Friday, June 10, 2016

AN OPEN LETTER TO KATHLENN WYNNE

Dear Ms Wynne

I am writing to you as life long resident of the province of Ontario. My wife and I, both in our 50's, have lived here our entire lives, as have both our families. We were raised here, met here, established careers here, paid our taxes, bought goods and services and contributed to the fabric of the province

My wife has worked for a public school board in Ontario for over thirty years


In the last couple of years, as we've gotten older, we have permitted ourselves some small luxuries and have tried to pursue our dreams. Recently we bought our first dishwasher, a small thing perhaps, but something that we put off for years. A little luxury, rewarding ourselves for years of saving and working. We also moved into a house with central air conditioning, another luxury to be enjoyed as we have gotten older and to make our house comfortable for our two dogs, one of whom is senior and has trouble in the heat

Five years ago we bought the second new car in our lives. The monthly payments were high but this was another luxury we permitted ourselves and we looked forward to when the payments stopped and we could turn that money to other pursuits

Three years ago I pursued a dream, a dream of working with dogs, I gave up a small freelancing business in order to pursue this dream. Part of this job requires me to drive every day, picking up the dogs and taking them to a private outdoor play area. I knew that gas for the car would be an expense of this job but I factored that in to my operating costs, factored in the fluctuating gas market

But now, gas will be going up another few cents a litre irregardless of the free market. And the Hydro expenses for our house have increased dramatically, and I understand that more increases will be coming

Our Hydro rate has increased so much that the "free" money we gained when our car payments stopped, is now going to pay off that bill. After years of planning on how we would use that money to better our lives it will now be used just to pay a bill.

Our dishwasher, that little luxury we afforded ourselves, is now sitting in a corner unused. I can't afford to run it. We barely use our central air system, even when it is very hot, because we can't afford to run it. We worry about our senior dog who must be left at home when I go out to work.

As for that work, I despair for that. The coming increase in gas prices will dramatically affect my business. Frankly, I may not be able to afford continuing to do this job. This job that I love. My dream job.

What are our alternatives here. As our Hydro bill currently sits around six hundred dollars a month and more increases to come, how will we continue. We have stopped using the dishwasher, we virtually live in the dark, we have most of our devices turned off, I no longer use the microwave.

Are we to leave the province? The place where we both raised, where are families were raised, where all our families and friends live; shall we leave all that behind; shall my wife, who has worked as a public educator for decades leave her school and her students behind and shall we, people in their 50's, move to a strange place and try to start all over, simply because we can no longer pay our bills?

I understand that your government has put these measure in place in an effort to curtail global warming, reduce carbon emissions and help the environment. Noble aims. An aim to improve our world

But when measures deny you luxuries for which you have worked long and hard and perhaps force you to give up dreams, these measure do not feel like improvements, they feel like punishment

Ms Wynn what are we do? Why are we being punished? Why were we not, along with all the other people of Ontario, given an opportunity to consult and comment on these measures? This province is or home. My home. And my home is becoming a place that seems determined to deny me my dreams, deny me the quality of life for which I have worked so hard

The environment is an important cause. But I am not a cause. I am a human being. For all my life I have paid the taxes, I have followed the agenda of governments, I have been a contributing citizen of this province

Now my life has changed. As hard as we work we will have to work even harder, just to get back to the point we had finally reached after all these years

Ms Wynne when you write legislation think about us. Think about two people, children of this province, a part of this province, think of us and our lives and our dreams. Don't just think about numbers and stats and a future, think about our future, about my future and what it is becoming. It is becoming something very different now and I don't really know why

Sincerely,
Victor

Monday, June 6, 2016

EYES NOT SCREENS

Stop it. Please stop it. Just don't do it. You don't have to do it, so don't do it. Hang it up, put it away, set it to vibrate, close the screen and look me in the eyes

After all, we're having a conversation. About nothing. About everything. No agenda. No focus. One of those conversations. Just you and me or just all of us. Chatting. Just shooting the shit. We don't need assistance to do this, we are humans, we've been shooting the shit our whole lives.

The conversation can be formless, driven by our need to connect to each other, not by some agenda.

