Thursday, November 28, 2013

Taking Stock and My Human Face

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You ask me, “How’s that blog coming along?” Being happily self-disciplined, I’ve just filled another web administrator’s page of 25 lines, showing the statistics for 25 weekly essays.

Taking Stock
As for “how it’s going,” stats-wise, for this free blog, hosted by Google, I guess they must have changed their algorithms again. According to my Google stats feature, I used to get lots of hits from “key word” searches: I would wonder if my posts were giving school kids a glimpse of “real world” essays. Now I get “stats not available yet, check back later” and then, when I check back, I find almost no search words. As for the kids, I wonder if the keener ones are getting a jolt from my Understanding Essays piece, (July 2012) an essay that could frustrate any teachers who come across it. The duller students, I guess, doing their practical searches, would never stumble across it, or if they did, they’d be too uninterested, being too close-minded to chew it over enough to release a sour jolt.

I’ve been quite surprised, and quite pleased, to see that from China, a nation where the ethics of Confucius were blasted away by the raging red tide of communism, I have recently been receiving a steady stream of hits on my Media Ethics piece. (November 2012) I wonder if alert Chinese journalists are preparing for the day when freedom rings. Or maybe my red readers are inquiring students: As I said in my piece, “Before we are constrained to compromise we should first determine what is Right. “(As Peter Drucker advises)

On this latest administrator’s page, whether from coincidence or something computer related, I’ve noted patterns. If I change my title just a few minutes after I first post an essay, then I get way fewer hits; it’s as though I mess up the RSS feeds. If I post a re-run I get somewhat fewer hits; it’s as though my readers (or their software) have the memory of a computer, and don’t need to re-read a piece. Probably coincidence.
(Update: Or it could be the software over at Google. I just read an article from last year saying that most of Google's search function, as we know it, will be gone in two years, partly due to favouring "local searches" for readers.) 

As for whether I have more than a few count-them-on-your-fingers-of-one-hand regular readers, and whether I am on any RSS feeds at all, I just don’t know: On the one hand, no reader is moved enough to type any comments, but on the other hand my visits are not evenly random through the week, but instead are mostly on the day I post, or in the first few days. This while Google stats seemingly won’t count the people who go direct to my home page.

Hit counts don’t impress me: Another change in these last 25 posts is that I’ve been getting way more hits from (I think) spam, probably because I’ve been going onto low brow sites that link from the Joss Whedon fan page, “Whedonesque.” By low brow I mean popular (not classic or artistic) culture: entertainment rags and glossy magazines, the sort with big pictures where they take the easy way out of throwing together numbers: “Ten TV death scenes” or “Twenty TV heroines.” You can fill up a lot of article space that way. And then you can spam your web viewers, because, according to a schoolteacher, consumers of lowbrow culture, in contrast to watchers of PBS, are more inclined to buy what they see advertised.

On my previous admin page I noted that blogs are declining in popularity. (Fading Blogs and Human Nature February 2013) This could explain why I’m no longer getting comments. Yet my site is probably increasing in number of users: The stats for my posts are increasing and, more significantly, I can see that my hit count for “view personal profile” is up. I doubt that spam robots ever crawl as far as my profile. Or do they? —Sigh! —I don’t know much about computers. Have you any comments?

My Human Face
I have said before this is not a blog, and so I don’t talk about myself unless it is relevant to my essay.

Well. For my next two essays I will talk about having “brights,” to cheer up people in the workplace, (And touch on capitalism) and light-heartedly talk about losing my hair. (And touch on feminism) It has become relevant, therefore, to disclose that I am somewhat artistic, independent, and like to “push the envelope” as far as I can get away with. No, I don’t wear a beret or an earing, but yes, I have an artsy imagination. This explains my long-ago decision not to write in “Basic English.” Of course I respect my readers in China and elsewhere, but pushing the envelope means I will use big words and idioms and slang and archaic phrases. My attention is on nearby English speakers, with folks far away being welcome to listen in.

Besides, there’s precedent for such nearby attention. Classic writers, such as Jane Austen, have shown that if they pay attention to a very specific person in a very specific space-and-time then readers who “listen in” find themselves enjoying some universal truths. It all works out.

