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Addictive Behaviour

I openly admit that I, like my peers, am addicted. Especially as I am on my own in San Diego, I use my IPad for a plethora of things: from checking the daily weather to reading Toronto’s newspapers to playing games to checking my email continuously and even reviewing great buys. In these ways, I stay in touch when I am away, happily exiled from the brutal cold of weather of my home. The tablet is my friend, bringing me news, information and even stimulation.

This past weekend a discussion between Norman Doidge, psychiatrist and author of The Brain That Changes Itself and Jim Basillie ,CEO of Blackberry, in Ontario’s Globe and Mail reminded me of how once more, my place in the world is not as a citizen but as a mere customer to be manipulated by those whom I am allowing to use me, a pawn in the commerce of the world. Doidge and Basillie query, why do we share our private thoughts and finances on line with ubiquitous anonymous entities?

Unlike most of this generation, however, boomers were not brought up with computers and digital technology. Basillie points out,” CEOs of big tech companies are simply capitalists doing what capitalists are supposed to do: maximize…. And of course if you lobby those legislators you get rules and regulations hat help you increase profit. In an economy of intangibles, the market¬place frameworks are everything absolutely everything . These companies benefit enormously from addictions so they build it into their products wherever possible.”

And so, we willingly savour being flattered and courted and duped into addiction. Like my students long ago who missed an episode of ER or The Cosby Show, we want to belong to the greater fabric of society, speak the lingo, possess insider information, be in the know because this “ intel” puts us ahead, glamorizes us so we strive to participate in the latest trends: now overwhelmingly, social media fascinations with all its permutations, combinations and glitter- purposely engineered to suck us in.

A friend remarked likewise. We had been reading an article the week before about why we seem unable to read for long periods of time, about how our brain synapses are actually being altered by constant time spent clipping and surfing , searching for the next “ like”, or fix that will boost the chemicals in our brains, making us easily bored or unable to focus for more than a few second before flying off towards. a new site on our electronic devices. Because our brains can change themselves, altering structure and function in response to mental activities, “ neuroplastic”, Doidge explaining, “[d]igital technologies are uniquely compatible with the brain, because both are electric and also work processing at high speeds”. Along with brain alterations comes our bodies, especially necks that bend to screens, and rival the time we once swung our arms and legs in movement as opposed to being curled up with an Ipad or locked to a computer desk, all impacting badly on bodies that should be twisting, stretching, etc.

Even my son getting close to 40 who thankfully still enjoys an engaging read and born before the advent of addictive technology, years back, when given a choice to write a law exam on computers or not, he and his classmates definitely rejected the offer, weary of the pitfalls. Now I doubt there would even be a choice. And certainly his cadre would at present demonstrate preference of machine over hand written exam, cramping fingers replaced by other corporeal maladies.

Jim Basillie in the article describes the discomfort of a teenager whose parents take his device( Smartphone) away at a dinner in a restaurant , commenting on inappropriate table manners. The adolescent fidgets, squirms and Basillie observes his pain, a kind of withdrawal. No wonder fidget toys and spinners have found a market. We know through studies that young boys, even before the arrival of tablets found sitting still almost unbearable, now sadly that body unrest is exacerbated by minds that crave a fix. And how often do we notice parents providing tablets and phones to even babies at table to KEEP THEM QUIET.

Scientists note as well the role eye contact plays in a baby’s development, learning appropriate social and emotional cues by mimicking their mother’s ( or father’s) response by looking directly into their eyes. Remember “play -based” learning? How too do people complain of the lack of that eye contact of their companions as eyes across the table search for a place to land, to focus, to avoid, perhaps the gaze of another, or hunger for the blue light of the screen to satisfy a need. The Ipad exudes no judgment, just “ likes”, approvals whose goal is not your growth as a human, only as a purchaser, a source of profit.

Neuropsychologist are being paid to play into our addictive tendencies, aware of how to attract our brains through the rewards, novelties and even colours that render us as rats in the maze : our prize, the compulsion to spend money for a superfluous good that makes us believe it will satisfy, makes us feel better and happier about ourselves. And while we hunger to hold the tablet, we have no meta- awareness, only the driving desire.

