Thursday, June 30, 2005

July Ahoy - Poetry Hides in Plain Sight

I love the meanings of words – they are like riddles or, perhaps, flowers that, being very familiar with, we take for granted. The ways in which we tell time is laden with a rich history and a surprising use of metaphor. How surprising that we still use the ancient Babylonian base 60 number system to tell time – 60 seconds in 1 minute, 60 minutes in one hour and so on. And how many of us know the origin of our names for the days of the week? Sunday meaning Day of the Sun; Monday meaning Day of the Moon; Tuesday named for the Germanic war god Tiu; Wednesday named for the Norse god Odin or Wodin, the All-father; Thursday named for the Norse god Thor, god of thunder; Friday named for the Norse goddess Frigg, goddess of the hearth; and Saturday meaning Saturn’s Day which was perhaps originally Etruscan.

Our months, similarly, hold stories. January named for the Janus the Roman god of doors for we enter each new year through a new door; February from the Sabine word februo meaning to boil or purify as this was the month that rituals of purification were practiced; March named for the war god Mars (the time when wars could recommence after winter); April from the Roman Aprilis which came from the Etruscan name (Apru) for Greek Aphrodite for this was the month trees opened their leaves; May from the Roman Maia goddess of growth; June from the Roman goddess Juno; July from Julius Caesar who created the Julian calendar; August from Augustus Caesar; and September, October, November and December meaning, respectively, seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth months since the old Roman calendar had ten months beginning with March.The ancient Babylonian calendar included month-names that meant flight, healing, Tree of Life and nothingness. The Hebrew calendar includes month names that mean first fruits, rosette blossom. The Mayan calendar included 20 different names for days including ones that meant waterlily, corn, snake, death head, venus, dog, jaguar and storm cloud; and months that meant new sun and owl. And native north American nations’ lunar calendars include such descriptions as Moon when the geese come home, Wolf moon, Moon when the leaves break forth and Moon of the Popping trees.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Being the Change

I gave a talk at the International Human Rights Training Program in Montreal yesterday. I have loaded both an HTML version and an MSWord version of my talk on my website. I was presenting along with Chrysogone Zougmore, the Secretary General of the Mouvement Burkinabe des Droits de l'Homme et des Peuples (MBDHP) from Burkina Faso.

Chrysogone and i were talking about the relationship between human rights education and advocacy. My three principle points were:
  • There is no such thing as neutral education and no such thing as a neutral educator
  • All education is advocacy – though not all advocacy is education
  • Education is the act of engaging common sense persuasively in order together to create good sense and change bad sense.
The IHRTP is a unique human rights training program run by the Canadian Human Rights Foundation. You educators out there might be interested in their training manual - check it out.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The New Dog

A hunter went out with a new dog that he had raised. He shot a duck that came down in the water and the hunter sent the dog after it. The dog ran across the water, retrieved the duck and ran back, across the water. The hunter was amazed and shot another duck. Again the dog ran across the water, retrieved the duck and ran back across the water. The hunter did this one more time and the same thing happened. The next day the hunter invited a friend. Again the hunter shot a duck that came down in the water and, like the day before, the dog ran across the water to retrieve the duck. His friend watched without saying a word. The hunter shot a second duck and the dog, once again, ran across the water to retrieve the duck. The friend still stood silent. Finally the hunter asked his friend, “Do you notice anything strange about this new dog?” “Yeah,” replied the friend. “Now that you mention it. That dog can’t swim.”

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

A Hole in the Bucket

Just found a link to the Comic Relief piece about world debt - song sung by Michael Franti. It's 2.4 megs so if you don't have high speed, you might wanna try this 1 meg version.

The Why Cheap Art? Manifesto

Bread and Puppet has been a part of my life for over 25 years. Check out this manifesto. And go make some art. Cheap, even.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Ethics for Activists - 8

Eknath Easwaran:

The Sufis advise us to speak only after our words have managed to pass through three gates. At the first gate, we ask ourselves, "Are these words true?" If so, we let them pass on; if not, back they go. At the second gate we ask, "Are they necessary?" At the last gate, we ask, "Are they kind?"

Friday, June 17, 2005

We Are All Jewels in the Net of Indra

I have a love of theory. And rarely the time to indulge this love. Which makes me a pretty sloppy theorist. I’m reminded of a Saturday Night Live Christmas sketch in which John Belushi leads a dishevelled group of carollers in a comically pathetic attempt to sing the familiar and ubiquitous (every December) songs. Each carol is launched with gusto but none gets beyond a few lines of their first verse before devolving into embarrassed muttered “la-la-la’s”. So it is, often, with me and theory. I admire the elegant contours and crave the time to examine them more closely. For there are riches to be had that often leave me in awe. For instance, I find in post-structural and post-modern theory a wonderful wrestling with the complexity of human identity—how we understand ourselves, what we think that we are. And I’ve always found there to be a peculiar resonance between post-structuralism and Buddhism (and Buddhism has a couple of thousand year head start, to boot).

