Category Archives: A little serious

Put Those Scissors Away!

I’m pretty sure it’s not just me. I’ll bet this has happened to you too. In my case it usually occurs once or twice a day but then I’m a shallow person. For you, maybe more. Whatever the number, it seems to me that by hook or by crook at some point in each and every day you will, without a doubt, have one, or perhaps many, decisions to make. Some big, some not. Like when you decide to go for a coffee. What do you do now that your local and most fav Starbucks is under renovation? (There will be more about that another time). Do you drive to the one by the water with the perfect view or do you save both gas and the environment by taking that rather lengthy walk, albeit through one of the most beautiful urban parks in this country of ours, to a more mundane location? In this case it’s really a win/win since the outcome (that would be the coffee) is the same. You just have to decide what’s more important. The “getting there” or the “being there”. Which really doesn’t make for a very difficult decision. But they’re not all like that. Some decisions, as we all know, are really hard to make.

Like maybe you’re thinking about retiring but are not entirely sure it’s a good idea. Do you or don’t you? And if you do, what will you do? There’s some significance to that. Or you’re looking to buy a house, or have a baby, or trying to decide who to vote for in the next election. Ok, if you live in those United States of America that last one should be a no-brainer (did I really say that?) but it will have an impact for sure. So it’s important. If you are anything like me, when it comes to big decisions you dither. Quite a lot. And you make lists. There’s the pros and there’s the cons. When that doesn’t help you create some kind of point system. On a spreadsheet. Once completed it looks quite impressive but does little to help you make up your mind. After all of these shenanigans you finally decide that you have exhausted the decision-making possibilities and you do the only thing you know that’s left to do. You trust your gut. Followed perhaps, by just a short little prayer to who/whatever you might call upon in these sorts of situations. And the reason you do all of this is that you know, when you make the big decision, it’s made. Done. No turning back. You’re stuck with it. Or are you?

Not so long ago I was visiting a dear friend who found herself in need of a new frock. This was not a frivolous undertaking. This frock was going to find itself at some very important meetings so of course, it had to be just right.  As most of us would, she set off to find just the right thing at just the right store. And she found it. At least she was pretty sure she had found it. The thing is, when you shell out a considerable sum of money, which I am guessing she did but can’t say for sure, on what you think could be your “go to” dress, you need to have not even one little doubt about it. So she did what any reasonable person in her position would do. She wore the dress to the meeting, price tag and all. Now some of you might be thinking “Who does that?” Who leaves the tag on the dress, just in case?” But I gotta tell you. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea. Because it puts a whole new perspective on the decision-making process.

Here’s what I mean. What if you could “leave the tag” on all of your big decisions? Like when you buy a house. Maybe instead of going home to sleep “on it” you should actually be sleeping “in it”. Not only would you have a chance to learn first hand about all the quirks and quarks, you would also know exactly what they meant when they said the neighbors were a “little” eccentric. And it will be ok because you left the tag on. After a week or two in the new abode you can change your mind and go back home. Or maybe you’re trying to decide what new car to buy. That 12 minute test drive doesn’t really help all that much. If you could just bring that puppy home, maybe try it out during the first snowfall, the decision would be oh so much easier to make. If all is not well you can just take it back ‘cause the tag’s still on. Or you retired and decided it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. Endless days of lunches, coffees, walks around the park just don’t cut it for you. If you had left the proverbial tag on you could just go back to do whatever it was you were doing before you left. Not that you necessarily would. I’m just sayin’ that you could. And if you had known that from the start there might have been fewer sleepless nights wondering if it was the right or wrong thing to do in the first place.

Not convinced yet? Then think about this. What if all of those people in the United States of America had been able to leave the tag on after the last election? Just for a little while. To see how things worked out. Bet you’re with me now! What do you say we all put those scissors away.

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I am not a Robot

I gotta tell you. Writing a shallow blog these days is tough. There are just so many things that make it hard. Believe me. It’s not just about the “moron” (not my words) down south. He’s a problem but like many things, he too shall pass. Unfortunately there are more endemic issues we all face over the long term. Like climate change. Unless you have been living under a rock, and one that miraculously hasn’t been uprooted by a major hurricane, or bulldozed by those brave men and women fighting the extraordinary fires of late, it seems almost impossible to deny that our climate is, in fact, changing, leaving paths of death and destruction in it’s wake. And guns. I suppose not guns in and of themselves. But guns without controls. Guns that end up in the hands of people who, perhaps due to mental illness or, in my less benevolent moments, are quite simply horrible, decide to use them to take away hundreds and thousands of innocent lives. Lately that’s happened a lot. Honestly, it seems not a week goes by without some natural or unnatural disaster taking place and so it’s hard. Hard to be shallow in this world of ours.