"How are you, how's work, what are you studying now, how's your other, did you ever figure out what that sludge is in the bottom of your fridge you know the stuff we now call Bob"

Conversations should be organic, not augmented. There are times when a conversation needs facts and figures and objective perspectives. But not now. Let's just relax around this coffee, this beer, this glass of wine, watch the sunset, listen to the music, watch the road roll by

We can be imperfect now. We can forget things and not quite remember things and Hell, what was the name of that show and you can say Oh yeh I know the one even though neither of us remembers its name. But we know what we mean. That's connection. Human connection

Let's keep it human. Let's keep the screen in our pocket. We don't need to light it up and swipe the screen and let our thumbs ago. We don't need information now. Sometimes we don't need to know, we just need to understand

That screen does  not really encourage understanding. It will give an answer but while you look for that answer or get distracted on the way to the answer the conversation has ceased to be organic. It's become less human

Now you are not looking me in the eyes, your eyes are down, your fingers are moving, your attention is elsewhere. Now you are having a conversation with me and you are having a conversation with the web. Two at once. Sure, you are good at multi tasking but why would you do that? Why would you suddenly talk to someone else why talking to me, someone else with whom I cannot properly engage

Please don't do that. Sometimes there is a need for that but not now. Let's not rely upon the data whipping around the world to inform and entertain. Let's rely upon each other. Just you and me. All of us. The ones gathered here, engaged, looking at each other

Eyes not screens. Let's do that.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

TORONTO GANGS: THEY'RE ALL ANINMALS

Gang violence in Toronto is getting out of hand. They're calling this the Summer of the Gun Part 2

I'm calling it the summer of the fang

It began with a daring break out. Two members of the High Park Capybara gang busted out of their jail (or pen) in High Park and went on the lam. Not lamb. I want to make this perfectly clear: No lambs are on the loose in the GTA

The two notorious gang members called themselves Bonnie and Clyde (the media may have had something to do with it) in reference to some gangstas from days gone by. In this sense, the capybara's were indeed OG.

You can see pics of the capybara gang online. They look like giant rats. "Hey!" Clyde bellows,"We ain't no rats! Snitches get stitches!"

OG indeed

What the intent of these water loving criminals may never be known. Perhaps a crime spree of tagging canoes in the Inner Harbour or swimming naked at the nude beach at Hanlon's Point.

Perhaps they had more insidious designs. Was it the ultimate plan of the capybara's to replace the beaver as our national symbol?

We will never know. The gangster way of life is a hard one. Tu Pac, Biggie E, they all got brought back down to Earth

For every bad ass there is a badder asset. Yeh, that's a word, cuz I just used it. Shut up.

Another gangsta broke out of prison in TO, an infamous assassin with no known gang affiliation in this area but often used to do the dirty work. Code name: Alligator. Yeh, one got out

Last night there were reports of dead capybara's in the eastern beaches. Are they the capybaras? Are they actually dead? And are there gator teeth marks on their bodies? That's what I want to know

Hey capybara's, this ain't no gangster's paradise


Thursday, May 26, 2016

THE WORLD'S TOUGHEST AMBASSADOR IS WATCHING YOU

Kevin Vickers is a hero. A Canadian hero. As you may remember he was the sergeant-at-arms for the Federal Parliament when a lone man shot a soldier at the war memorial on Parliament Hill then stormed the building itself, armed and ready to shoot. It was Vickers, a retired RCMP officer who stopped the man in the most decisive way possible: He shot him dead

I have absolutely no problems with Vicker's actions on that day. A man who had already murdered an innocent person was on his way to do more harm. The sergeant-at-arms put a stop to that.

For his actions, Vickers was awarded the post of Canada's Ambassador to Ireland. OK, not what I may have given as a reward but I won't quibble, I guess that is how these things are done. Part of me wondered, in our politically correct overly timid culture did we just want to get this warrior out of the way? And off the TV?

I didn't think about it all that hard (right, like I ever think hard about anything). The guy is a hero and I won't begrudge him some perks.

Now, I'm beginning to wonder if there were other reasons why the feds wanted to sort of get Vickers out of the way

I just read a story describing Vickers attending, in his official capacity, some ceremony or parade in Ireland. A protestor shows up. Vickers gets a gleam in his eye. This man, who I assume is in his late 60's or early 70's tackles the dude as if to say "Not on my watch son"

Moral: Do not fuck with Kevin Vickers. Do not get agitated around Kevin Vickers. Avoid eye contact with Kevin Vickers at all time. No sudden movements. Dude seems more tightly curled than a swim suit model at a free buffet

One wonders what life was like on Parliament Hill when Vickers was the sergeant-at-arms. Did people prowl around quietly, sidling along the walls, head ducked, terrified that if they swung their arms Vickers would jump them and put them in a toe hold and ask for the hall pass?