I am currently reading Robert Thurman’s new book The Jewel Tree of Tibet: The Enlightenment Engine of Tibetan Buddhism. It’s a practical course in enlightenment, though I think I’m failing. I’m feeling kinda dim this week. Alas. Good reading though. I always feel, when reading books about Buddhism, that I can almost see (perhaps hear) that world of spiritual enlightenment of which they write. Thurman instructs that you are supposed to visualize this remarkable Jewel Tree, wonderfully crowded with mentor spirits all there to help you become enlightened. That’s an awful lot of help. It’s a lovely book that I recommend – written in lucid and plain language.

In my wanderings through Buddhist literature I came across another jewel image: a 2000-year-old description that strikes me as quintessentially modern when I think about each jewel representing a living being.

From the Avatamsaka Sutra

Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net that has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each "eye" of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in all dimensions, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars of the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring.

(Francis H. Cook, Hua-yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra, University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977, p. 2.)

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Cure

Around the turn of the century in Vienna, Austria there was a man who had made a name for himself as a doctor of the mind. People came to see him from around Europe and the world. One day, a strange looking man entered the doctor’s office and stood silently before the receptionist’s desk. The receptionist looked up and saw before her perhaps the saddest looking person she’d ever seen. “May I help you?” she asked. “I want to see the doctor who I have heard so much about. He is my last hope,” said the stranger. “You will have to make an appointment and return in a week,” said the receptionist. The sad looking man reached into his deep coat pocket, pulled his hand out and dropped a handful of gold coins on the desk. The receptionist was startled, coughed and said, “let me see what I can do.” She returned in a moment and said, “The doctor can see you for a few minutes.”

The stranger walked slowly into the inner office and sat in a chair opposite the doctor. “What seems to be the problem, my friend with the pocket of gold coins,” asked the doctor kindly. The stranger lifted his head and struggled to speak. “Lately I have been beset by an unceasing melancholy. Nothing gives me joy. All seems pointless. I don’t know what to do. They say that you are a doctor of the mind and you are my last hope.” The doctor smiled widely. “You have nothing to worry about friend. For you have come at exactly the right moment. For, you see, the circus has just arrived in Vienna and they perform this very night. I myself plan to attend. As must you. You see, in this circus is the funniest man in the world. He has the saddest face of any clown that has ever lived – he never smiles. But it is said that when you see him perform you forget all your worries and know only laughter. His name is Grimaldi and he is your cure.” The stranger looked even more sad, if that was possible and he said, “Then there I no cure for me kind sir. For I am Grimaldi.”

The doctor nodded slowly. “I see. I see. Then there is only one thing you can do.” The stranger looked up hopefully. “Tonight,” said the doctor, “you must kill yourself.” “Then it is true,” said Grimaldi. “There is no cure and I must end my life. I will not hesitate. I will do it this very night.” “No, no,” said the doctor smiling. “You must kill yourself this evening, at the circus, for all to see.” Grimaldi looked at the doctor and slowly a slight smile crept onto his face. “Thank-you,” he said to the doctor and left a handful of gold coins on the desk as he left.

That night Grimaldi set about to kill himself before the sold-out audience. He first tried to cut his throat with an overlarge knife. But the blade, made of rubber, cut and cut and made no mark. Then he tried to shoot himself but the gun shot out nothing but smoke and paper. He tried to hang himself but the rope broke and he tumbled to the circus floor with the crowd roaring all the while. Finally he climbed a tall ladder to throw himself to his death. He leapt from the ladder and everyone screamed. But Grimaldi’s suspenders were caught and he was pulled back to the ladder. No circus crowd had ever laughed so loud.

And they say that that was the only night in his career that Grimaldi himself could not help but laugh. He laughed and laughed until the tears flowed.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

On Meaning, Listening & Writing

Robert Bringhurst – The Solid Form of Language:

Drop a word in the ocean of meaning and concentric ripples form. To define a single word means to try to catch those ripples. No one’s hands are fast enough. Now drop two or three words in at once. Interference patterns form, reinforcing one another here and cancelling each other there. To catch the meaning of the words is not to catch the ripples that they cause; it is to catch the interaction of those ripples. This is what it means to listen; this is what it means to read. It is incredibly complex, yet humans do it every day, and very often laugh and weep at the same time. Writing, by comparison, seems altogether simple, at least until you try.

