EDWISE 

EDITOR AND EDUCATION CONSULTANT

The Cooperative Way

The cooperative movement encourages and assists the formation of worker co-ops. Advocates and their organizations lobby for legislation to require companies to first offer their employees to buy their firms before they invite other interests to do it. Such legislation exists in some states such as the UK and some within the United States of America. Some employers prefer to do this, for they respect their workers and their work and do not want to cause them harm. They may believe that their businesses would be in better hands were the employees to take them over rather than strangers and people who are not so familiar with them. 


Where there are allowances for workers to take over the ownership of enterprises, rules and a lending system are in place. The government provides low interest loans and a framework and training for workers' collectives to be able to run companies themselves. In some cases, workers can make arrangements and find funds on their own. There are organizations within the cooperative movement who can educate and facilitate such takeovers.


The cooperative movement does not challenge or object to trade unions; there need not be a conflict. Some unions support workers' co-ops, for they see them as allies and the co-ops, if unions are friendly, see the unions as allies. Collective agreements can offer ideas for the terms of a cooperative arrangement that guarantees and protects the workers rights and safe and reasonable working conditions. However, a worker-owned business would not need a union. Worker's unions are established as a defense against exploitation by owners as all owners of private enterprises profit from the labour of their workers and they do so by keeping wages down and trimming overhead costs by withholding resources and measures that would make workplaces safer, healthier and more comfortable. Private owners certainly do not want to give over the decision-making to workers--no way! They have management to impose restrictions such as time limits and methods. Workers are always pushing back to improve their earnings and conditions.


A cooperative is far more democratic. Workers within it, whether it is a fast food enterprise or a factory, meet and have an equal say in how the work is done. This arrangement is far different from the typical employment where the owner and his representatives command the workers, dictating everything they do at work, from when and how long to use the toilets and take meals to procedures and reporting. Contemporary workplaces may adopt a friendlier management style that shows signs of more respect and appears to consult employees, but you know that the employees' say doesn't count for much; it is still dangerous for them to say anything as their words can be used against them in the end. While there can be all sorts of personalities and ideas present in a cooperative workplace, the relationship of the employees to it and their work is fundamentally different. People simply cannot be abused much since their is no owner exploiting them and everyone who works there has an equal status. True, there can be variations in salary levels considering varying education or training and experience levels, and a bonus system can be implemented as an incentive or reward. 


The cooperative workplace has potential to develop a communal environment wherein workers get to know each other, socialize and assist each other with the problems and demands of life even outside work. In fact, there is a societal vision and philosophy around the worker-owned-and-run cooperative enterprise. It is a vision of a cooperative and caring society with a profound democracy. It is a new kind of communism, a society empowering the people at the base without a government functioning as a centralized decision-making order overseeing and commanding the society. Government has a role in providing services and resources and setting regulations and laws. However, it is one with proper representation of the people, not business owners that dominate and drive and bribe the government to do their bidding to make life richer and more comfortable for them alone. No, it would be a government with proportional representation, perhaps with regional and national election candidates coming from councils filled with nominated and elected workers from the cooperatives and other mass organizations.


There is also a vision of new kind of international relations based on cooperation and aimed at avoiding and settling conflicts through negotiations that would not allow war to break out. the United Nations Organizations would have to be rebuilt and refitted to serve these aims.


An model of a cooperative world has been drawn up by the "All things Cooperative" division of "Democracy @ Work". Here is a link to a video about it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-T0XOA5hI0





Life Without Community

Without the communal experiences that common people set up for themselves, life is harder and colder. Without the social and recreational organizations, ceremonial practices, neighbourhoods in action, nonprofit organizations and various associations in which relationships  and support networks, what is there? 


Workers do not have control over their workplaces, so communal experiences cannot be counted on there. Except for recognitions of birthdays, the Christmas party and occasional lunches together, if the they are lucky, employees must perform prescribed tasks on a given schedule and be subject to monitoring. Atmospheres and management styles can vary, but generally employees grab what chance they can to enjoy the coworker relationships but beat it home, happier to escape the confines of oversight and regime in an enterprise directed by others who reap the most rewards. 


School does not always provide relief, either. Private schools are generally business or religious settings run according to a corporate model with its quantifiable assessments and goals. In many countries, public school is an institution regulated and prescribed by government, and are often large. From upper elementary ("middle school" to some) through secondary school, the ambiance cools down and the focus on scores is sobering. After years of neoliberal austerity measures, too, there is nothing much in the budget to provide extra-curricular and cultural experiences. Even if there are student clubs and a student council, the object is career driven, with the ambitious eager to scratch notches on their resumes. Teachers and concerned observers complain how schools, reformed and relaxed somewhat in the 60s, have become like factories. 


At least any school is a place where friendships are made. The local elementary school might be the only locus of communal activity. The degree of communalism depends on the location of the schools. Some school boards that ascribe to a more humanist approach, especially as concerns the youngest of the student populations. Parents are involved. There could be exchanges and special days. Teachers can assess a student's wellbeing, family life and outlook and try to intervene with one sort of support or another. Volunteers from the community could be in the classrooms and hallways. Also, the school can be used for community meetings such as political campaigning and election polling. There may be continuing education classes run in the evenings and on weekends. 


Without much else in the way of community networks and activities, children and parents rely a lot on the school for social nourishment and growth. this could be why it is reported that many youngsters and teens suffered a lot during COVID lockdowns. Most people were cut off from communal experiences and community life. If both parents were absent from the home to earn their livelihoods or very preoccupied earning money from the home, even family life was inadequate. Families with more resources, of course, could manage better. It was the poorest who suffered most.


Without other communal offerings, people hang around shopping malls and parks. They may get to know others who work at or otherwise frequent those places. They may make and meet friends there. However, there is not much in the way program and structure. It's every person for her/himself. 


People who either start associations and get something going or pay membership dues and join some existing thing are much better off. Their lives are richer and more fulfilling. They should support people's associations and organize them to build society in a positive way.

