Long time running…

I was never really a huge fan of The Tragically Hip.  I didn’t not like them but I never caught on to their genre and lyrics like so many others did.   I think I was at the edge of a previous generation, more Beach Boys and Beatles. (I was reassured to learn that Gord Downie was a closet fan of the Bee Gees.)

But I did recognize their talents and knew there must be something to their music that appealed so broadly to the generation that followed me.  I did, however, join the rest of Canada Day on August 20, 2017 to celebrate this phenomenonal and truly Canadian  band.

Last weekend I was eager to see the documentary about their 2016 tour – Long Time Running.   It has been shown at TIFF and other film festivals with good reviews and had a few showings at Kingston’s Screening Room this week.

I was surprised what I got from this film.   Someone asked me if it was kind of sad.   Absolutely, it was not.  It was actually a very inspiring and positive.  It goes through the diagnosis of “terminal” brain cancer for the lead member,  Gord Downie,  his initial treatments and struggles to remember things and put sentences together after having his temporal lobe and hippocampus removed surgically and 30 radiation treatments.  (The surgeon, by the way, a Kingston neurosurgeon).

Despite this, Gord was keen to go on tour with the band once more.  Obviously the others were a bit skeptical if this would work but, no spoiler here, they finished the tour across Canada, culminating in the August 20 concert in Kingston, broadcast all across Canada and drawing thousands to Kingston, including our Prime Minister.

It was interesting to see the backstage preparations and angst about this tour but I got a lot of messages from this film that surprised me.

Several themes developed for me.

1.  Never give up.   This guy was sort of written off by a lot of people and was initially in no shape to perform, let along tackle a cross country tour.   But he did.  In doing so, he earned a lot of respect from the public, drew attention to cancer treatment and research, highlighted the plight of Canadian First Nations people and entertained thousands.  Make that hundreds of thousands.  Incredible really.   Maybe his cognitive deficits from his surgery and treatment made him naively bold or brave or fixated.  But what an example to set.   I am sure that his fortitude and positivity has helped many people who have been struck by cancer. And it was a gift to Hip fans to be able to celebrate their 30 year run before it came to a crashing close.

2.  The expression of true friendship.   These guys had worked together for 30 years and were a real team.  I am sure that there were bumps along the way, but it was incredible that Downie’s band-mates dug in and just supported his dream.  It was a huge risk.  Anything could happen.  It could have turned out to be a disaster.   It was incredibly touching to see them kiss each other – on the lips – and hug each other and genuinely show real love to each other prior to each performance. This is the kind of love that is meant by the Greek word, Agape.*  They were all vulnerable and all a team with a mission.  It seemed that egos were set aside.  You hear about this kind of teamwork and friendship but rarely see it so obviously.  It was very intimate material to be shared publicly.   But this support was also quite evident in their performances.   Another lesson for us all.  Downie’s diagnosis and fate overshadowed the rest of the band but they deserve great respect and accolades for helping their friend live out his dream.

3.  This was just so…Canadian.  The whole country was moved by this story.  We all wanted to be part of it.   And thousands were.   Fans bought tickets both to be entertained but also to support this band that was so loved.   And they were also ready for anything.   It could all be cancelled in a moment.  Or fall apart in the middle of a performance.   But no one cared about that.  This was about being part of this team and joining in to keep it going.

4.  It was a lesson in closure.  All good things come to an end.   Concerts, vacations, childhood, holidays, friendships , life.  Things come to an end.  It’s natural. It helps to deal with that fact if we learn to accept it with some stoicism and dignity.   It is helpful to fondly remember good times past and friends and family who have departed.  And maybe it is helpful to others if we acknowledge the end of something, celebrate and share our acceptance.   I think this is what Gord Downie and the Hip did, most graciously and unselfishly.

Little did I know when I wrote this earlier in the week that Gord Downie would die last night, October 17, 2017.  It makes all of the above lessons more poignant and pertinent today.

I took my 15 year old granddaughter to the show on Saturday and we went early because I thought it would be packed.  There were only about 10 people in the audience!  I do hope that more people see this show as it not only provides some concert-like Hip music but it caused me to reflect on many other things – life in general.   I think that is what Gord Downie (and his band-mates) would have liked.