Here’s the thing. I’m sure you understand by now that even though I am a self professed shallow person, I have feelings. Just like you. Well almost. So all this stuff bothers me too. Afterall, I am not a robot. Google knows that ‘cause I always check off the “I am not a robot” CAPTCHA on their sites. Which is a good thing since, to be brutally honest, I don’t really like robots very much. As a matter of fact, I find them pretty creepy. And if I must say so myself, I’m in pretty good company with the likes of Elon Musk, and my personal fav, Dr. Sherry Turkle, weighing in on what our collective future could hold with a bunch of tin men and women walking by our sides. Ok, they might not be made of tin but, make no mistake about it, they will be walking by our sides.  

I’m guessing that for some of you this revelation may come as a bit of a surprise. Because you might expect that if anyone was going to embrace the prospect of having a companion who, for all intents and purposes, looks and feels like you and me but remains unencumbered by the complexities of the human condition, it would be me. After all, we’re talking about a facsimile that will pretty much do your bidding without batting an eyelash, which, by the way, they will have. No questions asked. No drama. No feelings to hurt. Actually, no feelings what so ever. They’ll laugh when you laugh, cry when you cry. Out of bananas? They’ll get those for you without all the whining that would normally accompany such a request to the “real” people who reside in your home. With a robot by your side you could start to think that life had become that proverbial bowl of cherries. And I’m pretty sure they’ll pit those for you too. So what’s my beef? Why would the shallow gal feel so apprehensive about what is clearly touted as the next best thing since sliced bread? Well, here’s why.

Call me crazy but somehow I don’t cherish the prospect of sharing my life with an animate, inanimate object. Especially one that has a brain programmed to learn way more than my brain ever will. I’m an adult educator. I know all about lifelong learning. But this brings that concept to a whole new level. We’re not talking just about intelligence. We’re talking about artificial intelligence. This is not computer assisted learning. This is computers actually learning. Computers that are walking around your homes, businesses, playgrounds. Yep, there too. Computers that are getting smarter and smarter every day. Certainly smarter than you and me but also smarter than the smartest people we have among us. And they’re going to look a lot like us, although they are never going to get blemishes or wrinkles or big brown spots on their faces and hands. Elon Musk is worried that robots will take away our jobs. Rightly so. They can already teach themselves how to walk and talk and very soon they will be able to do what you and I do, only much better. Sherry Turkle worries that we have become so accustomed to interacting with devices that soon we won’t know what’s real and what’s not. Nor will we care. It’s a worry for sure. But I’m worried about a couple of other things.

Like guns. Guns and robots. We all know that guns are a problem. Guns in the hands of the wrong people are a bigger problem. Guns in the hands of robots? A problem perhaps too big to imagine. Here’s a scenario for you. A robot walks into a gun shop. Asks to buy a gun. Of course they do a background check. Not a problem. Robots don’t have backgrounds. It gets the gun. Now it tells its robot friends how easy it was. They all decide this is a really good idea and do the same. Remember.  There are hundreds and hundreds of robots who are smarter than us and have no real feelings. But now they have guns. Maybe they decide they don’t like people who are not as smart as they are. Or maybe they decide they just want to have some fun. You know. Like in the movies or the video games. I don’t know about you but this seems like a big problem and a pretty good reason to not like robots very much.

But that’s not the only reason I don’t like robots. It seems to me that if anyone or anything could be more shallow than me, it would  be a robot. A really smart robot. With no feelings. Smarter and shallower than me. I’m guessing that robot would never be stumped for ideas about what to write. No matter what’s going on in this world of ours. Hmmmm. Maybe I need to give this some more thought. Under the circumstances, getting a robot to write this blog might not be such a bad idea. 

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I’m Sorry

I didn’t start out writing this blog post. I started writing a blog about robots. A shallow blog. And then the world blew up. Again. A dear friend of mine posted a passionate, well-written, well-reasoned response to the grievous events in Charlottesville, and she said this. She encouraged all of her friends to think about ways they too could speak out about what happened and what continues to happen in the United States of America. To no longer remain silent. To stand up and be counted. This is my way.