Recreational Clubs

Recreational clubs are communal to one degree or another. I belong to several, as I like casual sports for fitness, culture, interest and social activity. They are all communal in that they are groups that share space to do things together using common resources. 

     For example, my ukulele club meets in a regular club house and plays together following a leading musician. We participants donate a few bucks at each session to support this leader. Members get to the session on his/her own means. We drink and chat together as well. There are no other meetings of this group other than practice/ play times. 

     My hiking club is another example of a common group experience. It is a couple of degrees more communal than the uke club. We have to register, pay a nominal membership fee each year and follow designated hike leaders who plan each hike. There is a publicly accessible website that bears a calendar, information on each scheduled hike,  and reports on past hikes. Our annual fees pay for it and liability insurance, nothing else. There is a car pooling system for transportation to each location of hikes; passengers pay a set amount to the driver to cover fuel each time they are driven to a hike. The trip leader ensures that there are a few photos taken of the location and participants of each hike, which will be posted along with that leader's brief report on the hike. While hiking, we get to know one another. We bring our own lunches, though. There is only one social event each year: the annual barbecue at a favorite lakeside place. Someone lends a barbecue or two and everyone who goes is supposed to bring a little food to share. However, the picnickers bring their own items to barbecue. There is minimal cost to participants and no cost to the club for this event. The province regulates and oversees all organized sports in the province, so this club must follow the provincial regulations and the insurer's stipulations. The city carries information on the club and provides a few gifts to distribute to club members on the day of the annual social.

     The most communal of all the recreational and cultural clubs I belong to is the lawn bowling club. This is a traditional English sport that traditionally serves older people. A whole community thus revolves around the local lawn bowling club. Although the provincial government sets the standards, the city provides a subsidy and the property including the equipment shed and clubhouse. Therefore, city staff clean the washrooms inside the clubhouse and manage the flower beds inside compound regularly. However, members do everything else themselves; it is a member-run organization, with members paying an annual fee to cover insurance, maintenance, outdoor equipment and kitchen and game room supplies. Besides the annual membership fee, we each pay a couple of dollars each time we play a game so that we provide additional funds for snacks, the maintenance of the green and seasonal prizes. Members can drop in any time to present themselves for games on bowling game nights three times a week and one bowling morning session once a week. There are competitions against nearby clubs at least twice a bowling season. The club also runs a croquet evening. There is always social time after games, which volunteers from among the membership organize to set up tables, prepare and serve food and clean up. Volunteers take care of grounds and run the games. In fact, this club is a full-fledged nonprofit society with an executive body. There is one official coach to train members and apply the rules. We follow international rules and techniques established ages ago in England. Though the club keeps some spare equipment, members have to acquire their bowling kits each containing four uniquely marked bowls and paraphernalia. 

      As such a developed tradition, community lawn bowling clubs provide vital opportunities for socializing. Seniors benefit tremendously and enjoy it for the outdoor setting, the company, the mild activity and thrill of the game. Older people can play this despite some physical restrictions and weaknesses as they age. People join as of their late 40s; they typically are people who enjoy sports but who have had some kind of long term injury or ailment, or are just looking for another way to relax outdoors on spare evenings. Many are longtime members who play until they are no longer able at a very advanced age. In fact, club archives with photos are kept and memorial plaques for the most active members are displayed.

      The social schedule of the season offers a lot, from the monthly barbecues to the holiday bowling lunches and the season opening and closing banquets. Participants bring their own lunches to the holiday games and salads and such to share at barbecues, when individuals bring their own items to cook on the grill. The opening and closing events are ticketed meals, but surplus club wealth is used to provide gifts beyond the raffles tickets that are offered at each banquet. 

     The bowling season is only three-and-a-half months long, but the club remains open all year round. There is one card, one darts and one carpet bowling session each week so that members can stay active and engaged with this community. Surplus funds from the summer season provide small snacks. People can buy beverages at each season; a volunteer keeps it stocked up.

    The games organizers keep stats of everyone's performance in all the clubs games, from bowling to darts, so that the persons with the highest scores and most wins can be identified and rewarded a little monetarily from time to time. 

    You can see that the lawn bowling is a full communal experience. It grows a community who do many activities, physical and social, together regularly in a communal space. Lasting friendships form. The membership develops to a more intimate level than other types of recreational clubs. Things are planned to be fair and inclusive.


Humans Helping Humans

I am reflecting on the memorial banquet I just attended. Friends, family and extended family came to share memories and catch up. Now I'm thinking how much such an event is a communal experience. First I consider who and what makes up a family. Then I consider how people rally around someone in need.

In the case of this gathering, close friends and extended family were quite a mix and acquainted in a variety of interesting ways. Of course, there was immediate biological relatives and relatives by marriage. In addition, there were several cases of close friends and family established by volunteer child raising. Here is an example. One man had been in a relationship with a drug addict who continued to help to raise her child well after breaking up with the girlfriend. That child is now a young man who attended the honouring of his quasi-uncle with his wife. Another man brought his biological daughter and grandchildren, as well as a teen-age adopted daughter whom he and his late wife met as foster parents when she was an infant; they looked after that girl for a few years and opted to adopt her after the natural mother, another drug addicted, passed away.             There was a young child at the dinner; she was there under the informal guardianship of her mother's friends, the mother being absent and unable to take care of her. These are all examples of stretching the perimeters of family to

take care of people where there is no obligation by birth or law; people help because they care.

     After the meal and the planned proceedings, informal chat gave rise to a few exchanges about different types of services and individual preferences. One issue is notification of the passing. One person may have a larger or different sort of network than another. How and who to notify? What is the responsibility? I got to thinking that various people well acquainted with the deceased through work or other organized activities and by proximity. If any of them learn of the passing, chances are that someone among them will respond on their own initiative and hold some sort of event to acknowledge it. Take community and leftist social and grassroots political activists, for example. It is normal for fellow activists, perhaps organization leaders or volunteers, to arrange something apart from what the immediate family or close friends do; the activity could be a letter to the family, a public message, a small gathering or a larger service. Work or recreational/ social club mates might react similarly.