Back in college, our teacher for ‘free lance feature writing’ warned us about two things: Don’t go back and re-read your old stuff, lest you cry at how bad it is (Not me, I love my old darlings) and second, while we all have our pet peeves, “don’t write about them: You just aren’t that objective.” And so while I have passion about my day-job profession, I won’t write about professional issues—it’s bad enough I write down my peevish conspiracy theories. (Last week I posted Conspiracies and Inflation)

Sometimes my essays are about aspects of personal growth. Back in February I posted that writing all these left-brain essays, all this prose, had somehow—mysteriously— allowed me to pour out right-brain poetry and humor. Now I wonder if all my chairing meetings at work and elsewhere had mysteriously seeped through into my essence, to be visible to others. You see, I attend a weekly FreeFall writing group, one far trickier to facilitate than a normal group, and I have never told the other writers about my outside life, nor that I chair meetings. You can imagine my surprise … when our chairman was absent last week… and the other writers asked me to chair the meeting. Luckily, the rest of the group helped me—but still, such an honor… and a lesson in encouragement for me and for my readers not to shrink from long-term personal development. It all pays off.

That’s enough for now—I doubt I will write this much about me after my next administrator’s page.

Any comments?


Sean Crawford
November 2013
Calgary
Update: Oh, irony: I gave the first half of the title the same  words as the first half as another "taking stock" piece. I guess I didn't believe my own observation that titles that repeat get fewer hits. This one is way down, hits-wise. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Conspiracies and Inflation

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Headnotes:
"Adjusting for Inflation" is the first section of Peter Drucker's 1980 book Managing in Turbulent Times:

 "...Making a profit is by  definition impossible in an inflationary period, because inflation is the systematic destruction of wealth by the government. The public, it should be said, senses this, even though it does not understand it. This explains why the announcement of these "record profits" is being greeted with such skepticism by the stock exchange and with hostility by the public at large." (p 10-11)

As you know, the climategate scandal, exposed in November of 2009, is about scientists censoring and falsifying data, and suppressing other scientists, in order to uphold a "party line."

Conspiracies and Inflation
A local bookstore has a fresh new copy of Mein Kampf, —with a smooth black cover, naturally. Strangely enough, when I saw the film American History X, a film where a teacher is incensed that Edward (Terminator 2) Furlong's character does a book report on Hitler's work, I got the distinct impression that some U.S. high schools censor that book. How silly. My own secondary school shelved not only that book but also William Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. At my school Hitler's book gathered dust, while Shirer's book hinted at what would have happened if our teachers had tried to use censorship: The German government caused parts of certain pages of school books to be censored by pasting paper rectangles over them, then the German students, typical of youth in my own day, proceeded to sneak some steam kettles over to see what being hidden. So it's better, I think, to allow Mein Kampf to gather dust in plain sight.

The book is too big for kids to read, anyways. They'd be bored. In fact, a 1980's Hollywood miniseries, to retell the story of the Nazis, according to a 1980's newspaper interview, had to resort to a stratagem: the Nazi shoulder logo was modified, blocky luger pistols became blocky blasters, and the Nazis were changed to so-called "Visitors." The "party line," on billboards everywhere, was "The Visitors are your Friends." They had space ships: the series was called V.

As for Mein Kampf, even the Germans mostly did not read it. According to Shirer, the tome was merely set on their coffee tables as a comfort piece. The amazing thing, to Shirer and me, is how even though Hitler so clearly laid out his plans for living space, plenty of U-boats, etc.,etc., the world didn't think he would so much as re-arm, let alone annex Austria and so forth. But I'm not bitter.

Like they say, "Judge not, lest ye be judged." Last summer I heard a recording of Prime Minister Chamberlain's "Peace in Our Time" speech. The crowd cheered wildly. And why not? The Great War had taught them how war is not glorious, a lesson the kids in the 1960's claimed to have discovered all on their own. I'm sure Churchill himself read the book—but he was such a brave man. As for the rest of the public, I think the "conspiracy" of no one considering out loud the "price of peace" with Nazis was not a conscious one, but rather, reminiscent of Star Trek's PrimeDirective: Some things society is not yet ready to know, and it does no good for a Churchill or anyone else to try to "break the directive" and speak out. And if something harsh comes by like inflation, and then, when the inflation rate lowers, people instantly forget the harsh inflation, then isn't that, besides being a prime directive thing, a form of mass self-censorship?

