of pain tolerance…, participants in the humor group had a significant increase in pain tolerance as compared to the other groups.” (See ,Mimi M. Y. Tse,1 Anna P. K. Lo,2 Tracy L. Y. Cheng,3 Eva K. K. Chan,4 Annie H. Y. Chan,5 and Helena S. W. Chung6)

Norman Cousins (June 24, 1915 – November 30, 1990) was an American political journalist, author, professor, and world peace advocate who also believed in the healing power of laughter. Researching the biochemistry of human emotions,Cousins maintained he experienced pain relief even as he coped with a sudden-onset case of a crippling connective tissue disease and a diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis.He created his own recovery program by taking massive doses of Vitamin C , and he watching nonstop classic comedic films along with sequences of Candid Camera. Cousins had always possessed a “ robust love of life itself”. He is quoted as saying,”I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep…When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval.”

These thoughts for the need of simplicity, finding a way to deal with bodily needs resonates. Yet not all of us are programmed to laugh away our serious troubles. I focus on my father’s determination to put on foot in front of the other, and trudge along. I think of my father’s body destroyed by polio and wonder at his propensity to move, to struggle, to climb stairs even. Once at the CNE, he climbed three steep flights of stairs to use a bathroom. Back then, I did not think this a heroic act. Now I do, especially when I use Shoppers’ Elevators to access my yoga classes. And my mother’s “ shakes” ,as she called her tremors, that propelled her head to shake no when she meant yes. Yet she did not cease from interacting with people, even offering sweet supportive comments in her daily exchanges with shopkeepers.

Here too in Vanier’s interview a few days ago, he cited his own naïvety and persistence that drove his intuitive responses that lead him on his life’s search. Forever, the dialectic of mind- body has sparked discussion.It is that belief that the body could provide the answer.

Hearing the interchange last week gave me some hope that there are/ were in this world, those whose theories actually improve the state of our being. With Trump and Ford, they disrupt our lives as we ordinary people, both healthy and infirm, challenged and robust are held hostage. And with the perpetual attack yet again on women’s rights, the Vaniers of the world provide some relief from the burden of these politicians who would crush our freedoms.

Maybe they need a way to laugh, empathize, make concrete and experience themselves as real, as feeling , truly know in their bodies the pain of others so that they might walk in the shoes of someone else, step away from their blissful ignorance and arrogance : understanding the true meaning of what it is to be human.

Mothers’ Day Rant

It makes me chortle to think that I sound like my mother more and more.

I never thought I’ld say that. But as time goes on, I wonder what she would have thought about the things I grumble about. Actually I kinda know – as she always hated Trump, but we have our own mini Trump as a premier in Ontario, a politico who has taken aim at the exact motherhood issues so close to a parent’s heart- safety, daycare and education of our children.

That one will be able to purchase booze at 9am and drive faster on the highways builds into the mentality of adolescent boys, drunk with the idea that they are embracing freedom. There is all ready so much rage on the roads, frustration, delays and pent up emotion, all feeding into these stupid reversals that I cannot fathom even the idea of pressing forward with these initiatives . Driving drunk is no joke and I think of the mother’s who organized MADD, based on he heartbreak of losing a child in a stupid stupid accident. And fairly recently an entire family,three children and a grandfather were destroyed by a soon to be groom returning from his bachelor party in Las Vegas. Can you even imagine such a tragedy for a mother ? Truly, for what purpose should liquor be made available to wash down your toast and marmalade?

And the assault on libraries also breaks a mother’s heart. For me, escape, relaxation development of imagination along with precious time spent bouncing along side my own once youthful mother to and fro to the library were joys I will never forget. I see in my mind’s eye those Saturday mornings curled on a Library couch, devouring a book while my sister and mother chatted and browsed- and on the way home, happiness of happiness- a detour for a thick creamy straw- stopping milkshake. Treasures I will not forget.