When his office door was closed did people leave little offerings there, then scurry away ... a fifth of Glenfidditch, a blood sausage, a speed loader filled with Vicker's favorite ammo.

If someone dropped a tray in the cafeteria when Vickers was present did everyone wheel and point at the perpetrator yelling "It was him!"

Over there in Dublin, the people of Ireland would be surprised if they came into Kevin's office. "Where is the Ambassador they say?" Only to find themselves in a rear naked choke after Vickers leaped out of a potted plant, face in cammo paint.

They would realize, then, that the Ambassador of Canada is a ninja

There have been strange reports from Ambassador's Row in Dublin of a grey haired figure dashing across the rooftops of the embassy dropping down through skylights and subduing the night cleaning staff

Kevin Vickers has been banned from kiddie carnivals. Too many little tots gagged and tied to their strollers. "They were getting out of hand," the Ambassador explained. "All that screeching and waving of hands."

Joggers are being tackled at the knees and arm barred. "Let's keep that fast movement to a minimum," the Ambassador declared.

It's reported that a pigeon flying too close to the Canadian embassy ended up with a black eye. "I thought it was a drone," Mr Vickers stated.

So people of Ireland, hell people of the entire planet, be on your best behaviour. Keep it civil and keep it calm. The world's toughest ambassador is watching you



Tuesday, May 24, 2016

ART: DEATH: LIFE: LEGACY

Mortality and art. The mortality of artists. The immortality of their art. Old story, new songs. Especially lately.

I've been thinking quite a bit lately about the deaths of David Bowie and of Prince and how some people want me to believe that Prince's artistic life was comparable to Bowie's and how we really shouldn't try to make these quantitive judgements and yet we still do

Both men died too early, irregardless of their age. Bowie was still an actively creative musician, releasing a new album at the time of his death. I don't think Prince was creative, he seems to be mostly remembered for music created in the 90's but he was a relentless performer.

Bowie's death was not sudden but the news of it was sudden to us and while he was still a young man, the length and breadth of his incredible career made us think him as old, as having been around a long time. His death was sad but it was from an illness that we all, unfortunately, understand.

Prince's death was indeed sudden. Unexpected. The circumstances of which are not as easily as understood as Bowie's. I think the shock of it has inspired some of the statements about his greatness and influence, of the comparison of his creative legacy to that of Bowie, statements that may eventually wane in time but it's easy to understand. For his fans, it was a shock.

Now we come to the sad and strange story of Gord Downie. I am writing this post on the day we learned that he has been diagnosed with a form of brain cancer that is generally considered terminal. Some people have been known to live with this cancer for a long time, others not so much. He could be with us for a long time still, or he could be gone far too soon.

It's rather a strange thing. The Hip have announced that they will launch a summer tour, to be Gord's last. A farewell tour I suppose. The one that Bowie and Prince never got to engage upon. I'm already thinking of Downie in the past tense yet the man is still alive, at this time stable, at this time planning to continue to perform and hopefully create.

If you go to see the Hip on this tour will it be the last time you will see Gord? If you have tickets towards the end or the tour will you get to see him at all? And what if, hopefully, he continues to survive. Will there be another tour, another Hip recording, another Gord Downie solo project

It's just an odd thing. Bowie and Prince are gone but their art will live on for a long time. Gord Downie is still alive but I listen to Fully, Completely as if that is part of his legacy, as if it is a Bowie or Prince recording, as if there will be no more. But there may be.

It's too early to evaluate Gord's and the Hip's legacy. Yet one is inclined to do so. Just thinking of them, that music, what it all meant.

