What I’m learning

On September 25, 2014, in Uncategorized, by Patricia

For five months, now, I have been opening the door to conversation about extraordinary experiences near death, and it is a bit of a gob-smack how many people have offered tales that defy the ‘wishful thinking’ analysis offered up by skeptics. Here, on this website, to me personally through email, or in discussions on radio and around the dinner table, I’ve heard about a world that seems to be wired by love. There’s a current there we haven’t identified yet. Electric.
Nothing in my career as a journalist has even come close to eliciting so many affirmative examples of something I’ve described.
It has become shatteringly obvious that when psychologists dismiss such events as imaginative reconstructions of memory, they haven’t actually taken a serious look at the data. This is particularly true in those cases – I’m choosing to call them crisis impressions – where the extraordinary perception happened before death or danger had been reported in a conventional way.
The psychologists I’ve debated cannot account for why these events are so surprising, disorienting, startling and amazing IN THEMSELVES, not just in relation to a death then occurring.
“The most inexplicable event of my life.”
“It made my sense of reality wobble.”
“I thought I was going mad.”
“I nearly lost control of the car.”
“I followed her out of the house but she disappeared.”
These experiences are as common as daylight, and the simplest explanation is that they point to a capacity for perception in human beings that is heightened by crisis.

This, I think, is the area that I’d like to home in on next. If you happen to be speaking to someone who has this kind of story, please encourage them to contact me at pearsonspost@sympatico.ca

And thank you, so much, for sharing your experiences so far, allowing the door to push further ajar.

 

If I may Open Heaven’s Door for you…

On April 3, 2014, in Uncategorized, by Patricia

Next week, my new book “Opening Heaven’s Door: What the Dying May Be Trying to Tell Us About Where They’re Going,” goes on sale in Canada. In the U.S., it launches in mid-May, and in England at the end of May. This book is about the death of my father, and my sister, and the journey I went on to explore some of the extraordinary gleanings and perceptions that occurred at that time. There was more at play in the universe than I had ever dreamed of. That was clear. What wasn’t apparent was what it was.
Through casual conversations with friends, I very quickly realized that my family’s experiences with the uncanny were common, not rare, but that people were often careful not to disclose them. Why would they want to be snickered at? Called foolish or superstitious or desperate? It was like the proponents of Science had created a kind of modern underground for the bereaved.
And yet, I wondered, what DID Science have to say about the mystifying phenomenon of discerning someone had died on the night of their death through inexplicable knowledge? Or sensing their presence in the aftermath, as vivid and real as can be? What DID Science have to see about the visions that the dying had, or the radiance they sometimes show? Nothing at all that justifies dismissing these sacred and exquisite moments of human connectedness, as it turns out. Nothing but the assumption, what is called the faith in ‘promissary materialism,’ that all will one day be explained by the brain.
When I open Heaven’s door, I do not mean a specifically Christian Heaven, or anything of that sort. I mean opening the door – or insisting, really, that it remain open – to mystery.
Here is some of the advance praise that I am incredibly grateful to have received from writers and physicians I have huge respect for:

“Your life is over the moment you die. So I used to believe, with something like religious fervor. And then I read Opening Heaven’s Door, and such is the power and art, the passion and rigor of Patricia Pearson’s writing that I’m not nearly so sure of myself. This is a splendid book in all the ways a book can be splendid. It is a book to be read and re-read and urged upon friends.” Barbara Gowdy, author of We So Seldom Look on Love, and Helpless
“Pearson brings her blend of humor, sympathy, and keen critical intelligence to a topic that is all too often off limits to writers of her caliber. This is exactly the smart book on the possibility of an afterlife that readers curious about the topic but leery of mush have been looking for.” –Ptolemy Tompkins, author of The Modern Book of the Dead and collaborator with Dr. Eben Alexander on Proof of Heaven and The Geography of Heaven

“Pearson has brought us something rare: a unique blend of gifted storytelling combined with exhaustive scientific research about dying, grief, and spiritual connectivity. Opening Heaven’s Door leaves us enthralled that death’s mystery may be life’s solution.” —Allan J. Hamilton, MD, author of The Scalpel and the Soul
“On the night of my father’s death,” said the author’s sister at his memorial service, “I had an extraordinary spiritual experience.” How can you put down a book that begins like that? Hardheaded and openhearted, Pearson has brought together riveting accounts of near-death experiences that will shake your assumptions about where life ends, and what death means. For seekers and skeptics alike, “Opening Heaven’s Door” is profoundly comforting, questing, and wise.” Marni Jackson, author of Pain, the Fifth Vital Sign