Working with the concept of self, Doidge and Basillie discuss that adolescents require time for reflection, to decide, away from their peers, grow their fears, dissect their own arguments, weigh how to take a stand, defend and build a sense of self , evaluating what they believe is important :what works for them. But with the constant steam of voices readily available on the devices and the seemingly constant need to be validated, rather, than actually working out an issue, they inevitably turn to group voice, allowing the mass response to override or even negate their own. In this way, their weak and evolving sense of protest, outrage, and individuality is lost.

I’ve often worried that even knowing how to form words in print will return the population to illiteracy, lost by allowing Siri or Alexa to speak for us, voice and write down our thoughts. And then there are those strange abbreviations of eclipsed words ,OMG, WTF that not only abort language but shorten it to a few letters like grunts from animals. As we write, so we form or extrapolate our thoughts. John Polyani has described how the act of writing allows for more than what we superficially thought we know: to appear on paper, extending the thoughts we weren’t aware we had, that accumulated stream of consciousness based on experiential data that unravels and delightedly surprises us as it appears on the blank page before us.

If we simply speak our words to Siri, rather than engaging in the path that takes the thought from our head through to the fingers in our hands that holds the pen, things change. Our brains adapt differently and not only our meanings may be misinterpreted, nuance lost, but our ability to communicate as we intended will vanish as well. So too Basillie acknowledges that parents in Silicon Valley promote time away from the screen for their own offspring, encouraging Waldorf methods of being in nature, knitting, woodworking, using minds and bodies, reminiscent of John Dewey’s concept of the school where there are no barriers between the walls and the landscape wherein it is built.

Think this “addiction” is far fetched? Today’s Star Life Section entitled “Your house is going to get a lot smarter”. Rachel Tepper Paley describes how we will become more dependent on technology, more seduced ,although she seems to write with the wonder of it all, even allowing there were no refrigerators before 1913:

“[Smart time clocks will] sense when you’ve reached your sleep cycle’s lightest point and release a wake-up scent of your choice.

Once you’re up, it’s time to get dressed… with clothes you don’t just wear — they will interact with you, tracking health markers and habits. Among them: …smart gloves, which promise to detect skin temperature and provide heat accordingly. Your clothes might even change shape or colour based on your feelings, as will the Sensoree mood sweater, now available for preorder…And if you want a new wardrobe, you won’t have to even leave the house to find the best-fitting clothes: Amazon’s patented mirror will let you virtually try on outfits from the comfort of your own bedroom..”

She mentions too that your purchases will not be left at the door, but verified delivers will enter your living space, “your hub” so you need not even move from your couch where your television can effortlessly be rolled up and out of sight. Your home will be fit with numerous speakers that will control your everything from your light bulbs to your thermostat to your front door.

And dare I say it?. As we all ready know, televisions not only broadcast out, they also can spy on you in your home as those nasty Samsung ones can, garnering and collecting your life’s moments, piercing your privacy as cookies do on the internet. Nor surprising, some of us like Thoreau will want to escape to our own Waldens, eschew these devices, talk to one another, make eye contact, read and think and write down for future generations what it is was like back before technology went mad.

Interestingly not one person commented on the editorial page in The Globe after last week’s article by Doidge and Basillie.Are we so inured, so aware that this trend is coming, that we have totally accepted and normalized it?

Immigration, news papers and poetry 

On Meet the Press last week, Chuck Todd asked Reince Preibus why the specific naming of the Jews and antisemitism had been omitted by Trump on the day of Holocaust Remembrance in Washington. No apologies or expression of regret was given except for Trump’s spokesperson to murmur, how terrible it all was and to acknowledge there are Jewish people in Trump’s own family( his son- in- law Jared Kushner and Trump’s daughter who is a convert to Judaism). In deed, Ivanka issued a photo of herself and husband that evening as they preened for their night out in dazzling clothes. She might have underpinned it with “ Let them ( the refugees) eat cake”. People believe that it is no mistake that the ban of Muslims from countries identified as dangerous such as Yemen, Syria,Iraq, Iran, Libya, Sudan and Somalia on the same day as the holocaust statement was not just a coincidence- for, Steve Bannon, chief strategist for Trump, supports the alt right which lauds white supremacy and of course, antisemitism along with it. But not just Jews and Muslims are in his purview, he also repeatedly excoriates the Press to keep quiet.