     Then I got to thinking that there are a lot of situations of people helping people. Disasters are obvious examples. People will open their doors, provide food and supplies, donate money, etc. On the other hand, there is a lot of talk about how the population will respond to severe economic conditions as stagflation strangles economic life and a deep recession unfolds in the USA and Canada. I hear many expressions of fear. The gun promoters and survivalist convey great fear about their neighbours who they surmise will run rampage thieving and killing to stay alive ,so stocking up on guns, ammo and necessities and preparing to defend themselves or perish is recommended. I, though, believe in human kindness and concern. I think that many able people will organize to take care of each other and try to repair the crisis.

     Think about it. Who runs shelters, kitchens, mobile street services, and outreach and counseling? Who sets up charities and nonprofit or self-help organizations? Average people step forward to work hard finding resources, making public appeals, researching and sharing information, obtaining qualifications, getting funds, and so forth, and they are often volunteers.

COMMUNAL LIVING


Sorry for the lengthy absence. I do not like this blog format and input process, for one thing. For another, I did not have another theme except peace; I cover peace at my Just Peace Committee page on Facebook and my justpeace.blog (Wordpress) as well as in an internal newsletter for the International League of Peoples Struggles (peoplesstruggles.org), which is the Commission 4 publication called "Peace 4 the People". I also write statements for ILPS Commission 4 and Just Peace Committee, internationally and locally, respectively.

     In my activism for peace, we confront imperialism (domination, exploitation and plunder to make astronomical wealth for the few) that is the main source of various forms of violence and oppression. The long term goal is to build an alternative to monopoly capitalist imperialism, which concerned people involved generally call socialism. There are different types of socialism which are mainly state control of land and production and state laws and programs to provide social benefits and protection to the masses. Communist parties have been able to rule and institute vast state socialism through revolution and through electoral campaigns and reforms. We can think of Cuba and Venezuela as examples of one and the other. From the 1930s through the 1970s, US and Europe-based capitalism made compromises to socialize some industry, provide social programs, build infrastructure for working people, and so on. Capitalism's weaknesses, though, could not be avoided: wars, periodic slowdowns, debt and currency crises. The neoliberal approach of the 1980s to 2020 ruined that project by dismantling it and privatizing and deregulating everything. Politically aware intellectuals and working folk are talking about socialism again and decrying "the imperialist system" and all its violence and ills.

     Therefore, I have been thinking about socialism. Capitalism is not working out; it is in total crisis, at least US-based monopoly capitalism is. The crisis is economic (stagflation, approaching recession, debt), social (rising suicide, alienation, displacement, bigotry, disruptive and dysfunctional family life), education (rising illiteracy, lack of supports), health (insufficient public care for all, rising mortality and morbidity, mental health and opioids), unemployment or underemployment, housing (quality and affordability with rising homelessness). I don't have to tell you.

     If more people continue to get politically active and join protests, they can only be effective when they join forces, share info and materials and ideas, collaborate and make demands for change together. All the movements have to come together as one to confront imperialism. It has to have a grassroots, worker and poor people base.

     What alternative and how can we get there? Through collective action and discussion, forms of organization come into being: cooperative enterprises, committees, shelters and workspaces, bartering and sharing arrangements, social and recreational clubs, nonprofit enterprises and charities, popular non-corporate media, art projects, education and skills training programs, worker-owned factories and so on. Oh, you have heard of at least some of these? Yes! They already exist. You probably realise that they are each a product of local struggle. You probably know that they could not be accomplished by a single person, but rather had to be by a collective. When victorious, such endeavours result in people/ worker/ community-run, autonomous collectives that serve the people somehow. The struggle may have required and won state funding and legislation, so that many such collectives are state supported. It is this collective, popular action and organization that interests me, for I see it as the foundation for a whole new society that cares about and operates for and by the people. I envision a governance of representatives from among the communities and collectives that does not own and control projects and enterprises and programs but is designed to facilitate and support them.

     The socialism built in the Soviet Union and elsewhere has largely been systems of state ownership, control and direction of production and community life. I am not knocking what has been achieved. Clearly, the people fought and worked hard for it and benefited from it for a few decades. It is the top-heavy, top-down system that is vulnerable to corruption. Economic critics of capitalism have also reviewed former socialist states and come to accept that, to date, they adopted a capitalist production and distribution model, though wealth and production was not in private hands. State-owned enterprises used the monetary, price and wage system and accumulated wealth, which was to be redistributed into investments in infrastructure, homes, services, culture, and factories aimed at continuous expansion. In other words, they borrowed the capitalist model and changed some of the language. True, there were local committees and trade union and party locals from among whom representatives to the massive regional and state assemblies were regularly and properly elected. However, democracy was at risk and the state vulnerable to corruption as long as the economy and management were centralized. Too much power in too few hands.

     Today, new models of socialism are being discussed. Many prize communal life and governance. I want to think about this approach.

The next steps will be to look at examples of communal life around me. You probably have not held communism high, but that ideal is alive and well around the world as people continue to form and run various types of collectives. You likely belong to one or support one. I will discuss how much each case is "communal".

Communal living is my new thread to be discussed in the next few weeks, if not months. Stay tuned.

Blog

work at home

Posted on May 17, 2020 at 6:03 PM Comments comments (11)
I have been thinking about the perspective of working at home and spending more time at home. For some three centuries, Westerners have gotten used to working mostly outside the home. The distinction between private and public has widened, as a consequence. Even farming has been industrialized and monopolized, so that farm work is often outside of one's home and for someone else. Work has been for somebody else or at least for a business rather than a central activity of the home from an employee or business person's perspective.

This transformation has coincided with the devolution of communities. Aware of the loss of benefits associated with community, some citizens have been making efforts to restore communities or build new ones. This helps local economies, culture, relations and health. 

Of course, the home has remained central for the caregivers, the spouses or hired personnel making the home life and nurturing children, disabled and elders. The roles of caregivers has thus been perceived as in the background of mainstream life and not central to the economy. This, too, has required some reality checking and consciousness-raising.