David Bowie was one of the greatest musicians of modern times. Simple. You can't convince me otherwise. Relentlessly creative, fearless, eclectic, trend setting, chimerical, at once profane and eloquent, technical and organic, audacious and reticent. When you look at his body of work you good be looking at the music of several musicians but that was Bowie: Ziggy, The Thin White Duke, Commander Tom

In a five year period Bowie made recordings like Ziggy Stardust, Young Americans, The Thin White Duke, Low, Heroes, Let's Dance ... records that spanned the precursor of punk to electronic, to blue eyed soul and beyond. It's really a remarkable achievement

For me, Prince peaked with Purple Rain. When the Doves Cry really is a remarkable song that still resonates with me to this day. There were others of course but I kind of part ways with him soon after that. The falsetto affection of Kiss and beyond really did little for me. When people wrote about Bowie they wrote about those remarkable albums, the variety of them. When people remember Prince he comes across as a 90's icon

But Prince was a truly talented musician. He could play a huge array of instruments and play them well. He was a talented and technical producer. He was an amazing guitarist, you have to put him high on any list of under rated guitar players. And his fans loved him. He did not have the breadth and vision of Bowie's work but clearly, he impacted people

Gord Downie is a poet. Really. More than most other songwriters who have to at least be lyrical. And he is a prototypical Canadian poet, not just because he writes about Canada (more frequently and more ferociously than a lot of other Canadian artists) but because he finds poetry in the every day, the mundane. He is a perfect counterpart to the other great poet of Canadian music, Leonard Cohen

At this point Downie is a living legacy. We think about what he has done but, he is not done. I am excited to see him perform again but really, I hope he continues to write, to create, to give us that vision of his that is truly unique.

Art and mortality. One remains forever. The other is a certainty. But in the odd case of Gord Downie, they are both existing right now, in this moment, together

With both excitement and trepidation, I want to see what they will do together




Tuesday, April 26, 2016

IF/THEN: THE MUSIC OF CHOICE

What if ...

It's a question we often ask ourselves. We decided to this, what would have happened if we had decided to that? We ask that question a lot during our lives and it can range from the mundane (maybe I should have the chicken salad instead of the double bacon poutine) to the prosaic (if I had taken that other job I would have my own company car) to the life altering (that guy/girl back in college, what if I had chosen them)

The conundrum is best expressed by the great British philosopher Jo Strummer: Should I stay or should I go

These are the kinds of questions posed in the musical If/Then currently playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto. In the play we are introduced to Elizabeth, a young woman returning to New York City after a failed marriage in Denver Colorado ("I wasn't living in a city all these years, I was living in Denver") and searching for restart to her life. She is in Madison Square Park, awaiting an old college friend of hers and she meets a handsome young soldier and doctor returning from the war. Does she turn down the soldier's advances or does she go with them ... The musical shows us both possible outcomes as the story goes on

In the first act playwright Brian Yorkey's book is clever and quite funny. We follow Elizabeth through the two possibilities of her life, there are characters who exit in both worlds. All of her decisions, in both streams, stem from what she feels have bee wasted years in her life, in a marriage that was hollow in a place that lacked the vibrancy of her native NYC

It's a challenging play for all the actors. Everyone is essentially playing two characters, one in each stream of Elizabeth's life and accordingly each actor does double duty in the singing. All of the actors are up to the task; as Lucas, Elizabeth's best friends and maybe lover, Anthony Rapp does not possess the most technical of voices but he more than makes up for it in his understanding of what the songs are about, and his character should best express them

But really, if I'm talking about this production, the main talking point is Jackie Burns. While many of the actors do double duty on the songs, as Elizabeth, the character around whom the entire story revolves, Burns does double lead duty

As the play starts off, when it is more jovial and satirical, her voice is efficient and effective. But as the story progresses it becomes increasingly dramatic, as Beth's life goes on her decisions become more important and what were once intellectual concerns, become life changing.

And Jackie's voice changes. It becomes big and powerful and filled with emotion while never lose pitch or tone. It is a jaw dropping performance. When I hear of these manufactured pop divas who need to lip sync during their "live" performances because it's just too darn challenging to sing while dancing I would love to drop them in Miss Burn's world. Not only does she sing two lead roles, she dances and she acts and she has to move to keep up with a very fluid stage design.

The story is a good one, sharp and witty and never afraid to show the darker side of life. The entire cast is strong. But Jackie Burns is the star of If/Then on every level. I was not aware of her before this performance but she could now get me into a seat regardless of the play in which she was performing


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

LOVE ON TRIAL: THE JUDAS KISS

Love conquers all, or so goes the platitude. Well, like most platitudes, it's pretty much full of shit.

OK, maybe love can conquer but it can also destroy. Not just the love of another, but the kind of love shared between the two. Or so it stands in David Hare's play The Judas Kiss, currently running at the Ed Mirvish Theatre.