I always find it ironic that one who insists on his own voice being heard has no problem silencing all the other voices: Might makes Right, and as Trump, so incredibly demonstrated during his debates, keep repeating your words louder and more often until you drum out and silence your opponents. Bannon, a former navy man, also worked at Goldman Sacks as a banker and profited from royalties from Seinfeld. So cry me a river of how both Trump, and Bannon can empathize with the forgotten in America! From their monied positions , they define themselves as outcasts. But perhaps, they are correct, if the criteria for being an outsider means social misfit whose elevated status means ignoring real and basic needs. With the arrogance of the rich, and hard done by attitude , Trump and Bannon only listen to the their own misguided selfish, egotistical voices bouncing in their heads. And terribly, ironically, their voter base was mainly composed of the actual poor- whose resentment of their societal condition put into power the very bankers and billionaires responsible for their condition.

Without the Press to question, probe and investigate, people are pawns in the game of dictatorship, mindblown by the alternative facts and lies, the “ beliefs” that the master puppeteers hold. What America has enshrined is freedom of speech, encouraging public discourse, debate, collaboration and an impetus towards building on the diverse ideas of the public. At least, that was the slogan emblazoned  in their propaganda. The Press is the watchdog, the canary in the coal mine that tweets the warnings of looming disaster.

Yet too often these days, the Press sensationalizes, exaggerates and employs hyperbole to dramatize and entertain, alert to raising ratings. However, without the attention of the Press , Trump might not have been successful in his bid for presidency. Perhaps he is too well aware of their power and would prefer them silenced now just as in countries where dictatorship has overrun freedom of speech- and worse. Seen as the critics rather than heralding an era of the next doom, the Press has rebelled, written and challenged those who would prefer to lock them up and cut out  their tongues.

The lacuna in the holocaust statement reminded me of Harold Troper and Irving Abella’s book, None is Too Many, that described the refusal to allow Jews into Canada during World War II, and the shame of it. Trump’s barring refugees is likewise horrifying. I recall stories that my mother told of Poland before the war, and those who were not allowed to leave – and perished. And who does not remember the SS St. Louis in June 1939, its 937 passengers, almost all Jewish, refused entry to the port of Miami, circling and circling aimlessly until it was forced to return to Europe .Again shamefully. The United States has had a poor track record offering asylum.(Read more:

In the Globe again, Pulitzer Prize winner on U.S. Politics, David Shribman remarks on the chaos sown by Trump.Alluding to seven short days, Shribman compares the beauty of creation with the quick demise of society by juxtaposing the two bible- thumping Trump with the miracle of the world. And even the Pope has denounced Trump on immigration, but obviously Trump only respects his own gold- plated views and deems himself above all who would criticize, bestowing upon himself the right to decide who shall live and who shall die as a god on high- above all religious clerics and moral philosophers and common sense. Shribman highlights the symbolism of the statue of liberty, and the Emma Lazarus poem engraved on the welcoming statue to New York,

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me…”


I think too of Walt Whitman celebrating diversity in Leaves of Grass and his tribute to Lincoln in Captain, my Captain.  

Russell Smith in Thursday’s Globe and Mail also aligns artists’ works protesting the evils of mankind with Trump’s America, admitting art exerts little impact, except to rally the spirit and underline through gesture and design protests. Yet Picasso’s Guernica that dramatized the atrocity of Nazi bombing of innocent civilians in 1937 on the Basque town in Spain stands as a monument to all human suffering, underlying the brutality of the place, the time, the perpetrators: a forever record. But as Russell Smith set out, art can do little to change minds. I fear that at the end of this destructive time, when the henchmen are called on to account for the ruination of society, they will demure,” I was just following g orders.”

 I imagine too Sally Yates’ refusal to sign Trump’s order will also stand as a rebuttal, a forever statement to the gross abrogation of rights. And when the world surveys its lists of who stood up to Hitler as Schindler did, Guernica and Yates and the Women’s March and even the mayor of Provence, Rhode Island will be carved into the minds and hearts of people who will scorn a regime that deprived rights and safe passage to those in most need. 

