Sunday, 13 November 2016

Little Things Mattered This Week

I attended Torah study at my synagogue yesterday morning and a friend asked me how I was doing. Apparently, my post-election musing gave her pause to worry about my mental health. After assuring her that I am actually much better than fine, I started thinking about the tsunamis of sadness that have been sweeping over friends and family in light of "the incident". One rabbi friend even went so far as to suggest that we as a liberal community might be sitting a sort of emotional shiva in order to mourn our collective loss. And while all of that might be true, I am heartened by some specks of positive stories that have been trickling in. Increased donations to progressive causes, mobilization of voices that are documenting the hate, and an increased vigilance by those who dedicate their lives and careers to helping the oppressed, are all starting to emerge in the light of last Tuesday's political earthquake. The road ahead will be potholed, but not yet hopeless.

But, I also realized that in the wake of such a soul-crushing and mind-numbing defeat there was real import in taking care of one's own psychological well-being. We can only be strong and resolute in opposition if we find joy in our own lives. To that end, I started thinking about the little things that bring me a small measure of contentment and peace. These aren't obvious things like family, love, and health. These are the things that we rarely stop to acknowledge during our everyday lives that we just flat out enjoy, without judgment. Here are a few of my little happy places that have rescued me this week.
  • Sucking back an ice cold Diet Coke. Please don't lecture me on the dangers of aspartame and caffeine. There exists pure relaxation in my Diet Coke breaks.
  • Watching old movie musicals on TCM. Guys and Dolls was on this afternoon. I think I've seen it over a hundred times and even though Marlon Brando is sadly miscast and Jean Simmons can't sing a note, I was once again happily enraptured by the Runyonesque gamblers and their girls. The Husband looked over at me mindlessly singing along to Luck be a Lady, smiled sweetly and told me how much he loved me in that moment. How bad can the world be when that happens?
  • In the wake of Leonard Cohen's death this week, I spent several hours just quietly listening to his songs. Music is healing and cathartic and I think that Leonard instinctively understood that. The irony of his passing during this week of weeks has not been lost on me. It was as though he cosmically wanted all of us to focus on other things for just a brief moment in time instead of the shit.
  • Dinner with girlfriends on Wednesday. All we did was talk trash and laugh. 
  • The receiving of random text messages from my sons about everyday stuff. Baseball, Broadway, and birthdays. It reminded me that even though the world often feels out of control, my people matter most right now.
  • Last night I went up to the rooftop of our building and looked out over the cityscape. It was all lit up in the cold, clear November moonlight. The tower stood illuminated in bright red as if to remind me that my country is still a beacon in the world and our neighbours to the south can count on our support. 
  • I attended a Remembrance Day event on Friday for the Jewish War Veterans of Canada. About fifty of us stood outside in the whipping winds along with a minyan of Canada's bravest. Old warriors stood straighter than usual and saluted as a solitary trumpet played The Last Post. I nervously fiddled with the poppy on my jacket as my mind drifted to the new struggles that lay ahead and I was strangely invigorated. I found a measure of clarity.
  • We celebrated a family birthday with elegance because sometimes they just need to be marked and marked well.
Healing takes time. Make yourself a priority for a bit and stop to revel in the little things. This week they mattered a lot. 

Friday, 11 November 2016

Canada's Poet Laureate

I wonder if the measure of the brilliance of any particular song is not necessarily found in how many copies or downloads it might acquire, but rather how often it is interpreted or "covered" by others. The poetry, the lyricism, the mystical elements all combine with the artist to produce perfection.

Leonard Cohen was just such an artist. And while there is pure beauty in his recordings, I am often struck by just how many magnificent covers there are of his music. 2016 has been an annus horribilis. We have lost so many and so much, it is a wonder that we are still standing given the repeated punches delivered to our psyches. Leonard had a way of cutting through the bullshit with his piercing lyrics. He always seemed to know just what to say. Rest gently dear poet laureate. You have left us with a remarkable soundtrack.

Here are a few of my favourite Leonard Cohen covers.

And then there is just pure Leonard....

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Normalizing the Profoundly Abnormal

I promised myself time.

Time to decompress and time to gather my thoughts following a crushing body blow rendered to all the values I hold dear.