It is interesting to observe how people recently persuaded or forced to stay at home have received and interpreted the change. Largely, it seems to be have been difficult for many, so difficult their health is in jeopardy. It is a psychologically frustrating and confounding adjustment. Identities have been based so much on the idea of an employee or business person living mostly externally to their home life that people are uncomfortable. 

In tandem with the external work life has been the notion of "going out," socializing and seeking entertainment outside the home. This is hard for the petit-bourgeois and bourgeois mindset who have been used to real or imagined petit-bourgeois or bourgeois budgets. (Actually, acting out the delusion had weighed down many such folks down with huge debt loads before the pandemic.) Either because venues are boarded up or incomes inadequate, this aspect of the lifestyle, with exercise at fitness centers and seminars at institutions and performances at auditoriums, is missed by many of those socio-economic strata. Their identity is apparently bound to such activities. 

For myself, a semi-introverted personality with a set of circumstances causing me lots of time at home while studying, working part-time or being unemployed, remaining at home for much of the time is normal. I have not had much of a budget or desire to do the big shows or fancy programs regularly. Except for all the meetings on the internet by use of the computer, this situation has not been so tough or alienating. 

I wonder how many people feel that way. It seems some may have come to prefer work at home: it must be a financial relief as long as income generating work can be done at home, since the commute adds costs and time. 

13 things to stay positive

Posted on May 12, 2020 at 2:33 PM Comments comments (3)
Good tips for staying positive and on course in life.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SzvtJMrXx0

9:252020-04-06 · 13 THINGS MENTALLY STRONG PEOPLE DON'T DO by Amy Morin 

Bright side

Posted on April 5, 2020 at 6:39 PM Comments comments (153)
I've stayed home almost all the time for a month. I began getting dreary last month, especially because of persistent dark, cold, rainy weather, the kind of which we say most days from October to February. However, I have not been bored, really. 

I have been tutoring a variety of students online, which takes a lot of messaging and prep for each session. Some of my groups have been communicating a lot; we had several meetings over the past two weeks, resulting in the need for more messaging and writing of documents. I've also been taking more phone calls than usual.

Both my mobile phone and laptop showing their age lately, I knew I had to shake it to replace them before they stopped operating altogether. It turned out smoothly. I found a refurbished computer online and it was delivered by post soon after. Today I bought a phone and it is functioning well after a quick switch of SIM cards and a few steps for set-up. I feel accomplished at the success of these purchases and reboots, especially since I have never bought a gadget without getting tech service at the place of purchase. System changes and start-ups seem to be simplified nowadays.

On Thursday, I handled three hours total of teaching and phone calls with an employer, then prepared for and opened up an online meeting. We talked for 90 minutes. 

The weekend is no different in terms of time and energy spent at chores, communications and maintenance. It was necessary to send out some documents I had initiated, discussed and written a few days prior. Although a morning tutoring session was canceled, I had one to give in the early afternoon. Everything seemed to happen at once, during that 1.5-hour tutorial. The computer arrived. I received work-related text messages and phone calls. A parent arrived with a pay-cheque. After the tutorial, I went to deposit the cheque and run a couple of other errands. Queues stretched for about a half a block outside the food stores and bank. People appeared frightened and tense. Medical clinic staff refused my offer of precious N95 masks, which I had been keeping for emergencies at home.

Wanting to hear the latest about the COVID-19 pandemic, I tune into the state briefings and media questioning each morning. However, all the repetitive information and questions, plus all the speculation and alarm, make me feel stressed. I have been turning off these broadcasts earlier and earlier after no further new information is announced.  I can only take so much.

I resigned myself to another food run on Saturday, but vowed to  hike to the supermarket  during "seniors time" early in the day, when there is no line-up and plenty of stock can be found on the shelves. Mission accomplished there, I returned home to push through a load of laundry. Then it was time to turn on the new computer and, fingers crossed, activate it and the servers and other apps I most frequently use. It took nearly three hours, but went remarkably smoothly. I am using the new laptop at this moment; it is faster and more convenient than my older one, and it does not over heat like the older one.

Finally I got a chance to relax yesterday afternoon. Avoiding the news programs, I sought documentaries on Youtube. Subsequently, as dinner was heating up, I searched for CBC films. CBC has opened up its "Gem" online streaming channel for use free of charge. I found a gem of a flick, indeed: "The Red Violin", a joint project of Montreal and European film makers with Canadian stars Colm Feore and Sandra Oh among many others, as well as Samuel L. Jackson in a surprising role, and multilingual European actors of whom I have know nothing before. I recommend this movie. It follows the path of a violin from the circumstances of its creation in the 17th century to its purchase at a monastery for musical orphan boys, from its theft by Romas to its transfer to a famous and eccentric soloist in the 18th century, and from the soloist's butler transport to China where he sold it and a wealth family adopted it, through the Mao revolution and, finally, included in a recovery of old, European instruments in China and transported to an auction house in Montreal. The intriguing diversion was most welcome. I felt quite relaxed after viewing it.

I chose today, Sunday, to go for a lengthier bike ride. The weather turned fair and the rich boughs of cherry blossoms beckoned. I set out after breakfast. That's when I collected the N95 masks from a cupboard and slipped them into a backpack to give to a local nursing home. I also planned to shop for a new phone, without intending to make a purchase on this day. The intensive care nursing home and hospice lie on the other side of a school and park, an easy distance from my place. I rang the bell at the door and held out the bag with the box of masks using long tongs. The person who opened the door was very glad to get them. 

At the big box "drug" store, I locked up my bike to a fence, wrapped my face in a silk scarf, and joined the queue inside the mall. I quickly spotted the Britta tap filter cartridges and picked up a couple of food items, then made my way to the electronics department. Gazing around at the fare on display, I did not think I would buy anything today. Despite my reticence at making an immediate purchase, the sight of a friendly service rep eased my trepidation enough to permit me to inquire about the phones on hand. The helpful staff assured me that switching phones would be relatively easy, without necessitating a trip to the phone network service provider; all I'd have to do was put my old SIM card into the new gadget. While I talked to the engaging fellow, a younger staff member dug around and came up with a lowish-priced model of a reliable make. I bought it.