“In this compelling and provoking read, Patricia Pearson examines death and dying with uncommon thoughtfulness, asking questions too rarely asked. Moving and insightful, Opening Heaven’s Door is an important work for all of us struggling with the inevitably of death.” —Steven Galloway, author of The Confabulist and The Cellist of Sarajevo

“The word is out: you don’t die when you die. That’s the message from around 15 million Americans who have experienced a near-death experience, as Patricia Pearson, in sparkling prose, shows in this enormously engaging book. I know, I know: this premise causes serious intellectual indigestion in die-hard skeptics, but we should not be diverted by their leaky arguments. The fear of total annihilation with physical death has caused more suffering in human history than all the physical diseases combined. Pearson’s message is a Great Cure for this Great Fear. This book conveys deep meaning and hope. It takes the pressure off and makes life more fulfilling and joyous. There is only one reason why you should not read this magnificent book: if you have a secret way not to die. But since the statistics so far are against you, let Pearson be your guide.” –Larry Dossey, MD, author of One Mind: How Our Individual Mind Is Part of a Greater Consciousness and Why It Matters

 

Dear Councillor Layton,

I know that you are as appalled by Mayor Ford’s childish refusal to take responsibility for the fiasco he’s created at City Hall as I am, as your constituent. He, his brother and their supporters seem to have lost site of the difference between apologizing to family for repeatedly passing out and falling into the Christmas tree, so to speak — and what is required of an executive leader of North America’s fourth-largest city.
(At the very least, such a leader should be apprised of what his chief of police can and cannot do regarding disclosure of evidence. And, I mean, that’s not even the very least. The very least might be not urinating on the fringe of a public school property after consuming a Mickey of vodka in the middle of the day; that is according to court documents on police surveillance that are newly released.)
The difference between what a sympathetic family need expect from an addict and what North America’s fourth-largest city needs to expect from its leader is so vast that it’s immeasurable. This isn’t an episode of Intervention; this concerns basic standards of ethical, astute, self-aware conduct as commonly required of a major, significant leader presiding over many stakeholders and investors and employees and citizens.
The unbelievable prospect that this distinction is already getting lost, when our deputy mayor told the CBC today that Ford’s AM radio show apology for, say, wandering about City Hall with a half-consumed bottle of brandy, may have addressed council’s concerns and that he deserves “a second chance,” frankly alarms the hell out of me.
The world is already beginning to shift their curiosity from the antics of our mayor to the question of why he’s being supported. THAT is what is going to genuinely damage Toronto’s reputation. How old are we in terms of political sophistication: four?
As my representative, can you please address this concern by encouraging your fellow councillors to join you in making a clear, unequivocal statement about what the City of Toronto expects of its leader, and why promising to confine his drinking to his basement while refusing to acknowledge the Lisi charges, the police surveillance, the law constraining Blair from releasing the tape, the international media attention and the implications of his repeated absences from work as he disappears into random gas station bathrooms is a blatant abrogation of executive duty.
I realise you have no mechanism to remove him. But, you can at least signal to the rest of the world that you’re aware of how extraordinarily unsettling and inappropriate this is.

 