An actual conspiracy, which at first we could scarcely believe, was the White House doing Watergate, and President Nixon having secret tape recordings. Now we all believe the White House could do such a thing, and perhaps even house war criminals (torture in a naval base) but at the time people "staggered" when they heard the news. Many folks initially believed Nixon's compelling speech (which I have heard) announcing that certain people had resigned, yes, but Nixon firmly believed they were "good men" who would eventually be found innocent. In fact, they never went back to their positions, going instead to jail. We still remember Watergate; It's hard to believe that we could forget a concurrent conspiracy, once it was exposed.

I lived through a conspiracy more damaging than Watergate. Of this I am sure.
The results can be seen around us:
An historically new lack of job loyalty and job security. Careerism. No loyalty between top and middle executives, or to the rank and file. Leveraging. Hostile takeovers, with sell offs to make money—but not "wealth"—on paper. Conglomerates. Greenmail to prevent takeovers. Downsizing. Almost none of this was happening back in the days of the TV series Mad Men, back when I was young, certainly nothing on the scale of today. Inflation, with it's new time-lines and new Return On Investment equations has changed business incentives. New incentives mean new behaviour. The change in behaviours have then changed the moral fabric of the nation.

The ripples of disaster are still spreading. The investigative magazine Mother Jones, in the April 2007 edition, presents a convincing case for the decline of print newspapers, and the decline of ethical journalism, being not from the internet, but rather, from takeovers of print media by conglomerates. Hence, due to financial incentives, the culling of newspapers and their assets to make paper money, downsizing of beat reporters, and then blatantly favoring the conglomerate's less ethical electronic media, of course. (The difference between print and infotainment journalism is beyond the scope of this essay)

This all began in the 1960's with presidents Johnson and Nixon. A few years before the OPEC energy crises I recall my school principal, Wes Jansen, telling us how the experts were baffled, mystified, how no one had predicted there could ever, possibly, be such a thing as "stagflation." (Inflation plus a stagnant economy.) A U.S. leader, Gerald Ford, had faith in distributing buttons saying WIN, for "Whip Inflation Now."  I wonder if people remember how awful those years were.

Meanwhile, there was Nixon's contemporary, a Canadian prime minister, a man with just as much credibility—and more scholarship—than a Kennedy or an Obama. Yet even he, Pierre Trudeau, was either taken in by the conspiracy or was a part of it. He called loud and long for Canadians to voluntarily heed his "six and five" plan. Meaning: percentages of increases for wages and prices. (Canadians, mindful of history, never legislated or froze wages and prices. Such legislation had been a disaster  for the Romans, as a Canadian newspaper explained at the time, when Canadians and US citizens were  getting desperate) This was the best solution Trudeau could offer, since inflation was such a mystery. Say it in a spooky voice: "No one knows what causes inflation or what any real solution might be." In the U.S., as in Canada, a "consensus of scientists" with Ph.D.'s in climat—er, economics, gave the people no hope.

In community college, in the 1970's, I took an economics class with a hybrid text book made for both high school and college. We took "M-1" and "elasticity," but, what we did not take was whatever was causing our inflation. I looked through the text. Nothing. I did not find a "smoking gun" (proof) for the inflation conspiracy until I found business guru Peter Drucker quoting an angry Secretary of State Henry Kissinger justifying inflation. But this I didn't find until later.