Monday, June 13, 2005

On Solitude, Resistance & Rebellion

There is no insurmountable solitude. All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. And we must pass through solitude and difficulty, isolation and silence, in order to reach forth to the enchanted place where we can dance our clumsy dance and sing our sorrowful song - but in this dance or in this song there are fulfilled the most ancient rites of our conscience in the awareness of being human and of believing in a common destiny.

Rebellion is our very life asserting itself, willing to settle for nothing less than freedom. But if our rebellion is have any hope of achieving that freedom, it must transform itself into resistance.

Resistance challenges the framework of reality defined by systems of punishment. Rebellion can be the first step towards resistance, but we must avoid the sidetracks of self-destruction along the way.

Resistance differs from rebellion because it embodies a reality incongruent with that of domination. We do more than defy reality: we present its alternatives, communicating our beliefs and values.

Syllabus for Popular Education Course

Once again, i'm going to be teaching Popular Education for Social Change at the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University this coming fall and winter. I'm re-designing a curriculum that i developed with the Catalyst Centre and thought to share the curriculum from the past season. You can find brief course descriptions here (scroll down to 6150 & 6151).

Blogs not as original as we might think

I've always planned to use my blog somewhat like the 19th Century Victorians (and some 20th Century holdovers like Alec Guiness)used "commonplace books". So, i will be posting more stuff regularly in this spirit. Here's a bit more explanation from the introduction to my annual solstice book (which many of you will have already read):

Gathered from my journals, my database of quotes, my archive of stories, my palmpilot notepad, my internet bookmarks and the countless handwritten notes that I am perpetually jotting down in the books that I read I have composed this selection for you. I might have called it a scrapbook of sorts until recently. But I have only just learned that something that i have been doing quite unselfconsciously for over 25 years is, actually, an ancient practice with a long and venerable history. Once again I am reminded that there is little new under the sun and we do well to remember in our 21st Century so so post-modern pride that humans have been solving the same problems for millennia. It is not because we do things first that we should be pleased with our accomplishments – this is merely one of the lies of the modern myth of progress. But I digress…

I've never considered my habit of collecting quotes and poems and aphorisms and so on as more than a curiosity of my nature - i've always suspected that this collecting habit is a thinly-disguised and carefully managed neurosis. It may well be so. But i have now learned that this type of collecting has been practiced since at least the days of the Greek and Roman civilizations. People - well, men, it would seem - kept a type of a journal - called hupomnemata, meaning “record of remembrances” – in which they recorded things that they deemed worth remembering. A curious practice perhaps, but what really fascinates me about this is why they did this. The French philosopher Michel Foucault explains it as a practice that people engaged in in order to develop better selves. (This Graeco-Roman practice gave rise to a later Christian monastic practice of writing to expose one’s inner self to scrutiny and both these practices are linked to letter-writing all of which are part of the history that our modern practices of writing emerge from.)

So all this writing was a way of ‘living in the open’ - exposing your process of self-reflection in order to test your ‘self’ against the perceptions of others. And I can’t help but compare this ancient practice to the more modern practices of ‘zines and blogs, both of which are used by people to share with others their thoughts and doubts and opinions and interests (and obsessions) and more. ‘Zines and blogs are only the latest means by which some people have chosen to practice ‘living in the open’. Ahhh… but in-between the ancient practice of hupomnemata and the modern ‘zine and blog was a brief flourishing of a nineteenth century Victorian practice of keeping a book of remembered items – the commonplace book. And so I come circuitously to my inspiration for this sort-of commonplace book that you hold now - my modest attempt at living in the open. More than a journal, more than a collection of quotes, this is a collection meant simultaneously to amuse, delight, reveal (though more often in the way riddles reveal) and, hopefully, provoke interest. But there is one more important inspiration to note.

Before learning of the male-dominated practice of hupomnemata I had already learned of an 11th Century literary wonder written by a Japanese woman. A lady-in-waiting in the court of Empress Sadako, Sei Shonagan, kept a personal journal that she filled with a wide range of observations and lists and poems known as The Pillow Book. I learned of this ancient wonder from my friend Nicole who was inspired by it to write a series of poems for which i designed and published a chapbook called Some of the Love. Amongst the 326 entries are included such things as: These Are the Months, Different Ways of Speaking, Things That Give a Pleasant Feeling, Things Not Worth Doing, Things That Make One Sorry.

