The Chrysalids

I’m one of those people who has lots of books. One of my most significant costs when I moved from Arkansas to Canada was that of moving those tomes. Many remain packed still, but I know where they are. A few have special places on my shelves, even if I don’t remember them very well. This summer, as I reconnected with many aspects of my past, I was intent on rediscovering a few of those. One was John Wyndam’s “The Chrysalids”.

First published in 1955, my copy is fairly battered and might even be the one I read in grade 13. But even after 60 years, the book is hauntingly applicable today. In many ways I found it spoke more to me now than when I first read it in high school. It is an early post-apocalyptic novel, suited for the culture of the 60s before we had become bored by the prospect of nuclear war. The story follows several young people through the difficulties of living in a world where generic mutations are rooted out and generational “purity” is maintained at any cost.

This was my first re-reading since I came out at the end of the last century; and I was struck by how often I’ve heard the same kinds of arguments about “purity” in debates against being gay. There were several times I was taken aback by how much I could relate to the characters: how I know the feeling of being different, and feeling threatened because of it. Living when he did, I don’t think Wyndam had any idea that being gay would forge a connection so strongly with the book: but I don’t think he would be surprised, either. One of the biggest points for the novel is the necessity that human culture must grow: to change, to evolve and adapt. Even if the direction of that adaptation is unexpected.

In many ways our culture is at a cross-roads, and we need to explore and redefine our institutions. We’ve known this for decades, yet we keep hurtling forward because we’re too afraid to be honest with ourselves, too narcissistic to care for and support one another. The result is that we’re increasingly separated and isolated. We value diversity, yet we’re scared to embrace it. The result might not be a nuclear war of the extent Wyndam theorized in the book, but it will keep us from discovering what lies ahead. Unless we make those fundamental changes, we will get trapped in a future that is simply an extension of today, rather than the bright world we dream of.

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Executive Beaches

I have to admit: when I first heard this report, I thought it was fake. Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, has been under some flack today for closing state beaches in to the public and then enjoying one of those previously public locations in a personal celebration for his family and friends. I thought there must be some extenuating circumstances: so I checked it on Snopes, and discovered that no, he’s just as much of a jerk as he appears.

In my mind, this illustrates just how distant our leaders have grown from the general public. Mr. Christie obviously does not consider himself to be be one of the public masses; to him, he enjoys a perk that he does not need to abide by legislation that he has enacted. He and his family and friends are above all that. That kind of pure arrogance makes me wonder.

After all, there are no lifeguards; there’s no-one to clean up their mess on the beach; those are all considered non-essential services that Christie shut down. It is true that one of his stately residencies is located on the grounds: but to use facilities that he has denied to others is unethical. Using the house wasn’t wrong; but using the beach just flaunts his arrogance. And, honestly, his stupidity. What does he think lifeguards are for? Or did he bring his own, just in case of an emergency?

Can you imagine the the conversation of his kids, who invited their friends to visit for the weekend?

Hey dude, you wanna come to our beach house this weekend?”

Nah, your dad closed all the public beaches.”

No, he closed them for everyone else. Not for us. We can go and have the beach all to ourselves.”

Cool. Your dad’s an ass, but I’ll go along to get my own beach!”

And not only did Christie enjoy the facilities that he had closed to everyone else, he lied a about it (Independent, July 3 2017) and then he had the audacity to try to defend it. His spokesman said, “people shouldn’t have been surprised by the pictures… Christie was headed to the beach house Saturday night.” (USA Today, 2017). To which I can only wonder: how many people said they were “heading” to the park that night, yet were blocked by police? Being governor might give Christie some privileges, but it should not give him special access to state services.

Christie might believe that he is above the public, but he is not above their opinion.

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Wake Up Day 2017

Spring rolls around each year with the return of wonderful weather and longer days. This has been a tumultuous year; for those who don’t know, my mom succumbed to Alzheimer’s last September, and inside two months afterwards I had a new job, working with a new team in a new location. I’m quite enjoying it, though it has been filled with challenges I did not expect, in many different ways. All the more reason to celebrate Wake Up Day this year, and to remember that the life and loves we have in this world can be fragile and transitory.

For those not familiar with the story behind Wake Up Day: it began with a car accident in 2001, which left me in a coma for six and a half weeks (the full story). Full recovery took a several years, during which I was fully supported by the friends and communities around me in Arkansas. Wake Up Day started as a thank you for them; since I moved to Toronto it has evolved into an appreciation of life, health and friends. The event gives me a chance every year to reconnect with people from my past. There are pictures from previous years on my Flickr page; in particular the ones from last year.

Here in Toronto, every year we grill pizza and provide beer and wine. All are welcome. If you want to bring anything else, you’re quite welcome to: but nothing else is necessary. This is not a potluck, though you are welcome to add to dinner as you wish. All we ask is that you RSVP, so that we can be sure we have enough food. This year I’ve created an Evite Invitation to allow for RSVPs, as well as a Facebook event page: or you can just send me a note direct my email. Spouses and children are quite welcome, just let us know how many you will be bringing. With an RSVP we can also let you know of any last-minute changes to the evening.

Date: Saturday May 27, 2017, 6:00pm
Location: 21 Potsdam Road, Toronto: Townhouse 51 (the location in Google is approximate)

See y’all soon!

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Resolutions: Walking

I know, I’m one of those strange people who keeps up on their resolutions every year until they’re either completed or are embarrassingly out of date. This year is no exception. One of my resolutions for 2017 was to walk more, and to hike more, and to visit more parks around the province. This includes urban, provincial, and national parks. It’s a particularly good year for this resolution; Parks Canada has offered a national passport that makes admission to any national park free. So it should not be too hard to complete.

