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When the Community Board is Empty

Most of you know that I have recently moved. I live in a very strange community that has come to make me appreciate the effects of foreign property investment on our ‘communities’.  In effect, all of the empty grand homes in our neighbourhood  are mostly empty, with lights on timers, regular professional landscaping, and someone who clears the local newspaper and flyer delivery from their front porch. There is no neighbourhood here, only bank accounts in the form of houses.

It robs us of community. It robs us of mom and pop shops able to keep their doors open to provide goods and services for the neighbourhood.

Yesterday I popped in to a local  Starbucks for a delightfully refreshing iced drink, and while I was waiting for my sweetie’s pour-over, I turn to the community board as I’m often want to do.

This is what I saw;

A picture is worth a thousand words. Nothing. There is regularly nothing related to community posted on this board. Despite there being a steady stream of people in line to buy their caffeinated bevvies at all hours through the weekdays and on the weekends, there is little if any sense of community.

I’m a writer, and admittedly, I’ve spent way too much time in coffee shops picking away at my keyboard, and I’ve spent way too much money on coffee. I have however honed a keen sense of place while I’m out and about mooching free office space.

I have never (not even once) settled into this location for my hour long writing sessions, arranged for a meeting with friends, or lingered any longer than it takes to make my Sunday-morning-one-bag-in-one-bag-out herbal tea.

This weekend in Toronto while getting settled in to a workshop, I was recommended to a coffee shop just down the street from where we were gathering. And this is what their community board looked like;

 

img_1025
Mallo – Located at 785 Bathurst Street. Worth becoming a regular meet-up spot. Definitely make time to try their absolutely delish menu.

I stopped, took off my coat, enjoyed a cup of tea, and ordered one to go. The staff were so friendly, and vibe was so great, that I came back again after my workshop and tried their menu with a pal who was in the neighbourhood. $70.00 later I felt like I had a new place to add to my favourites. Lesson learned; a sense of community translates to profit.

Earlier this week, I was back in my old stomping grounds at my favourite Starbucks in Mississauga, and their community board looked like this;

community board

 

When your community boards are empty at informal meeting spaces like coffee shops, there is a fundamental problem within the local community. There is a disconnect.  People go out to write, to gather, and to get their over-priced half-caf-low-fat-made-exclusively-for-me beverages because they are craving connection as much as they are craving sugar and caffeine.

When your community board is empty, I challenge you to go out and find one that is overflowing with posters for yoga in the park,  poetry readings, amateur nights at the local coffee house. I guarantee you’ll be a happier, healthier person.

 

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Farmer’s Markets: Hipster Paradise or Community Refuge?

Twelve dollar nut-milk and dairy-free cheese. Fermented cabbage, kombucha everything and an old shipping container decked out with an energy guzzling refrigerator stocked with locally made craft booze.

It’s a hipster haven, and on the surface, it’s annoying ‘AF’ (as my child’s generation would call it).

It’s the farmer’s market at the Evergreen Brickworks in Toronto. A man-made ‘natural’ oasis in the middle of the city.  The Saturday morning farmer’s market is well-curated, and the food court is pretty damn tempting.

To be quite honest, this market had me at Monforte Dairy and Hinterland Wine.

A country girl at heart, I yearn for my connection to the earth. After all these years, I have to admit, that I can come across as a city girl too, and maybe that’s why I’m so attracted to the bucolic civility of a rustic market just off seconds from the Don Valley Parkway.

Rural life tethers us with  invisible thread, connecting us to seasons, the earth, and the natural order of things. There is comfort in that.  I believe it’s the main reason why, even here in the city, where many children and adults  don’t know how to plant a seed or cultivate a garden or preserve food, that every walk of life  flocks to farmer’s markets.

As pretentious as  all downtown markets seem, they’re a sight better than our lives here in a city where anonymity is sweet, but the bitterness of a community lacking heart overpowers that sweetness. Markets are a small gesture of humanity within the  momentum  of the economic machine that is our lifestyle.