I promised myself that I would take a bit of a break from social media, newspapers, and television. I am not interested in being told that it will all be fine. I am not interested in the punditry informing me of the rhymes and reasons for this nightmare. I am wholly disinterested in the dissection of blame and errors and miscalculation. I am not placated by prayers and I am not solaced by the redemption story that is surely spinning to normalize the profoundly abnormal.

I haven't read a single think piece, blog post, or published letter from any source since Tuesday. I have avoided Twitter and the echo chamber. I know that it is all out there. It always is following times of tremendous upheaval. But I am not eager to read any of it.

But, I do feel the need to express my own emotions. That is why I set up this space for myself, as a vehicle for venting. As readers, you are free to disregard or disagree with any or all of it. So, here goes.

The sun rose as expected on Wednesday and aside from the raging agony of an upset stomach and exhaustion from lack of sleep, my life wasn't profoundly different. My family is healthy and happy. (Thanks to the Divine Spirit.) I am warm and comfortable and living in one of the safest and most progressive places on the planet. I am afforded countless opportunities and I am financially secure. My petty complaints have become fodder for silly pieces and sarcastic jokes in this space. On the surface, all is right in my world.

Except accepting that notion above all else would be to deny the obvious. I am a white, middle-aged, upper-middle class, recently transplanted suburban to urban woman. But...

I am not the person of colour being heckled on the street by flaming racists to return to a country in which I have never lived.

I am not the hijab-clad Muslim woman who fears outwardly for her safety by practicing her religion.

I am not the undocumented student who came to the United States as an infant and knows of no other country to call home.

I am not a Latina child being bullied in the playground of her school being told that in this new America she will be forced to go elsewhere.

I am not lesbian, gay, transgender, or queer and being told that love only matters for straight people.

I am not disabled and being cruelly mocked for that which I am unable to do.

I am not an African-American man who is fearful every single time I see a police officer.

I am not a single woman who attracts unwanted catcalls and sexual assaults masquerading as locker room behaviour.


I am a person of immense privilege who can hide behind a veil of caucasian.

I am a Jew who, in my lifetime, has only seen the very tip of anti-Semitism and is more frightened than ever by the open display of swastikas, Nazi salutes, Auschwitz cartoons, and dog whistles to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. 

I am a woman who remembers what it was like as a girl in high school when some strange boy actually did grab my pussy.

I am a person of faith who spent her career trying to justify and explain her place on the bimah to some very privileged Jewish men.

I am of the generation who has thoughtlessly abused our natural resources and was hoping to help remedy that massive error and leave this planet in better shape for the generations to follow.

I am a Canadian who is very aware that it can happen here too.

You see, the world did change on Tuesday night. It became a place where the now most powerful person in the world has given tacit permission for all of the aforementioned. He has, without apology, made it acceptable for hate groups to actively march again. He has, without a hint of irony,  encouraged these slimeballs out of their hovels and into the mainstream. He has set brother upon brother, he has fostered distrust amongst neighbours, he has encouraged ignorance, and he has denounced science.

Through a campaign of hate-mongering and fear, one man unleashed all of that. One man took the lid off of Pandora's box and he cannot, no matter how much he might want to (Really? who believes that he wants to?) close it back up and return the vermin to their sewers.

For the first time in my life, I am truly afraid. I fear for my friends and family south of the border. I fear that when I visit my other home, my tanned olive skin might make me a target. I fear that wearing Jewish symbols might lead to confrontation. I fear the anger and I fear the hate.

I will undoubtedly move past my fears. I will undoubtedly find a constructive vehicle in which to channel my passion for equality and social justice and to stand resolutely opposed to everything this hate-monger has unleashed. I will undoubtedly find a way to battle hate with love.

Until then, I need the space to vent my outrage. I need for that emotion to be validated and not placated or patronized.

I need you all to understand that what has happened can never be normalized.

