Manifestly faulty Manifesto

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I had my reservations before purchasing a ticket for Manifesto, a film that seeks to manifest the great thinkers and philosophers of the modern age through the mouths of 13 archetypal characters. I mean, how can you go wrong with a 90-minute Learning Annex lecture?

Honestly, the selling point for me was Cate Blanchett playing all 13 roles.

As we waited for the film to begin, the Nashville Film Festival host (emcee?) gushed about his chills on seeing the film at Sundance. My first clue that I had bitten off more than I could chew.

He then laid his bet that Cate was a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination. Put your money down now and plan that dream vacation.

Then the lights went down, the film illuminated the screen, and 13 Shakespearean soliloquys rolled out. Except, these thinkers were not Shakespeare and even Shakespeare put his soliloquys within the context of a narrative; something completely lacking here.

There was so little context for any of these scenes that I have no idea, no memory of any of the speeches less than 24 hours later.

Although the Great Cate did manage to inhabit her many and varied characters—vapid news host, drunk punk rocker, deranged homeless man, etc.—dissolved in my brain as quickly as she spoke the words.

Many Cates

There was humour. We laughed at the odd comment—mostly non-sequiturs—and tittered like children when the gentile sacred mouth of Ms. Blanchett uttered words like “shit” and “fuck”, but I’d be surprised if anyone other than a philosophy major could name 10 of the 13 thinkers reflected.

This was less Art Film than Performance Art, and ironically, it may have suffered from the transformations by Blanchett, whose visual distraction allowed my ear to remain confused. Perhaps with a lesser performer, the words would have had a fighting chance.

Was Blanchett’s transformation enough for that Oscar nod? Unlikely, as the complete lack of over-arching narrative will keep it off most Academy lists.

This is truly a festival film, where manifestos and pointlessness not only thrive but are lauded for their unintelligibility by audiences afraid to not “get it.”

[How’s that for inverse snobbery?]

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In some ways, Manifesto is reminiscent of Lily Tomlin’s The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, which was also a series of pointed commentaries on modern society, all performed by the same artist.

Where Tomlin went right was in presenting each commentary within a powerful story of a nuanced character with a unique perspective. Manifesto, sadly, chose a verbal sledgehammer over story, eliminating any opportunity for nuance no matter how well Blanchett performed the characters.

A damned shame, really, as she lived up to her billing. If only Academy voters could see it through all the rest.

The Incoherent Blues

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As I rode the streetcar home last night, a streetcar busy with revelers heading downtown to party in the various bars and clubs, a louder-than-expected noise rose from the front. The sound was vaguely human and from its rising volume, I could only assume was approaching my area in the back.

Suddenly, an awkwardly rampaging bear of a man burst through the crowd, intent more on maintaining his feet than malevolence. It was just one of the many street denizens that populate Toronto, and this one was exceptionally inebriated, and loudly so.

Proving the theory that if you fall in all directions at the same time, you will stay on your feet, this tottering mass of humanity somehow lurched itself to a seat near the back of the streetcar, announcing to everyone—real or imaginary—that he had arrived.

His volume remained ear-splitting and mentally crushing, yet despite sounding like he was irritated with someone or something—Why are curse words so easy to enunciate under even the worst of conditions, while every other word remains a garbled mess?—he remained relatively harmless.

Had this been the extent of the interaction, he would have remained white noise in my background (I’m not sure, but perhaps I should be ashamed to admit that), and I would have blissfully gone back to contemplating the photos I had just taken at a hockey game or taken in the sights that passed outside my window.

But something changed.

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From somewhere within the mental and chemical maelstrom that struggled to maintain its physical if not social integrity behind me, beauty arose in the form of music.

Even though the man himself remained incoherent, magic happened when he placed a small harmonica against his lips. Riffs of Blues music poured forth in brief bursts.

Between these bursts, he continued his bilious bellowings; there was no attempt at lyrics to the best my ear could discern.

But the man mountain’s inner song rose slowly, incidental music to a life of struggle and dysfunction, signs perhaps that at one time, this free-range citizen was more free spirit.

The tide of revelers ebbed and flowed around the music man for several minutes as we continued our way across the city, most doing their best to ignore the intruder other than to throw incredulous glances or bemused smiles to one another.