An event in London on October 19th was announced by some of my Facebook friends, and by the leftwing website TruthDig as “breaking news.” Here it is, a talk that featured an explosive new revelation that Jesus was invented by Roman aristocrats: http://www.covertmessiah.com/
According to the news release, a guy named Joseph Atwill “asserts that Christianity did not really begin as a religion, but a sophisticated government project, a kind of propaganda exercise used to pacify the subjects of the Roman Empire. ‘Jewish sects in Palestine at the time, who were waiting for a prophesied warrior Messiah, were a constant source of violent insurrection during the first century,’ he explained. ‘When the Romans had exhausted conventional means of quashing rebellion, they switched to psychological warfare. They surmised that the way to stop the spread of zealous Jewish missionary activity was to create a competing belief system. That’s when the ‘peaceful’ Messiah story was invented. Instead of inspiring warfare, this Messiah urged turn-the-other-cheek pacifism and encouraged Jews to ‘give onto Caesar’ and pay their taxes to Rome.’”
Okay, come on, guys. Guys! That’s so ridiculous. What did the scheming Roman psychological warfare strategists use to convince the Jewish populace to believe in their invented Jesus? A sock puppet? Why would an oppressed populace fed up with Roman rule follow a non-existent construct when they had any number of fierce preachers in the square to articulate their discontent?
And then there’s Paul of Tsaurus, writing his endless letters to early Jesus followers around the Mediterranean, struggling with complex spiritual experiences like the “peace that passeth understanding.” Who was he, this Paul guy? A clever Roman aristocrat hired by HQ to pen meditations on love, and equality, and proto-democracy, and basically all the other constructs that led to the Christianization of Rome and its move to Byzantium and the advancement of Judeo-Christian ethics? Uh-oh. The psy-op was too successful!
This shouldn’t have been making the rounds on my Facebook page, much less being posted as breaking news by Truth Dig. It’s as fringe and as silly as Creationism. And I have tried but failed to track any press response whatsoever in the aftermath of this much-anticipated press conference. Nothing.
My Facebook friends are all educated people. So, maybe it’s time to talk about that. Maybe we need to have a conversation about how credulous the hardcore atheists have become about the origins of human spiritual and religious experience. Because you don’t want to come across as being as dumb as the American evangelical Christians who refute evolution. But you’re getting there.
People love to post jokes and posters, for instance, from a site called “I Fucking Love Science,” as if Science were a rock star, or…erm…a God. What are you doing? It’s a switch of allegiance, from faith in one thing to faith in another. Stop that. Science is a method of inquiry. It’s like a measuring cup. You don’t say, “I fucking love measuring cups,” and compare them to people who have had mind-blowing romantic experiences that they can’t find the words to describe. Why would you do that? It’s just disorienting.
Science isn’t an Ism.
There are plenty of reasons that humans would have come to understand the world as spiritual, as being beyond material, as being transcendant from the here and now. They didn’t need to have a Roman aristocracy scheming to manipulate them. They could have come across magic mushrooms on the ground. They could have encountered altered states through fasting, and prayer and trance states. I mean, we know this. It’s common sense. It’s anthropology and religious history. Humans have been entering altered states of consciousness forever. What those states tell them, we can’t verify, but to lean in the entirely opposite direction and act as if they could ‘only’ believe in a ‘specially manipulated’ God idea by sociopathic political puppet masters is totally and utterly dumb. It’s illiterate.
We may well be into the age of “political marketing,” but it wasn’t always so. People came to their beliefs by other means, before the ‘age of persuasion.’ And, indeed, they still do.

 

Beware the writer in the house

On October 7, 2013, in Uncategorized, by Patricia

This weekend, I wrote about my daughter’s experience with the hyper-sexualization of girls, and while she agrees with me, she wants to use her own voice to fight her own fight. So, I took the post down. My apologies to everyone who submitted thoughtful and incisive comments. I’ll try to get at the subject another way, without using her as a poster child.

 