Our food sources connect us to the natural cycles of life, and to the intimate relationship that we have with our physical bodies. Food – the great equalizer. We break bread together as a symbol of opening our minds, hearts and homes to those whom we gather with.

Feeling some connection to that food is life-affirming and spiritual nutrition. Even if it just means it didn’t travel across borders to get here, and we received it from the same hand that harvested it.

If you have yet to make your way to your local farmer’s market this year, I encourage you to do just that. I reminds you where we are within the seasons, the community, and the planet as a whole.

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Toronto Strong – Take to Your Porch

tostrongI firmly believe that change starts at home. Grassroots caring is the most nasty guerrilla warfare of our time.

I woke up to a wall of ‘Toronto Strong’ on social media, but when I looked out my window, there was not a soul on the street. Not a neighbour to be found.

Laundry and dishes and meal planning suddenly took a backseat to the CBC News Network’s coverage of the mass murder that played out yesterday on a stretch of a nearby Toronto street.  Colleagues of mine watched people being mowed down on the sidewalk just outside of their office, and the rest of us watched as the scene replayed over and over on screens all afternoon.

Was it a terrorist? Was it an “involuntary celibate’ (misogynist)? How can we fortify our city against these attacks? These were the predominant questions posed by the media. But these questions merely poke at the symptoms asking for band-aid answers. They don’t come anywhere near getting at the cause of the misery that is murdering our world.

Stay Strong. That’s the overwhelming populace message choking the city today.

Let me offer another perspective; stay vulnerable. Allow your grief and fear and anger an outlet. Let your community of friends embrace you as you grieve and heal.

In a world that has become lost to the miracle of humanity, one that values material success over kindness, community, and the health of our spirit, staying strong may give a message of toughness that we just don’t need.

I concede that if it were my child or loved one callously killed, I would have a rage and hate with limitless depths. It would take a fountain of caring friends to help heal that massive dark hole in my life. We need one another, not just during times of tragedy, but every day.

Our communities have disappeared into subdivisions and condos with closed doors with invisible neighbours. We are too busy fighting a modern-day-material-survival-of-the-fittest to put the kettle on and hang out on our front porches. This is the root of the problem. We are insular and inward looking.

Reaching out and getting to know your neighbours is the first step to staying strong…as a community.

 

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Beiber & Ford To Lead Peace Mission to Ukraine

bukowskiAre you a Beleiber? Perhaps a member of Ford Nation?

If  you’re a first timer to ANDSHELAUGHS, it may take you a while to get to the point I’m making.

It may take you an awfully long time indeed my dears, but why don’t you, just for the heck of it, pour yourself a little jigger of Beiber’s reported fave cough syrup concoction, or get a big whiff of crack if you prefer Rob Ford’s poison. After all; monkey-see, monkey-do.

For my regular readers, dive into your coffee, bourbon or bubbly and settle in for a Sunday afternoon re-cap of what made very small headlines this weekend.

That’s it darlings, get cozy.

Being this far into the countdown to the Olympics, we’ve all had a little taste of the skimming-the-top-of-what-it’s-like-to-live-in-homophobic-black-market-Russia. The news business knows that we like a little scandal to go along with the glory of the Olympics.

You know, the once-every-four-year-event that brings the best of amateur athletes to the world stage. Pssst…dont’ tell the NHL about the amateur, non-professional athlete part. Yes, it’s the kind of thing that makes grown men cry.

But why  look all the way to cold, socially backward Russia when we have our own little Pan Am Games scandal right here in good old Canaduh? While the Beibs got a full, center spread in the Globe this weekend, the firing of Ian Troop got a lousy 10 inches.

You might want to fill up your glass for this little nugget folks, poor Mr. Troop (according to the Globe article) will receive a paltry $478, 200.00 lump sum as part of his severance package, along with retirement benefits AND medical benefits of $43,100.00.

Now that, my dear Canadians, is a punch in the throat to the millions of folks in this country just trying to get by.  We, like the Ukrainians should be rioting in the streets.

