Wednesday, December 12, 2018


Hello Reader,
Got demonizing?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Hey, how ’bout that War on Terror? And our boys in Afghanistan? 

This week a British Member of Parliament said that his Brexit vote-decision is about the hardest thing he has ever had to do in all his years in parliament. The only thing harder, he said, was the decision on whether to put British servicemen in harm’s way. I understand. In a democracy, surely, war should be harsh to contemplate, not easy. Here’s the thing: 

On a big American blog some people—the majority—didn’t know why folks would “demonize” the terrorists that their armed servicemen would be shooting and capturing. How could they not understand? To me history is clear,  but not to those blog commenters. They weren’t stupid, in fact many were science fiction nerds, but they were uninformed.

My aunts and uncles could speak of history, as they nearly all served in WWII. Back when my father was overseas fighting fascists, he would snarl at “krauts.” Back in the homeland, my mum would not eat “sauerkraut:” she only served liberty cabbage, and she referred to her friend’s “German Shepherd” as an Alsatian. In other words, out of solidarity with my dad plunging a bayonet, Mother would demonize the enemy too.

It goes without saying that war is bad, and therefore temporary, while blessed peacetime is the default. Then it is fine to say, “I only work here,” and “It’s none of my business.” But during a temporary war, in a democracy, the war is everybody’s business. Hence Mum would speak of being a part of “the war effort” and recycling “for the duration.” (of the war) The alternative is grim: To say the war “belongs” to Darth Vader and his storm troopers, while the rest of us as non-citizens say, “I only live here.”

I guess writers would know a little more history than most people—for example, in The Handmaid’s Tale the treatment of women is based on present and past history. (The author said so) Here in Calgary I attend a monthly writer’s group at Owl’s Nest bookstore, among a bunch of sensitive artists that includes at least one police detective, and at least one social worker. I am sure that for even for the scummiest of criminals those two will have contempt but not feel hatred. Instead they stay professional, never needing hatred—but then again, policemen and social workers never need to shout, “Fix bayonets!”

In peacetime over here (unlike in certain non-democracies) we don’t enjoy (or teach) feeling hatred, nor demonizing; to us hatred is unworthy of ladies and gentlemen. In fact, expressing hatred can be a crime. 

To me the way out of our discomfort of feeling war-time hatred, the way into feeling temporary permission to demonize, is to think of a judge’s warrant for what would otherwise be a crime: wiretapping. 

To underline the gravity of the act, the judge will say no wiretapping before (date) and no wiretapping after (date). Regarding war, the first “date” is the declaration of hostilities. If towns are in flames at midnight— be it only a month, a week, or a day before the blessed date of peace— then to fraternize with the enemy is an awful thing. But the day after the armistice? On that very day the energy of hatred may freely dissipate. (My Mum, although Irish, hasn’t needed to hate the English (when sober) since Ireland became a republic—and no, Brexit will NOT mean North Ireland finally joining the republic, not even to prevent a “hard border”) 

To me, the day after after peace is declared, it’s fine to come home with a Japanese bride, as in James Michener’s novel Sayonara. I once flew in a Canadian Armed Forces plane to Germany beside an older German lady who had married a Canadian soldier. As I see it, if a Nazi fighter pilot, the day after peace, is willing to burn his red swastika arm band, then I am willing to have him as a beloved uncle. And have him join the Royal Canadian Legion, too.

As for those strange blog readers who didn’t believe we should demonize terrorists, I don’t suppose they see themselves as social justice warriors or long haired hippies. I think they are simply ignorant that if their government is “of, by and for” the people, then something as grave as war is not the government’s business: It’s the people’s business. 

On that blog, commenting to those who, unlike my dear mother, have never tried to walk in the shoes of frightened men wielding bayonets, what I could have said was this:

When our troops kick down Iraqi doors at night and scare families, (a common tactic in the search for the enemy and his weapons) they are perceived by the Arabs as not being justice warriors, but rather, as being storm troopers “recruiting for Al-Quaeda.” Too bad we don’t have civilian women from America, Arabic-speaking, going along as interpreters during those night raids, to talk reassuringly to the families. —But wait! What if my sister were getting her degree in Arabic Studies, and spoke Arabic? Should she quit university? And then grab a long pioneer dress, and go be an interpreter for Americans in Iraq? 

After all that effort, surely the Americans would give her free room and board if she volunteered in Iraq. However… 

My advice? “Colleen, don’t sacrifice your degree. If the American people can’t be bothered to demonize… if they mouth “war” but stay slumped on their couches, eyes half-closed, leaving things to the civil service and the armed forces, then the American people are unworthy of you.” 

Sean Crawford

~Here’s a link to the facts that inspired The Handmaid’s Tale, such as rulers in Argentina taking babies from fertile women. 

~Korea was a “police action”—hence “the forgotten war;”  Vietnam was officially a “conflict,”—hence the conflict at home and abroad.

~I would hope that all loving, sensitive, scruffy artists, during temporary wartime, would make propaganda posters that showed the enemy in a very nasty light. 

~I suppose anger, too, is like a wiretap warrant: useful only to give energy within narrow dates allowing action in the real world… not for “action” in some past or present fantasy daydream. 

~I can imagine some foreign readers looking very, very surprised at the above thought, 
Question: “But isn’t hatred good and beautiful?… Especially after what their great-grandfather did to my great-grandfather?” 