Not for me.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

America: May God Have Mercy on Your Soul

Here are some things that I absolutely will not miss from this year's clown car show south of the 49th.
  • Memes on Facebook
  • Any news story that leads with the word "email"
  • False equivalencies of evil
  • Discussions of penis size
  • Use of the word "pussy"
  • The need for fact checking
  • Vladamir Putin's half-naked image on a horse
  • Wikileaks
  • Bernie Bros
  • Pepe the frog
  • The suspension of Godwin's Law
  • Neo-Nazis
  • The KKK and the reemergence of David Duke
  • The word "rigged"
  • Incuriosity
  • Ignorance
  • Bloviating
  • Political surrogates from any party but in particular.....
  • Rudy Guiliani and Newt Gingrich
  • Pantsuits
  • Telling a woman to smile more
  • Irony-impairment
  • Tic Tacs and Skittles
  • Access Hollywood
  • The Apprentice
  • Bill Clinton's parade of women
  • The FBI
  • Hypocrites
  • The Trump spawn
  • "Locker Room Talk" used to explain sexual assault
  • Chants of "Lock Her Up"
  • Super PACs and their ads
  • The need for distractions
  • Stupid nicknames. Adios to Crooked Hillary, Lyin' Ted, Little Marco, and the rest
Feel free to add your own. Racism, misogyny, bigotry, xenophobia, and hate have no place in a civil society. Good luck America. May God have mercy on your soul.

Monday, 7 November 2016

I Apologize For Abandoning My Sunny Ways...The Stakes Are Just Too High

I have thought long and hard about whether or not I would post one more thing about this soul-sucking sideshow Americans are laughingly calling an election. As a Canadian peering over the backyard hedge, it is kind of like watching your neighbour dig a sewer near your house without having a say as to where it goes. That said, we Canadians refuse to pretend that this shitshow isn't affecting us. The old joke about when the US sneezes Canada catches a cold has never felt more relevant or true.

I had promised my readers distractions and generally positive posts leading up to November 8th, but the stakes are just too high. Trump's closing campaign ad which was released this weekend has been widely condemned and criticized by Jewish leaders as being filled with classic anti-Semitic tropes and images of Jewish bankers and monetary leaders.
The Anti-Defamation League has decried the ad for "rhetoric and tropes that historically have been used against Jews and still spur antisemitism.” Rabbi Jonah Pesner, the Director of the Religious Action Committee released the following statement:
We denounce, in the strongest possible terms, the use of contemptuous and historically anti-Semitic tropes in the recent campaign ad of presidential candidate Donald Trump. References to 'the establishment' and a 'global power structure,' juxtaposed over images of Jewish public figures, create thinly-veiled allusions to centuries-old anti-Semitic propaganda.  
This latest ad is, regrettably, part of a pattern of the use of such words and imagery that has been repeated by the Trump campaign over many months. There is no place in civil political discourse for the perpetuation of harmful and baseless stereotypes. It is the responsibility of every candidate for elected office to promote the interests of all Americans, without resorting to dangerously xenophobic and otherwise bigoted rhetoric or insinuations.
If you are a Jewish Trump supporter and you don't hear these dog whistles, then nothing I can do or say is going to change your mind or your vote. I can say that I am thoroughly disappointed that you have gotten so complacent and comfortable in your bubbles that you have neglected to recall the lessons of the past.

Last December I wrote the following post during Chanukah from Florida. It was early in the primaries and Florida was just gearing up for their dance. I am reposting it here because my sentiments from that time have not changed, except to say that I am more anxious and fearful for my friends, family, and neighbours to the south. Tomorrow is a crucial day in world history. I beg you all to get out and vote for the America that we the world know you are. Denounce hate. Renounce bigotry. The choice is clear. When we say never again, we mean for anyone.


Tonight I lit Chanukah candles with a gentleman from my building who happens to be a Holocaust survivor. Since this is South Florida and it has been unbearably humid, he was suitably dressed for the climate in a short-sleeved golf shirt. As we chatted, it was difficult not to notice the numbers tattooed on his forearm. I have had many conversations with this man over the years and I have always marvelled at his strength and fortitude in keeping his horrific experiences alive in the hearts and minds of the next generations through his participation in education programs, speeches, and countless trips back to Auschwitz on March of the Living. But tonight, we were just a group of Jews lighting candles to recall our people's struggle against another tyrant living centuries before the one he survived.