It took under an hour to glance at the manual, plug in the new device, and install the old SIM card. (Gosh! I almost pried open the wrong slot. I started to excavate the on switch but stopped in the nick of time when I realized it was not a card port!) I have made one call and received one call; it is working fine.

The next task was getting back to this blog. I have been receiving many requests to keep writing. Thanks for all your positive comments and encouragement.

When I opened up this blog page, I had envisioned sharing some insights about the significance of this health crisis but got into an account of my last few days in "isolation." I will follow that with some observations and reflections of the crisis next time.

art and mental health

Posted on November 20, 2019 at 6:17 PM Comments comments (4)
So glad I am able to post daily here. My posts were blocked for several months, probably because of some sort of hacking/ cyber-intrusion.

Topic today: art and mental health

I recently visited my former university campus to run an errand there. The visit prompted some reminiscing. One memory that comes up from time to time is my decision not to become an English major. Considering that creative writing and literature feeds mostly off emotions, I was a bit afraid of going in that direction when I was around 20. Coming from a family with some history of mental illness and guarding against becoming a victim of mental illness myself, I wanted to protect myself. Also, the stereotype of the writer or professor in deep, agonizing pain and becoming depressed or alcoholic accompanied the vision of a career in English literature. I did not want to get caught in the vortex.

It is a fact that I later encountered alcoholics and mentally unbalanced instructors and graduate students of the English department at that university in the flesh. I had returned for further study but had opted for social sciences. Employed in our TA and sessional instructor's union addressing cases of employee disputes with the university administration during that period as a grad student, I was struck by the reality that a number of my cases concerned several teaching staff members of the English department who had gotten into trouble. The context of their conflicts included mental health issues, such as depression and alcoholism. In fact, a co-worker organizing for this union who was a student and TA in the English department turned out to be alcoholic. The signs of his malady became obvious after sharing an office with him for a few months.

I still keep asking myself what the relationship is between the immersion in English literary studies, often combined with a budding career in creative writing, and the condition of an addiction or other mental health disorder. That the work in this field does involve exploring emotions and, usually, problems of humanity, often delving into tragic moments of history or family life. Many literature students and authors adopt the method of introspection. Perhaps that approach and the condition of digging through the effects and implications of tragedy puts one at risk of falling into melancholy.

Which comes first? Does the condition of mental illness including addiction tend to draw arts and humanities students into literature? Does the immersion in literature cause melancholy? Is it the institutional process and culture that makes people sick? 

Perhaps some people think that the authentic artist must be sad in the first place. It would seem to be considered a prerequisite. Many great artists have suffered acute tragic episodes in their own life--experiencing war, disappointment in love, disability, faulty parenting, crime, gender differentiation and such. Some are very well known as big drinkers, from Lowry to Hemingway, Margaret Lawrence to D. H. Laurence. Wolf was mentally ill. Some, but not all. The majority, I wonder? Has anyone done a survey of authors along this vein? 


the Meaning of Life

Posted on November 16, 2019 at 6:03 PM Comments comments (20)
I am reading a little book written by Viktor E. Frankl and first published in 1959 (Beacon Press). Small it may be, but it packs a big punch.

Dr. Viktor E. Frankl was living in Austria when Nazi Germany persecuted Jews and conquered some of Europe. He was a Jew who became a psychiatrist after experiencing the horrors of the Auschwitz prison camp. He reflects on people's responses to extreme suffering, exploring his own experience as a case in point. Endeavouring to find something positive in one of the worst kinds of experiences, he contemplates how a person may be able to rise above severe suffering by discovering meaning.

Dr. Frankl had already begun his career by the second World War, developing a concept of a practice he labeled "logotherapy." He possessed the manuscript and research materials at the time of his capture and detention. 

He could have escaped the Jewish "holocaust" by accepting a visa to emigrate, but he did not want to abandon his parents. That is the first lesson he takes. He got caught up in the terror because of a feeling of love and a sense of filial duty. 

Somehow, Dr. Frankl was not chosen to be executed and tossed into the mass graves once he got to the prison camp. He describes how the Nazi officers used to select prisoners for extermination at random much of the time or as a reaction to some gesture, facial demeanor or word displayed by a captive filing by.

The author does not leave the dreadful conditions of the camps to our imagination so we can avoid exposure to the brutally honest details and guess what kind of suffering the survivors endured. To be precise about how he defines harsh suffering and to lay bear the facts, he details the daily life at the camp excruciatingly. The reader must be prepared for this blunt and jolting reality check.

Dr. Frankl, like some of his prison mates, felt grateful for having survived one day, then another, and another, while others found the conditions too difficult to endure. He along with others noticed, with gratitude, that lack of hygienic care such as teeth brushing, and arduous sleeping arrangements in which nine men were crammed together on one mattress to be chewed on by vermin, they coped better than expected.

Another factor this author highlights, one which many writers pass over, I think, is the competition for survival among inmates. Some prisoners chose aggression against their mates as a tactic of survival, so they complied with the Nazi overseers' orders to strike, humiliate and deprive their peers. They were dubbed the "Capos."

I have heard of Jews among the merchant and business classes living in the USA or other countries who ignored the plight of their compatriots or fellow Jews languishing at the bloody hands of the Nazis. Some refused outright to give aid or make efforts to rescue them, not wishing to disturb their comfortable life and prosperity. I believe that history has figured that more non-Jews than Jews were involved in rescuing Jews in Nazi-held or Nazi-ally held territories.

I digress.

Dr. Frankl quotes Nietzsche. This is interesting since many readers have found Nietzsche to hold fascist views on many questions. Anyway, he cites this: "He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how." The typical response to abject suffering is to lose courage and hope, claims Frankl. A person with such a negative outlook gives up and perishes sooner or decides to join in the terror and, vengeful, lash out at people and life.

Observing the responses of the prisoners around him and his own response, Dr. Frankl came up with a definition of meaning. To him, it is the tasks that daily life requires. Seeing what has to be done to exist, the person who adopts this outlook takes on the responsibility of living. By contrast, the apathetic among them believed he could expect nothing, so he would not give anything himself.