Answer: I don’t have left-brain words for you, but I can recommend to you some right-brain art… 
I, like everyone in the audience one night, was very moved by the stage play, set in no particular time or space, called Death and the Maiden. I presume the movie version, with Sigourney Weaver, is set very precisely in place. Here (link) is what film critic Roger Ebert thought.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Free Fall Philosophical

I like our Free Fall Fridays, 
definition: as invented by novelist W.O. Mitchel: We have a prompt, (topic) we write very fast, no stopping to edit—just go! Then we read go around the table reading aloud.

Hello Reader,
Got philosophy?

Maybe for post secondary students, when it comes to philosophy, December could be the best month for those boy-and-girl-over-coffee discussions of “the meaning of life.” (Because if you don’t know your class material by now, you never will, so you may as well relax) Now it’s December, so here are some philosophical writings from our Friday Free Fall. Today is all nonfiction.

Generally, after each prompt,  I write fiction, “because I always do nonfiction at home.”  Recently, for my FF nonfiction, I went through a phase of modelling long thoughtful descriptions off of Marilyn. 

Marilyn told us she told her mother I was doing so, telling her mum this disappointed her “because then I don’t hear Sean’s voice.” She was glad when I went back to being me. I think the pieces below, from 2018, are very much inspired by Marilyn’s style, but are also in my own voice.

this Friday morning
This Friday morning could be the first Friday of the rest of your life. Or you might not make it through the week to next Friday. “Somewhere in my life,” said the author (Ian Brown) of the memoir (Sixty) about his sixtieth year, “I have lost two decades. But I don’t know which two.”

Ain’t it the truth… Or this Friday could be the only Friday in your life. Here. Now. Present in all its power and glory. The glory is there if you see it, the power is there if you seize it. Oh, there are so many way ways to escape your power, and only a few ways to grasp the nettle firmly.

Power up the TV—there’s an escape. Power up the radio—escape. Consume the medication, the cinnamon, embrace the wall of sound, rush to the social gossip platform… or stop still, and know… It’s a god-given Friday. That’s god with a small g, for you atheists. The very firmament and sky are a place of god, in me and through me and if I don’t like it, then I can rumble shut the water-tight doors of distraction. Shut out the perception. I can do so, I often do so, I like to do so—but it’s not as much fun.

This is a Friday, that’s my fun day, a day to skip and run day. A granny told me she hates it when society tries to tell her she’s not supposed to skip. So we skipped down the apartment hall together.

Like alliteration? Friday is for forging friendships in the fire and heat of life, Friday is for forgetting all the ferocious hated liars, and living now… now… now.
My old Greek friends said moderation in all things; so I only do Friday once a week. The Grecian wisdom ran “nothing in excess.” So yes.

Sometimes, stuff doesn’t register. Sometimes, my ears even turn off—and isn’t that a strange sensation? You don’t need fiery letters in the sky when that happens to know that something is not to be faced, usually something that upsets my world-view. But face it I must, and re-arrange, and re integrate to a new improved world.

I suppose we can’t register everything. We just ain’t build for it. See landscape. Or see terrain. Be on the alert for a martial artist to suddenly strike, or… see the flowers and shades in the brickwork. See your own petty concerns, or see the faces and emotional concerns of others. Call me a writer, but my pet peeve is folks who go through the world oblivious. I just can’t live that way. 

There’s a John Prine song called my wife goes to mars where she doesn’t hear, doesn’t see, doesn’t think. Folks like that are another pet peeve of mine. Call me an artist, but why go through life if you aren’t going to be alive to to the life around you? In a world full of color, why see black and white? There is something special about learning photography, or painting, or poetry: Your world is never the same again. Of course, you can always choose to be oblivious.

Sometimes, I read my newspaper and what shall I be oblivious to today? War in the middle east? The ozone layer?

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, comes along as regularly as the rising sun, like footsteps on our way to golden heaven.

The sun it rises gold, or through a cloud dimly, or beyond a curtain of rain. The point is that it rises, as surely as breath. This is our curse and our blessing. For we are all of us children of hope, even as cynical hopeless adults. We stop to view the rain on a spider’s web, we feel the quickening sense of loosening joints, we hope to have a nice dream, we enjoy a nice nap, or water trickling down our throat.

Then again, I remember someone saying with great sincerity, “I want to die!” She was deaf, blind, lonely and in her right mind. And once she had given me a very precious gift of holding me. This memory I carry in my body, as I can hope to hold others.

As the earth revolves I have hope to see things beyond myself. Robins in the spring. Maybe I will catch the last of the butterflies. I hobble over to the federal building for the protest, with the hope that welfare and social assistance will one day be vast enough that no one has to beg. I never give to beggars, not if it means I will wimp out from trudging down to the building to make my views known.

“I will never be poor again!” is the classic cry of someone who still has a tomorrow. And the self confidence to make plans. Others don’t feel normal or able to make plans. Fit of body, but knowing they will never be able to even hold down a job at Taco Bell. Why can normal people do what it takes, but I can’t? Why do normal people use birth control, and have normal boyfriends, but I can’t? Tomorrow is the faint hope of advancing towards normality. It can’t be just magic, being normal, there must be some way that I can learn what they have learned, what ever it is.

I don’t know, but there is always tomorrow.

Sean Crawford

Speaking of student philosophers: Strange how our university years, so important to us then, have faded by middle age…  A man who was honoured to be the student president twice, doesn’t have that fact on his bio; when a lady was written up about being a journalist, in a two page spread  in the campus alumni magazine, there was only a single sentence to say she was once the editor of the student newspaper.

“Is the home team still on fire, 
do they still win all the games, 
and by the way, 
did she mention my name”
Gordon Lightfoot

When I talk to students in secondary and post secondary, I always keep in mind how their team, and being involved on campus, is important to them.