Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Remembrance of things past....

(With apologies to Marcel Proust, because I can never seem to have an original thought!)

In the last federal election held in Canada in 2011, the NDP became the official opposition under the leadership of Jack Layton.  A native Québecker, he had lived in Toronto for many years, sitting as a city councillor before entering federal politics.

Mr. Layton always spoke of hope - it was central to his message to his party and his country; in his acceptance speech upon becoming the leader of the NDP he said:

"Hope ... is what drives New Democrats."

And it was that message that he left to Canadians in an open letter sent around the world only two days before his death:

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

In the election campaign that my country just went through, it is safe to say that the former ruling Conservative party didn't believe this at all.

But, sadly, Mr. Layton's party also seemed to abandon his ideals and left the hope and optimism to Justin Trudeau.  Whatever it was that Tom Mulcair hoped to accomplish, the message that came through appeared to offer little in the way of traditional NDP values, swerving dangerously far right in a vain attempt to siphon votes away from the Liberals and Conservatives.

Yesterday, my country once again embraced hope and optimism - in the personage of the eldest son of our former Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau.

Justin they called him, over and over again; using his first name alone to belittle him.  "Just not ready," the Conservative attack ads said, over and over, long before the election campaign even started.  The mockery and ridicule were picked up by the NDP in the last weeks, as they saw their support erode, while the Liberals soared.

Mr. Trudeau fils ignored it all and appealed to the better instincts of the Canadian people.

And they responded with hope and optimism.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Taking stock....

It was unseasonably hot in Ottawa in the early fall of 2000. The Sydney Olympics filled the airways as Canadians turned in break-out performances in all kinds of events.

But on the afternoon of September 28, the broadcast was interrupted by the bulletin that our former Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, had died of cancer at the age of 80.

While it was known that Mr. Trudeau had been ill, in some ways it was still a shock. He had been a larger-than-life figure in Canada for decades - how could he be gone?

That weekend, Mr. Trudeau returned to Parliament to lie in state in the Hall of Honour. Members of the public were invited to pay their respects for several hours on each of September 30 and October 1. But the people of Ottawa and many Canadians from all over our country were having none of that.

By the time the doors to Parliament were thrown open, thousands of people had lined up to honour Mr. Trudeau. My sister and I arrived in the middle of the afternoon. It was hot and sunny and the Mounties at the front gate informed us that there was a minimum 3-hour wait to get to the front of the lines that snaked from the front door to the Centennial Flame and along the driveway on both sides. Rather than risk certain sun burn, we decided to come back after sunset.

When we returned that night shortly before 9:00 p.m., the lines were even longer than before.  As we approached the gates leading to the Hill, the staff on duty informed visitors that the doors would remain open all night.  My sister and I walked across the lawn and joined the line in front of the East Block.  Groups of people continued to join the line behind us.

For the first hour or so, people talked amongst themselves.  But as we shuffled along realizing that it would be hours before we could pay our respects, conversation started between couples and families and groups.

"Where are you from?"  "Why did you decide to come here?"  My sister and I had made a short trek our apartment overlooking the city, but many of our companions had driven from other provinces and cities in order to be here.

There was the family from New Brunswick - a young couple with their baby in a carriage.  They were there to represent their parents, who felt that Mr. Trudeau truly made Francophones equal in Canada.  A group of students from the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa who wanted to honour the man who gave us our Charter of Rights.  A young Sikh couple had driven from Brampton that day; when they lived at home in India, they had seen the prime minister on television and admired him and what Canada stood for; they were grateful for the opportunities that this country had given them and wanted to thank the man they believed responsible.  Another couple behind us mirrored our own family - the wife from Portugal, the husband from Scotland.  Had their families not emigrated, they would not have met each other.  Mr. Trudeau had inspired their parents to come to Canada, too.  A family from northern Quebec felt they just "had to be here"; a young man originally from British Columbia now living in New York brought his American girlfriend for the same reason.

The conversation ebbed and flowed, and after a couple of hours, a small group of us made a run to the nearest Tim Horton's before it closed, hoping to keep our compatriots warm with some coffee.  The place was packed with others who had decided to do the same and with those who had made it through the line and needed sustenance to make their trek home.