You do know about what’s going on in  Ukraine don’t you?

What about South Sudan?  No?

But I bet you know about old Rob Ford getting a jay-walking ticket in Vancouver though, don’t you?

If this little news exposé has you looking at a map to find Kiev, or  wondering how you can use your art to protest our government’s capitalism-gone-rogue reign of terror on real journalism, social programs, health care, and anything that threatens the increasing gap between the rich and the poor, then I have done my job.

If not, please, by all means, enjoy the bliss of your ignorance, and enjoy your cough syrup and crack.

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Christmas Rant: Part I

The War in the Vendée was a royalist uprising ...
The War in the Vendée was a royalist uprising that was suppressed by the republican forces in 1796 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yes, ‘Part I’. There may, indeed, be a ‘Part II’ , depending upon how stupid things get before the new year.

Last year the grand ‘we’,  declined to see the value in the Occupy Wall Street campaign, that was staggeringly avoided by major press agencies.

We let the dreadlocked-live-our-values-over-charged-for-our-mediocre-educations-and-under-employed youth, fight it out in the streets for the middle class. The middle class, who are losing their ever crippling grip on the edge of affluence as they march to the hypnotically convincing drum of ‘The Man’.

‘The Man’, yep, that pretty much almost sums it up. Consider two facts from Joseph E. Stiglitz’s The Price of Inequality;

“The top 1% earned more than 65 percent of the total national income [in the United States], ” and, ” …the ratio of CEO annual compensation to that of the typical worker by 2010 was back to what it had been before the crisis, to 243 to 1“.

While the media reports on Miley’s junior-miss sized twerking patooty, in above-the-fold-full-colour-coverage, they give about half of that coverage to reports about unions being vilified (by the powers that be), as unfairly over-compensating workers.

It doesn’t take a PhD in maths to know that the statistics mentioned above impact the majority of folks in not only North America, but everywhere on the planet.

When we treat silver-spoon born Conrad Black as a real journalist, and Rob Ford as a misunderstood ‘average guy’, we’re wrong. Dead wrong. Rob Ford’s Escalade is worth 3x that of the average vehicle (a simple Honda Civic) owned by those living in the GTA, and his assets multiply to have net value in the millions.

Toronto has a mayor who openly flaunts the rules, degrades homosexuals, women and anyone else who thinks differently than him, and uses the excuse that the press is too rough on him to get away with it all. Actually, his big bully brother does the talking. The day I knew we’d lost all dignity as a nation was the one that showed Mr. Ford and his compadres dancing like  idiots in council chambers just days after having his mayoral power stripped from him.

Only someone with the wealth of Mr. Black has the gumption to whine about being incarcerated for being a liar and a cheat. Call it fraud, bad accounting, whatever…it’s lying and cheating at the cost of everyone else who shares the same planet.

The worst part is, we let it happen. Yes, read this slowly; we allow this to happen. Instead of rioting in the street, we go to work, pay our taxes, and our over-inflated power, cell phone and health care bills.

Let me get back to the subject of unions. We’ve seen unions vilified by the Conservative government and big business, so much so that we’ve bought into this anti-union perspective.

Unions may have been gauche in the booming 80’s, but today we live a different economic and social reality. The reality is that unions are needed now more than they were needed in the past thirty or forty years. For over thirty years, the average annual income of a full-time worker stagnated, while the profits at the top have multiplied at astonishing rates.

Young adults entering the workforce are under-employed at alarming rates. Not to mention everyone one else. The days of full-time jobs with benefits that sustain a comfortable lifestyle are over. Instead, we have the majority of people working at part-time or contract jobs, unable to sustain themselves, or have any measure of security.

Besides being unable to pay their bills, folks in jobs that are not secure suffer from more illness and social problems than ever before. Economic instability feeds fear, and that creates a downward spiraling quagmire of social issues; homelessness, addiction, abuse, crime, and all of the other wonderful side-effects of poverty.