Being the analytical and numbers guy that I am, these have measurable goals as well. I’m trying to mark out 1000 km through the various parks that I hit, and to visit at least 50 parks over the year. I’m a bit behind on my average: but then I expected that for the winter, when it’s been too cold and uncomfortable to do as much outside activity as I’d wanted. I expect to catch up in the summer. Probably the most difficult part of this is that I’m trying to include other people in my walks as well.

Yesterday was a good example of one of my walks. I decided to take a hike through some of the parks that are south of my church, at Yonge & York Mills. It was rather chilly, so it wasn’t a long walk, but it was a good one nonetheless. As often happens, I discovered something that was significant. My high school, in the northwest part of the city, is a school with a significant arts program; it was named after C. W. Jefferys, one of the most important Canadian historical artists of the twentieth century. I had known for a while that his house has been preserved just down the walkway from my church, but today I discovered that there was a memorial built to him down in the valley area where he liked to work. It was another connection to my past that I’m discovering this year

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Canada 150 logoFor those who don’t know, 2017 is the 150th anniversary of the Confederation of Canada. I remember the Centennial anniversary: when Canada turned 100 in 1967. Well, I was all of three and a half years old, but I vaguely remember our trip to Ottawa and to the historical landmarks we visited there. It was the year of Expo ’67 in Montreal, and Mr. Dressup started on CBC television. I still have commemorative coins and dollar bills from that year. It was a time of activity and celebration: for us very much as was the American bicentennial in 1976 (which I remember much better).

I think it’s a bit of a bummer that the catch-phrase for this year is Canada150. I like the sound of sesquicentennial better; it’s a Q-word one doesn’t run into every day. But it’s also a bit long for these days. In a twitter feed, Canada150 is quicker and easier to address. It’s also a bit more prosaic, but that is less of a concern in the modern age. We want our events to be bright and expensive: but not necessarily challenging.

This year we hope for the same kind of energy and national attention as we had in ’67. I’m sure that to some degree it will be eclipsed by darkness and confusion to the south, with the rise of Trump’s quasi-capitalist propaganda: but that in itself gives us an opportunity to shine. With Trump and his cronies in power, the U.S. will advance further along its trajectory toward economic classicism, racism, misogyny, homophobia and general xenophobia. Canada has certainly taken strides in the same direction over the last decade, but we seem to be shifting our course. As the queen said in her address on New Year’s Day (CTV News, 2017), “[we] will have the opportunity to remind the world of the importance of protecting [our] values and of passing them on to future generations”. I pray that this year we will be able to resist those around us and build on values that move beyond money, wealth and power.

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The Road is How (Trevor Herriot)

I don’t remember exactly how I first discovered this book; I can’t point to anyone who recommended it, or any series of events that led to its inclusion as the last on my 2016 reading list. But somehow I stumbled across the name of the author a month or so ago. I remember looking him up: seeing his picture and reading about some of his activities. Right from the start, as a Canadian and one interested in nature, he impressed me. So I got my hands on the book, and managed to focus my time on the subway during my daily commute on reading its insights. I remember several times just stopping to think about his words amid the hustle and bustle of the train ride and the people jostling around me. The peace I derived in the midst of all that confused energy was almost palpable.

I am currently less than halfway to the end, but I felt a need to write about the experience as it is happening, not just after it is done. Mr. Herriot writes a lot about connection and spirituality: and even though his world is starkly different from mine, he builds words that form bridges across space and time. From his descriptions in the book, we could hardly be more different. Though from the same nation, I am Golden Horseshoe while he is more Prairie; I am Urban while he is more Rural; I am institutionalized Religion while he is more personal Faith. I am gay, while he is straight. Yet all of that seemed insignificant as I followed him (or am following him) through his words on a something of a pilgrimage that is intent on healing and rediscovery. The range of his thoughts as he progresses echoes my own. I may not agree with everything he says, but at least he has challenged my way of thinking: with thoughts on what it is to be a man, to be human, and to be part of the natural world. It’s been a while since I’ve come across writing that has done that for me.

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World AIDS Day 2016

Yesterday was World AIDS Day. As one who is involved with the LGBTQ community in Toronto and internationally, I knew it was coming. I’d seen the reminders, I read the posts. The day is not insignificant to me; I have seen some of its effects. I did not come out until very late in the last millennium, so I missed the real ravages of the “AIDS Epidemic” in the 80s and 90s. I knew none who were infected at that time, and I barely recognized how those who were had been dehumanized by those who did not understand and especially by the church. Today the situation is much better and people in Western nations are living much longer, but there remains and underlying sigma associated with the virus. So I do think it’s important to recognize World AIDS Day when it rolls around. At other times I’ve made a point of walking through the “AIDS Memorial” at The 519, a recognition of those who have died over the years.

But yesterday was a busy day for me. Dentist first thing; then I had to run to work and spent much of the day redeveloping a reading analytical tomes; I took some time to do some Christmas shopping afterwards and then zoomed home for dinner. As I was checking my FaceBook feed before bed, a friend posted about World AIDS Day. I had completely forgotten. It had been a good day, and I just got too busy to reflect on the import of the day.

It occurred to me that those who are HIV+ don’t have that option. They can’t forget about HIV or AIDS, even for a day. They might be living longer, but it is by maintaining a specific regimen regarding drugs and their health. They can’t afford to have a day that is “too busy” that they forget who they have become.

I remember a time before AIDS. Though we will never be without it again, we can conquer it’s effects on people, we can find a cure. I pray that will happen soon, within my lifetime. Although people who are HIV+ can certainly live today almost normal lives, I pray that one day they will be free of the drugs they have to take to keep the virus in check. It is possible. It’s up to us to make it a reality.

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