The Hip concert on August 20, 2016 in Kingston was a celebration of the past and acknowledgement of an ending.

Hip Concert pano

* Agape – Agape love involves faithfulness, commitment, and an act of the will. It is distinguished from the other types of love by its lofty moral nature and strong character. Agape love is beautifully described in the Bible.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  1 Corinthians 13 4-7.

 

Lively weekend in downtown Kingston Ontario

Have I said how much I love living in Downtown Kingston?  All these photos were taken within a 5 minute walk of where I live!

This weekend had perfect end-of-summer weather and  the downtown was full of activity ranging from Bollywood to jets to skydivers to a wonderful multicultural arts festival.

Here’s a five minute taste of how the weekend unfolded.   Never a dull moment…or a quiet one.

Rhinos and rainbows

Unknown.jpegLast night I went to see Rhinoceros at the Bader Centre for the Arts.  I knew several friends who were in it but had no idea what it was about.   I was a bit disoriented at first, not sure where it all was heading or why.  Tied together by the notion that there were a few rhinoceroses seen about town and they presented both curiosity and perhaps even threat, the rest of the night was a series of vignettes – monologues and poems and dance and music – that were largely written and performed by local people.

As the evening wore on I could better understand the thread.  Basically it was a comment on diversity in our community and on our streets and, in the long run, we are all unique and in some way a rhinoceros to others.   We need to be tolerant and open in seeing new people or people that differ from us in whatever way.

Now this sounds a bit preachy but that was not how it came across. It was a bit of a grab bag and some of the performances were a bit awkward but all were heartfelt. I was not bored for a minute.  There were so many ideas and thoughts coming at me that at times I felt I needed a bit more time to reflect on what I had just heard.

My friend and I talked about it for an hour after the show and today I ruminated on the theme several times.   This is a great credit to the production.  Theatre can both entertain and cause reflection.  This one did both.

Dave and rhinos 2.jpgAs the actors called out that they had spotted a rhinoceros on the street,  I was reminded of a trip to Uganda in 2013 with my friend, Dave Kay.  We went to a rhino sanctuary where we were out with a guide looking for a few of the (huge) rhinos that lived in the forest there.  We came across a few.  Dave was more brave than I was to get a look at them.  I hung back with my camera – if the rhino charged it would get Dave first.  And our instructions were, if the animal charged to climb a tree.   Can you imagine me scrambling up an acacia with a rhino snorting down on me?  The guide said that when they charged it was usually a false charge and they would stop short.  Usually was the operative word in that sentence for me.   We survived.

Pride 3And to fit the diversity theme, this happens to be Pride weekend in Kingston. Today there was a parade down Princess Street with lots of colour and gaiety in the old sense of the word.

I remembered the first summer I lived in Kingston, there was an article in the Whig Standard with a photo of a same sex kiss-in on the steps of City Hall.  This was seen to be provocative and somewhat astounding.

One report of this incident reads: “Although the ceremony itself lasted only fifteen minutes, it attracted over 400 onlookers and was described as “a kiss that reverberated throughout Kingston.” The public’s responses to the kiss ran the gamut from curiosity to outrage. Most of the crowd applauded, but some showed their disapproval by booing.”

Today there were hundreds of brightly clothed celebrants of diversity in the parade down our main street.  Kids, families, soldiers, church groups, members of parliament.

The rainbow seems to have replaced the rhinoceros.

Pride one

 

 

 

CanAssist tries to do no harm.

Primum non nocere – first of all, do no harm”  was a dictum that I learned in medical school and always tried to apply in day to day practice.  I remind myself of this principle, as well, in my role as a trustee of  the CanAssist African Relief Trust, an African charity that has consumed much of my energy over the last few years.

There are two schools of thought about providing development aid to some struggling parts of the world.

unknownPeter Singer puts forth the argument that we are morally obliged to help. If we see someone straining to survive and helping them would be of little significant consequence to our own well-being then we must.  Most of us would not hesitate to wade into a shallow pool to save a drowning child, even if it meant getting our new leather shoes wet and dirty.  Taken more broadly, giving up the cost of a night out at the movies to help vulnerable children in Africa follows the same moral responsibility.  A life saved is a life saved, whether in a Canadian water park or a Ugandan village.