Upon our return, our group had made it to the area around the Centennial Flame.  It was here that Canadians had placed their floral tributes to Mr. Trudeau; piles of flowers ringed the fountain, with more surrounding the base.  Someone had brought a beautifully carved canoeing paddle as Mr. Trudeau had been a famous outdoorsman who loved travelling Canada's lakes and rivers by canoe.  We grew silent as we read the notes written in English and French, most of which expressed one simple sentiment - Merci!

As the hours stretched on and we inched closer to the bronze doors, the conversations were shorter, quieter and tinged with tiredness.  I remembered the last time I had stood for hours on the lawn in front of Parliament in April of 1982, as I waited for Prime Minister Trudeau and the Queen to sign our new Constitution into law.  He had looked resplendent in his burgundy tuxedo tails, carrying a top hat as he walked beside Her Majesty, only a foot away from where my sister and I were pressed against a fence.  As the crowd shouted their congratulations to him, he said thank you with a smile so bright it broke the grey morning in two.

It was the first time I felt the total joy of what it meant to be Canadian.

Now it was time for me to say goodbye to the man who helped me to understand this.

It was close to 3 in the morning when my sister and I made it to the front of the line.  We were ushered to the cataflaque with a couple from the other line where we had 15 seconds exactly to say our farewell.

The woman next to me was whispering prayers in French, her husband was crying.  I bowed my head and silently thanked Mr. Trudeau for the feeling I had standing outside that building on that April day almost 20 years before.

A white-gloved usher came to move us away through a curtain to our right.  The woman on my left picked up a corner of the flag draping the casket and kissed it, but my sister patted the flag and said out loud "dors bien, monsieur, merci" before we stepped away.

On the other side of the curtain, books of condolence had been set out on tables for people to sign.  Boxes of tissues were helpfully set there, too.  I sat at one, nodding to one of our groups who were leaving the building.  Today, I can't recall what I wrote; I'm sure it was banal and sounded much like the words so many others had written before me.

I like to think that Justin, Sacha, and Sarah Trudeau read these books at some point, and found comfort in the words of thousands of Canadians who loved and admired their father.


This blog post is obviously related to the federal election taking place next Monday, less than a week away.  It seems likely that Justin Trudeau will follow in his father's footsteps and become the Prime Minister of Canada.  I look at the polling numbers on a riding-by-riding basis and don't see how anyone thinks that the Conservative party can hang on to even a minority government.

Though I also realize that polling numbers have been MAJORLY wrong in the last provincial elections in Ontario and Alberta and anything can happen in a week; I do have a degree in political science, folks.  And while I may not have been a GREAT student, some of that stuff still sticks in my brain 30 years later (after all, I did once make it through to Jeopardy's contestant pool).

Earlier in the election, during a debate, the current prime minister, Stephen Harper, divided our country into "old stock" and "new stock" Canadians.

Many people like to defend the man by saying that this wasn't meant to be a racist statement, but I note that they tend to be white men with easy to pronounce surnames.  As a daughter of two immigrant families with a distinctly Slavic last name, that statement got "my Irish up"!

The Prime Minister didn't include me in "old stock" Canadianism, because, despite the fact that I was born here, I could potentially be deported to another country due to dual citizenship.  He obviously didn't mean my parents, or my grandparents, who fled ahead of and after World War II in order to provide better lives for their children.

This man and the government he heads make me ashamed to be Canadian - everything they stand for is so far away from what thousands of people felt standing on the lawn of Parliament on April 17, 1982.  And it is even further away from the sense of unity and community that brought thousands more to Parliament in September and October of 2000 as we mourned and celebrated and gave thanks for the life of a man who's guidance made this country great over two decades in the spotlight.

I am reminded of some words from the "Joe Canadian Rant" used to great effect by the Montreal brewers Molson as advertising 15 years ago:

I believe in peace keeping, not policing, 
diversity, not assimilation,

We've turned away from that in the past decade, since the (non-progressive) Conservative party came to power.  It's time for those of us who believe in a Canada that is truly equal for all to take stock ourselves and vote for those who will give us that.

Canada will be a strong country when Canadians of all provinces feel at home in all parts of the country, and when they feel that all Canada belongs to them.
~ Pierre Elliott Trudeau

Monday, 26 January 2015

What becomes a legend...

There is a stereotype of Canadians that we are born wearing skates.

Obviously, this isn't true; but for those of us from the "real" north of this country, we generally learn to skate as soon as we learn to walk.  It's an important skill when the snow is around for 6 months of the year, sometimes 7 (or more, depending on just how far north you're going).