So here's an odd collection of things: lists and riddles and stories and poems and more. Some will amuse, some will puzzle, i hope some will delight. I don’t know what to call this strange thing – an homage to The Pillow Book, the Commonplace Book, hupomnemata, scrapbooks and so on.

News of the Wall Ball

Read Judy's report on the Wall Ball

Thursday, June 02, 2005

WALL BALL: Carol Wall for CLC President - June 9

This is definitely the best thing happening in Toronto next Thursday evening (June 9). Spread the word.

Celebration and fundraiser with live music, DJ, door prizes, and of course Carol Wall!
Thursday, June 9th - 7:00pm at the NOW Lounge
189 Church Street (1 block north of Queen)
Sliding Scale $5-20


  • Lazo (winner Juno award best Reggae song and winner Top Reggae Performer Canadian Reggae Music Awards)
  • La Libertad
  • Mad Love
  • DJ No Capitalista
  • MC's Judy Rebick and Chris Ramsaroop

Fully wheelchair accessible

Learn how Carol Wall will promote community, democracy and equity as CLC president:

Stories On This Blog So Far

Here's a list of stories (with links) that i have published on this blog since launching this thing in February. My hope with this blog is that you all who are reading it can make use of the things i share - stories, quotes and such. Many of the stories i tell and have shared here thus far are ones that i have found filled with wisdom and usefulness for many areas of our life. Some of you know that in my facilitation i characteristically use stories to focus a group, reconvene a group from a break, or simply amuse a group when appropriate. There is much tricky learning to be pursused with these tales. They're good for all ages. These are all versions that i have written and i invite you to feel free to learn them, share them, link to them. Or just read 'em and enjoy.


A Parable about the Possibilities of Dissent



The Master Archer

Parable for Organizers

What keeps us apart

The Strawberry

And A Horse Came Back

One Wish

Heaven and Hell

Fill It

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Storytelling in the City - as usual

Well, i'm just finishing my tour of duty as one of the hosts of the 1,001 Friday nights of Storytelling. I've been part of a team Shawna pulled together many maths back now. And we're about to hand on the torch (well, tea candles, actually) to a new team. This Friday evening (at Innis College Café) we'll be having a potluck dinner at 6:00 - all are welcome - to convene a new team of hosts for the next three or four months. If you're in Toronto consider attending the 1,001 Friday Nights. You'll hear stories like the following (which i told when i introduced Jeff Smith last Sunday):

There once lived a farmer who worked hard to till his land and feed his three children. His wife had died some years before and he realized that he was getting on in years and should think about how he would one day pass on the land to his children. Should he die suddenly he didn’t want there to be any fighting over who would get what. So he called his two sons and his daughter together and told them that he had designed a contest. Each would have a turn at filling the shed beside the barn as full as it could be. The one to fill it the most would be the winner and would get to have the first choice of land to inherit. The children agreed and the father turned to his oldest child – his son – and nodded.

The boy went all over the land and gathered every stone and boulder and pebble and brought them back to the shed where he piled them all in. He pushed and shoved and carried until he closed the shed door with difficulty. The shed’s walls and door bulged with the weight of the stones inside. The boy, knees and elbows scraped and bloodied, turned to his father.

The father nodded and smiled and said, “That is a very good effort. I am most impressed.” Then he bent down and picked up a handful of dirt which he threw into the shed through a small window. The sand disappeared inside and the son breathed a sigh a disappointment for he had failed to fill the shed completely. But his father kindly said, “A very good effort. Well done! Now let us see how your brother can do.”

The shed was cleaned out and the second child, taking a wheelbarrow, gathered as much sand and dirt as he could from all over the farm. Load after load, he piled the sand and dirt into the shed. He pushed it in and stamped it down and packed it tight. With the door shut and bulging he still pushed sand and dirt in under the crack. He packed it into the window. Again the walls of the shed bulged from the weight of the sand inside. The boy turned to his father.

“Very impressive. A mighty feat. I congratulate you.” The father went over to a bucket of water and dipped a ladle in. He brought this back to the shed and poured the water in through a crack in the roof. The water disappeared inside. The boy looked crestfallen. But the father said, “A good and noble effort, my son. Now let us see what your sister can do."

The young girl disappeared into the house. The shed was cleaned out and prepared. After a while the girl emerged from the house with her hands cupped around something small. She walked into the shed and placed something down. She stepped back and her brothers and father saw that it was a candle. And the light from that candle filled that shed to its furthest corner. The girl turned and faced her father and brothers and they smiled at her.