Rob Ford and the tragedy of pawns

On May 22, 2013, in Uncategorized, by Patricia

I haven’t seen the film, The Manchurian Candidate, for years, but I see it replaying in the tragi-comic play that stars the mayor of my city, Rob Ford.
When the iPhone recording of him apparently smoking something that requires you to wave a lighter back and forth beneath a glass pipe was described by Gawker and The Toronto Star a few days ago – it seems like months — the reporters quoted the smoker as follows:
“I’m fucking right wing,” Ford mutters at one point. “Everyone expects me to be right-wing, I’m…” and his voice trails off.”
Ah, okay. For me, the veracity of this recording was confirmed right there. Yes, digital recordings can be doctored, and drug dealers can’t be trusted the way – oh, say — psychiatrists writing prescriptions for Oxytocin or atypical anti-psychotics can be, but what drug dealer has the literary finesse of screenwriter Richard Condon?
Who would manufacture a recording that features such a perfect encapsulation of Rob Ford’s secretly-resented role as the Manchurian Candidate for Harper’s right-wing power structure? “Everyone expects me to be right-wing…”
Ford’s central drama is that, on some level, he is aware that he’s a useful idiot. In 2011, Prime Minister Stephen Harper took him fishing, and then showed up at Conservative fundraiser with him in Toronto: “Many of you may remember Rob endorsed us in the election. That helped a lot,” Harper told the crowd in the video of the private event, which someone naturally posted to Youtube. “Rob is doing something very important that needs to be done here. He is cleaning up the NDP mess here in Toronto.”
There was no “NDP mess” in Toronto at the time. The city was, and has been, emerging as one of the most sophisticated and intelligent cities in the world. But it consistently votes against the federal Conservative party, which needs at least some of its ridings in the bag in order to form a majority in parliament.
Harper needed a Rob Ford in power, to deliver Toronto. God knows what went on behind the scenes to enable that, but Ford was clearly told how his politics needed to play out. “I’m supposed to be right-wing..”
But some people are useful in their idiocy, and some aren’t. Ford is like the Conservative hive mind’s id. He is the rebellious teen in the hyper-controlled home. He is Chris, on Family Guy. He dimly suspects things, and acts out of instinct. Fuck ‘em, I’m gonna derail this train.
The person I most respect this week is Conservative Senator Vern White, formerly a police chief, who told journalists in the wake of Harper’s Senate scandal:
“For me, loyalty can never override integrity. And I hope everyone else in the Senate starts to get their head around that. Now, some have that, but I hope everybody starts understanding that integrity’s all we have, that loyalty can’t be more important than integrity.”
Please, let’s hope that insight catches on among Conservative politicians this weekend.

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Question of the day:
“Why do young men feel that young girls are but objects for their sexual fantasies and pleasure?”
Posed in some vexation by Nova Scotia’s Rev. John Morrell, presiding over the funeral of teenager Rehtaeh Parsons, who killed herself on April 7th after an endless number of months enduring the total awfulness of having been publically gang-raped at a party, with the images shared online.
Oh dear Rev. Morrell. Where have you been for the last thousand years? Really, for the last ten thousand?
The puzzle isn’t why young men hope to mount everything that moves, driven headlong and crazy by their primal human drive. Same answer to ‘why do dogs lick their balls? Cause they can.’
The question is why the “trending” result of decades of feminist activism is now teenaged girls being expected to behave like prostitutes and porn actresses.
No romance, no dates, not even a meal paid for. No commitment, not even passingly. No cherishing. Gimme sex like I seen on the Net.
Quite apart from the fact that porn actresses and prostitutes get paid, there are other questions arising here, such as how this is female empowerment in any conceivable way. Is there, in fact, another way in which ‘hook up’ culture, and being mandated to remove all your pubic hair lest men declare you gross, and labial surgery in order to excise the last, distressing evidence of natural female sexuality, is a mark of women’s liberation?
What I see is sadness. Often gracefully suppressed, but manifold. My sixteen-year-old daughter is missing out on the deliciousness of being courted and flattered, of being wooed. Never mind respected, that’s just completely out the window. The Internet porn culture educates boys to approach her sociopathically: “You’re hot,” she tells me they say at parties. “Wanna hook up?”
She and I watched a documentary tonight called “Sexy Baby,” about the insane sexualization of her generation, the empty, mindless meme that it is, and how hard girls her age have to work to resist the peer embrace. You’re a slut to be cool – and yet, you’re a slut, YOU’RE A SLUT, if you get raped.
They can’t even figure out their categories, because the norms have become so extreme. You go to parties now, according to Clara, and you kiss everyone and no one, you’re not allowed to declare anything special. It’s an orgy. It’s a swinger’s party. For vulnerable, hopeful teen girls it’s a nightmare they are not even allowed to articulate. Not cool to hope for more than a grope or a one-hour stand.
This is total bullshit. A feminist travesty. It has become a man’s world times Pi. We might as well be inhabiting the era of the Vikings, when women were grabbed on the fly at banquets. Which is, by all accounts, what happened to Ms. Parsons, and to other young women who have killed themselves in the last couple of years. Grabbed on the fly, at proverbial banquets, and then photographed for Facebook and Youtube.
This is nihilism. It’s Kurtz gone down the river of civilization. We baby boomers destroyed the traditional infrastructure, of church, of community mores, hoping to liberate women from stifling roles, but maybe we should have thought about what to replace those live-by standards with, at least a little harder than we did.
Because our girls, in particular, are in pain. They want to be loved, not fucked. They’ve gone from being chaperoned to being gang-raped on social media with uneven censure. Only a fool would call this human progress. We need to sit down, as a society, and have a serious conversation about what’s going on.