I am pretty much your quintessential Canadian. I was born in Canada and other than a short stint in the very southern U.S of A, have lived all of my life in this great country of ours. I listen to Gordon Lightfoot, love 5 pin bowling and always pour pure maple syrup on my pancakes. I’m not sure why I am even telling you this as it doesn’t seem to be much of a secret. According to my American friends I sport a Canadian accent which apparently becomes most evident when I use words like “out” and “about”. I also say “pop” not “soda”, assume that everyone knows I want a hot drink when I order “tea”, and always ask for directions to the “washroom” not the “bathroom”.  I’ve had to come to grips with the fact that sometime during a conversation I will inadvertently end a sentence with “eh”, which you would think, would be the most telling of all. But if there needs to be icing on this cake, like most good Canadians, I share with my compatriots a propensity to quite unapologetically say “I’m sorry” for, well just about everything. And that’s exactly what I am about to do now. Because unfortunately, right now in this world of ours, there is plenty to be sorry about.

First and foremost I would like to say I’m sorry to all of my American friends who find themselves in the midst of the turmoil through no fault of their own. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to wake up each and every morning and realize that the man in charge is actually the man in charge. A man who has hijacked their country and taken it on such a turbulent flight that no one knows where and if it will safely land. It’s not a dream, or rather a nightmare. It’s really, really happening. Of course we all know that things have never been perfect. Not here, not anywhere. When it comes to governments, even on this side of the planet, there’s always something to beef about. You know what I mean. There are roads that need to be fixed, money wrongly squandered, past injustices to be apologized for.  But I can’t for the life of me recall the last time that one of the “leaders of the free world” came out in blatant support of a group of white supremacists and Neo Nazis. Not even the “fine” ones.

I’m sorry too for all of the people who lived through the atrocities committed by the Nazis and the white supremacists in the not too distant past. The horrific images etched into their memories, never faded.  The survivors of the holocaust. The men and women who fought in wars to keep our countries free. Those who put their fear aside and marched in the streets of Alabama, and many more streets, in the ’60s. I may be shallow but I’m no fool. I know our problems were never solved. I know that there is still plenty of hatred and bigotry in this world of ours. But for a while there at least, it was frowned upon to walk down the street chanting Nazi slogans and proudly displaying swastika laden clothing. Just ask Prince Harry about that. It hurts me to think that the people who fought so hard for our rights, who implore us to “never forget” must again witness this unadulterated hatred in our streets.

And now let me apologize for myself. I’m sorry for all of the times I stood silent, walked away knowing that something someone had said or done was antisemitic, racist, sexist or egregious in some other way. Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t always walk away. There were times that I stood my ground. Let others know what I thought. Fought the good fight. But there were also times when I told myself that battles had to be chosen. When I was too tired to take a stand. Not ready for the confrontations. I had been there, done that. Didn’t want to do it again. Looking back I know better. I just should have done something, said something. As should we all. But now I watch as the daughter and son-in-law of the man in charge have apparently decided to pick their battles too. If I can be so bold, I’d like to say something to them. Here’s some unsolicited advice from one Mother, who at times stood silent, to another.

You are two powerful people. You have a platform, a voice. You have his ear. We counted on you to be his voice of reason. To do the right thing. So where are you now? Ok. I get it. He’s your Father. You work for him. That aside, there are many reasons for you to speak out now, but here’s just one. You made a choice to bring Jewish children into this world. They are your legacy. There is nothing, not anything, that is more important to you than your children. It’s your responsibility to protect them. To speak up, if not on your own, on their behalf. Because if you don’t, one day you’re going to look back and realize that you too, have plenty to be sorry about.  

So there you have it. I’m sorry that this is not really a shallow blog. But I’m not sorry that I wrote it.

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The Cat’s Not Dead, Yet

To work or not to work. It may not be “the” question but it is a question nonetheless. And it’s one I’ve been pondering for some time now. As many of you know, I retired (apparently fake news) going on two and a half years ago. It’s true. I got the gifts and the accolades from my colleagues, which included a very public declaration of my aversion to hugging. Timely I’d say on that particularly day. I even gave a “poem speech” as I am apt to do on these type of occasions. So you would think I would have packed my bags, bid a fond adieu and rode off into the sunset. You would think. But, again as many of you know, I took a day off (actually two) and headed back to my desk, albeit in a rather distant location,where I have remained ever since. Because apparently it’s what I love to do. Work. But “the time has come to talk of other things, like shoes and ships and sealing wax” (Thanks LC). Well maybe not that. Ok, shoes. But at the very least one must talk about what to do when stepping away from the almost too familiar daily grind.