Eventually, the music stopped as the human-encased chaos plunged out the back door into the night.

And if only in the smallest way, he left me changed as what otherwise would have been a self-indulgent ride across the city became a wondrous duel between incapacity and limitless capacity.

I hope he found repose.

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Authenticity

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This election is about authenticity.

Michelle Obama’s speech resonated with so many people because she was the most authentic person on stage.

There seems to be a great need in the world for people to be authentic, to be honest about their needs and desires, hopes and dreams.

His word is his bond.

What you see is what you get.

I work every day to be an honest practitioner of me, and yet, it continues to be a struggle if only because I do not yet know who I am.

In my defense, however, I never had a fighting chance, because from our earliest days, Western society impels us to fit into molds.

In school, we are taught to behave in a specific manner; to sit in regimented rows and speak only when spoken to. Our excellence is constantly measured against that of our peers on a scale that doesn’t really seem to prepare us for anything except more of same.

When we find employment, we are slotted into roles beyond which it is counterproductive to stray. We are hemmed in by job descriptions and told not to get above our station. To strive for something bigger is to earn the threatened enmity of our “superiors”, as well as our supposed equals.

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More often than not, to break from our confines and achieve improvement let alone greatness is to go it alone; to be ostracized from our fellows. And even in achieving something, there is a vast pool of people waiting for you to fail, snapping at your heels, if only to validate their decisions not to strive.

And while I find that sad—and admit to having wallowed in that group myself—I cannot blame these people for feeling, thinking and behaving in this manner. They, like I, bought the lie that if we behaved ourselves, if we followed the rules, if we lay our souls down to society, to industry, to community, we would be taken care of, we would be protected.

The lie is crumbling, however. It is becoming more difficult to not see beyond the façade. To remain blind is becoming increasingly difficult even for the most determined.

Children are graduating from school to find nothing awaiting them. Get your high school diploma; get your Bachelor’s degree; get a graduate degree. The bar keeps moving if only to delay arrival at the precipice, an abyss that grows deeper with every tuition payment.

Middle-aged and older employees who remained bound to a company, addicted to seniority, pensions and steady salary, are suddenly finding themselves cut loose after 15, 20, 25 years and staring back at a ravenous pack of un- and underemployed juniors—local and international—willing to work for lower wages.

In many ways, these poor souls are the victims of the very investment portfolios and pension funds they fought so hard to build, stakeholder groups that demand increasing returns with little concern for how companies achieve those returns.

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And so the cry goes up for politicians and administrators and executives to be more authentic, to be more honest with those they oversee, to live up to their promises.

We point vehemently to the walls of the molds into which we poured our lives as though they were legally, morally and ethically binding contracts, and implore others to save our lives.

And as has happened in every decade that preceded this one, we will fail and we will fall as institutions redefine and reconstruct themselves on the old models.

The same hue and cry that triggered the Reformation and the Renaissance also triggered the Inquisition and Fascist Europe.

What I have come to believe is that I cannot change the world. Rather, I can only change me or perhaps more correctly, stop changing me. The person who needs to be authentic, to be honest, to live up to promises is the one I see in the mirror; he is me.

Rather than distort myself to fit boxes constructed by society and its micro-collectives in the mistaken belief that this will keep me safe, I need to risk all and not only discover who I am, but also express that person to the world.

My first steps to do just this have been awkward and timorous. It is uncharted territory and demands a certain amount of trial-and-error.

But as I continue to move toward authenticity, I am finding the footing firmer. Dirt-grasping shuffles are becoming steps, and will hopefully one day be strides.

And whereas society is not always welcoming of my decision, I have been lucky enough to find that the people in my life have been almost universally supportive.

It is unlikely that I will change the world, but it is a certainty that I will change my world.

And if I am authentic, that is enough.

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Leading our own cheers

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Intelligent, articulate women who also danced for the Marlies Dance Crew

This past weekend brought the start to another season of my beloved Toronto Marlies. And as is the case with every new season, we were met by many familiar faces and a lot of new ones, both on and off the ice.

What we were not met with this season, however, is the Marlies Dance Crew, the small group of women who entertain during stoppages in play. And I find myself oddly torn over this.