Back in the mid 1970's there was a maverick, Robert Ringer. An author. His brand, long before people talked of branding, was to be a tortoise. An appropriate brand, actually, since reality can be too grim without a salting of humor. I chuckled when the tortoise published two best selling self-help books, one of which featured praise from Ann Landers on the back cover. Then came his third book with this quote—can you sense his desperation?
... Almost without exception, the politician who gains public support for his "inflation fighting" measures usually proposes actions that will make inflation worse.
If this chapter is the highlight chapter of the book for me, then the upcoming paragraph must be considered the highlight paragraph of the book. If I were asked to name one thing, above all else, that I would want readers to understand and remember from this book it would be the following:
Increased wages and prices do not cause inflation; in fact, they do not even contribute to it. Inflation is caused by only one thing: an increase in the supply of money. ... wage and price increases, in other words, are the result of inflation.
Restoring the American Dream, 1979, by Robert J. Ringer.
I suppose the righteous ink of Ringer's book slowly began to stain black the tide of ignorance, at least amongst the reading classes.

By the mid 1980s I can remember an upper middle class straight A student, John C., at a Canadian university, contemptuously telling me that it was a "generally accepted" truth that inflation was "partly" caused by government printing too much money, but I remember, as we talked, thinking that if you walked down main street, entering into the working class bars and beauty parlors, you'd find the people there most certainly did not know. They still don't: my bank has to remind people to save extra pension to account for future inflation. However, I have read a few times in the newspaper how the government thinks a certain amount of annual inflation, and unemployment, is good for the public, for the economy, so I guess the word has been getting out. But nonetheless, I think the good people lining up in the bank with me still think, in the backs of their minds, that inflation is unnatural, not fair, and that government would stop inflation if it ever learned what causes it.

And here is the irony: For all the years our inflation was causing all this wailing and gnashing of teeth... for all this time, in libraries all across the land, Mein Kampf and Shirer's book were sitting quietly. Yes, Hitler was an evil genius, but he was a genius, albeit a flawed one. Under his watch people went from bringing their inflated pay home in a wheelbarrow... to seeing inflation whipped, beaten, and run out of town. He did this by tying money to a standard—not a gold standard, though: I guess the Germans had lost all their gold after losing the first world war. If in my youth a "consensus of scientists" failed to point this out then I can only say their failure was at best a prime directive thing, and, at worst a conspiracy. Wait—did I mention Kissinger? It was the worst.

If today some "good scientists" share a secret consensus of permission to do climategate, then—how? Perhaps it's made possible because there is no competition, no separate nations of calm scientists objectively putting out the facts for respectable citizens to consider. Instead, there is a monopoly, full of sound and fury, a so-called "intergovernmental panel." (I still can't believe how the panel writes their summary first, and then squeeze down their report to fit the summary) In contrast, when some quantum physics guys claimed the planets orbited the sun due to space-time curvature, not gravity, they formed no panels, conducted no coercion. No scientist was labeled a "relativity denier." A skeptic, sure, but not a denier. (Someone once told me the French, at ten years, had been the longest holdout.)

Recently the local newspaper carried a column by a professor who thought he was putting forth a good case for climate change being man made... if only he hadn't liberally peppered his column with the unscientific term "denier."

It seems to me that climate alarmists (such as the journalist in my essay Angry With Crichton of Nov 2011) lose their faith in democracy, thinking that information has to be censored for our own good.

I disagree with them: Yes, the public includes rather few physicists, and yes, many of us prefer TV to books or newspapers. But we all believe in progress. The people may need to take a step backward, and rest, for every two steps forward, but still, most of us, most of the time, want to do the right thing. Democracy is good enough.

Sure, sometimes it seems information only gets out by tortoise, not carrier pigeon. Yet the news gets out... and data, like power, is safer with the people, not confined to cold Harvard nerds like Kissinger. Having faith, I try not to censor others. ... and I try not to self-censor my choice of reading material.

... Meanwhile, in libraries all across the land, books are standing mutely, books that stand ready to put forth "the theory and philosophy of Science."

Sean Crawford,
Believing in climate,
Believing in a falsifiable hypothesis,
November 3013(.37)

Footnotes:
~I guess Trudeau was indeed a part of the conspiracy, for on Feb 6, 1966, "Canada decides to sell $100 million of it's gold reserves to the U.S. signaling financial co-operation,"according the newspaper's 'this day in history' section for Feb 6 in 2010.
It was only five years later, with the US already off the gold (redeem) standard internally, that the US announced it would no longer redeem it's  dollars with gold internationally. This Nixon shock was in October of 1971. 