And now that libraries have been transformed into community aid, activity centres and outposts of computers, they serve a greater need, especially for children in rural areas. They are sanctuaries, escapes, and unlike malls where the object is to purchase something or just hang out, the library provides a quiet ( or not) space to think your thoughts, research , or discover an author you never knew existed. The kindness of librarians sharing their personal excitement like sticky raspberry jam rubbed off on me.

Elizabeth Renzetti in her Saturday Globe article It blows to be a kid in On­tario now, but they’re still our best hope for the future states,

“I’m not sure where to even begin detailing the provincial government’s betrayal of the province’s children[ and by extension, mothers] , so vast and senseless has the chaos been. Should we start with the families whose children live with autism…That was a big betrayal, but the small ones hurt, too, such as the government’s decision in December to cut funds for after-school programs and in­class tutoring. Let’s get them out on the street instead, where they’ll learn to make small change buying weed in parking lots. It’s the new math, so favoured by this government…”

It is brutal to cut these supportive services for kids, particularly those families at risk along with the employees drawn to their profession because of their passion for reading, learning, kids and the desire for creating better futures for those who need them most. Even in this fast, crazy technologically influenced world, my own grandsons with all their gizmos, adore the library and the opportunity to just meander about there. And after school daycare at their school is a festival of intelligent activities that stimulates minds by people who truly care.

All this has to do with educating the mind and the soul, finding sources upon which to grow. Without a strong public investment and interest , necessary support will fade and one of the last bastions of a thoughtful society will disappear. The Nazis, of course, burnt books. Libraries in Cairo, Alexandria, Baghdad, the University of Mosul destroyed by Isis were all put to ruin because of a dictator’s belief in their damaging potential to spark a person to think and offer fresh or alternative perspectives, dangerous to the ruling powers. Knowledge lost. Democracy abandoned , a forbidden concept.

People once more controlled- and maintained ignorant like messy teenage boys in their desire for drink and fast cars. But isn’t that what is wanted? Politics that cannot brook any opposition because the tyrant believes himself omnipotent, his or her way, the one way.

How shattering when mothers aspire for a better, kinder, more compassionate world wherein everyone’s pursuit is not solely for self- serving, selfish means. On the one hand, present day initiatives apparently celebrated for cooperative collaborative learning, team building; on the other, disbelief in climate change and zealots who refuse to vaccinate , thereby endangering their communities and returning us to epidemics of crippling diseases. In a world turned so public by Facebook and social media, lack of care for legal aid should be a priority , a rallying cry for those in society who must draw on those services.

In deed, it is a strange world that has stretched out in my 70 or so years, those post war, baby boomer years of working towards equal rights for women, minorities, introducing diversity throughout society from books to equal opportunities for all. I recall the early beginnings of my postcolonial classes before a multicultural focus was even on the horizon and parents of the gifted class worrying that teaching Achebe from Africa and Marquez from South America were poor substitutes for Shakespeare, damaging their offsprings’ success at university. I recall when people smoked freely in restaurants, the others wrinkling their noses at the smoke and the smell.I remember the wonder of computers as big as desks and telephone so awkward they could double as dumbells. I even remember the emergence of Chargex the forerunner of Visa and plastic credit cards.

Ah, to sound like one’s mother, fretting, complaining at change. And yet change that does not improve life does not serve a societal purpose. So often my mother would raise one eyebrow and smile her secretive smile. I guess she knew. And now, maybe I do too.

Dear Audiences of Evan Hansen

Much has been written on Dear Evan Hansen and this review will only add to the impression it leaves on a theatre- goer. From the beginning, it establishes itself as intimate and meaningful, immediately plunging the viewer into the central issue of the self- deprecating and self- loathing high school student, Evan Hansen: who all ready regrets his sweaty palms that cause him not to make contact with a girl.Although teenage angst is universal and as his mother reminds him- that only cheerleaders and football players love high school, he is at the edge of the spectrum in his fears. Yet on the first day back to school along comes Connor, another high school student, even more unhappy and miserable in his life than Evan. The contact between the two boys is brief with Connor signing Evans cast in huge letters, the sole name Evan is able to collect.

