My Personal Rethink

A couple of weeks ago, my Maclean’s subscription arrived looking, well, quite different.

Titled “The Rethink Issue”, the magazine took a look about people who are trying to use their ideas to change the world – everything from theoretical physics to public education to politics.

The issue even when as far as literally printing the magazine sideways to make its point visually. (This also helped make it much easier to cram into my bag for subway reading.)

It was definitely intriguing to read some of the things discussed in the magazine. And it got me thinking.

No, not about changing the world. (Although it would definitely make life – and this blog – more interesting.)

But it, once again, made me think about the state of things in my own life.

I’m not suffering. I’m in good health. I’ve got a roof over my head, (reasonably) clean clothes on my back, food in my stomach, a job which hasn’t let me down financially, and friends and family around – whether they’re 10 feet away or accessible by the click of a mouse or tap of a keyboard.

So what’s my big, fat problem?

Probably the same ones I’ve had for months. Complacency … and how to get out of this funk.

Living at home is taking its toll. The condo search isn’t really going the way I’ve hoped. And a couple of conversations with people have been making me do some serious pondering and coming to a realization I’ve been stubbornly fighting. Since then, it’s almost been like I’ve been going through something akin to the seven stages of grief.

Meanwhile, the job is taking an even worse toll. Despite the four-day work week, I feel some of the days are getting longer – a bit too long for my liking, considering how far I have to travel back and forth. I feel angry and frustrated more often. Not even the (needed) overtime is helping soothe the seething and general lack of desire to do my job.

I not only don’t like my job. I’m merely putting up with it.

Despite the nice moments up until this point, I feel like 2010 is pretty much a wash. And I let it happen. No one else is to blame. It’s just hard when you don’t have a crystal-clear vision.

Right now, all I have to work with is a two-sentence, six-word mantra, repeating itself over and over in my head.

So I have to try and deal with that constant chanting the best way I know how. Mentally map it out. Then try and execute it with baby steps, one step at a time.

I don’t know how exactly I’m going to attack this. But I definitely need to go to the chalkboard in my mind, wipe the slate clean, and start writing out a new equation for my life, for the next six months or so, from scratch.

And I need to do it soon.

Choice? WHAT Choice?

Last month, a co-worker sent me a Facebook invitation to join a group called “Torontonians AGAINST mayoral candidate Rob Ford”.

Next to the name was a caricature (where from, I’m not sure) of a fat, Buddha-breasted, red-faced, crying likeness of Rob Ford, wearing a diaper, sitting in a crib.

Under the “Info” tab was a selection of things this man has let spout from his lips in the last several years, none of it particularly mayor-like or respectful.

In a sense this, for me, was a personal indication of the tidal wave of things I was about to read – in newspapers and online – about Mr. Ford.

In recent weeks, Heather Mallick has made her opinions known about Mr. Ford in her Toronto Star columns, including this column from last Monday. Ditto Christopher Hume, from an urban affairs perspective.

Over at The Globe and Mail, Marcus Gee has weighed in, as has Christie Blatchford – the dissenting voice in this quartet.

And let’s not forget other publications, such as NOW Magazine and Eye Weekly – who made Ford’s now-seemingly unstoppable steamroller of a mayoral campaign its cover story two Thursdays ago (titled “Night-Mayor!”).

(To be fair, Web sites such as Torontoist, BlogTO and OpenFile have been covering the Race to be Mayor in their own styles, including profiles of fringe candidates. But I’m certainly they’re more than aware of the latest developments.)

On top of which, there’s THIS Web site, created “for the residents and supporters of Toronto, who are concerned and alarmed at the prospect of Rob Ford as Mayor of Toronto! We have created this resource so that folks can get a better understanding of the Ford problem and feel more comfortable with the alternative options available.”

So, from what I’ve read, the two overarching themes I’ve caught (rightly or wrongly) are:

(1) If I vote for Rob Ford, I’m not in my right mind (or have had part of it removed).