~My  favourite scene (from memory) in V is where a dear old lady actress, who had been a  girl in the resistance in Europe back  during the war, has dressed herself to look innocent. She is going up a staircase at headquarters, to go off on a mission, when a hardbitten seemingly uncultured fighter admits to having seen her perform on stage years ago. She stops in surprise, squints  down at him,  and says, "When I return we will have have to a talk." Later the granny runs into a young man with a V armband and  a blaster, and tells him, "I have known you  since you were a boy…" and the man (The same age as Mr. Snowden and others in the NSA doing domestic surveillance)  then has to balance  freedom with the security and order of the Visitors.

~I have essays on Media Ethics and Reading Newspapers archived in November of 2012

~"...But in the 1980s, with the three networks now run by corporate conglomerates, the commitment to the dollar replaced the commitment to excellence. News bureaus were cut back in personnel and budgets. Veteran reporters who had risked their lives in Vietnam and other hanger spots were discharged—all this while a few well-known anchors and reporters demanded and received extravagant salaries…."
How To Watch TV News, Neil Postman, Steve Powers, p.53, 1992

~Curiously enough, it was around the time of the Nixon Shock, in elementary school, when we had a rebellious class discussion about "why study history?" while being unfocused as such childhood discussions often are, and when someone(s) asked, "Why not just print more money?" I was able to excitedly raise my hand, (and Mr. McIntyre obviously could tell what I was about to contribute) and then say that just after the French revolution they tried printing lots of money and it didn't work, it caused horrible inflation... Being still innocent about adults, I never clued in that history was repeating!… and none of the adults  around me did, either.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Feeling Left Out

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I am a member of ToastmastersInternational, a worldwide collection of small clubs where people learn public speaking. When all the clubs in the area send contestants to a contest, sometimes I go watch.

I try not to feel dumb or vulnerable whenever I attend a  toastmasters contest, in some strange building, among big grownups, among rich impressive strangers. I can only try… while maybe I am late or had been lost or am having a bad hair day or have mustard on my always-knotted tie…

Recently I arrived early. In the forum outside the contest room I did some happy stressful socializing with strangers, then I escaped to sit inside, amidst rows of folding chairs, waiting for the events to start. There I was, silently enjoying the ambience, like being in a youthful nightclub that’s too boringly loud to talk, yet still enjoyable—at least for others. I thought I could at least pretend to enjoy the ambiance. I was joined by two ladies from my club. We talked a little bit, as we patiently waited for the start of the events. But abruptly the ambience was broken: Suddenly they began speaking to each other in a foreign language. They talked and talked.

It was, once again, the cold story of my life: being alone, with no one I can count on.

At first I was sitting with my leg crossed towards the lady beside me. Feeling lonely and betrayed, I re-crossed my legs, away this time, and even slightly angled my body away, and glanced at the contest program again. My heart pulled away from the evening; I pulled out my pen and started jotting notes on the program, planning my next speech. Making notes for the future felt productive: Not like merely sitting as a hard lump in the no-longer-nice ambience.

…Because I try to think positive, I am hoping that for the next contest I will have enough courage to sit beside them again.


Sean Crawford
Calgary Canada

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Young Bombers Yearning to Belong

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 “Citizenship is the realization that each one of us has the power within our own hearts, hand and minds to take action—however large or small—to improve our community. Calgary thrives because its citizens are driven to make it better every day.”
Naheed Nenshi, our Muslim mayor who has never touched Marijuana or bacon.


I was seventeen, a fresh-faced young country boy, alone in the strange big port city: Feeling small and insignificant, I had a choice: I could go with the human “default setting” of feeling isolation and alienation, or I could be “resolved to do what ever it takes” to feel a sense of belonging. But as for figuring out how to find that sense of belonging… I felt a little lost.

While the city can seem hopelessly crowded and anonymous, it must be easy for those who were raised there to take it for granted, seeing the same high school chums and relatives at parties down the years. Not me, I thought bleakly, as I managed to find myself a quiet basement suite. Back then, not only was I still too young to vote, too young to take a grown up interest in newspapers, I was still too young to really understand getting involved in the sorts of things Mayor Nenshi talks about. I walked along many streets. Had I wandered into a community center, and then looked at the offerings on the bulletin board, I would have merely thought of the activities as being for “them.” Besides, I was broke. Had I seen a sign about a service club seeking volunteers to drain a swampy park I would have assumed that joining that sort of thing was for grownups, or, again, for “them.” Such is alienation.