Today, girls and boys both play hockey - but when I was a child, girls were automatically stuck into figure skating.  It was a sport I participated in until I was almost 30.

The earliest winter Olympics I remember took place in 1968.  Like thousands of other young girls in North America, I idolized the American skater Peggy Fleming, though I, of course, rooted for Karen Magnusson.

It was a year later that Toller Cranston made his appearance on the national stage.

For the better part of the next decade, this one skater changed the face of the sport, bringing dance moves and his own, inimitable style to the ice.  He influenced so many other skaters:  his artistic rival British champion John Curry, Russian ice dancers Moiseeva & Minenkov and Bestemianova & Bukin, American Brian Boitano, and fellow Canadians Kurt Browning and Patrick Chan, plus the Canadian brother and sister duo of Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay who represented France on the world stage.

After his retirement from skating (though he did perform in professional competitions from time to time), Toller retreated to his downtown Toronto home to indulge in his other passion - painting.  His bold and colourful works were fanciful and wonderful and beautiful - much like he was.

It was here that my path crossed his - both literally and figuratively.

I moved to my bachelorette pad in the summer of 1984.  A few months later, a friend from university mentioned to me that there were adult skating lessons at the Moss Park arena a short walk from my home.  She and I had skated together at the University of Toronto.  We signed up and spent two evenings a week on the ice, year round.

It was almost a year later that Toller appeared at the rink on a night when the senior skaters were on the ice.  I knew that he sometimes skated there, the arena manager had a photo of himself and Toller on the wall in his office and he mentioned that this might happen.

As difficult as it was, we tried to be cool, not stare, and concentrate on our own skating.

Not an easy task by any means!  How do you ignore your childhood idol, live and in person, sharing the ice with you????

I am right-handed, but when skating, my spins and jumps skewed left - this piece of data is very important to this narrative.  I was trying to make my creaky 25-year-old knees lift me into double rotations, and my coach thought I would be able to do it.

It might have been the third or fourth time that Toller joined us... I was paying attention to my coach, turn, step, pick, leap - crash; or pop the jump and single out.  Which is what happened next...

I stuck the landing, free leg extended behind me in a perfect arc to hold my balance...

When I crashed into another skater doing the same in the opposite direction!

We each whirled around to grab and steady the other and both of us blurted out "sorry" at the same moment.  And to my utmost horror, I found myself holding on to the six time Canadian men's champion - not one of my friends!

I skated over to my coach, who had her mouth hanging open watching the entire exchange, and sat down on the ice beside her, saying "lesson's over!"  She didn't argue.

I carefully avoided Toller whenever he skated with us from that time on.

A couple of months later, I found myself voted onto the board of directors of the skating club as the Carnival chairperson.  Over the next five months, I planned numbers with the teaching staff, found sponsors, wrote advertising materials, designed costumes and the program, and ran around doing all those little things that need to be done to bring a show of 100 skaters together.

The parents had seen Toller coming and going from the arena and they wanted me to ask him to be the guest artist in the show.  Every week at the progress meeting, the rest of the board would quiz me, "did you ask him yet?"  But I was the world's biggest chicken - replaying the accident over and over again in my head.

Shortly after the new year, the arena manager mentioned to me that Toller had asked him about the Carnival - he had seen some of the information posted around the building.  He had hinted that he would be open to appearing in the show if he was asked - it was time to swallow my pride.

Two days later, I got my chance.  I got to the arena early to watch the children's groups rehearsing their numbers, and Toller was standing there rink side (in a giant fur coat) watching them.

"Um, Mr. Cranston...."

He turned to me with a smile and held out his hand and said, "Toller, please".

As we shook hands, I continued: "Brian mentioned to me that you were asking about the show."

His smile got bigger and he said, "I'd be delighted to do a number in your show.  You shouldn't have been afraid to ask me, accidents always happen when you've got groups of skaters on the ice.  Why don't you write down the details for me and we'll work it out?"

Two months later, I stood on the side of the rink and watched Toller Cranston skate yet another mezmerizing performance for a packed house.  Thanks to him, every ticket was sold and we made a profit on the enterprise - we even got press coverage!

As he took his bows to a standing ovation, one of our little soloists skated out to present him with a bouquet of flowers almost as big as she was.  She gave a little curtsey as she handed them over and he gave her a hug to the awwwws of the crowd in attendance.

