Joe, Winnipeg, 1967

A steamy summer evening in Winnipeg, 10:30 pm-ish. I was waiting at the transfer point going north by Harman’s Drugs (my high-school-friend’s father’s store), for the little connecting bus that passed the General Hospital, where I worked as an orderly that year, part-time, before my first year of Arts at the first year of the University of Winnipeg.

Joe hailed me from where he was standing–a lithe, diminutive man with coiffed reddish hair in his late 20s wearing a tight, dapper male nurse’s uniform, that looked somewhat futuristic like a Star Trek outfit. He worked in Emergency; Casualty they called it then. My father told me he dispensed the drugs there and was also the ‘life of any parties. I had never met anyone like Joe before. His voice was smooth and gentle for a man back then.

He knew I was “Del’s kid” and he started talking to me like he had known me all his life. We chatted easily and at some point when he learned I was a singer-musician, he mentioned an LP he was carrying. “Do you like the blues? Have you ever heard Billie Holiday?”

I said I hadn’t and he promptly gave me the record to borrow for a listen. Lady Day he called her, a name I only heard again decades later when jazz-player friends referred to her. At the time, I politely listened, but found nothing that spoke to my Stan Getz and Beatles sensibility. Holiday’s voice sounded ‘small’ and full of woe to me, like that of a prematurely ‘old’ black child.

Anyway, I saw Joe a day or so  later to give him back the record. He was clearly disappointed when I told him Holiday and her music were “ok”. From that point on, we never talked again whenever I saw him catching the same bus. (I always wondered what would have happened had I been more enthusiastic in my response.)

It was several years later that my Dad told me Joe had come into Casualty as an overdosed “queer”, looking beaten up by his partner. His smile and easy manner were not apparent to any of his former co-workers that sad, troubling evening. Instead, he was bruised and sobbing.

Joe died young and I once looked up his obituary years later and wondered at the kind of life he had had. He had once been so popular and friendly, but finished badly apparently. And I have never heard Billie Holiday sing since then without remembering him and how he had tried to connect to me one summer evening through one of his favorite singers via his simple, freely-offered gift of music.

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David Suchet’s “Murder on the Orient Express”

Part of the Poirot DVD boxset. In many ways, this will seem ordinary except for the camera work and effective music when compared with Sidney Lumet’s movie version with an all-star cast. Where it differs is its handling of the denouement which turns out to be the climax Also as Poirot makes a choice to be presented to the police of the rescue party.

Throughout the series, Poirot has been portrayed as a staunch Catholic believer who has difficult choices to make, often in regard to how he will choose to deal with various guilty parties. This tv drama is no different and probably the most anguished choice he has to make. Totally unlike Albert Finney’s Poirot in Lumet’s version, who perhaps too readily agrees with the murderers’ choices, followed by the killers happily celebrating and toasting their revenge! A tad glib in retrospect whereas the Suchet version is more realistic and credible.

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Major Hard, Breaking News Story!

Meghan Markle has picked her wedding dress designer!
Thank God!

(Again, media has lost the ability to discriminate between hard and truly soft, ‘nothing’ news.)

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Another Unexpected Shaw Gem

George Bernard Shaw was one of the major playwrights of the 20th century. A number of his plays have been turned into movies including Major Barbara, The Devil’s Disciple, Caesar and Cleopatra, Heartbreak House, Saint Joan, Androcles and the Lion, and, most famously, My Fair Lady (based on Pygmalion). There are a couple of collections of his works from the BBC and Criterion and ‘single’ DVDs of other plays.

The Doctor’s Dilemma starring Dirk Bogarde, Leslie Caron, Robert Morley, Alistair Sim, and other British notables is a witty delight about art, artists, love, and the medical profession. In this entertainment, an artist’s wife visits a prominent Harley Street doctor to solicit him to operate on and save her scoundrel artist-husband. She does what she does for love and to support the success of his painting. She distracts and ends up having several doctor-friends come to visit her dying husband.

Shaw reveals the doctors to be very flawed and untrustworthy, and ends up satirizing doctors and the medical profession. there are several plot twists with a nice bit of burning bush symbolism and the turning point revelation which leads to one doctor’s dilemma, which gives its meanings to the tmovie and play’s title.

This is a delightful well-acted1958 color film screenplayed by Anatole de Grunwald and directed by Anthony Asquith. It is ironic all the way through and catches viewers and characters off-guard all the way. Your opinions of characters will be mixed; all characters are blind in various ways. It’s one of the most successful and underrated of Shaw’s plays.

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The professor who was extradited from Canada to France and then returned

will be next to get an apology from Justin and a big payout as will all the prisoners in solitary confinement.

Their constitutional rights have been violated. I thought prisoners who nastily killed people and were deemed dangerous offenders have violated the constitutional rights of others which is why they go to jail. The idea of jail is that prisoners have lost their rights and have no rights because of the serious breaches of the law. Common sense stuff.

Now, apparently, in our brave new world, the worst of them, in solitary confinement suddenly need to get rights their victims didn’t get. So, again, in Canada, criminals are being rewarded, and Justin will probably next to say sorry and give them wads of taxpayer money because their rights supercede the law and the rights of the dead people they ‘offed’ or tortured.

Only in pc-crazy Canada.

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Remembering The Big ‘O’

“…Then all at once, he was standing there
So sure of himself, his head in the air
My heart was breaking, which one would it be?
Then you turned around and walked away with me!”

–the concluding crescendo of Roy Orbison’s “Running Scared”, inspired by Ravel’s “Bolero”

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Back to Grade 1: First Black and White Viewing

Used to watch on lunch-hours on our newly acquired black and white tv set.

First tv series that fired my young male romantic imagination.