I wondered what to do. I could join a cult and be emotionally nourished and well fed—you never saw a skinny cult member. I could get involved with the socialists—the communist party was perfectly legal—but you never saw a fat socialist, no doubt because being so tensed up and hateful kept the calories burning. Beneath their talk of “dialectical materialism” they obviously knew some secrets to life that society didn’t know, but I wasn’t interested in learning secrets, at least, not enough to feel like “belonging” among them.

What to do? It seemed to me, then and now, that a big city is no colder than a big high school: If only I could get into a little group of people who cared, then suddenly the city would seem like a fine place indeed… That is, if and only if I was highly resolved to be “willing,” willing to socialize and willing to perceive that I belonged among these strange people. Not everyone is quite so determined.

I’m sure every year young men arrive in the city only to be resentful at the vast uncaring crowd of “them,” men like the socialists, “Make the rich pay!” men who, when anyone meets them, are perceived as being a little weird, not exactly “the life of the party.”

I’m thinking of that burning-in-hell Boston bomber. Joining a church or mosque might seem an obvious easy way for him to belong, but only if he was willing to let go of being twisted up and alienated. As you know, the bomber was a young immigrant who, after years in his adopted country, could still maim and kill so many innocent people at the marathon. At least he attended a mosque with nice religious peace loving fellow Americans—but only to later say, “I have no American friends.” How? Probably because, being unwilling to “do whatever is necessary” to allow peace into his heart, he only attracted the sort of friends who, after recognizing his surveillance photo, would rush to his home to destroy evidence—the “friends” who are now going through the justice system for their crime. I feel no sympathy for them or him.

Looking back, it’s queer: All my life I’ve been an intellectual. As a middle aged man I am the sort to have a web site about citizenship; as a young man I would be the sort to get awfully intense over abstract principles, and then get involved in a “liberation army” or bomb throwing or idealistically oppressing minority groups for the greater good. Can you dig it? Han Suyin, the brilliant Chinese writer and “communist sympathizer,” put into words for me the “check and balance” required for intellectuals like me, to prevent us committing atrocities like bombing for fraternity… and for liberty and equality. The trick, Suyin said, is for us to keep looking at concrete specifics. That makes sense.

In my youth I rambled along the sidewalks through many neighborhoods, alone with the company of my thoughts. It was nice to see how the muddy old “Powell Street Grounds,” now Oppenheimer Park, had been very recently drained and given a beautiful covering of grass. At a store on the adjacent block a friendly Japanese woman, a store clerk, explained in gentle English that this little block was all that remained of “Japan Town,” which before the war had been “bigger than Chinatown.” How interesting, I thought, although I didn’t see how anything could be bigger than Chinatown. Needless to say, being highly resolved, and putting the country-boy behind me, I wouldn’t see her as “a furriner.” (Foreigner)

Just a few years ago I was on holiday, back in that port city, back on that block, in a little store, and there on the wall hung a huge old framed black and white picture of the ribbon cutting to open the park. Wow! I had been there…

I had awoken that sunny morning and turned on my little transistor radio—every teen needs a radio—only to hear an announcement to “…come on down to the ribbon cutting; bring your scissors; and get your picture taken, to be in the archives forever.” Luckily I owned some scissors, little three-inch safe child scissors, so I stuffed them in my jeans and grabbed a bus, riding off anxiously and joyfully to a new adventure.