As I am wont to do at these times of indecision, I called a good ol’ friend and headed to my neighborhood watering hole (ok, you know where I went) to shoot the breeze and have someone else figure this out for me. It’s the least they can do, don’t you think? I mean I’ve pretty much worked out my life for myself to this point. I think it’s about time that someone else stepped up to the plate and took a swing at the bat. Why let fate take its course when you can plant the blame firmly on someone else? Sure. It might cost you a cuppa coffee or two but if that’s what it takes to absolve yourself of all future responsibility for the decisions you make, it’s money well spent in my book. Just think of it as an investment in your future. And so, there we sat under the blazing sun in the eternally blue skies of Alberta, talking about all things retirement.

The thing I love about retired people is how they manage to put a positive spin on just about anything. Talk to them about money. Let’s face it. More than likely, when you retire you will be living on a few less shekels than what you’ve become accustomed. I know. There are the pensions the government gives out in order to leave enough cat food on the shelves for the cats. And then there’s the dollars you have been saving for nigh on 40 years that you can now start to pry out of that wallet of yours. Nonetheless, you are still likely to come up a little bit short. But ask a retired person about living on less and, dimes to dollars, they’re going to tell you that they don’t even notice the difference. First they’ll rattle on about all of the seniors discounts that are now at your disposal. So what if you can only go to the grocery store on the first Tuesday of every month and the lines will literally be out the door? You’re retired! What else did you have to do? Then there’s those early bird specials at the local diner which are perfect, now that you will want to be home for the 6:00 news anyway. Of course clothes are no longer an issue since you can pretty much wear the same jeans and T for most everything. Afterall, who’s looking at you? And if you decide you need a new frock, just head down to the nearest Bay store, on a Tuesday of course.. At the end of this diatribe you’re absolutely convinced that, not only will you be able to avail yourself of all of the necessities of life, but should Bill Gates come knocking at your door you’ll welcome him with open arms and let him know you’ve managed to reserve a suite for he and his family at the Four Season’s. Gratis.

As important as money might be however, that’s not what you’re really worried about. You really want to know more about what’s going to get you out of bed each day. How are you going to pass all of that time now that you don’t have a whack of emails to go through, people to see, places to go. And here again they’ll pontificate on the wonder that is retirement. Somehow, and apparently this happens each and every day, you get up in the morning and before you know it, the day is done. They`re not even sure where the time goes but somehow between reading the morning paper and watching Peter Mansbridge  end the day with the nightly news (it`s a Canadian thing), time just flies by. Asking for more specifics reaps some rather vague chatter about taking walks, meeting friends for coffee, getting through the stack of books that’s managed to accumulate over dozens of years, the gratifying feeling that one gets from volunteering once a week and that continuing education photography course they should have, would have taken years ago if only they had found the time. This will all end with the now very much overused and perhaps even, somewhat trite “I don’t know how I ever had time to work” followed by what can only be described as a long sigh of gratitude that those days of tedium are over and done with.

Of course, the conversation can’t come to an end without some talk about travel. It seems to me that for most, this is really what retirement is all about. Once you’ve wrapped up the daily 9 – 5 you are apparently now free to travel the world. There are places to go, people to see.  And so it was that I sat and listened to my friend wax eloquently about the exotic destinations he’s visited, the wonderful food and wine he consumed, and the beaches he has relaxed on, with nothing better to do than sip Margaritas and watch the evening sun slip through the sky. Who could ask for anything more? So I was not surprised that when he stopped to take a well deserved breath, he noticed the look of dismay on my face. The conversation that followed went something like this:

My Friend: “What?” he said. “Have I not convinced you that this will be the best time of your life?”
Me: “Don’t get me wrong. This all sounds great.
My Friend: “What is it then? What’s the problem?”
Me: As enticing as the walking and the discounts, the coffee and Peter might be, I’m really most interested in the travelling. But, I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to do that.”
My Friend: Why not? You’re still young! You have the time, the money and the energy. What’s going to stop you now?”
Me. “Well, it’s none of those things. It’s just that the cat’s not dead yet.”