And then I came upstairs and watched Donald Trump's latest foray into demagoguery. I watched as supporters at his rally shouted "Heil Donald Trump-THE ULTIMATE SAVIOUR"  and it sent shivers up and down my spine. Trump's completely fascist call to ban all Muslims from entry into the United States can no longer be dismissed as the ravings of fringe entertainer. Tonight he and his supporters entered a new realm of right-wing jingoism, Neo-Nazism, and totalitarianism that every thinking person in the United States and around the world should vociferously denounce. Usually, I am loathed to evoke memories of or comparisons to Hitler, and I can't ever remember calling up Godwin's law before, but Trump and his  supporters are definitely skirting a dangerous line. When protestors are physically attacked at his rallies; when overt hatred of Muslims is spouted by his supporters; when white supremacist organizations are now a solid part of his base; we can no longer ignore the comparisons.

I have had several conversations recently with Jews who are ardent Trump supporters and I have to admit to being baffled. Now I am just disgusted. It is no longer acceptable for Jews (or anybody else) to support this dangerous fascist bigot knowing what we know and knowing the extreme consequences of actions like the ones he is proposing. Trump's call to isolate and bar Muslims is one step away from the Judenfrei policies of Hitler's Nazis.

Tonight, in response to Trump's announcement, Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Centre of Reform Judaism issued the following statement:
While we take no position on Mr. Trump's candidacy for president, we condemn in the strongest terms his comments calling for barring the entry of Muslims into the United States. As Jews who too often suffered persecution because of our faith, we cannot abide religious bigotry.
Our nation, founded by those fleeing religious persecution, is rooted in principles of religious freedom. The absence of religious tests for entry or for office and the freedom of every individual to practice their religion are sources of national strength, not weakness.
It is time for Jews of all political stripes to speak up and finally suppress Trump and his dangerous rhetoric. Jewish Republicans need to find another candidate and they need to say this man is anathema to everything that Americans hold dear. At this season when we recognize light over darkness, religious freedom over persecution, and rededication over hate, Americans must commit themselves to vanquishing this dangerous hyperbole before innocent people suffer. It is a debt that this generation of Jewish Americans owes to people like the man in my building. 

Friday, 4 November 2016

A Royal Distraction for Your Weekend

Today's distraction comes just in time for the weekend.

I bequeath upon all of my loyal readers the gift of the resplendent new Netflix series The Crown.

A period drama about Queen Elizabeth II's ascension to the throne, The Crown has been advertised as the successor must-view period piece for all of us still mourning the loss of Downton Abbey from our appointment viewing schedule.

I'm here to tell you that it isn't that at all.

It's better. Far better.

Lavishly and lovingly created by Peter Morgan who has mined this material before in the film The Queen and stage play The Audience, both starring Dame Helen Mirren, The Crown takes historical liberties by peering into the private lives and conversations of Britain's royal family, and it attempts to show just how like the rest of us they truly are. They love, loathe, and lose as all people are apt to do but unfortunately, they must do it all under the microscope of public scrutiny. Claire Foy is a revelation as the young princess cruelly and unpreparedly thrown into the abyss of duty, and Dame Eileen Atkins will almost make you forget the Dowager Countess in her spot-on portrayal of the slightly bitter and very acerbic Queen Mary of Teck. And just for good measure, there is John Lithgow, one of my all-time favourite performers, doing a spot-on Winston Churchill. (Spot-on. Get me! Already speaking like a Brit.)

My only complaint as I watched the first three episodes this afternoon is that Matt Smith, who portrays the suddenly emasculated Prince Phillip, looks far too much like a Trump son for my liking. Maybe it's the pomaded hair or maybe it's just the vicious Aryan scowl, but he had me quite unnerved. Anyway, I find it very hard to believe that Prince Phillip was EVER the doting father that he is shown to be in these first installments.

So, if you are desperately searching for diverting entertainment this weekend, I cannot recommend The Crown highly enough. Binge watching has never been better.

You're Welcome.

Shabbat Shalom to all who observe.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

The Best Distraction...Possibly EVER.