And once more, On Meet the Press, a participant held up the IPhone declaring the son of an Arab immigrant , Steve Jobs, created it. A Syrian filmmaker of an Oscar nominated film, The Salesman based on Arthur Miller’s The Death of a Salesman will be included in the ban of Muslims from Syria and will not be able to attend. Scholarship students to Yale and Harvard from many of these identified countries are now nomads, unable to return to their classes. And think of the families stopped midtransit after two years of vetting, now turned away. At least the” sanctuary” cities at this point are not willing to comply by providing names for deportation.In seven short days, the world has come loose, and those famous lines from WB Yeats in 1919, come to mind,

 Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

 Trump’s ability to tell lies and promulgate fear are his special talents. This is fear mongering, echoing FDR’s “ All we have to fear is fear itself” in his inaugural address. By saying this, FDR was telling the American people that their fear was making things worse. He went on to say, “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror … paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”


That is not to say, that terrorists such are not pursuing terrible outrageous crimes against innocents , and destabilizing the world. One remark from 60 Minutes has stayed with me, a comment made by a pastor in Georgia : Who is more likely to turn to terrorism, someone welcomed by a country or spurned by it?

And Marie Henein( yes defender of Jian Gomeshi) likewise reminds us in The Globe on Wednesday, of George Orwell’s take on political thinking in 1945, when he wrote “… the most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome …people seem capable of schizophrenic beliefs regarding plain facts, of evading serious facts with debating society repartee or swallowing baseless rumors and of looking on indifferently while history is falsified…”

She adds that few people are actually hurt or killed in terrorism attacks ( well, 9/11), but many many more by guns. Yet there is no move “ to make America safer” by passing more stringent gun laws or even preventing them from being sold.

The last bastion of hope exists with those who have power to overturn or stop the avalanche of Trump’s tide. Maybe thinking Republicans will join with Democrats , protestors, women, refugees, those truly forgotten souls to prevent the tragedy that awaits. My husband, the lawyer, always optimistic continues to tell me that the justice system is embedded with safeguards that will not allow rights and freedoms to be trampled.

 I hope so.

The Olympics Conundrum

Everyone this year must have wondered about Rio as an appropriate site for the games. Admittedly, not a great sports fan, I still always am fascinated by the prowess of the athletes, always amazed by the skill and sleekness of their bodies. Last night the choreographed duos plunging into the pool left me in awe : the best reminded me of the tightly wound gears of clocks. 

Even the opening ceremonies that traced the history of the country fascinated. The hot pinks and greens of people dressed as arrows along the parade of athletes tickled my imagination. The skeletons of boats rocking with explorers a la cirque de Soleil, the slaves with huge blocks attached to their feet, the rising tenements that featured a backdrop for the diversity of silver dancers were all wonderful, artfully and historically conceived. The serious admission and projection of the shrinking land and resources of our world dramatically set against each athlete planting a seedling: small and big, individual and colossal. And yet, as in Beijing where the poor were relocated for the building of stadiums such asThe Birdsnest (which now stands empty ) ,60,000 residents in working class favelas in Rio were also moved out for the building of the Olympic Park. Gary Mason in his column,” The spectacle you don’t see on TV”( The Globe and Mail, August 12, 2016) describes families in dire circumstances, begging for food and sorting through garbage cans, babies in arms. He states,” The dichotomy between the money drenched world of the IOC…and the horribly disadvantaged people…in Rio is blunt and depressing.”

With the terrible issues in the favelas and the poisonous prick of the Zika, not to mention the fluctuating political presidents, Rio appears cursed. My own hairdresser confided her family has been beset by gangs in local grocery stores and no doubt, most have heard about the Spanish sailing team’s mugging at pistol point. In the midst of such burning poverty, how can there not be unrest? 

Yet I carry sweet poignant memories with me when eight years ago, I celebrated New Year’s Eve on Copacabana Beach with four million others in a quietly festive, family based party. Every one respectfully dressed in white, carrying gladiolus, silently approaching the edge of the water, bending to offer the flowers to the goddess. Small groups of extended relations preparing dinners on portable stoves, tasty, spicy smells, children dancing on tiptoes on the sand: the atmosphere calm, friendly, spiritual. 

And at exactly midnight after fireworks, belongings and small babes packed up in arms, the partygoers turned back to fill the streets and head silently home by foot or bus. We were sitting in a bar restaurant called Mabe’s beach- front where we poured champagne for anyone who came by. Told not to display jewellery or wallets as tourists, we had begun our Rio trip fearful, but encountered no problems. In fact, our memories of Rio still give us pause today :awe of a night that was far from violent or threatening – and lives in our minds as one of those moments that twinkles and endures when so many  other travel memories have vanished. 