 

Chicken Soup for the Damned

On March 26, 2013, in Uncategorized, by Patricia

Here’s a piece — a riff — I wrote as I got to thinking about Popes and fatwahs and the like. I’m not an atheist. But religious literalism always gets me thinking about how things would logically play out. You know. In Hell and such.

Chicken Soup for the Damned

Table of Contents:

1. Finding the Real Me in the Slough of Despond
By Bede the Fornicator

At first, I was shocked to find myself being repeatedly devoured and excreted by Satan. I knew it was possible, of course, given that I’d bedded my fiancée and hadn’t had a chance to repent before I fell down a well. But still, it took time to adjust. The real surprise is how many friends I’ve made here. We don’t have a lot of time to compare notes, busy as we are being chewed, swallowed and defecated onto a dung heap of sinners, but on the other hand we do have quite a lot of time, actually, and I’ve discovered that I’m a very good listener…

2. I learned a goode lesson
By a naughty Puritan childe

Being engulfed in scorching flames for all of eternity after exploring my genitalia in the nursery has certainly taught me a life lesson! Father Bunyon tried to warn me with his picture booke, but sometimes you have to fall shrieking into a fiery pit of boiling pitch to fry, scorch and broil forever before that little light of wisdom winks on. Now that I’m more mature and my genitals have more or less evaporated, I can concentrate on what really matters…

3. Savoring the Sweetness of Each Day
By Ballios the demon

When life gives you lemons, add them to your recipe for roast heretic in garlic sauce. No, I’m kidding. There aren’t any lemons in the Sixth Circle of Hell. It’s too arid. The point is that you should never take being mindlessly and relentlessly evil for granted. If you feel things are becoming repetitive, try shaking them up a little. Select a different route to Satan’s Hellmouth in the morning, or trade red-hot pincers with a friend. Eternity is only as rewarding as you make it…

4. Everything Happens for a Reason
By John Calvin

Having articulated the doctrine of predestined souls, I have to take it on the chin now that I’ve died and discovered I was predestined to roil in a river of molten lead while demons gnash their teeth and whip me with scourges for no apparent reason whatsoever in terms of what I actually did with my life. So much for preaching two sermons on Sunday and burning libertines at the stake. Might as well have tumbled the maid. I could have stuffed myself with unleavened Eucharist bread until I passed out. Why didn’t I just dance around the streets of Geneva with a pinecone shoved up my arse, stabbing followers of Luther with my pen?
But, the thing is, you can choose to be bitter, or you can choose to be somewhat bitter but also nicely vindicated. As I, myself, so assiduously asserted, God adjudges some to eternal death…

5. Sometimes, you’re your own worst wrathful deity
By Bodhidharma Donaldson

My friends at Shasta Abbey warned me that death’s bardo realm would feature projections of my own mind, but, even so, it can be hard to look yourself in the mirror and say: ‘Yes, that’s me: a six-faced deity brandishing weapons and riding a cow.’ No one wants to feel like that. Really. It’s like admitting you’re overweight.
I am not going to lie to you, I almost got reincarnated as an aloe plant because I panicked when I first saw the projected diety Yamantaka, and rushed for the nearest birth exit. Realizing that this was all just my own negative psychic energy was the best thing that ever happened to non-me…

 

Adventures in giving a TEDTalk

On February 18, 2013, in Uncategorized, by Patricia

Some years ago, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon was invited to give a reading at an upstate New York college. When he arrived, he discovered that his host had scarpered off on an alcoholic bender and no one else had a clue why he was there. He had to wander the college halls searching for a poster advertising his event, hoping he’d discover where to go before his audience showed up, his anxiety rising.

