It's not easy being red

Even though I have been interested in electoral politics since I was a kid, I had never been a political party joiner. I had briefly been a member of both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party in the States only because membership happened automatically as soon as you voted in a primary. Usually I voted in the Democratic primary, but in 1980 many people voted in the Republican primary to cast a ballot for John Anderson. Normally you could unregister as soon as you had voted, but that year there were so many people doing the same thing as I did that the polling station ran out of forms. It took me years to get off the Republican mailing list!

When I became a Canadian citizen in 1997, I had no thought of joining a political party. I briefly belonged to Gordon Wilson's quixotic provincial party, the Progressive Democratic Alliance, but when he sold his soul to Glen Clark for a cabinet post, that was the end of the PDA and of my involvement in provincial parties. But I had always had an affinity for the Liberal Party of Canada, an affinity that really went all the way back to when Pierre Trudeau was Prime Minister (and we were stuck with Richard Nixon). I generally liked what the government of Jean Chrétien was doing, fending off a takeover by the International Monetary Fund by making severe cuts, getting the books in order (which was hard on a lot of people, I know), and then restoring a bunch of spending. (For a great behind-the-scenes look at what went on, see Double Vision: The Inside Story of the Liberals in Power by Edward Greenspon and Anthony Wilson-Smith) I knew nothing of internal Liberal battles. I liked Paul Martin as well as Chrétien. I didn't know I wasn't supposed to like both!

I joined the party in 2006 because I wanted a say in selecting a leader to replace Martin. I attended an event in downtown Vancouver in which all of the contenders made brief pitches. I remember being impressed by Martha Hall-Findlay. Ken Dryden's passion for the country was inspiring! I thought Scott Brison and Bob Rae came off well. Stéphane Dion wasn't bad, Gerard Kennedy was meh, and Michael Ignatieff was a stiff. Not long after that, it became apparent that the race was really among Dion, Ignatieff, and Rae. I backed Dion because I liked his focus on the environment. I also chatted with him a couple of times. He wasn't good on the stump, but he was intelligent and well-spoken in person. I had run as a delegate, but I was not selected to go to the convention in Montreal. I was listening to the radio in the car when I heard that Dion had come up the middle and won the leadership. I had to pull over because I was crying so hard!

Sadly, Dion proved to be a disappointment as leader. I don't remember there even being much if any contest when Ignatieff took over. He was a disaster, leading the party to its worst ever defeat and a rump of 34 seats.

The next leadership contest featured some new faces. Hall-Findlay was still there, and she was my first choice, but on the preferential ballot I also selected Justin Trudeau, Joyce Murray, and a fourth choice (I think). It seemed obvious that Trudeau was going to win, and although I wasn't that impressed with him, I thought it might not be bad to get back a bit of star-factor. And the more I learned about him, the more I saw how he operated, the more impressed I became. At an event in Vancouver, I carefully wormed my way through the throng and put myself in just the right place to shake his hand and say a few words. I was never star-struck. But I did think he could be a winner.

It all turned out rather well as far as I'm concerned. Quite a number of my friends and acquaintances disagree, sometimes in ways that are hard to take. But Liberals have to develop a thick skin, take the blows, and prove the critics and cynics wrong—or eat crow if our leaders fail or bail out. At this point, I'm cautiously hopeful that the new government will produce real and necessary change. Given time, I guess I'll look back to see whether this post was naive or prophetic.


Soothe a savage breast

Musick has Charms to soothe a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.
(William Congreve, The Mourning Bride)

I make music because I have to. It's as vital to my well-being as eating or sleeping.

Music is communication, reaching out to other people and to the world at large. I communicate in many different ways, but I always feel that music is the most important way. And communication is not a solitary activity. It depends on others being receptive of the communication. That's why although I greatly enjoy playing music by and for myself (and one must write and practise, after all), I must continue to record and play music in public, for the public, for as long as I am able, and hope that I can find some kind of audience.

Music isn't just an outward activity, however. For me, it is also therapeutic.

I have done my share of cognitive-behavioural therapy. CBT is quite effective for a lot of things, notably dealing with irrational fears (phobias). Because the fears are irrational, learning to think about them differently can defuse their power. There are a lot of problems that are really about how we think about things, and those can be helped by CBT.

But what if the problem is not you? What if feeling bad is actually an appropriate response? What if the world around you really is fucked up? What if you've done the things you should to reach out and form networks and yet you're still lonely and isolated? What if you've done what you can to change yourself and you really can't or shouldn't do any more? What if there are things you can't control and no amount of changing yourself is going to make you feel better?

You don't want the world to crush you. You want to develop at least some amount of toughness. But you don't want to learn to tolerate the intolerable. You don't want to deaden your own soul just so you can avoid being hurt by the outside world.

I'm in favour of psychotherapy of whatever kind works for you, if that's what works for you. It has worked for me before. But I seem now to be at the point where I have to help myself in my own way, because no therapist really gets me. So, music. Okay, sometimes a bit of self-medication as well, sometimes in conjunction with music, but only a reasonable dosage.

Is music just another way of self-medicating? Sometimes I think it functions that way. But I think it's more. I'm not a person who gets angry very often, but I can express anger in songs. I can express all kinds of things in songs that I normally don't express in my life. Is this healthy? I don't know, but so far it seems to have given me a pretty good level of equilibrium. So I think it's a healthy outlet.

