Convergence

I’m not a big believer in the “things happen for a reason” explanation. But I do believe that you can live more or less mindfully, more or less attuned to what happens around you. If you’re paying attention, the outside world can resonate with your inner world. You can learn things about yourself, about other people, about relationships, and just about how to find your path when life presents a million different ways of being and says, “You choose.”

So today maybe I just got lucky. I happened to be paying attention. This was my convergence: three events in short succession that struck like a chord – a perfect, accidental harmony.

The first event was a letter to a friend. I’m now in the fifth year of my PhD. I’m awfully tired of being a student. I want it to be done. I want the damn degree, and I want on with the rest of my life. I’m feeling kinda sorry for myself. I wrote the following words: Continue reading

On Crappy Journalism…

The most recent issue of Maclean’s magazine leads with the compelling feature “99 Really Stupid Things the Government Did with Your Money.” I say “compelling” with a faint air of sarcasm because, as will readily become clear, I’ve got some problems with Maclean’s journalism here.

On the other hand, from the standpoint of attracting readers, the title is indeed compelling – like for real. It does grab your attention. The whole “stupid” thing is provocative, hearkening back to Dr. Laura-style “calling you on your bullshit” book titles.[1] It’s lurid. There’s gonna be dirt. It promises an easy read. Maclean’s used this headline because as a strategy for selling magazines, it works. We eat this stuff up.

I’ve always been fascinated with the effectiveness of “the numbered list” as a rhetorical device. For example, Maclean’s could have simply used the title “Really Stupid Things the Government Did,” but they chose instead to structure the lead as “99 Really Stupid Things,” and dressed it up with emboldened red numbers to reinforce the idea that there are a fixed number of really stupid things to be discussed, and when we’re done with the list, we’re done with the issue. Continue reading

On Jack Layton and PDG (That’s Public Displays of Grief)

Canadians gather on Parliament hill to remember Jack Layton.

I have been following public reaction to Jack Layton’s death with interest. I did catch most of the funeral on CBC and really did find it a moving celebration of the life for someone who worked tirelessly to make a difference, and was by most accounts, a “good guy.” But, unlike many, I’ve felt not desire to emote publicly about someone who I did not personally know. I don’t judge it; it just “ain’t me.”  The sociologist in me, however, has an enduring fascination with highly public and showy (sometimes maudlin) displays of mourning– and what these say about who we are.

I don’t want to make it sound like I am dismissive about the sincerity of the emotion expressed around… well just “death.” There’s Layton, presently, but I am recalling other events in recent years: the January funeral of Toronto police officer Ryan Reynolds, Alberta’s “fallen four” RCMP officers, the passing of Michael Jackson and, last month, of Amy Winehouse. It is evident that these events trigger something of significance in many, many people. Continue reading