Avoiding apathy is not easy in extreme circumstances ill-health and fatigue caused by poor nutrition and lack of sleep, for example, fogs the brain, dulls the senses and retards body motion. Therefore, it is the assertive mentality that can hang on, maintain control and stay active and in touch with the necessity of living that has the best potential.

We can thus see that Frankl is both an existentialist and a materialist. This bases his philosophy in science. Life is less an abstraction than concrete action and sensations of the body, which exists in motion in the context of things around him.








Just Peace-November

Posted on November 17, 2018 at 11:21 PM Comments comments (16)
November begins the reflective year-end time for me. My birthday in mid-December is approaching and soon after that the conclusion of the calendar year. It is a reflective period for me--a time to assess what I have been doing and where I'm heading. I am gearing up to do that and review and reset my goals.

In this part of the world, the weather gets dark, cold and rainy in November. It can be downright gloomy. Like other people, I usually feel blue in November.

The autumn and winter of this region is not like the rainy seasons of the tropics or deserts; rather, heavy rain commences and goes on and on for weeks. Wind storms may rev up during them, too. Also, the day light shrinks. Sunset begins just after four in the afternoon these days, to give you an idea of the darkness. People turn on the lights inside their homes and workplaces during the day.

No wonder the number of deaths and the rate of illness increase in November in the northern hemisphere far above the Tropic of Cancer. Indeed, the season prompts thoughts of death and the dead. Many countries have special ceremonies and traditions to visit graves, remember and honour the ancestors in North America and Europe. There are many articles, radio discussions and TV programs about them. Moreover, we have Hallowe'en, France its Mummers processions and Mexico has the Day of the Dead. It is the time to honour the victims of war and pay homage to soldiers and civilians killed in wars.

One has to brace oneself and get ready to fight off the gloom. One has to be prepared. One has to take vitamin D supplements, schedule exercise and social activities, plan some fine meals so as not to sink into a mire of despair. It's a time when people here start thinking of flying away to somewhere warm and sunny. Several people I know have already begun winter vacationing, actually.

As for me this autumn, the blues came early and they hit me hard. Seriously. By the start of November, I was steeped in sadness. Tears threatened all day long. I was starting to think I should see a doctor about it.

Probably, the recent news of the death of a friend overseas affected me. Also, November is a time when both my parents, in different years, passed away. Perhaps a recent family gathering evoked sadness related to them and other family tragedies. Plus, this Remembrance Day, on the anniversary of the World War One Armistice, was a much bigger deal because it was the 100th anniversary and I was involved in an activity recalling it.

But the dark clouds lifted from my life and light shone through after a couple of weeks. I feel fine now, despite the rains and darkness outside. 

When I think back over the past year, I am amazed at how peaceful I have felt most of the time, despite a couple of big setbacks. I remember moments when I was home and waves of serenity engulfed me. I felt perfectly in tune and content on several occasions. 

It is good to have reached a point in life when many issues have been resolved and a person knows what is going on inside them, who they are and what they want. That in itself is a great accomplishment, I think. 

There are signs that I am on the right path, despite moments of doubt and confusion and times when things do not appear to be working out. Look at my work situation, for instance. Employment teaching has not worked out recently, but I am engaged in some self-employment and I have some income support. One of my income-generating activities is a bit of paid writing. The company contract writers to research and write short assignments for clients. From the lists of jobs I've seen, I have chosen a couple of projects writing about psychology lately. I thus find myself writing about narcissistic mothers and their daughters this week. I have become more conscious of my own mother's symptoms of narcissism and the effects on me while writing this work. It was serendipitous. Interesting that I ended up writing about this topic on the anniversary of her death, November 16! When I realized the connection with my life, I thought it might get me down to be writing on this subject, but it has not. I feel fine and I am able to write about it and reflect on my own experiences calmly. I am at peace with all the stuff around my experience with my mother. 

I feel there is a lesson in this situation. I am supposed to be thinking about these things, perhaps.

I will say more about my progress and begin the year's assessment soon. Stay tuned.

By the way, I have booked my own little sunny holiday for Christmas. Trying to let myself enjoy it. Fending off guilt and second thoughts.


Just Peace -late transformation

Posted on September 3, 2018 at 3:39 PM Comments comments (6)
My brother and his wife were dinner guests at my place last night. We had a nice time. My sister-in-law can get quite negative and be difficult to please but the dinner went well. Actually, her attitude and disposition has changed for the better lately.

They are a little older than I. They have both been officially labeled as mentally disabled for most of their lives, and therefore unemployed and on low income.. It's a shame because they are very sociable and have generally good character. My brother was ambitious and into many things, working hard to save money and accomplish a lot. She was a daycare worker and had a family as a young woman. They both eventually accepted their situations and understood their diseases, but have maintained some bad eating habits and never excerised, so they also endure some physical ailments now. My brother has had diabetes for a long time but he is not careful about his sugar intake and his blood sugar count is often too high sometimes these days. Also, he tends to eat too much.

They both experience intense fear and anxiety every day; is expressed more as outright fear but she has often displayed intense anger when anxious, but she has been improving greatly in recent times. Her demeanour is brighter, anxiety reduced and willingness to engage in life increased. It is a relief to all. 

I think the turning point was a near-death experience about three years ago. A dedicated hypochondriac before, she visited hospitals so frequently that she caught a super-bug, which was very debilitating. She had good reason to get to the emergency ward in that period. She had a close call one week but came out of it. I wonder if she had some opportunity for counseling during that time because she began to turn herself around. Anyway, she evidently reflected a lot and vocalized questions about various causes for mental illness and her life's circumstances. She does not want to hang around hospitals. Feigning or exaggerating illness used to be a way to seek attention; she doesn't seem to need as much attention. I think that, besides better appreciating some vulnerabilities and disadvantages in her early life that were factors, she realizes that her behavior and outlook have been self-defeating. Now it appears that she is regretful she squandered so much potential and time in life before and held herself back.