After the show, he stayed behind until every child who asked got an autograph and/or a photograph with him.  When he was leaving, I went to thank him, and he kissed my hand and said "good job with the show".

I never did get the nerve to speak to him again over the next couple of years, smiles and nods were as close as I got - and I stopped skating after that to pursue music instead.

Toller Cranston died today, too young, too soon.  I'm sure that he had much art yet to be created.

But the indelible image will be of a man gliding across the ice in a pose of striking grace leading into a spin of such breathless speed and elegance that you wanted it to go on forever.

Friday, 10 October 2014

The Ugly Truth...

This is probably the most personal thing I'm going to post on this blog - and I don't know if I will leave it out here...

I'd be willing to bet a lot of money that when other people look at me, they don't see what I see in the mirror.

My reflection is an assemblage of parts, none of them "right".  One eye is smaller than the other, my nose is big, chin is weak, skin is blotchy and my teeth are small, yellow and broken.  Add to that being middle-aged and fat, colouring my hair every 3 weeks to keep the gray away, and the Botox every once in a while to hide that one giant wrinkle across my forehead!  (I frown in my SLEEP!  Who the hell frowns in their sleep???)

I grew up in a home where I was told on a regular basis that I was fat, ugly stupid, lazy, no good and ungrateful.  Put-downs like that occurred on an almost-daily basis for about 6 or 7 years...  The main culprit was my mother's husband - and she sat there and let it happen - until the day she started joining in.

There is a commercial on Canadian television right now about how children absorb the negative things in their life and take them with them everywhere.  One thing that commercial doesn't say is that some of us take those things all the way to adulthood.

Anyone who tells you that you can get past something like that has NO idea how much you internalize such a message!  It goes down to your bones and permeates your soul until it is as black as the hateful words thrown at you.  This isn't a bunch of strangers making you "feel inferior without your consent" (as Eleanor Roosevelt famously said), this is your family telling you are worthless - repeatedly - during the most impressionable time of your life.  These are supposed to be the people who love you and protect you - but they don't.

I'm sure I wear that perception of myself like an invisible cloak that alerts others to my insecurities and vulnerability, and it attracts those who would exploit those feelings to their own ends.

Like my first "serious" boyfriend T.

Of course I was having sex with him; I was 16 and had raging hormones.

About a year after I met him, we were at his best friend's house one summer day.  We had spent too much of the day in the sun and I lay down on the couch in the family room with some cold packs while the guys played pool.   I probably dozed off and I'm sure they thought I was asleep or I wouldn't have overheard the advice that T was giving to J.

"Always date the ugly girls, because they'll be really grateful to you and have sex with you."

That day was almost 40 years ago; and since that day I have never felt or believed that I was anything but ugly.

If I'd had any sense or self-esteem or confidence, that would have been the last time I saw him, but it wasn't.

A few weeks later, he decided to join the navy instead of continuing to work a series of dead-end jobs - did I mention he was a high-school drop-out?  It was a month later that he headed off to Halifax, after extracting a promise from me that I wouldn't date anyone else and that I'd wait for him.

Fast-forward to January, and it was time for me to fill out the applications for university.  Sunday afternoon was the only time I spoke to T, he would call for all of 5 minutes once a week.  During our call that day, I told him about the application process and then asked him if he could find out where he would be assigned that spring after he finished basic training.  He asked why and I said that I would apply to university in Halifax or Victoria based on his assignment.

There was total silence on the phone line for a minute.  And then came the words that finally broke whatever spell it was he held me under:

"You should give up on this crazy idea you have of going to university, you're too stupid to go to university."

I hung up.  And didn't answer when he called back.  Ever again.

I'd like to say that was the day I gained a sense of my self and found confidence and overcame all the horrible behaviour heaped on me (and my sister) by my mother and her husband.  But I never did.


To this day, I wake up every morning loathing myself.  My serious relationships have always been with men who were much like T - the type who use you, but make you feel that you should be grateful for the attention.

One time, I tried to talk to the person I thought was my best friend about these feelings.  She said I was always so negative and insecure that no one wanted to be around me.  I've learned to shut it all away inside me, to never talk about it, to never trust people with my heart.

I'm alone and very, very lonely.