Other writers wonder whether some forms of developmental aid are doing more harm than good.  A recent  documentary, Poverty Inc, refers specifically to the tons of rice that poured into Haiti after their disaster in 2010. This aid was certainly helpful for crisis relief but it continued to flow into Haiti after the crisis was over.  Free rice, bought from suppliers in the US and subsidized by the US government to provide “aid”, caused the farmers in Haiti who previously sold rice locally to go bankrupt.  Who would pay for rice at the market when you can get it for free?  This ongoing supply undermined the local economy and increased dependency while American suppliers were being paid.  There is a difference between humanitarian aid and ongoing developmental funding.

This debate challenges me to think about what we do through the CanAssist African Relief Trust.  How can we satisfy our moral obligation to help struggling communities but not create or foster dependency?  Like the primum non nocere dictum, it is partly what we don’t do that is important.

1-2First of all, CanAssist does not send goods; we send money.  We don’t flood the East African market with materials purchased in Canada and shipped overseas at great cost.

CanAssist does not deal with large multi-layered governmental departments but directly with individual schools, support groups and clinics. We don’t go to a community to promote our own agenda or ways of doing things.  We let the community, school, health facility come to us with their ideas of what sustainable infrastructure we can fund that will improve their well-being.

We don’t send unskilled volunteers to Africa in a “voluntourism”  holiday to build a school or do  other work that can be done more effectively by Africans. Our supporters don’t rob jobs from local carpenters and masons who need that work to pay for their family’s schooling or health needs. Instead, our funding stimulates the local economy, albeit in a small way.

dsc05459We don’t provide money for programming, staffing or other individual support. Once a donor starts paying for school fees for a young child, for example,  the student  becomes dependent on the benefactor’s help to finish secondary school, and beyond.  It becomes difficult to stop this individual aid.  And only one person benefits from this well-meaning generosity.  CanAssist provides communities with funding for sanitation or clean water, or for classrooms and furnishings at rural schools.  The materials are purchased locally and construction done by employing local workers, both men and women.  If parents are healthy, better educated and have work available, they can earn the money to look after their children.  CanAssist project funding, therefore,  provides two benefits – temporary employment for local people and infrastructure improvement to the community, benefitting many rather than just one or two.

CanAssist’s administrative expenses in Canada are about 5% of our budget. For some other development programmes, a large proportion of the claimed development funding stays in Canada, paying for salaries, airfares, office space, fax machines, hotels and computers. CanAssist does have obligatory administrative expenses like bank fees, Internet  access, postage and liability insurance and some unavoidable professional fees we can not get pro bono. All other goods and services are purchased in Africa.  We pay no Canadian salaries.   We provide casual employment to some Africans to help implement our projects but this, too, provides initiative to them to work to earn their money. It is not a handout.

We don’t fund  one group indefinitely.  CanAssist attempts to give a school or community a kick-start to help their development but ultimately they must figure out how to manage their own operational and infrastructure needs.  The goal is self-sufficiency and this would not be attainable if the group could rely on CanAssist support indefinitely.

For these reasons, I am convinced that that CanAssist can continue to provide help without harm African communities.  We are grateful to our many generous donors who participate confidently in this mission with us – knowing that they can help without fostering dependency.

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We have had a delicious smorgasbord of summer theatre in Kingston

It has been a very rich summer for theatre in Kingston with literally hundreds of presentations happening in the downtown core. SFF-2016-Poster-webThe Storefront Festival converted empty spaces into unique venues that offered a wide range of productions over about 10 days.  My favourite was Cul de Sac, a Daniel MacIvor play.  In this one woman show, Anne Marie Bergman, under the direction of Will Britton, presented an engaging story told by several memorable characters. And they were characters indeed.
Blue Canoe, with their usual enthusiasm and energy, presented Chicago at the Baby Grand. This show kept my toe tapping and face in a steady grin throughout.   On a balmy Wednesday night in Market Square behind City Hall,  I enjoyed an evening of Shakespeare – Driftwood Theatre’s Taming of the Shrew.  Outdoor theatre-in-the-round always seems to be the perfect venue for Shakespeare.