It is simultaneously wonderful and sad that someone should experience an awakening like that. It's great that she has more energy and will to take life on and is more open to living and trying new activities. It is heartening to see someone growing and feeling better. However, it is sad that she and her husband are so constrained by low income and have little means. Of course, their learning has been hampered by the illness, problematic responses by family and associates and the kind of emotional baggage that accompanies someone with long term disability. The illness still defines them and gets in the way. Both of them, she especially, are more aware of how it gets in the way.

Dependent on a housing subsidy, financial assistance and supportive services, they are trapped in a bureaucracy. There is always tension between their view of themselves and their wishes and those of the state's institutions. Also, they are always reminded that they are lacking something or not as well equipped as most other people apparently are. (The incidence of mental health issues is very high in the US and Canada.) In fact, funding and services for the mentally ill has dwindled over the past two decades.

However, the present regional government has been increasing social funding and raising rates for social benefits, which my brother and his partner have been enjoying. Just a couple of hundred of dollars more each month can make a huge difference to the very poor. 

Also, we can happily report that federal government pension benefit rates have gone up and the calculating of benefits owing has been improved, resulting in a higher monthly disability cheque for my brother. 

It takes strength to face society and get out there for someone in their kind of situation. Fortunately, there are lots of caring people who offer ideas and material support. The family pitches in if they are aware of something lacking that they can supply or something damaged that they can fix. However, they cover up some problems.

Here's an example. Though another sibling had bought them a great new bed they liked, I got the sense that they were not using it. After several months, it finally dawned on me that it was probably too high to climb onto. I surprised them by getting step stools for each side of the bed and now they sleep in it. 

Sometimes their solution to an issue is not really the most practical. For instance, they were not opening the patio sliding glass door because it was loose and they worried that the pet cats would escape through it. They did mention this problem frequently, appealing to the building management and another sibling. No remedy for years. They endured an enclosed, small apartment on the hottest of days, trying to get relief from fans. (The ceiling fan has not been working for a long time, and the management is taking a very lonnngg time to fix or replace it.) Finally, I ordered a local company to custom make a pet-proof screen and it was installed a few weeks ago. BIG RELIEF, of course!

There are magic moments. They are expresions of sensitivity and compassion from concerns people who notice a difficult situation. For example, the screen company never charged me! Without pronouncing that they did not intend to charge me, they simply never got my payment information and never sent my brother a bill. Amazing! It was a job valued at about $270 CD plus tax!




Just Peace - health maintenance

Posted on June 22, 2018 at 9:48 PM Comments comments (3)
Health maintenance is necessary for a person to be an effective and productive citizen. It is necessary to be able to maximize one's potential while alive. It is necessary to take care of oneself well in order to help others, be active in the community and contribute to society.

I see comrades, family members, co-workers and friends who ignore common knowledge about health and nutrition and let their bodies deteriorate. I shake my head. Most people are aware that fresh fruit and vegetables are healthier than processed foods and that exercize optimizes the body's ability to fend off disease and run well for them. I know these are habits rooted in culture and culture defies logic, but there is a lot of education on this topic and people have choices.

I don't tell these people in my life what I think they should do. I just share what I am doing and hope that presenting myself as an example will have some influence.

Everyone is vulnerable to health problems. It does take time, money and effort to keep up good health practices. Slacking off is easy to do. 

I know I was not getting the all-round exercise that I should have and could have gotten last year. Given that situation and the fact that I qualify as a senior citizen now, several symptoms of aging caught up to me last fall: inflamed and sore joints, hemorrhoids, increased susceptibility to minor infections and chills, weight gain, defective balance, dehydration, muscle cramps... I was most worried about my knee, which was collecting fluid, swelling and being sore frequently. I faced the possibility of having mobility issues in the near future.

After reviewing x-rays of my knees, the doctor had positive news: she said exercise was the solution to reduce the knee aggravation and generally sore joints. I made an appointment with a physical trainer immediately after leaving the doctor's office. I am now seeing a trainer twice a week and going to the gym four times a week. He first made an assessment, something the doctor did not do, I might add; verdict? --weight a bit high, bp a little high and dehydration, potassium deficiency but body fat proportionately okay. We started on the arms, then moved into steps and leg raises and are now doing steps together with weighted arm raises. I also do 15 minutes on the stationary cycling machine. After eight sessions, my joints hurt less, my muscles don't cramp so much, and I am basically stronger. 

The regime includes adjustments to my diet: I drink coconut water for the potassium and electrolytes; I eat bananas for the energy and potassium; I drink less coffee and black tea but more plain water; I drink diluted fruit vinegar, which deters the hemorrhoids and little infections. 

A prescribed nasal spray has been effective, and I thank the doctor for that. I have no more headaches and there is much less congestion.

Regarding my health, in sum my outlook is much brighter now. I feel more confident about my body. I have regained some energy. I am able to lead a busy and productive life as a peace and social justice activist, a teacher, a woman, a family member and a community member.



Transitions-reactivating

Posted on November 23, 2017 at 11:31 PM Comments comments (6)
I'm trying to get a little more physically and mentally active again. I fell into a lull as summer and summer employment ended, which resulted in a short period of lethargy and consequential weight gain. Now I am doing a bit of exercise again and walking more.

I have always been mindful of getting exercise, but effusion of the knee (water knee) started happening last summer while I was still hiking, paddling and cycling. Not that it has been painful, but it is a precursor to arthritis, which I do not wish to encourage. Therefore, I slowed down, quitting the paddling by October when the team was planning one more competition. Now I can walk short walks for 20 to 30 minutes throughout the week without problematic symptoms.

Seasons changed, getting into a frame of mind to be satisfied with life indoors, especially writing. (I even started a book project.) Without as many hours of work, which reduced the income as well as the motion, I am afraid I was becoming a couch potato--until my clothes got a little too tight for comfort and I saw unflattering pictures of myself and my flabby middle. So its back to watching the diet and getting myself moving.