I apologize constantly for things - even those over which I have no control.  Small errors are magnified in my mind, and if I make big mistakes - and I made a REALLY bad one earlier this year - that "good for nothing" phrase bounces around in my head for weeks afterward to the point that I feel I can't face people.  It's probable that the negative self-talk of a lifetime causes me to sabotage my own life.

Somehow, I've even found a way to work for people who treat me that way; including the man who finally sent me on a tailspin into a major depression two decades ago.  He didn't want an assistant, and it was obvious from Day 1 that he disliked me intensely (I learned later that he was having an affair with the woman who had been doing my job, the director's assistant).  Two years into my job, he came into my office one day, closed the door, and told me that all my coworkers hated me and that no one in the office wanted to work with me.  He said there was nothing I could do to change this and that the best solution for everyone would be for me to quit my job.

Over the next few months, I retreated into myself, until another coworker - who obviously DIDN'T hate me - took me to the employee assistance group.  Literally took me.  She booked the appointment and asked me to go for a walk with her one day and walked me in there.

It took 6 months of therapy and Prozac to get me back to an even keel - as even as I could be.  During that time, I took several months off for stress leave.  While I was away, our director left - and I returned from my leave to find a very nasty letter from him saying things about my poor work ethics and bad habit of leaving my coworkers to pick up the pieces of my errors. Instead of taking the letter to the union (I was working for the government at the time), I ripped it up.

Nowadays, my work life is organized with colour-coded files abounding and notebooks filled with details and electronic files laid out by date, location, event, etc.  I come in early and leave late, and I foolishly come in to the office when I'm sick, which only makes things worse.

But my home is a mess, a place where no one comes.  And maybe I keep it that way so that I don't have to invite anyone in - literally and figuratively.  If I know I will have guests, I clean frantically for days, only to revert to slovenliness once they're gone.

Today is World Mental Health Day - time to acknowledge that the demons inside our heads can be as bad as the bacteria and viruses and cancers that attack our bodies.  They don't even have to be as extreme as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or severe depression.

I've been writing this post in bits and pieces since the last mental health day a year ago.  If I work on it too long, it sends me back into the black hole that always seems to lurk on the edges of my consciousness.

I would give anything to not feel this way, but every piece of available data I can find on this version of avoidant personality disorder indicates that it worsens with age - which could explain the panic attacks I started having about 5 years ago.  The data also shows that recovery from this disorder is almost impossible, with most doctors recommending coping skills, like breaking a pattern of negative self-talk, to keep the demons at bay.

I foolishly believed for years that maybe when my stepfather died I would feel some sense of release.  But in the four months since his death (and he lived to be almost 90), all the pain has come bubbling up to the surface and the panic attacks have returned worse than before.

The internet is probably the wrong forum for talking about things like this since it seems of late that the hate and trolling is worse than before, but there are also areas of light where one can seek and find solace, comfort, information and kinship with those who share whatever affliction one might have.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.  Rev. John Watson (aka Ian McLaren), circa 1890

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Law in the time of Ebola

The human tragedy unfolding in Africa, as multiple countries attempt to contain the most widespread Ebola outbreak ever, is as fascinating as it is frightening.

But I doubt many of us would consider the legal implications that would arise in dealing with a pandemic.  The situation in Liberia shows how society can break down on many levels when facing an almost-incurable contagion.  And I got a small glimpse of it through a blog post on our internal network for the government.

B.C. has asked that I not use his name and I will respect his wishes; he is a policy adviser at another ministry and is in Liberia for a year working on strategic planning in the justice sector.  I asked if I could repost his blog for my friends in the legal community to see.

It's also a stark reminder to us of what could happen to our own society should another influenza epidemic, similar to the one of 1918 to 1920, take place.  At that time, it was estimated that 3 to 5% of the entire world's population died due to the H1N1 strain of the flu.  In today's numbers, that equals almost 2 million Canadians and 16 million Americans.

Aside from what those numbers would mean to our health care systems, think about what it would mean for business productivity and civil order.  It sends a shiver down my spine, that's for sure!


When I arrived in Liberia on July 14, the World Health Organization was reporting that the total number of confirmed and suspected cases of Ebola in the country was 174 and the total number of deaths was 106.

As of this writing the total number was 972 cases with 576 deaths.

My work here includes overseeing the strategic planning for the justice and security sector reform work that the UN has been doing in Liberia since 2003.