AmbroseFor a few weeks,  I worked with a group of Kingston theatre friends on a Single Thread production of Ambrose – Re-imagined.  I  loved this unique theatre experience last year when it was presented for the first time so I was delighted when creator Liam Karry asked me to join the cast for this newly re-imagined  version.  Liam likes to surprise audiences and have them experience theatre in non-traditional settings.   In this show, audience members made a journey through many hidden areas of the Grand Theatre to meet up with characters who have had some connection to the mysterious Ambrose Small.  Ambrose was an Ontario Theatre magnate who disappeared on December 2, 1919 the day after receiving a million dollars for the sale of the many theatres in Ontario that he owned, including Kingston’s Grand.  His spirit is known to haunt the theatre with many people over the years,  actors and employees, having had a ghostly experience in the Grand. The mystery of his disappearance was never solved.

 

Ambrose 1

No two audience members at Ambrose had the same experience, ever.  Their exploration of the Ambrose Small history was their own.  Liam told me that he likes the idea that the audience participants are invited to play with us with this material. People who expected to sit and snooze and be entertained may have been a bit overwhelmed  but most of our audience members were wildly enthusiastic.  When they let go and engaged in the process it was delightful and unique – and a lot of fun.   Fun, too for the actors who never knew exactly what was coming next.

 

14047343_1084090548304687_4608973864294042412_oIn mid August  I also took in a Single Thread production of Salt Water Moon that was “staged” on the steps of the University Club, outdoors on a sultry summer evening.  This is a great little play and was wonderfully presented.  The setting was absolutely perfect for this piece.

Kingston has a vibrant theatre community all year around. It takes no summer break. In fact, this summer it ramped up to provide audiences a wonderful selection of productions in a variety of settings.  Thanks to everyone who entertained us so well.

Hip and tragic at the same time

Last night was a remarkable evening in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. The Tragically Hip – a home-town band that gained national popularity and became a Canadian treasure had a nationally televised concert will likely be their last.   Lead singer, Gord Downie,  diagnosed with an incurable brain tumour, led the band on a sort of “last stand” tour across Canada that culminated in the final concert in Kingston on August 20.

The arena was full and the downtown core in Kingston was packed – really packed – with people from far and wide who watched and sang and danced to the concert streamed live on a large screen in Market Square.   Similar gatherings were held across the country.  This was a big deal for Canadians.

Three things stood out for me about this event.

Pano2Firstly, this had the potential to be a huge security risk.  Over 25,000 people jammed into a market square and flowing into the neighbouring streets and the Prime Minister glad-handing people in the street would not only be a terrorist’s dream in some places but the potential for a few drunk yahoo’s to disrupt it was almost unavoidable.   But it didn’t happen.  The crowd was orderly and … Canadian.   Yes there was the occasional, or not so occasional, waft of marijuana.  But that only led to more singing and dancing and air-guitaring.  There was security around but not that evident. No guns on display.  People checking bags at the entry points to the venue were wearing t-shirts, not uniforms.  Everyone was polite. The energy was all celebratory.

PMSecondly, our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau,  an acknowledged Hip fan was there to celebrate with us.  He walked through the mob in Market Square just before the concert and shook hands and took selfies and smiled in his jean jacket and Tragic
ally Hip T-shirt.  His visage only appeared once on the TV screen during the concert when Downie acknowledged him.  And the grip Trudeau has on Downie’s shoulder in the photo of them hugging before the concert was real.

Enlight1Last, but not least, was the courage and determination and resolution that Gord Downie showed in not wallowing in his sorrow and illness but living life to the fullest despite a dismal prognosis.  I was tired from standing the three hours for the concert in the square., How exhausted must he have been after dancing and singing his way through the concert, the last of several this month, despite his recent surgery, radiation and chemo treatments for his cancer.  This, to me, was really something incredible and an example to all of us not to give in to our troubles, but to live every moment fiercely.  We are all dying at some point.