Being fucked up will not make you creative, and I think it's possible to be creative without being fucked up. But it does often seem that creative people are at least somewhat fucked up, and certainly if you're fucked up being creative seems to be a good way to handle it. So I will keep making music. It's not free—equipment and studio time cost money—but it usually feels more like money well spent than paying a therapist.


Sidewalks of democracy

In case you hadn't noticed or live outside of Canada, we're one week away from a federal election. Here are some things I observed (or thought about) whilst distributing campaign pamphlets for the local Liberal Party candidate for Parliament:
  • In an east-west direction I covered 12 long blocks on both sides and eight more on one side only (the boundaries of the area). North-south I covered eight somewhat shorter blocks on both sides, four shorter blocks on one side only, and four shorter blocks on one side that was pretty much all commercial buildings or apartment blocks. That's 32 long blocks (each side) and 20 shorter blocks (plus four). I walked for close to five hours over two afternoons. This afternoon it was raining lightly.
  • There is a variety of houses in that neighbourhood. Judging by the houses, people in the neighbourhood are generally well off or at least solidly middle class. Two small houses are designated heritage houses, just as ours is. Several had plaques showing the name of the house (usually the name of the first owner) and when it was built.
  • A few lots had new construction underway (the old house having been demolished). A few houses were undergoing renovation.
  • Some houses are well set back from the street. Some houses have quite a few stairs to climb. All of that adds to the distance. And if the city ever allows laneway housing, which it very well might, this job would get even harder.
  • If a gate was closed, I closed it behind me when I entered and when I left. You don't want to let out a dog or something (although I didn't see any). If a gate was open, I left it that way. Gates can be latched in a wide variety of ways.
  • I said hi to several kitties and gave skritches to a couple of friendly ones.
  • I saw quite a few lovely gardens and more water features (recirculating, I hope) than I expected. One was quite extensive, forming almost a mote in front of the house (no drawbridge). Some people had vegetables growing in their front yards, which is cool.
  • I saw evidence of chafer beetles. Chafers destroy the roots of turf grass, especially when the grass is growing in not enough topsoil (most often the case, because who has six to eight inches of topsoil?). Then raccoons, crows, and other critters that consider chafer beetles to be a tasty high-protein snack rip up the weakened lawn to get at the beetles, leaving it quite a mess. Many people replace their lawns with other plants, which is not a bad thing.
  • Halloween is only a few weeks away. Some people really love Halloween. I shook hands with a skeleton.
  • I saw maybe a dozen or 15 signs for the New Democratic Party candidate. I saw at least half as many for the Liberal Party candidate, which is more than I expected. I saw one sign for the Conservative Party candidate and none for the Green Party candidate. I left pamphlets at all of those houses. I figured the Liberal sign people might want to see the pamphlet, and the NDP and Conservative sign people might have a sign but are considering voting differently. It's a secret ballot, after all.
  • I already had plenty of respect for Canadian posties but even more now. Unlike the United States, we seem not to have any kind of standard configuration for mail delivery. Most people have regular boxes outside their door, thankfully. Some use rural mailboxes, also easy to use. Some have mail slots. Some of those mail slots are ancient. Several times I had to fold the pamphlet so it would fit through the slot. And some people seem to have no discernable way to receive mail. Maybe they have postal boxes?
  • Don't give up too easily on finding a mailbox. Sometimes it's hidden or camouflaged or just in an unexpected place.
  • Some people with mailboxes seem to pay little attention to their mail.
  • Some people have storm doors. I preferred to use the mail slot in the inside door so as not to just dump a leaflet on their doorstep, but some people lock their storm doors.
  • Some people not only don't want mail. Apparently they don't want visitors at all.There was one gate with a keypad. Another had no keypad but I couldn't find any way to open the gate.
  • Judging by path condition, debris, and overgrowth, some people rarely if ever use their front entrances.
  • Quite a few houses had sandals or slippers on the front porch.
  • I am not an agent, peddler, or salesman. I am a campaign volunteer.
  • The few people I spoke with were friendly. One person walking on the sidewalk even asked me for a leaflet, which I gave to him. Some people thanked me! I felt a little funny saying "you're welcome" when it's really me who's grateful they are accepting a political pamphlet. I seriously expected at least some hostility, but there was none.
  • A few houses had pretty good watchdogs. Barking and yapping to beat the band! I should have apologized to that one guy who came to the door after I left, His dogs got all riled up. I didn't mean to cause that!
  • The most popular monitored alarm brand in that neighbourhood is AlarmForce.
  • A couple of large, barking dogs that sound potentially dangerous are probably at least as good if not better than any alarm system. And you can tell it's not fake because you can here the claws on their giant paws on the floor. I'm glad I wasn't door-knocking!
  • I would suck at door-knocking, just as I was never any good at doing sales things when I was a kid. I'm good at chatting with strangers, but I don't want to walk up to their front door to do it. It feels so intrusive. I would make a terrible Jehovah's Witness! Or political candidate, I suppose.
  • I'm glad someone wants to run for office. Me, I'll just walk. Democracy is hard and can wear out your shoes and make your legs sore, but it's important. I always vote, but I was glad to be able to do a little more.