(2) The way this mayoral race is going, it’s increasingly becoming a matter of when this guy’s election, not if, whether I vote for him or not.

Okay, noted. But, with less than a month to go before voting day … who else IS there to vote for?

Aside from Ford, there are currently four other mainstream candidates currently running for public office. All still say they’re in it to win it.

While I am in no way, shape or form a fan of Mr. Ford, I haven’t really been attracted to what the others have to offer.

And what little I’ve read about the candidates’ debates, it hasn’t terribly inspiring. The impression I’ve gotten is, if they’re not going after Rob Ford, the candidates are spouting ideas that – if not completely ridiculous, aren’t really financially feasible, or are really small-potatoes or not fully formed. Perhaps this isn’t really the case. But it’s not looking good.

One editorial, on Toronto Life’s Web site, made mention of the fact that “voters in the suburbs are just like voters downtown” in their united anger – and therefore, support behind Ford.

I realize the point of the blurb was to discuss how downtown voters are backing Ford as much as “the suburbs”. But two points to make on this:

Number one: Um, what? Of COURSE voters in the suburbs are just like voters downtown. They should be – they’ve been part of the megacity for 12 years now! Too bad city council – or, for that matter, anyone south of Bloor, between Dufferin and Parliament – isn’t paying attention to that fact.

Number two: Um, wait, really? BOTH uptown and downtown voters are united behind Rob Ford? I honestly wonder how true that statement is. Do suburbanites REALLY support Rob Ford as the local press suggests?

To use an example: Scarborough, where I currently live, has a population of 602,575 (according to the 2006 census). That’s what, more than a quarter of the entire downtown population alone? And the geography takes up about a hulking third of megacity Toronto’s geography. And yet, the services provided aren’t exactly stellar. They’re strained. And I’m willing to bet it’s not just like this in my neck of the woods.

I really haven’t seen so much as a poster bearing Mr. Ford’s image ’round these parts. But if he’s gotten support from people up here, they aren’t showing it.

In fact, the only candidate that has even bothered to get one of their volunteers drop campaign literature into our mailbox literature is Joe Pantalone, who is sitting in the bottom three, along with mayoral rivals Sarah Thomson and Rocco Rossi.

Even though my mother – a newly-minted septugenarian, who has made it clear she won’t even be voting – scoffed at the bookmark-sized piece of recycled cardboard and tossed it aside, I give him a half a point for trying.

But this is also part and parcel of where my voter apathy lies. Sure, come election time, our parts of town get incrementally more interest. But that aside, why on earth should I be convinced that Rob Ford, George Smitherman, Rocco Rossi or any of the other candidates are going to give a flying fig if I vote for them, and if they get elected?

So as the days grind forward and the municipal election draws nearer, there are two clear camps: the people who don’t care and won’t be voting on election day (because they figure things won’t change), and those who are genuinely worried that who gets elected could determine whether this city moves forward, or if it grinds to a halt in terms of infrastructure, function and ideas, over the next four years.

I wonder, though. If Rob Ford does what most people fear, and somehow manages to take the reins of this city, will he actually be able to do the damage that people say he’s capable of doing? Will ideas and projects grind to a halt? Will we be completely screwed?

Or will we as citizens have to work that much harder to find our own ways to keep the wellspring of ideas flowing, and to keep this city from completely crumbling?

*Image courtesy of Brett Lamb – taken from Glad Hand, Torontoist’s weekly political cartoon.

**Post script: Sarah Thomson officially dropped out of the mayor’s race Sept. 28, thereby narrowing the field down to four candidates … and slightly dating this post. But I still stand by what I’ve said.

D’s Loquacious Late Summer 2010 Reads

Labour Day has just passed … the weather is starting to cool … but that doesn’t mean summer’s completely over!

Apologies for not writing anything much lately, but it might have been the dog days of summer that rendered me lathargic.