The top 1%’s after tax income reached an average of $1.3 million in the United States in 2010. That of the bottom 20% only reached $17,000. No wonder big-business-journalism and politics doesn’t like unions. Unions distribute the wealth and offer job security.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there are issues with unions too. Look at the billions of dollars of bailout money that went to Automakers with no conditions to streamline their production or offer more affordable, environmentally friendly products. Despite the obvious lazy-barnacles that infest unions (they also infest non-union environments at the same rate though), I’d rather live with unions to ensure more people with full-time jobs, than with what is happening now.

Canada and the U.S.,  live in a world of performing-party-politicking that leaves us without leaders in a wild-western-hemisphere black-hole of civilization.

If we leave the world up to those with no social conscience, and a taste for greed rather than loving-kindness, there will be many darker days to come, than this, the longest night of the year.

 

 

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Our Crack Smoking Mayor & The State of Our Nation

Crack Pipe
Crack Pipe (Photo credit: TylerIngram)

Hold the presses! After months of outright denial of crack use, Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford has admitted that he did, indeed smoke crack.Somebody put me over your knee and spank me. I couldn’t be more shocked darlings.

Just kidding.

“He should not resign. He has to be charged, tried, and found guilty. This is Canada,” said one Toronto city counsellor.

This is Canada.

Frightening, no?

We live in a country where justice prevails? No. We live in a country where our political leaders are not held accountable to lies, deceit, and abuse of power.

Consider also, that today the unconstitutional suspension of some of our Senators took place. Our Prime Minister and the Conservative party have a dark cloud of questionable behaviour regarding voter coersion, shutting down parliament, and most recently, the unethical if not illegal set-up of these three Senators to fall.

This is Canada eh?

You bet your sweet fur-panty covered petunia it is.

We are a nation led by the super-wealthy minority, and their naive middle-class, RRSP investing wanna-be’s.

We whine about taxes, but turn an eye to the gross amounts of money invested in high-paying beaurocratic jobs and point the finger at users of a social system that barely provides enough support to feed and shelter a person even if they’ve worked hard for decades.

We believe the news fed to us by a corporate entity with powerful political clout. We question nothing.

I challenge every single Canadian reading this to do a little investigation into ANY government department. The majority of money spent is at the upper level, for inflated salaries, repetitive planning and process tweaking (I’m not talking millions here folks, I’m talking billions). Been there, seen the waste, had the T-shirt torn from my back.

This is a huge problem throughout the federal, provincial, and municipal governments.

Oh yah, I almost forgot. Beware the Canadian career politician who is more interested in seeing their face on the evening news than fighting for ethical and socially responsible policy making and governance.

This is Canada.

We live in a country where people from across the globe seek refuge from severely broken, religion-tangled and poor countries.

For some they are grateful, for others, they work to make a positive difference. Still, for others moving to Canada they seize the opportunity to bring their mucked up system to a new country and tell us all how much better it was at home. And we let them!

This is Canada.

Tommy Douglas, Jack Layton and Margaret Atwood….now that’s Canada.

It’s time we challenged the status quo and admittted we live in a shattered system. It’s time we showed up; on Parliament Hill, at Queen’s Park, outside the local MP’s office, in council chambers, and take back the Canada we once could be so proud of.

I’m finished ranting now. Someone call the mayor of Toronto and get me something to take away the pain of witnessing the fall of our great country.

 

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Rockin’ The Art Gallery of Ontario

Not having ever been a Patti Smith fan, I poo-pooed the ‘Camera Solo’ exhibit at the AGO before I even had a look. Just great, I thought, another exhibit of work that isn’t worth looking at but for the name attached.  Gimme a break.

I was blown away by the images and poetry on display at the AGO, and have a new respect for Patti Smith as an artist, not just some washed up rock queen.

If you haven’t gone, here’s the info you need to get there: http://www.ago.net/patti-smith-camera-solo . If you can’t make it, I suggest a copy of her book Land 250. So amazing and beautifully bound that I just had to indulge and buy a print copy.