But as Jared, a family friend of Evan’s proclaims half way through, SPOILER ALERT, Connor’s disappearance and untimely death is the best thing to ever happen to Evan. It begins with a small lie that due to social media grows and envelops the life of Evan, attracting friends, providing a reason for Evan to overcome his anxieties and even speak publicly, when previously a class presentation was not possible. Not only does Evan grow in self- confidence, he becomes a substitute son to Connor’s family, people whose resources mean they can listen, take time with him, demonstrate their caring.As well, his initial sweaty palms interest who happens to be Zoe, Connor’s sister, evolves to girlfriend status. So Evan has been transformed into the Evan he once dreamed of being. From the nerdy child of a single mother with limited resources to favoured darling, Evan’s life catapults to a place of acceptance.

However, all of the improvements are based on that little lie that grew. Evan at first is confounded, honest in trying to explain to Jared that this is not the case at all, but the attraction of friends, family, a new better improved version of oneself is too seductive to not maintain the untruths. And the accessibility of computers that can spread lies without concern for facts or verification moves like a virus that appeals to the prurient interest of both young and old, striking a cord in the community. A child of the technology,Evan becomes the engine that drives the narrative.And like fake news, it’s accepted as truth, gossiped about, focused upon as it rips through the homes and conversations in the community.

And for me, this is the delicious crux, the moral undermining of the dichotomy of a lie. If it allows Evan to become the best version of himself and others so that even Connor’s parents actually benefit and begin to heal from the loss of the son, is it so terrible? In other words, do we not lie all the time , telling someone how well they look, how much we like their work, when in truth we are only bolstering their egos to help them get along in the world? In deed, does “the truth really set us free”?( ironically that was the slogan of my former high school,Forest Hill Collegiate where the cheerleaders and sport stars and prefects were truly the priests to the grunge of most of us.)

We know as an audience, Evan cannot maintain the lie, for lies eventually will out and overturn the apple cart. We watch and nervously smile at Evan’s growing popularity, his confidence, his own inclusion and acknowledge he always possessed the qualities that are presently sprouting. But built on a house of cards, how will he tumble and when? His conscience in the voice of Connor encourages him to let it ride, but eventually, he cannot.

So like Willy Loman, faced with the lie, the illusion, he must deal with the results.And although we disparage lying and untruths, we cannot completely blame a teenager’s need to fit in and feel some control over his life. Because it is a desperate adolescent’s life, I think we might be more forgiving because it is a matter of Evan’s life in the face of Connor’s death.And to add another death of an alienated outcast teen would be beyond tragic. In Willie Loman’s case, the need to self- actualize, his boasting and growth of confidence puts at risk those he would seek to save. So too, Evan is aware of the positive outcomes his lying has caused, especially on assuaging Connor’s mother’s search for blame. He is not boastful, but he feels good, ready to go off to school each day, face challenges, join the family for dinner week after week, filling in for Connor’s absence at the table. Aware of his strength, even speaking up to the obnoxious Jared, Evan seems ready to pinch himself, celebrate his strength.

As the Connor Project gets out of hand, Evan can rationalize that Connor will not be forgotten, as no one should be forgotten, a memorial held, an orchard established: yet all based on a person who does not resemble the Connor who threatened his sister or threw a computer at his teacher.No one in the public realm will ever know the real Connor only the fiction Evan has created in his acts of writing.

It is a double edged sword, blurring the real Connor, sanitizing him by wiping out his problems with Evan’s version. As well, although his parents and sister grieve, Connor is transformed from actual to fantasy. The respite the family is given buoys them up until the truth is revealed. And perhaps they too have been cheated of a chance to mourn their son as he truly was. Only Zoe continues to interject with the reality she had experienced with Connor, yet she too is charmed by Evan’s fabrications of how Connor felt about her.

The playwrights gives us a satisfying ending as Zoe and Evan meet in Connor’s orchard. They allow Evan forgiveness and intimate his growth as a person. This is a story of the day, but also like Everyman, makes us ponder the morality of diverse issues, their complexity, the need to tell truth and ultimately take responsibility for our lives.

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