At the eleventh hour, Muldoon found the place, where a core group of fans already awaited him. Thank God. As he later wrote in the incomparably funny anthology, Mortification: Writers’ Tales of their Public Shame, “the core audience turned out to be the entire audience.” But he was a professional, an internationally respected writer and thinker. He owed it to them not to storm out. “At about five minutes past seven I got up and launched into my first poem. It was met with smiles and glances. They liked me. They really liked me. The second poem was guaranteed to knock them dead. But just before I’d got to the end, one of my fans put up her hand and asked me how long I expected to be. What? The thing was, these students were involved in a study group and had settled in this empty classroom in the hope of finding a little peace and quiet.”

Ah, the ignominy. Every thinker has experienced these sublime moments of humiliation, which Mortification’s editor, Robin Robertson, attributes to the “inherently ridiculous conjunction of high-mindedness and low income” that dogs the public intellectual. There is the author, I remember, who gamely did a reading in a dimly-lit bar in honour of the one person who had actually shown up, only to realize, at some point, that the loyal attendee was a life-size cardboard cut-out of Willie Nelson. There is Margaret Atwood on tour in the 1970s, discovering that her reading in Calgary was to be held in the bra department of The Bay.

For years, the quandary was how to convince the marketplace that interesting thinkers really were interesting, even if you’d never seen them on TV. What was needed was a platform, plus the sparkle of marketing magic—a sort of American Idol stage where the only thing the Paul Muldoons, and young Margaret Atwoods, and shy scientists and tinkerers of the world had to do was show up. Instead of belting out a version of “I Will Always Love You,” they could talk about aqua-farming, or brain strokes, or micro-finance in Bangladesh. They could be coached; their presentation could be polished. If you marketed the idea that ideas were cool, you’d get an audience.

Enter the TEDTalk, and its slogan: Ideas Worth Spreading. Much has been written about how these carefully packaged talks, curated by Californian entrepreneur Chris Anderson, have become a global phenomenon. But I hadn’t been paying much attention—one way or the other—until I, myself, was asked to give one. Almost immediately, I saw the difference in being associated with a brand.

“You’re giving a TEDTalk?” my niece asked in awe last November, as if I’d just announced that I was dating Johnny Depp. “So?” I countered. “I’ve been talking myself blue in the face for years. What’s the difference?” I’ve always been a comfortable public speaker. I like making people laugh, and going off on unexpected tangents that I pull back around at the last minute. It’s a chance to be playful—with language, with people. But this was apparently bigger. It was what TED organizers call “the chance to give the speech of a lifetime.”

Uh-oh. The more excited friends and colleagues got about my giving a TEDTalk, the more my natural confidence wavered. I got a note from some TED people politely requesting to see my power point materials well in advance, to ensure they were up to snuff. I was told to make a phone appointment with a TED coach. I was asked to be funny, and to try to mention gadgets, as TED audiences tend to like seeing fancy innovations.

Given that my speech was about grief and spirituality, I wasn’t sure where to fit in a pen that can be recycled as a plant, or a smart shirt that senses your temperament. I went onto YouTube and looked at other TEDTalks, and noticed that most speakers made a slight clacking noise as they talked, indicative of an anxious dry mouth.

I began fretting about how to memorize the talk, convinced for the first and only time in my life that I would mount the stage and go blank, staring slack-jawed as a cow. It was an absurd proposition, but the more I considered it, the more nervous I became. I contemplated writing key sentences on my hand, a la Sarah Palin. Or embedding cue cards, somehow, into my power point visuals.

The day of the event, I was hiking in the Arizona desert, breathless from respiratory flu, and a loose-limbed herd of university students came chattering around a seguro cactus. “Hey!” called my hiking companion, who was the gregarious organizer of TEDx Tucson, “what are you guys doing tonight? You should come to TEDx!”

“Wow!” cried one of the girls. “I love TEDTalks!”

He gestured toward me: “She’s giving one.”

“That’s so cool!” said the college kids, but didn’t ask about my topic, which was just as well. I was wheezing.

Shortly before seven, we speakers assembled in an air-conditioned auditorium at the University of Arizona and took our seats as the crowd milled in, preparing to go up one after the other and deliver the speeches of our lifetimes. There was an astronomer, an anesthesiologist, and a man who was doing something innovative with corn. Another fellow had been shot alongside Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, and spoke about survivor guilt. Someone else talked about gang violence. No one appeared to have any gadgets, which was problematic, since my opening joke was going to be about not having a gadget.