But I wasn’t totally lazy! In between trying my best to have a social life – as low-key as it’s been – and grinning and bearing it at work, I managed to cover a bit of ground in the reading department. These aren’t specifically summer reads, but here are the latest books I decided to tackle:

A Mercy, Toni Morrison

This one was a random pick from the library (and an unexpected one for me, as someone who’s read various novels by Morrison and come away more ambivalent then when I start them).

A slim novel at 167 pages, A Mercy brings to life the atmosphere in the early days of the trans-Atlantic slave trade through a motley crew of characters.

Each “chapter” slips back and forth in time, into individual voices: Jacob Vaark, a trader; his wife Rebekka, a ordered bride in exile from her homeland because of her family’s religious beliefs; Florens, the little girl bought by Jacob in a trade to settle a debt (which, incidentally, saves her from the cruel Portuguese master); Lina, their American-Indian servant whose dark story of which we only see the briefest of glimpses; Sorrow, the crazy, tormented soul whose early life started at sea … and in the very end, the voice of Florens’ mother.

It’s hard for me to have a definitive opinion on this book. I like the style in which the book was written, and the way in which Morrison plays with the timeline to weave the story together. But with a lot of her books, I always find that touch of strangeness, of the other, that leaves me confused, and having to go back a couple of pages to re-read things, just to make sure I’m following along.

Luckily, A Mercy was less confusing than a couple of past novels I’ve read. But I’d be lying if I said I completely understood the things not necessarily put in writing.

The Flying Troutmans, Miriam Toews

FINALLY, after visiting this book in the library, I made the commitment and got my hands on Toews’ most recent novel. I have to say that I actually liked this one better than A Complicated Kindness. The Flying Troutmans has a sort of Little Miss Sunshine quality to it, although the purpose of the quest is completely different.

The plot: Twenty-eight-year-old Hattie, on the outs with her boyfriend in Paris, gets a call from her 11-year-old niece, Thebes. Her mother Min – Hattie’s sister – is in a deep depression and Thebes needs Hattie to step in to help her and her older brother Logan. When Hattie arrives and sees the state of things, that’s when the journey – both physically and figuratively – begins for the dysfunctional Troutmans, and for Hattie herself.

The Flying Troutmans is simultaneously off-beat, awkward, funny and sad. It’s also a good exercise in trying to translate the teenage mind into print … as well as that of the awkward twenty-something.

I really like Toews’ writing style, and the way she’s composed her characters. The Troutmans may be fictional, but given all the wacky stories and people I hear about these days, it wouldn’t surprise me if there are people out there like the Troutmans, in real life. I say, give this one a go and determine for yourself.

Atonement, Ian McEwan

Set in the Great Depression and World War II, Ian McEwen’s novel centres around the wealthy Tallis family – specifically 13-year-old Briony and her older sister Cecilia. What seems like a sleepy novel at first, quickly picks starts to pick up the pace, when Briony is witness to two incidents involving Cecilia and Robbie Turner – the servant’s son, whose education was subsidized by Briony and Cecilia’s father. Young Briony lets her imagination run rampant, with lasting consequences she spends the rest of her life paying for.

Overall, I liked this book. It’s my first McEwan novel, and one I’ve wanted to read for a long time. I wasn’t bowled over, mainly because of how long things took to pick up. I appreciated the descriptions of the sprawling Tallis manor and such, but it was a little bit much after a while. Once I got to the meat of the story – the point at which Briony lets her imagination (and snap judgements because of her lack of understanding of what she sees) – and everything after, that’s when things piqued my interest as a reader and I could use my own imagination to turn McEwan’s prose into my own images.

Atonement also had a couple of small twists in the latter part of the book, which I didn’t expect – a good quality in a novel, obviously. The only downside? Since I didn’t read this book before the movie adaptation came out a couple of years back, I had the hardest time picturing anyone but Keira Knightley as Cecilia the entire time. But if you can get over that, you should try and tackle this, if you haven’t already.

Okay, that’s all for now, kids. I’ll post more again soon.