There are a couple of key areas where progress has been lagging:

·         constitutional reform
·         the reconciliation of traditional justice practices with the statutory rule of law system
·         the operation of the criminal justice system
·         the incorporation of human rights perspective in the broader rule of law instruments
·         the legislative reform agenda

It is difficult to gain traction on big issues like these at the best of times but, as you might imagine, it is even more difficult during the middle of an Ebola crisis.

Last week we met with the minister of justice, and then this week the chief justice.  They were, to say the least, deeply impatient with any efforts we made to raise issues of system transformation.  At first take, it might be hard to disagree with them.  This is a time of crisis when justice issues should take a back seat to the public health imperative, right?

Not in Liberia.

Responding to the crisis has put the health care system under incredible strain.

Before international media attention focused its capricious lens on what was happening here hospitals - unable to deal with the technical and psychological challenges of treating Ebola – had started to close.

It is a disease that targets the intimacy and dedication of family caring for loved ones and doctors and nurses tending their patients.  The vast majority of people who have been infected are related to existing patients.  And, heroically, over 60 front-line health care workers have died.

By the time it became apparent that this was not something that could be easily contained, the health care system was decimated and demoralised.

Adding to the problem are age-old cultural, geographic and economic divides that are the very fault lines that produced the conflict.  There is a deep suspicion towards government and its institutions here, and generations of mistrust between the indigenous people, ethnic minorities and the poor against the wealthy elite who rule the country.

Early efforts to communicate about the dangers of Ebola were seen as targeting traditional burial practices – dead bodies are highly infectious – or as a conspiracy.  So, when health officials arrived to remove the sick and the dead, in some villages, they were challenged or threatened.

In early August, when it began to become clear to everyone here that the outbreak was bigger and growing faster than the health system here could contain, the president declared a state of emergency.

This gave her the power to deploy the army to enforce measures to fight Ebola.  Those of us working in the justice and security sector had concerns about how this would work.

·         Would there be civilian control of the army?
·         How will their presence and role be communicated to a populace that associates the national army with violence and bloodshed?
·         What are the human rights implications of using the military to quarantine entire villages?
When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  And sure enough, last week the army was called out to help quarantine a high-density, low income neighbourhood in Monrovia called West Point.

No one had engaged with community leaders to explain what was happening and residents began to challenge the blockade.  The army started firing.  There are many different versions of what happened but, either from bullets or from the press of the crowd, people were injured and a 15 year-old boy may have died.

So the link between Ebola and justice and security is more direct than you might first think.  Part of my job is look at how the UN mission can respond quickly and effectively to these issues.

All the while the spread of the disease continues.  What started out as one of the biggest public health challenges the world has seen for some time, is now an even bigger public health challenge.

It is becoming likely that the long term effect of the outbreak in the country will include food shortages, economic devastation and the possibility of a broader humanitarian crisis.  This country’s hard won peace and security and the well-being of its civilian population will be put under significant strain.

I had plans of arranging an OPS specific fundraising effort.  I thought maybe we could raise some money to buy an ambulance or provide medical equipment and supplies for front-line workers.

But the truth is, at this point, I can’t guarantee the money will go where it is most needed.

Instead, I ask you to consider giving a small donation to one of the front-line groups fighting the outbreak.  There are many groups but I can personally vouch for the importance of Médecins San Frontières.  Visit their website to make a donation and direct it specifically to their Ebola work.


Tuesday, 19 August 2014

What year is this?

I don't make any secret of the fact that I'm on the wrong side of 50; which means I grew up in the 1960s.

It was a tumultuous time both socially and politically.  CNN has been airing a series recently about the decade; even casual viewing of a few of the episodes would give you some sense of the events that unfolded during the period.

Over the past few months, events that have been taking place around the world are sad echoes of the times now half a century behind us:  civil unrest in the United States, war in the Middle East, and Russian aggression toward their neighbours being the most obvious examples.  Every night, the television newcasts would broadcast grainy black and white pictures of decimation in Vietnam, helicopters spraying deadly chemicals to clear dense vegetation where the enemy hid, soldiers toting automatic rifles, and frightened citizens gazing into the camera lens with desperation writ large on their faces.