On the one hand, I have never been comfortable with the Dance Crew as a concept, and cheerleading squads for pro sports teams in general (I see high school and college squads in a different light).

In the absence of male squad members, the Dance Crew simply seemed like a salacious attempt to get a rise out of parts of the crowd…and based on comments I would hear around me, it worked.

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Torn between dance as art and cheerleading as objectifying women

By the same token, over the seasons, I have actually come to know many of the Dance Crew members, finding them charming, articulate women who enjoy the art of dance. They are friends and part of the Marlies family, with whom I try to maintain contact via social media even after they have moved on to other things.

Cheerleaders in hockey is an odd thing, and I appreciate that it would be impossible—given the concrete floors and metal railings—to perform truly acrobatic stunts that you might see at college events. This may be why the whole Dance Crew concept never sat right with me, because in the absence of that artistic/athletic angle, it felt like the women were reduced to eye-candy.

Thus, while I will miss getting to know new family members, I am not terribly heartbroken over the Dance Crew’s absence this season.

And to the members who have moved on, I wish you all every success and hope you visit the Ricoh Coliseum on occasion, so we can say hi.

Family and friends

Family and friends

O Canada, why the fuss?

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I am old. Well, okay, not old so much as crotchety. I like things how I knew them, and I get cranky when I have to learn a new way when the old way was perfectly acceptable—if only to me.

Thus, as with so many Canadians, when I heard that The Tenors had altered the lyrics of Canada’s national anthem at the MLB All-Star Game last night, I was initially outraged (see video).

But as the evening wore on, and I watched diatribe after diatribe on social media, I began to realize that in many ways, this was a litmus test on what it is to live in Canada, a nation that at the best of times, struggles to define itself if only because it is constantly evolving.

In my life time, we have had two official changes to the English lyrics for O Canada.

Three decades ago, it was a reversion of sorts from “O Canada, glorious and free” to “God keep our land glorious and free”. As a then anti-religious zealot, I was outraged that you would introduce religion into my anthem, being completely ignorant of the fact that it had been there in the beginning (as makes sense for our history). I am less a zealot today, but continue to sing the God-free version.

More recently, Canada’s Parliament has debated rewriting the refrain “in all thy sons command” to “in all of us command”, suggesting that women are invested in this country as well as men. I did not rage against this, but many Canadians did, most ignorant that this change too is something of a reversion to an older lyric “dost in us command”.

My point is that the song, like the nation and its people, continues to evolve.

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A nation for all

And while we as individuals may only wish to accept the version with which we grew up or alternatively, the “official” version enacted by Parliamentary vote, Canadians as a populace have decided to live in a nation that is open to change, open to new views on the world, open to rediscovery of our history as a nation.

My instinctive reaction to last night’s events at the All-Star Game was to cry “Shame”, and if the anthem was used to spread hate or fear, I might still be justified in that cry. Rather, it was used to spread love and acceptance, and what (or so we hold) could be more Canadian?

Perhaps this is too much. Perhaps I am being over-indulgent. But if your heart is pure and you sing the song with pride, what do I care what lyrics you sing? Sing about the Canada you know and love, and sing it loudly so we can all share in that love.

O Canada early years

See also:

Full history of “O Canada”

How the Tenors struck out with O Canada at the MLB All-Star Game

Giving, gratitude and karma

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A cherished symbol of appreciation and friendship

When someone contracts me to write or to develop marketing creative, I expect to be compensated. Most often, the compensation is money, but on occasion, it is a service-for-service barter.

But, as often as not, I voluntarily offer my creative services to friends and acquaintances who are pursuing passion projects or who are doing something about which I am passionate.

I’ve Tweeted and Facebooked madly about a nearby restaurant that specializes in bacon sandwiches.

I’ve created promotional posters for crowd-funding campaigns of a short film I would love to see made and a bizarre puppetry show at distant Fringe festivals.

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Their photo, my verbiage

And in other cases, I’ve merely retweeted and shared posts by favourite bloggers, artists and journalists.

Yet for all of this work—almost universally welcomed by the sources—I have never directly been compensated. And not only am I okay with that, I am actually pleased. Compensation was never my goal.