The story yesterday, August 8, of Raefaela Silva, is like that, a story that persists. Winning Brazil’s first gold medal in women’s judo division, she is  David battling Goliath,poorest of girls triumphing. On the podium, biting her lips to hold back tears as she waited for the medal to be placed around her neck, Raefaela conveyed( to me) that she was unlike the other athletes. Whether it was a toughness, a rawness, a particular look, a demeanour,a raggedness, she somehow marked a difference from the sleek and poised, say, of the women swimmers or divers such as our Penny Oleksiak or Rosie Filion. Siva is quoted as saying, “I was always climbing up walls, over walls to get a kite that might have fallen out of the sky…I had a dream” , a mantra both literal and figural for a child reaching beyond a bad neighbourhood towards a better future. She adds,”I had to fight in the midst of that, in order to overcome and not be defeated as a child” ( The Star, Bruce Arthur, The girl wins gold for City of God”). 

As humans and story readers,we approve this story, beaming with pleasure that there are avenues to vanquish our enemies, whether they be human or societal. We burst our buttons that the human spirit has prevailed and for one shining moment, the dragon has been felled. But in truth, there are few Raefaelas able to exit their circumstances. Even her sister at 15 found herself pregnant. The conditions that confine all the other children and propel them into crime, not sports, drama , professions must haunt society. Without opportunity, the quiet one in the corner, the bully, the kid kept at home to mind his baby brother, few can escape the cycle of poverty that robs all of us :to move  from challenging circumstances and go forward. What made the difference for Raefaela? Did she have a latent gene from her ancestors to persevere and somehow continue her trek? Was it her parents, who in spite of moving a small mile away from their former favela, hand her the torch? Was it her coach who in the midst of crushing racism in London, and  Siva being disqualified in London four years ago and persuaded her to dig in her heels, scof and steadfastly believe in  her dream? Was there one guardian angel knowing what words or signs were neededto keep her on the right track? In deed, what makes one swing one leg in front of the other when everything within screams, “Giveup, lie down; it’s enough all ready.”

Cynically I ponder if she will return to her former life and hang her medal on her wall, or will she be used by the government as motivation that even if you live in slums, you can triumph.Will she be air brushed by the government into a lovely model for drinking coke and selling sanitary pads? 

It is a lovely notion that we cling to: that one downtrodden person can rise up in the midst of adversity. Rather than fighting the odds, governments must ensure that all  our Raefaelas find outlets for their talents, and even ” ordinary” children be allowed to rise to fulfill their potential, not scour for scraps in garbage bins. Wasn’t that the idea behind the 1979  Year of the Child promoted by the Unesco and the  UN?Not snipped in the bud by the Zika virus.

Revisiting The Little Prince

“Taming means more than the literal act of domesticating an animal; it’s about experiencing , be it romantic or platonic, and the perils and rewards that come with it. Once you grow close to someone else, you risk experiencing loss, “How the National Ballet brought Le Petit Prince to life. “Globe June 4, p 1.

The widespread attention to Antoine de Saint- Exupery’s novella seems to have burst everywhere this spring- from movies to games and ballets. Martha Schabas’ criticism in The Globe and Mail of the performance suggested a commercialism as opposed to a focus on the ballet, akin perhaps to the National Ballet’s production of Alice in Wonderland ( also  revived everywhere in film and theatre) which there was an emphasis on entertainment, surprise contraptions rather than highlighting the pas- de- deux. Setting and costume were lauded, dancing as well, but this season I cannot know.The ticket prices soared to $175 for Prince and the actual availability was sparse, so I will have to await responses from friends fortunate enough to have seen the production to speculate.


I do know and cherish the book. It was a mantra that caused me untold happiness because it was introduced to me by my first real friends at university.It fortified an emotional girl often ridiculed for being “ too sensitive”: that only with the heart that one sees correctly. It designated that one must meet on a regular basis to truly engage in the process of knowing someone else, setting out specific parameters and demands. It disparaged the pursuits, ignorance and arrogance of diverse classes of people; and it encapsulated what I had always believed,cementing my philosophical view on life. I had read Machiavelli, agreed with Pascal’s Pensees, even been enamoured by St. Augustus; however, the simplicity of The Little Prince, seared my soul in a way that no other had. It was my cadre’s secret book in the 60’s a guide against the rich and snobbish.mIt just cut through so directly to what I recognized to be wisdom. 