As I wrote in a blog post last fall, it is a sad fact that the earliest memories I have of my life are of the events surrounding President Kennedy's assassination, the first of four that rocked the landscape of civil rights in the US.  During the year of Canada's Centennial, I watched Golda Meir, Prime Minister of Israel, defend her country's preemptive attack on its neighbours; less than a year later, I sat in my grandparents' living room as they made desperate phone calls to Czechoslovakia - calls that couldn't be completed - while watching tanks roll into Prague on TV.  Shortly after that, I was on an airplane travelling from London to Dublin when it was announced that Senator Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated in Los Angeles.

The Spanish-American philosopher George Santayana famously wrote " Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it".

Watching the news these past few months, is it any wonder that I might feel that I have been transported back to the 1960s and we are, indeed, repeating our past?

How I know I'm NOT back in 1968:  the American protestors are almost uniformly black - back then, they were mostly white; the lack of protest music on mainstream radio (yes, I mentioned 60s music, so sue me); and the fact that television coverage is 24/7, thanks to our instant-news age, rather than doled out in 30-second bites of sound and fury.

Most importantly - most of the nuclear arsenals of the world have been dismantled and we no longer live in fear of atomic bombs dropping on us.

I have no answers - I wouldn't know where to begin to find them.  While I don't believe in god, the words of PF Sloan, songwriter of the 1965 song "Eve of Destruction" and member of The Grassroots, hold true:

"The song contained a number of issues that were unbearable for me at the time. I wrote it as a prayer to God for an answer."

If I don't stop now, this blog entry will begin to ramble, but the situation in Ferguson, Missouri spurs me to think of these words of Winston Churchill:

"...it is the people who control the Government, not the Government the people."

It's time for the governments in the United States, in Russia, in Palestine, in Israel, in Iraq, even in "Red China" (to reference that song again) to learn this lesson; learn it well, and learn it FAST!

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

In the beginning...

Several years ago, when I first registered this blog, I thought that I would write about my adventures in Middle-Aged-Dating-Land.  I have been uncoupled since December 2007, never married, no children.  My experiences with internet dating go back to 1993 - and, no, that is NOT a typo!

One would think I would give up after 21 years with no luck, and I have gone long stretches with hiding my profile(s) on whatever internet dating site(s) I've been working with, only to once again decide to test the waters.

That's an apt metaphor since I've mostly been active on Plenty of Fish, but I've also tried Lava Life, Match, OK Cupid and a tiny Toronto-based site called Casual Kiss.  I have been rejected by eHarmony TWICE!  (Which probably isn't a bad thing.)

(The stories I could tell about my emails from Casual Kiss alone could entertain you for hours; I'm sure most of them were scam-related.)

In addition to perusing profiles, I've spent a lot of time these past two decades reading the forums of several of those dating sites, old Usenet newsgroups, and blogs - those published by dating sites, those written by so-called dating "experts" and those written by the average person.

As time passes, one fact has become glaringly obvious:  when it comes to men, how a woman LOOKS is paramount!

It is the rare man who will consider dating a woman who is outside of the "norm" of North American "beauty standards", i.e. young, pretty and thin.

Public post after public post by men in several countries of many ages, races, income and education levels have driven that point home to me.  And to countless of other women of size (and, now, age).

The perception of the dating scene for overweight women in general, and especially overweight middle-aged women, is basically that you are NOT ALLOWED to say "no".  After all, this man has paid attention to you and you're an awful FAT girl who barely gets attention, you should be grateful for the attention and have sex with that guy.  And it is about sex, because these men aren't looking at you for anything long term, they certainly wouldn't want to be seen in public with you.

A very small sampling of my emails over the past few years are revealing (I've left them intact):


Very nice skin. You look very lovely. I am pretty active and fit. I might be a good influence.


if you look a little deeper and overlook my facial hair, I am sure I can overlook some extra weight. Find your face absolutlely beautiful.


Your eyes do look a little crazy .. Are you crazy? Just curious.


wow no wander u been on here here 3 years you will die a lonely old lady hope a cat sneezes on you.thank god u never had kids ,now go get a drink


you sound like a real bitch, why would anyone want to contact you.


There was the one from a man who said he was going to a concert at the JLC and would I be interested in giving him a massage before the show.  When I declined, the vitriol was swift and disgusting.

And one from a woman telling me that I "owe it" to men to post a full-length picture of my body so they know I'm not lying about my weight, despite the fact that I lay it all out on the line in my profile.

That is the tip of a big iceberg...

and yet, I continue to put myself out there.

I guess I'm just a glutton for punishment!