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On Control and Manipulation

(Author in his educator daze. Benevolent manipulation and control?)

In 1972, I remember realizing, about halfway through my third year u modern American Literature course, that most, if not all of the selections, were about the theme of manipulation and control–a reflection of basic drives and passions in human beings and human nature.

The California couple who imprisoned and tortured their 12 kids illustrate that idea, albeit on the far end of an aberrant variation. Indeed, that theme runs through just about everything these days whether it’s companies controlling consumers and their workers, Trump trying to control the U.S. government and manage his Tweets after the fact, women fighting back against men through Me Too, etc. Control and manipulation happens in and through government, institutions, home, the workplace, and especially relationships.

Is it any wonder that so many people choose not to marry these daze, trying to maintain their individual freedom or divorce quickly and often. Agendas abound. People are in very different mental places with unrealistic expectations. Often, there are battles for control of property, belongings, the kids, even pets. When I listen to someone else talk, I note all the various attempts to control and manage in their talk and lives. It seems like everyone has an agenda as well as an axe to grind (The Complaining Species–subject of another forthcoming blog entry).

No, this theme never went away for me and it was a key factor in making a life change at 40 and retiring early from teaching back in 2002. (Freedom 52.) I’ve often talked of personal freedom and choosing it first and foremost in one’s life. The liberation of self. Ironically, too, I was a manipulator and controller as an educator for 30 years. One has to be if one is going to teach. There were many choices along the way that I made for myself, kids, other teachers, parents, and to teach the curriculum well. So, in retrospect, I would have to say that there are some forms of benevolent control that pass muster, unlike the more damaging, cruel, and destructive forms such as that portrayed and practised by the California couple who are, ultimately, just plain Evil.

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Quotes by Sven Birkerts

(from The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age)

-Language is the soul’s ozone layer and we thin it at our peril.

-Serious reading is above all an agency of self-making.

-Syntactic masonry is already a dying art.

-We can define imagination as the power to conceive and deploy representations, to combine elements–images, sounds, words–into coherent patterns.

-What you start with are pattern-making impulses of imagination.

-The technologies are spoilers.

-Turning our backs on the full sensory business of living, we have installed another-proxy-world between ourselves and that original place.

-The dollar is betting, as it always does, against the soul. Soul waxes in private, wanes in public.


This is a very important, insightful book on reading and e-mediated experience. Birkerts contends that the saturating, virtual-based e-mediated experience erodes live in-person human presence, actual primary human experience, and the basic authority of the individual. Young contemporary e-based users have a fragmented sense of time rather than a big picture-greater context sense of history, tradition, and cumulative organic process. They have little sense of the possibility of a comprehensible unified whole and no informed sense of either a personal or collective future. With little sense of underlying patterns or structure, they see the world as basically relative.

They have a reduced attention span and, impatiently, are increasingly unable to experience natural empathy or to do sustained inquiry. They engage in limited/limiting shallow, glib, cliched unrealistic entertainments and shun deeper analysis and critical thinking. Their language tends to be dumbed-down literal plainspeak. Vertical engagements involving the use of discourse, irony, ambiguity, paradox, wit, figurative language, metaphors, depth and meaning (via reading, books, the arts) are too difficult for many.. Overall, they choose the habitual collective e-hive over true autonomy and independence.

Re. the two different modes and paradigms, our society is turning its back on the primary world and the primary (individual) imagination as well as the fundamental durational and biological rhythms of natural process. We are losing the assumption of underlying coherence and wisdom (which is an understanding of the underlying laws and patterns of human experience).

The e-mediated world is also an unnatural proxy world which short-circuits the pattern-making impulses of primary imagination, bestowing, instead, autonomy and authority to gadgets. Because human experience is increasingly fundamentally e-mediated, humans increasingly do not know each other via/as immediate presence. Old concepts such as truth, soul, and destiny are likewise becoming meaningless. The e-habit “distances the self from the primary things that give meaning and purpose to life. We are cut off from beauty, from love, from true passion, and from the spiritual.”


Personally, I think we are seeing a corresponding decline in what used to be called sensibility. Sensibility is a key construct which people once were more interested in cultivating and developing. As Birkerts describes it, it is, on one level, a range of fine feelings and ability to make distinctions (whether moral or aesthetic, etc.). On another, it is a refinement or cultivation of presence (what one essentially is and could be). On yet another, it is the part of inner life that is not given, but fashioned. On still another, sensibility means a coherent inwardness. For my own part, I believe that sensibility embodies the possibilities of /for resonance, integrity, and appreciation of such ‘old school’ things as gentleness, greatness, order, wisdom, romance, love, truth, beauty, soul, and the arts.

Yeats in “The Second Coming” talked of the centre not holding, which we can easily see in a variety of external, contemporary, historical situations today. I believe, too, it is the autonomy of the individual and his/her sensibility that is the current (inner) centre under siege. Therefore, we owe it to ourselves and others to wilfully maintain and develop our inner centres, our autonomies, and our sensibilities. These are truly civilizing and stabilizing aspects that keep us from resembling the uncentered, Caliban-like “rough beast” that slouches toward Bethlehem to be born in Yeats’ great poem.

“Live from your own centre.”–Joseph Campbell

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Oscar Wilde on True Love

“If you want a red rose,” said the Tree, “you must build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with your own heart’s-blood. You must sing to me with your breast against a thorn.”

“…for only a Nightingale’s heart’s-blood can crimson the heart of a rose.”

“All that I ask of you in return is that you will be a true lover….”

“What a silly thing Love is!” …………………

“…and he threw the rose into the street, where it fell into the gutter, and a cart-wheel went over it.”

–“The Nightingale and the Rose”

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