Much like coveted books,there are those phrases and sentences we make our own through reading, or possibly bon mots from films, and we keep them close, sharing them when they are suggested by events or scenes in our life; they resonate and actually echo in our heads, enlivening and enhancing the moments that stand alone and provide pause.The lovely Philip Roth sentence regarding surface is one , my husband treasures.  

That is the way with poetry too. As elementary school students, poetry was intended to test our memories so, in grade 4, we had to accumulate a certain number of lines by the end of the year, practicing out loud in front of the class, allowed to select long passages or several rhyming couplets as long as we fulfilled the magic number. To this day when I see a grey squirrel, the image that jumps at me originates from those days and reminds me that the grey squirrel is like a teapot, ( although he is NOT).. Similarly a loud noise evokes Vachel Lindsay’s”Boomlay, boomlay,boomlay,boom…”. And the sweet delicacy of Louis MacNeice’s “spit the pips” from his poem Snow are the bits that flutter into my consciousness,totally unbidden. 

When I had to select a poem to teach as a beginning teacher I had vague memories of Henry Reed’s Naming of Parts and the contrasts of the recruit enchanted by flowers in the midst of having to memorize the names and functions of gun parts. In my mind’s eye, I envisioned the lank and gawky body of a languid boy gazing at japonica outside his window on a spring day. Reed laces killing and procreation as the juxtaposition of bees and swivels, slings, bolts and safety- catches, underlining the contradictions to be faced by the youth. 

Throughout life, William Butler Yeats’ lost love of Maude Gonne and Pied Beauty  by Gerard Manley Hopkins have been my companions reinforcing some of life’s lessons: beauty in difference ; we will not always be loved back by those we desire; and there is an intrinsic beauty between form and function . Poets and artist give us the handles, providing us and expressing our emotions bigger and best than we mere mortals could.They wrestle with to commandeer the words to describe and symbolize what we hint at and feel, making them loom larger and helping us put outside our mere selves the ideas. I never thought while daydreaming in those stodgy leafy classrooms that I would be so imprinted by images that have become my walking companions. They have spoken for me, held me up, given me a place to hear what often were tangled, confused and painful emotions. 

Alternately they have been a way to sing out, a catalogue of people and observations, a stream of delight. Best of all, I loved Walt Whitman’s words”Do I contradict myself? Very well,I contradict myself…” for, as we are all full of opposing views,contrary notions, complicated cares, thoughts and emotions that do not coalesce, we often do not make wrongs into a right.So if I contradict myself, well, so be it. 

As the years flow by, we stand on the shores surveying what we have collected over time. The possessions that have contributed to our sense of self, taught and reassured us- often as we have stood against a popular tide. Once we looked to the books that lined our shelves that reflected where we had gone and what had contributed to our growth. Today those tomes are dwindled as Kobo and Kindle give us a page that disappears once our eyes have passed over it. The evidence rests in our hearts and minds and if we want to revisit, we must search on Google, should we be able to pinpoint the phrase, the word, the idea.  

Life changes, but the longing to hold a book in one’s hand and escape somewhere new or different does not. I assume Gatsby also yearned for the multicoloured backdrop of books, even though his were covers with blank pages. I suppose he felt they attested to his character. Perhaps now the reverse is true; however, coming upon a line that has demarcated in an old book or noting a comment beside a sentence brings one back to a time and a place we might have truly forgotten. I think that making a mark is important , the actual act of stopping, considering and responding before the thought has slipped away meaningful.Perhaps that is why I love art. Making the mark records and connects a person to something else and that connection can spark a revelation. 

For me, I will always treasure the words of the The Little Prince- and welcome its journey back from the shelves where it was not lost, but hiding. 

Stars, Emotions and What Hides Beneath the Surface

“Shabam-shibbebel-yibbam”, ( or some such expletives) shouts the Bone in The Amazing Bone by William Steig. Unexpectedly, the loathsome fox begins to shrink until he is the size of a mouse, no longer a threat to succulent Pearl the Pig whose oven was heating in wait for her. The Bone unaware how he/it had muttered the magical words, declared he did not know where he had absorbed them, maybe from living in the pocket of a witch, but who knows for sure?