All around the park were white pavilions with six-foot tables. I was given a program, written both in English and exotic calligraphy, detailing all sorts of activities, going for two days. (Now there’s an annual one-day festival) Lots of families and children and toys and balloons and paper birds. The day started with a big red ribbon stretching across the park. A loudhailer boomed, “Come on up, everybody with scissors, and stand by the ribbon!” With the crowd standing well back, the ribbon stretched empty in space. “Come on up!” I didn’t move. I was not so much alienated as shy, not so much shy as uncertain—Was this the right thing to do? If so, why didn’t any one else go up? ... At last a little boy went up, with his child scissors. I would have felt out of place next to him. Then a little girl. I would have had to stand on my knees or something, so as not to loom over them. Then a few more small children, and more, until at last there were a goodly number. But still no adults. Taking my cue from the other grown ups, I stayed among the smiling crowd, smiling and hiding my longing—the ribbon was cut, the photo taken, and decades later there it is on the wall, without me.

Did I learn my lesson at that moment across from the ribbon? Not yet.

I had a nice time. I remember buying a Styrofoam container of food including some balsa wood that was made to be ripped apart, producing two flat sticks. Unlike awkward normal chopsticks, there were quiet child friendly: Balsa is like how a cardboard pirate sword is easier to swing around than a steel one. I had previously heard of Black Castle wine, in a tall black bottle, so I wasn’t too surprised when a teen girl poured some out of a big black bottle into a little cup for me. I sat on the grass and ate and drank as smiling Asian people passed by looming over me. Later I went back and saw the bottle was labeled Bulldog Brand soy sauce. It was years later that I was to laugh to think that what we picknicked on so cheaply that day had become an expensive gourmet yuppie dish: sushi.

I remember some ladies walking around dressed up in kimonos for a tea ceremony. A Japanese lady who happened to be standing beside me was explaining things to me just when I saw one of the women walking across the grass. She was a westerner. Without knowing the word “method acting” I said, “I like how she is acting so well: She’s even taking small steps.” The lady replied, “She has to: The kimono only allows small steps.”

A westerner? Sure: Canada enjoys “a multi-cultural mosaic,” not a European style pluralism, therefore community activities are less like hyper-realistic Hollywood, and more like Shakespeare in the Park: People aren’t too fussy about race or gender or age. For example, a year later I was to meet an ethnic Chinese young lady who had been part of the group practicing to put on Japanese folk dancing that day.

The dancing came in the evening, as the sun prepared to say goodbye. Oh, such happiness! People dance in slow moving concentric circles and you don’t have to know how, because you can just copy the people in the next circle. The movements are easy, symbolizing simple farm actions. The music was a female singing nicely in Japanese. The loud hailer boomed and the dancers invited us all: “Come and join in!” But I still hadn’t learned my lesson. I stood there, on the sidelines of life, like a teenager still living cozy at home who stands on the sidelines of a gymnasium during a sock hop. Some mariners far, far from home were in town and they joined in and looked like they were having so much fun. I watched, trying to squeeze up some courage. At last I realized that the dancing was nearly over… maybe two dances left! I resolved to stop being such a fool. It wasn’t hard, I soon belonged, and best of all: There were still many dances! Oh, I danced the evening away. I wonder if I got a sore mouth from smiling so hard?

I had learned my lesson.

I once read about a young lady doing the opposite of me: She went from a big city to a small town. Early in the 1960’s there had been a first-person novel condensed by Readers Digest. A young black woman goes to a flinty New England town and experiences fitting in among people who, for example, don’t know if blacks could get sunburned. (I forget her answer) As the only black person in church she joins the choir, exulting to God among Protestants who just won’t sing as loudly as she does. I remember her being embarrassed in the store when the whites don’t use the same hair care products. At the very end of the novel she tells of sitting on a park bench at sunset across from a mother with a baby. And at that glorious moment, somehow, she was no longer aware of the race of those around her… I filed the scene away. Call me alienated from the grownup world, but I assumed such experiences were only for other people, such as ladies in books in New England.

There I was, a teenager in a strange big city, a city where for months I had peered at a lot of eyes, trying to figure out how the heck they slanted. (I gave up) What I want to say is this: That evening, as I danced among costumed ladies and mariners and others, I was momentarily unconscious of race. This was the first time such a thing had ever happened to me. It was not to be the last.

Sean Crawford
In the heartland of ice hockey
As winter coughs over the land
2013

Footnotes:
~The festival was to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first Japanese settlers.

~Here’s a nice song about the “people’s movement” for “liberte, equalite and fraternite” by a singing history teacher. (@historyteachers)