Ordinarily, I would have adjusted my opening line on the spot, fine-tuning my speech to suit the context and the mood of the audience. But I’d managed to work myself into a state of such high alarm that going off-script was inconceivable. As the penultimate speaker, I had just spent two hours shivering in the air-conditioning and violently suppressing a flu cough. My muscles were so tense, and my mind so jangly that I went on stage with all the presence of an electrocuted cat. This is not the ideal body language for delivering a deadpan joke. About gadgets.

The audience was silent as a crypt. My legs began shaking. I developed a surreal split-consciousness, where I was aware that my mouth was somehow going ahead with the memorized talk, while my brain ran its own commentary: “Holy fucking Christ, I’ve never been so embarrassed, it is actually possible that I’m going to fall over due to the ongoing instability of my legs.” Needless to say, the prospect was distracting. (Later, I would be reminded of an elementary school talent show we went to, when one of my daughter’s six-year-old classmates performed a bit of ballet, peed her pants, and then cried out in wonder, “Oh my God! I can’t believe I’m peeing my pants on stage!”)

Somehow, through years of experience I suppose, I pulled myself out of nosedive about three figurative inches above the ground and recovered my equilibrium. The next joke I made had the audience laughing, and by the end I’d spread my idea sufficiently that people came up to me afterward to ask questions. The astronomer even shook my hand. People are generous. They are also, on the whole, inattentive. If you make them laugh, even once, or give them a sentence or two that strikes them as interesting, that will tend to be what they come away with.

One cringingly hopes.

 

Idle No More

On January 11, 2013, in Uncategorized, by Patricia

 

This whole week I’ve been in OCD loops, checking social media and working unproductively and brooding away, watching the unfolding of events in Ottawa with the First Nations, who are finally standing up to Canada. It’s momentous, and riveting for those who understand what’s going on psychologically for them, as opposed to many Canadians who can only assess the whole thing in terms of political posturing and corruption.

Lots of folks don’t get it. This is not about ‘our’ way of wheeling and dealing, finessing talking points and strategizing about how to win points, how to manipulate deals. Quite the contrary. This is the upwelling of an identity movement, an assertion of cultural nationhood, a quest to reclaim a lost yet deeply cherished soul.

“What do you think the chiefs hope to gain from this meeting with the prime minister,” I keep hearing journalists ask experts. The very question is wrong.

The mere standing up and standing together is, for First Nations people, a gain. The mere act of having a collective banner that is being waved from San Diego to Australia – Idle No More – is what they are seeking to gain.

What did Rosa Parks “seek to gain” when she sat elsewhere on the bus? She was simply saying, “no more.”

Why should they meet where the Prime Minister deems them to meet? Why should they participate in a ridiculous ceremony of High Tea with the lapdog Governor General? Bullshit. No more.

I read the comments beneath news articles with a fascinated sense of horror, at how disconnected peoples’ understanding is from what the First Nations feel. On the one hand, you get so-and-so, posting underneath a CBC article about “natives facing up to their accountability to tax payers once and for all.” As if they’d somehow been parachuted into our country as fully-formed welfare bums, rather than negotiating treaties that allowed us to become one of the richest countries on the planet, in exchange for adequate education and healthcare, which we’ve invariably failed to provide to the point where First Nations children are literally sitting in classrooms filled with toxic mould.

Hunger strikes are deflections from poor audits. Lazy natives blaming their sloth on past grievances – ‘cause really, no one is throwing spoons at their heads in border cities to Indian country, like Thunder Bay. No one is raping and murdering their daughters without much police interest on the highway of tears in B.C. Really, all Canadians have been paying alert attention to the official, national Truth and Reconciliation Commission crossing the country for the last couple of years to heal the barbaric wounds inflicted by the Residential Schools. Right?

And then you follow a Facebook post from a First Nation friend at the teepee on Victoria Island in Ottawa, rhapsodizing about the shift in spiritual consciousness she’s witnessing in everyone who is coming there – the Elders, the young people, the Chiefs. There’s a never-turn-back feeling on their part. Elation. Relief. They’re done with being taunted and humiliated. The very act of telling Stephen Harper that they want to meet at their place, not his, is what they are gaining.

The truth is, this is Canada’s civil rights movement getting underway, and it’s totally historic and compelling, but the majority of the country doesn’t see it happening yet.