Last evening I retired to my couch, no snacks in hand due to the unfortunate timing of a medically induced fast, in order to watch Game Seven of the World Series. I did this primarily because I am a baseball fan. The Blue Jays are my lifelong love, but I am first and foremost a baseball fan. There are beauty and poetry on that field. Every pitch of every game is a separate contest within the main. It is the only team sport where the individual battles, those of pitcher versus hitter, have the potential of changing outcomes. It is a thinking person's game. The cerebral player can succeed right alongside the physically gifted. Head, heart, and muscle all combine in one perfect incarnation, the baseball player.

So, settling in to watch the seventh game of the World Series, even though my beloved Blue Birds had been eliminated by one of the final two, was a foregone conclusion. I expected to be swept up in excitement. I expected to be entertained. I expected to hear from friends from both Cleveland and Chicago during the game as to the range of emotions they were feeling. I fully expected a collective experience.

I didn't expect it to be a sui generis moment.

It was rare. A once in a lifetime viewing experience, made even more unique with the involvement of social media. For a split second, it felt as though most of North America was engaged in exactly the same thing at exactly the same time. The Husband was texting me what he was going through from a bar in D.C, as he viewed with election-weary Beltway denizens desperate for a distraction. My Facebook feed was clogged with friends from both sides of the diamond. My Twitter feed, which has been filled with ugliness, misogyny, antisemitism, and hate for weeks, suddenly became all about the beauty of baseball. Casual observers were suddenly transfixed. Rabid fans were hyperventilating. Both teams were equal in their excellence. There was a moment during the unbelievably and most certainly divinely inspired rain delay when I mused honestly about not wanting the game to end, even though it was way past my bedtime. I found myself kibbitzing online with friends, as we all recognized the communal joy. It was singular and beautiful and it can't ever possibly be repeated.

I am not a Cubs fan, but I felt their unmitigated joy. I am not a Cleveland fan, but I was absolutely crestfallen for them. For one night in November, baseball was pure again. The outside shit ceased to exist for just a nanosecond, as we all reveled in beauty together.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Wordless Wednesday...A Chance to Remember That There Is Still Beauty In The World

I promised positive images and stories until the conclusion of the American shitshow. I am finding suitable distractions more and more difficult to come by given how saturated the media coverage has been. Thank God for a seven game World Series. A friend remarked this morning that he wished it could be best of eleven so that it would get us through Tuesday.

In any case, this image comes from our recent trip to Alaska. The excitement I felt seeing these graceful creatures in their natural homes was immeasureable. We humans don't always do coexistence well. Alaskans are a gigantic leap ahead in that regard.
Note: I have decided to blog through November as the mood suits. There will be photos, recipes, and music just as in other years, but the stories will be organic and not pressured. I seem to work better that way. If I manage 30 in 30, great. If not, also great. I promise that there will be enough content for all. Thanks to all who support this space. I look forward to a month of interactions. 

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

November is the Cruelest Month or..How To Maintain Sanity In An Insane World

It's November and you know what that means, right?

Well, maybe not.

It is November the first and that means the commencement of National Blog Posting Month. Every November since 2011, I have taken on the challenge of thirty posts in thirty days. It is exhausting, emotionally draining, and frankly it plays havoc with my creativity gene. I have tried to maintain a standard of excellence throughout these exercises, but it is impossible to know if I have ever truly succeeded. As I recently looked back on some of those mid-month posts, I noticed quite a bit of cow dung mixed in with the jewels. The Husband is adamantly opposed to my signing up this year mostly out of his own self-preservation. He frustrates easily by my constant whining about source material and he certainy tires of showing up in these missives.

In addition, I promised my single digit of readers that I would put a more positive face on these blogs at least until after the S&M exhibition to the south has reached climax. This added task of NaBloPoMo just might make that more difficult, but I promise to try.

So what to do?

I'll leave it up to you the "not-so-faithful" readers to decide. If I get more than twenty likes or comments on Facebook or in the comment section on this space, I will endeavour to fill your blog-reading needs. If not, I have my answer and I will relax and watch November pass me by like a normal person. So, basically it all rests on your collective shoulders. I promise I won't take it personally should the groupspeak deem it a non-starter.

So, off you go. Yea or Nay? Blue or Red? Sedate or Crazy?

Voting responsibilty is difficulty, isn't it?

Today's relaxing news. I'll see your Basket of Deplorables and raise you a Basket of Gus! Admit it. It made you smile.