When I worked on a paper for Children in Poverty in Ontario, I recall reading that what impacts most strongly on a child is having a parent, a teacher, a friend who supports that child emotionally. One person can make such a difference. Yet why is it that even some children or adults with packs of friends cannot find their way through an abyss? No magic bone appears to rescue them from their traumas. But often, there are attacks that arrive from not just outside but inside as well. This week Robin Williams took his life and I’m sure many wondered, how if a person such as Williams with all the love, concern and care from friends and family in his life could not survive the crises that plagued him, then how anyone?

Just yesterday I read Joanna Schneller in The Globe who reflected on our connection with movie stars, illusions that we extend to entwine ourselves in, imagining that we possess meaningful association with them: “… actors who come into our lives through film and tabloids whom we think we know because so much is published that we feel affinity to them.” She maintained that what we feel, our emotions, nonetheless are in deed real towards the celluloid super star and we should not dismiss or diminish how we feel. She asserted. “We are not wasting our time if we take to the internet to help us process the weight of depression that crushed Williams. We’re not even pathetic if we try to express our feelings in 140 characters or less. The feelings are real. It would be tragic not to feel them” (Aug 16, 2014.)

I disagree.

We, of course, do experience feelings for ourselves. However, we have no idea what Williams truly was , neither the deep inner thoughts of Philip Seymour Hoffman or the insights of Lauren Bacall when she was married to Humphrey Bogart. These people are mere areas for transference for us, a palimpsest that we employ to post on, then erase our thoughts and feelings. That we think we know them is perhaps saddest of all and to be given permission to grieve for them is saddest yet. The basis for our response not even real or true, often manufactured.

True enough that we don’t always own our emotions, their presence, their façade that obfuscates what lurks beneath. Providing license for grief should herald a wakeup call to look within, not without. Why listen to Jenny McCarthy when you really know so much better.?

In contrast today in The Star,( August 19), Dr. Gabor Mate, took another stance in saying that childhood conditioning can play a role in depression and that Williams was bullied as a child and found his father “ frightening”. He said “[ Williams] early in life had learned early in life to cover up his feelings, as a child does when he is emotionally alone and there is no one with whom to share”. Does this tidbit of information allow us to rationalize and psychoanalyze, pondering like Dr. Freud’s penetrating Ah-ha : that was the reason! as we smugly don our own white coats, clucking as if we knew the secret yearnings and despair that dog some members of society.

However, reading Ruth Ozecki’s book “ A Tale For the Time Being”, I could begin to understand the depth of depression a child/adolescent would face by the constant mockery by their peers. For Nao, one of the protagonists, it is life’s constant brutalities that encourages her to seek suicide as well. Fortunately for Nao, she unearths shreds of resilience and as the literature on that topic teaches, one person- a friend, a teacher, a family member can make the difference.

For Nao, it is the wisdom of her grandmother nun, the perseverance of a great uncle written in a French diary, her own purpose and project that persuade her to continue on for her own sake. Being inspired to find a glimmer of hope when all the lights are dimming is the challenge. For the heroine of Ozecki’s book, Nao may find solace;and in Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, the reader is able to envision her heroine Ursula’s diverse trajectories, a plethora of alternate paths taken or not with varying outcomes.

Yet, as I stand outside a character such as Nao and peer into her soul and thoughts, make connections, and think I comprehend her pain, I am at a remove from the scorching mistreat by her classmates that reinforces she is worth less than her twisted underwear. The value of books is to bring us to the edge so we might peer over and try and empathize. At least a book gives us context and reason, words that convey reason. Our television glimpses or media-driven reports are not truths that can instruct the way into a tortured soul. Like the commercials created by Don Draper in Mad Men, they are snippets created to manipulate our emotions for a variety of reasons; most commercial.

When I worked at OCT, my research for the ethical standards revealed that several universities offered classes or courses to teach the values we hope our children will espouse and make their own: Care, Respect, Trust and Integrity. Coupled with the standards, these ethical incentives are what we all should strive towards in our daily actions : codes to guide our behaviour and interactions with others.

Williams’ death makes us stop and face our own mortality. I think that it was his sweetness, self-deprecation, laughter and crazy antics that endeared him- at least on screen and the zines that profiled him. At least that was how he portrayed himself in his film roles and comedy shticks. Too bad there were no magic words for Williams as in The Magic Bone to ward off his demons and shrink them to mouse size. Even nanoo- nanoo did not do the trick.

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