I’ve had a few friends who’ve witnessed my mania and offered feedback like:

They should be feeding you for free for all this work.

Or

I hope they appreciate what you’re doing for them.

And I smile and shrug, because again, that isn’t my purpose.

Instead, my goal is to apply my passions and skills to help others achieve theirs, even if unsolicited and unrecognized. The point is the doing, not the acknowledgement.

This isn’t to say that such recognition isn’t welcomed and received with gratitude. Pretty much everyone to whom I have offered my gift has expressed his or her joy and appreciation in receiving it. And in a few cases, I have even received wonderful gifts.

After psychotically promoting the anarchic puppet improv spectacle PuppetUp! through social media, the show’s co-creator Patrick Bristow gave me a souvenir puppet from the show to express his thanks. I was grateful for this gesture and cherish the puppet for the sentiment it represents. But the greater gifts I received in this effort were the friendships I formed with the co-creator and the puppeteers that we still maintain years later.

Ironically, if I have struggled of late, it is in the simple acceptance of acts of kindness from others, whether unsolicited or in response to acts on my part. As much as I eschew the same behaviour in those to whom I offer kindness, I feel like I should at least compensate people for theirs to me. Instead, I am making an effort to simply say thank you.

If nothing else, you’re setting up some good karma.

And I smile and shrug, because ultimately, I don’t think you can force karma in any direction.

To my mind, the very desire of and attempt to create good karma negates it. Doing so implies a need for compensation for kind deeds.

It must be enough for me to do the good deed. Karma will do what karma will do.

I used to dismiss my efforts with a waved hand and a quick: It’s nothing. I now realize that is a discredit to myself, to the gift, and to the recipient.

It is not nothing. It is decidedly something. But it is something that I wish to do and offer gladly.

It is, perhaps ironically, a symbol of my gratitude to the recipient.

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Sharing a passion with fellow fans

[And now, to completely deflate the seriousness of my message, does anyone else hear the music to The Little Drummer Boy?]

Let go(al) and let…just let go

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Don’t have to climb the mountain to admire its beauty

Where do you see yourself in five years?

It’s a common question at job interviews and often creeps in silently when people reach age or career milestones.

Rephrased more broadly, it is asking: What are your goals?

In most Western societies—the only ones I really know—we are told it is good to have goals; that you need to set your sights on a destination and follow that path to its conclusion. It is how you get ahead. It is how you find happiness, or at least the stuff that brings happiness.

I have spent my life working this way.

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Life goals complete

I tell you this not to present my resume—you can find that on my LinkedIn pages (yeah, I have two)—but rather to explain the pattern of my life (and probably yours) in contrast to where I am today.

You see, for the first time in my life, I have no goals. And I am finding it incredibly disconcerting.

Sure, like everyone else, I have daily, weekly, monthly and yearly obligations.

I need money to pay for rent, food, bills, hockey tickets, beer. I have editorial deadlines and the odd gift to buy. But I have no long-term goals. I am living my life without my next destination in mind.

Five years from now? Hell, I sometimes don’t know where I’ll be five minutes from now.

In some ways, I am as close to living in the moment as you can get without living under a tree or in a cave (basement apartment notwithstanding). And it’s freaking me out.

Having a goal is a hard habit to break after 50+ years.

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What if I had missed this moment?

To be clear, I’m not looking for a goal—floating freely has some lovely benefits—but I struggle some days to know what the point of my day is or was.

Simply being is really simple—it requires no preparation or gear—but our society has taught us that it is wasteful; that it is selfish; that even our “free” time must be productive.

Having no goals, I find, is entirely selfish. I can only affect change in myself.

But I’ve come to realize that “selfish” isn’t bad in and of itself; only when it negatively impacts others, which I don’t believe I am.

Still, like a good Pavlovian pound puppy, I sometimes find myself whimpering at the window, waiting for someone to throw the stick of destiny, to give my life meaning and purpose.

Is it okay or desirable to lead a purpose-less life? Is that my purpose? [Never met-a-physics that didn’t hurt my brain.]

But then, it’s 7:30 a.m. and the alarm goes off. I turn it off and go back to sleep.

Life without goals definitely has its upside.