Judas Kiss tells the story of Irish poet and playwright and novelist Oscar Wilde. Probably best known for his only novel The Portrait of Dorian Grey and for plays such as The Importance of Being Ernest. Also known for being a general wit, scholar and raconteur of a very high level. And also known for being gay in and time and place where that was, incredibly, illegal

As the play opens, Wilde is deep into the second of three famous trials. In the first trial, Wilde sues the Marquis of Queensbury (yeh, the boxing rules guy) for slander, after the powerful British lord accused the playwright of being a "sodamite" Wilde loses that case and it opens him to being charged with "gross indecency. Yeh, basically accused of being gay. A very serious charge in that time and in that place. If convicted, Wilde would go to prison and his life as an artist and public person would be over

The trial is not going well. In a hotel room in London, Robbie, a former lover of Wilde's and his most honest friend, has arranged for the playwright to leave London, leave England, to go into exile in order to avoid prison. It is a dire situation, with reporters outside and police on the way. Robbie has arranged everything, he fears that if Wilde returns to the courtroom, his next stop would be prison

There is another person in that hotel room though and he does not want Wilde to leave. He wants him to stay, to return to court, to fight. It is important, he says, that Wilde stand his ground and help turn the tide of prejudice against homosexuals

This person is a beautiful young man called Bosie. He is Wilde's current lover. And oh yeh, he is the nephew of the Marquis of Queensbury. A callow wannabe poet, it is suggested that Bosie is using this situation  to thumb his nose at his powerful family ... while staying in it

The play opens with a pair of naked bodies in that hotel room, having sex. They are not Wilde and Bosie, they are not even Wilde and Robbie. They are two of the three hotel employees who serve the men in the first act of the play. Sex plays a part in the story, the lure of the flesh, the need to release but really, this is a story about love

Oscar Wilde is a brilliant man. He is a keen observer of society and an eloquent satirist. Much of his dialogue in the play, if not direct quotes, are close enough. He is hilarious, with that kind of wit we admire but wish never to be directed to us

But Wilde is weak. His weakness is love. He cannot see Bosie for who and what he really is. Robbie can but he cannot sway his friend to that point of view. And thus begins Wilde's downfall. His love for Bosie leads him back to the trial and eventually to prison for three years

The second act takes place shortly after Wilde is released from prison, essentially in exile in Italy. He is penniless. His wife is threatening divorce and to cut him off from his income and his children. Robbie has come to bear the bad news. But the actual bad news is that Wilde is once again with Bosie. And once again, Bosie breaks Wilde's heart

The Judas Kiss is a sad story. Sad that Wilde is the architect, in some respect, of his own demise. Somewhere inside he must understand that Bosie is poison but he can't tear himself away. Sad that who we choose to love is not only not accepted by society, but can put our lives in danger. That applied to homosexuals in the Victorian age and it applies to homosexual men now, in several countries across the globe

For all its sadness though, the play illicit much laughter. Wilde was a great wit and Hare does a perfect job of capturing that wit. From the profane to the bawdy to the eloquent, there is an awful lot of humour in a play that should be considered a tragedy

There is also and awful lot of high quality acting. Charlie Row  as Bosie has the always difficult job of playing a villain who maintains our interest. He is quite riveting in the role, you really can't take your eyes off him. Cal MacAnnich as Robbie beautifully expresses himself through a wide range of emotions as he desperately fights to save the man he loves, even though that man has given himself to another

Rupert Everett is an actor with a reasonable string of TV and movie credits but I can't say he's ever been on my radar. The Judas Kiss has changed that. He is absolutely magnificent as Wilde. Wilde was a man of words and Everett surrenders to that, for most of the play he is just sitting in a chair. But his voice, his timing and his body control even while seated, takes us through a wide range of emotions. It really is a pretty spectacular performance

Everett gives us an incredibly bright, incredibly funny man trapped in a time and circumstance that seemed to set him up for tragedy. He knows his fate, if he lets himself love who needs to love and be the person that he wants to be. But he goes there. In some ways Wilde was a foolish man. But he was also a very brave one. At one point Bosie, a self declared poet, tells Wilde that he must leave him so that he, Bosie, can give the world his gift. Rosie's gift seems to be childishness and curliness. It's Wilde gift that lives on. And Rupert Everett's gift that we are able to open it
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