I am working regularly again, up to 28 hours. The work entails more use of transit, which has gotten me walking at least to and from bus stops. Motivated to speed things up and cut weight down, I am deliberately taking more inconvenient routes that require more walking, and I sometimes even get on and off the bus a few more blocks farther from my place. In fact, I have walked the 25-minute trek from the LRT station up the ridge to my place instead of taking a connecting bus, even in the rain. 

I wasn't eating a lot in terms of volume, but things like cheese and peanut butter had worked their way into my routine, and I was permitting myself to have a little chocolate and fast-food with fries a couple of times a week. I don't know about others, but that kind of stuff clings to my waistline in no time. I do have a slower than usual metabolism, as I am affected by hypothyroidism, and I probably have an efficient system anyway.

 (I must remember to take the pill for the hypothyroidism right away in the morning, before I eat anything. I often take it after I've started eating, which means the medication gets swept through my system faster and less of the hormone is absorbed. That practice keeps my body rate down below normal.)

Other than picking up the physical pace, I am also fighting against the habit of sitting down to the TV or computer immediately after dinner. I find little tasks to do. I try to find little errands to run after work to keep me busier, too. For example, I head to a library or store, or get cash and add value to my bus card, even when those tasks could be done more efficiently at another place and time because I want to be active both mentally and physically. I am planning a birthday gathering and a New Year's Eve's Eve open house.

Well, I was coordinating the event to mark the anniversary of the October Revolution, a project comrades of the ILPS committee I am a member of, which did get me out postering and leafleting before the day of the event on Nov. 10. (The event well, and I enjoyed the sudden absence of activity once it finished for a day-and-a-half.) 

We had a break from the usual work day today because a pro video crew was present in order to film a commercial to promote the school. The manager told us teachers to expect a crew to be around and enter our classrooms. Maybe he didn't know what was being hatched up. The crew had personnel and some recruited university students act out scenes to tell the typical story of how an student at an institute lacks confidence in the beginning, then winds up getting accepted into an ivy league university. Ha-ha! The usual fantasy that these kind of outfits run by Chinese or Koreans want to spread. But it was a fun day. They singled me out to do a lot of scenes, telling me I was the star teacher. Hey--there are only two of us, and the other is kind of introverted who does not wear what is normally called "professional dress." So they are selling my image all over. I signed the release form without protest because it is in my interest to do a good job and contribute to the efforts to promote the school so that it successfuly recruits more students and secures me a job for the long term. I just decided to go with the flow and play along.

The prospect of developing arthritis is a bummer. Just when I was getting motivated to do some craft and cooking projects like quilt work, seasonal fruit cakes and painting. (I created some crafts for the above event.) Actually, I find my thumb joints are occasionally sore, so I have avoided some keyboard use or produce chopping somewhat. It comes and goes. My brother recommended glucosomine. He surprised me the other day during a phone conversation when he told me he has been taking it for 15 years because he was experiencing painful arthritis in the hands back then. Says he's fine nowadays. I will buy glucosomine this weekend. I hope to stave off this hound for a few years. 


Transitions - optimism rising

Posted on November 16, 2017 at 11:54 PM Comments comments (4)
Despite the gloom and rain of November in Vancouver, a time when Canada sees its highest number of deaths, I am once again feeling my optimism rise as my birthday (mid-December) approaches. It can feel sad in November when we remember the dead, and some of my relatives, friends and colleagues including my parents have passed during November. Nevertheless, my energy is on the rise.

As I said at the start of this blog, while I was introducing my blog project called "A Year of Living Positively" in December, 2013, the year's end is a natural time for reflection and planning. I am already getting excited about the prospects of my 62nd year in this world.

Good things continue to happen for me in my universe this year. After returning from a decade of teaching in January, I have carried through with my plan of resettlement. I have been transitioning well from life abroad to a resettled Canadian in British Columbia. Lately, I finally secured more regular work in teaching English.

My new work schedule entails 24 hours of work with 10 hours of class time. It is in a new English Academic Preparation program with prospective university students from China. It is just getting under way, so there is only one other teacher for the handful of students we have so far.

I still hang on to one shift at the children's after school academy. That gives me at least 27 hours of paid work a week. What do you know! It is a livable income (though barely). 

Actually, it seems the academy was surprised when I notified them I would only be available for the one shift. I was working only two shifts, though, so I don't know what they were thinking. They suddenly realised what an asset I am to their operation, so they offered me a guarantee of 4 shifts weekly and begged me not to reduce my time with them. Four shifts there would be between 12 and 16 hours a week, far below a livable income. In fact, I resent this offer after having endured the hardship of working only 2 shifts a week as my sole employment for the past two months, although it turns out they could have had me working more hours. They knew it was my only job for that period! I do not want to show my discontent, though, because this job would be a life-line should the new gig not work out.

We, my co-worker and I at the EAP program, were giving things a try before the offer came through. I got a mere text message confirming the offer after attending a meeting last Monday. The boss said there would be a contract with temporary conditions spelled out for a three-month period and he said he was consulting a lawyer about details, but I have not seen any contract. I am a little leary if nothing is in writing. I know they'll start paying us by around the end of November, but would prefer a probationary three-month deal. In his message, the boss stated the starting pay rate I agreed to, but said a review and salary adjustment would happen after a year. Hmmm I took a cut in the hourly rate I am used to because it is a new business, and because I thought I was being hired for a trial period.

I am still grateful because I am paid for a lot of non-teaching time, including the lunch break, for now. I also know the advantages of being the first hired--more potential for a leadership role down the road. The manager is interviewing a lot of prospective students, but we don't know how many will sign up. On the other hand, this easy schedule could change drastically soon, before we have established a bank of materials and lesson plans. We are creating materials and developing a process at this stage. That is another thing: it is an interesting time to enter a job. I enjoy working downtown in a more professional role, to boot. The favourable conditions outweigh the less favourable.

With employment stabilizing, I can get into more socializing. My life has been pretty constrained with a net income of about $600 a month for the past 8 weeks, a period in which I had to dip into my savings a little to cover the bills. I finally have a hair appointment and a couple of dinners scheduled. In truth, I went to a couple of bars recently to celebrate and let myself feel some relief at having a decent offer. I drank whisky! (only a few ounces)