“The trouble is, you think you have time.”  Buddha

Pano1

 

Spring reflections in photos -Pt 2

Yesterday I posted some spring photos. Several of the pictures I took had interesting reflection in the smooth lake so I have grouped them together here.  Part 2.  You can see yesterday’s other photos here if you missed them. It delights me that I have been able to take all these photos within about 10 minutes of my home in beautiful downtown Kingston, Ontario.

Island Queen 2

Reflect 1Reflect 2WIFDucks PosterDelta reflect poster

Pano2

Celebrating Spring in Kingston Ontario

Exactly three weeks ago I posted a blog with some photos I took along the shoreline of Lake Ontario in Kingston. (You can see them here) The lake was still covered in ice – enough, in fact, that people were out playing hockey and walking and ice-boating on the lake.

Today is Easter Sunday  – March 27.  It is a gorgeous sunny day. The ice is gone from all but a few corners of the lake. Folks are out with their kids and their dogs and cameras and even a couple of boats are in the water.  What a difference three weeks makes.

Here are some photos I took today, some of them from precisely where I took pictures of the ice on March 6.  I am happy today to be celebrating spring in Kingston.

KYC

Photo 1H

Fetch

 

JoggersTime 1SplashHarbourCity hallOntario St

March 6, 2016

Today seemed like we were on the brink of spring – a clear, sunny, cold day in early March that promises springtime but hangs on to the vestiges of winter.   Lake Ontario had been made smooth by the partial melting of the surface ice in the sunshine.  Students couldn’t resist walking or skating or skimming over the frozen lake with ice boats.

Pictures always worth 1000 words.

My  friends in Africa won’t quite comprehend how the lake could be like this.

WIF

Bright day.jpegwindmills.jpegLake walk Mar.jpegyacht club.jpegIce lake walk.jpegIce lake 1.jpeg

 

Kingston Canadian Film Festival 2016 – Part 2

So happy that I could take in the Kingston Canadian Film Festival last weekend – ten minutes from where I live.  What a treat.    I saw six movies in 36 hours.  My butt is sore and my eyes are burning but it was an interesting weekend.  Something good about every one of them.

Borealis

How to sum this one up?  A crazy road trip with a 15 year old dope smoking teenage girl who is going blind and her card-shark gambling father from Winnipeg to  Churchill, Manitoba  with a stop in Flin Flon as they try to escape a couple of goons that the dad owes $100,000 and make a trek to see the Northern Lights.  When I write this down it sounds pretty weird but it works, thanks to great screenwriting and acting by  the two main characters as played by Josh Chernick and a very talented young Joey King.  It sounds like this film will be in theatres soon and although there is nothing earth shattering  about it,  it is a good Canadian story that will not disappoint. I talked to someone else after the movie who said “It all felt natural.”  Eh?

Closet Monster

I didn’t know much about this film when I decided to catch it on Sunday morning. It fit my schedule. It went right over my head that it might be about that “closet”.  And really it wasn’t just that.  I also am reluctant to call it a “coming of age” film as that just seems so trite.  The film took us into the world of a young man struggling with separated parents, education choices,  sexual discover,  adolescent friendships and homophobia without making any one of those the only challenge.   I must admit that there were a couple of scenes where the acting, editing and escalating throbbing music put my pulse up and almost made me feel frantic.  I have never been so driven by the sound in a movie before.

Like the others, it is a Canadian made movie with Canadian talent. It was shot almost entirely in Newfoundland (without any Newfie accents).  Lots of closet analogies and symbolism on many fronts.  Great natural acting, direction and a credible screenplay. It won the best Canadian Feature Film award at TIFF in 2015.  The kid in the movie, when asked “Do you feel anything?” honestly replies “I don’t know”.  This kind of sums up the chore of maturing when  you are 18.  Maybe that job never ends.

 

Films I think you should definitely try to catch are Closet Monster, Into the Forest and Borealis.  Now where to catch them is the problem. They are not Hollywood blockbusters and I wonder where they will turn up.  It is really too bad that the movie house market is so dominated by the big name, big budget films.  Look for these Canadian-made gems and support them.