I don’t know. Maybe I better just keep working.

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The Unmaking of a Shallow Person – Part 2

Cute kittens

Very cute kittens

Over the past couple of weeks I have come to realize that this “unmaking” of mine is more of a process than a transformation. Perhaps it will take a little longer than I anticipated. Perhaps more effort. It seems to me that I am now in what some might call “limbo”. Others purgatory. Whatever the moniker I am now betwixt and between. Sitting on that proverbial fence. Too far over to turn back but not far enough to seriously consider doing so. I seem to be treading water, but not quite in the deep end.

It’s like this. I’m still glued to the “fake” news channels, to witness first hand “45” blame just about everyone for the apparent mess “his” country is in while at the same time taking credit for anything positive that has happened since Eve took a bite of that apple. And I stay tuned to listen to the reasoned analysis of those who can’t seem to wake up from the nightmare they only wish they were having. At the same time, if truth be told, I am anxiously looking forward to the return of The Voice and I simply can’t wait to find out if the Survivor “game changers” are still willing to change the game. So you get what I’m saying. Seems like this whole thing has left me in a mess. And I’ve gotta tell you, it’s making me feel a tad out of sorts (as my Mother would say) and flailing a little with how to reconcile these very divergent perspectives. So forgive me if my posts appear to go this way and that because these days it’s hard to know which way to turn..

Here’s how I see it. There are a lot of creepy things going on in this neck of the woods. So many people are hating so many other people. Clearly there has been a resurgence of anti-semitism, not only in this country but pretty much everywhere. There are those who would like to blame the Muslims for, well everything, and if it’s not the Muslims it’s the Mexicans and if it’s not the Mexicans it’s immigrants from pretty much anywhere. The top guns think that telling the culprits to “stop it” will do the trick while they continue to embrace the very people (and some of them are those people) who have overtly espoused these sentiments in their rather sordid pasts. Meanwhile long time undocumented immigrants who are contributing members of society, who work hard and pay their taxes, are being rounded up and sent away, separated from their families by a wall, or maybe a fence. Whatever it is, it’s simply not right.

And it doesn’t stop there. Marginalized people of all sorts are being left to fend for themselves as those in the government decide to sit back and see what happens. School children who are already struggling with their identity will now, in many States, not be able to use the bathroom in which they feel most comfortable. Coal miners who could possibly get back to work, may find themselves without the health care they will surely need when they suffer the inevitable consequence of the work that they now might get. Maybe. Because the people in control seem to know how to “repeal” but not how to “replace”. Given this hands-off approach, I suppose it’s not surprising that the country has been relieved of regulations designed to protect investors, the climate, and endangered species. And yet, in the midst of all of this deregulation these men (and yes they are) have the audacity to regulate a woman’s right to choose. All of this is going on while we are being told that the “real” enemy of the people is the free press, or to be more accurate, the ones who don’t say nice things about 45. 

Yet, in the midst of this debacle there is a bright light. There has been a resurgence of interest in the political process and an understanding of the power of protest. And that makes sense. Many of our young people know that there is no place in their world for intolerance and hatred based on race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or any other defining human characteristic. They refuse to stand silent about what is happening now. But it’s not just the young. There are many of us who remember what it was like to march against the war in Vietnam, who railed and fought (literally) against the racial inequalities so prevalent during the 1960s. We lived through the feminist movement and lauded those who stood at the forefront, the ones whose tremendous strides paved a path for the rest of us. And sadly, there are still many whose parents and grandparents endured the horrors of the concentration camps, not only overseas but in our own countries, and to whom “never again” has the most profound meaning. These people know that the time has come for them to stand together and let their voices be heard once again. They bring with them not just the hope that what is happening is an anomaly but the understanding that a just and sustainable future depends on what they do now.  So you can see how all of this has made me reconsider my dedication to being shallow and, as result, to repurpose this blog and pontificate a little on what I think about the current events.

I’m guessing at this point you’re saying, perhaps not out loud but at least to yourself “what’s she talking about? Seems to me her transformation is pretty complete!”  And right about then you notice the pic of the very cute kittens at the top of the screen and wonder what they have to do with this post. Let me explain. I have it on the highest authority (thanks again Wader) that cute kittens are a surefire way to make a blog go viral. I figure anything is worth a shot at this point so what the heck?.  And hey! You can’t say I didn’t tell you this was a process.

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