Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Until I Can Exert My Will Telepathically, This Will Have to Do

I remember having a sense of dread on the night Barack Obama was first elected in 2008. I saw all the people in Chicago celebrating and weeping as they watch Mr. Obama take to the podium and give a hope filled speech about what America could be. The dread was not because I believed that Obama was dooming America to a reign of terror for the next four years. In fact, Barack Obama was precisely the guy I wanted to take office. It would be a refreshing change from the previous eight years of a president that had profoundly disappointed me.

What I dreaded was not that Obama would be a bad president. It was that people expected him to be a perfect president. People had such high hopes in him that it was going to be impossible to fulfill it all. The president is only one piece of the American political machine. It's just as ridiculous to believe that Washington would all fall in line with Obama's hopes as it is ridiculous that every problem in America is because of Obama. I believe that for the most part, Obama has been a really good president. He's made decisions that haven't been the greatest, yes, but I admire the his push to bring about universal health care which I believe should be one of the least things that a Christian nation should have.

However, I knew on that election night how democracy works. Change happens slowly and often too slowly and the reason to blame always comes down to the guy trying to make the change. If Obama's vision of America would come true, I would be on board, but it won't happen.

I don't believe that government and laws really do much. Thinking that the world will right itself under the right leader or with the right law change and getting caught up in that too much is a waste of time frankly.

Right now in Manitoba, a bill is being presented that addresses the issue of bullying. It seeks to protect children from bullying and mandate that schools should allow for gay-straight alliances in the school. From my reading, it's not that they have to have it, but rather if people want to put together one in a school, the school has to allow it. This has caused a bit of a backlash in some conservative circles that fear that this is a step in taking away the authority of Christian schools. They claim the bill is too vague and that it could be used to attack religious schools. Some towns have rejected the bill and it has rallied the conservative Christians. In reaction to that, proponents of the bill have gone to defend the bill and has accused the opponents of being bigoted.

My perspective on the whole thing is that regardless of whether the bill gets passed or not, it won't really change anything. At best, it highlights the ongoing discussion of homosexuality and the progression of society towards being accepting of the GLBT community. However, there are many things in life that just because it's some rule, doesn't mean you should just turn off your thinking and go along with it blindly. Rather, it is important to know why or why not you do things you choose to do.

I was talking with someone at a church and they were lamenting that their church was no longer supporting the choir. She genuinely wished that the choir would still get together and have a place in her church. I felt for her and I know some people would love it, too. However, is it the church leadership's responsibility to make sure there is a choir? If you wish to have a choir, then why don't you start rallying people to get a choir together? If other people share the love of choir, then you can get together, practice and make a night of it. If others don't share it, then try and convince them to see the benefits. If it works out, great. Maybe you can make it a regular thing. My point is that I believe that many things you wish to see just need to go out and be done.

Whenever I wanted to do a comedy show, I asked the church to use their building and I did one. When I wanted to do a "24 day", I planned, recruited and did it. That's been my general philosophy. Don't expect to be helped and if you are helped, then be grateful for it. If the church did not want me to do one, then you look for a different venue. You determine how much a given action means to you.

If you will excuse the clumsy "stuck on an island" scenario: Let's say I was stranded on an island with the person I loved and it seemed like we may never leave and I knew this is the person I would marry. We then decide to exchange vows in front of the survivors (or failing that, various sporting equipment that happened to be on the plane that we've painted faces onto). Are we married or not? No government recognizes it. We've decided to stick by each other's side forever, but I don't have legal documents. Is it a "pretend" marriage?

Admittedly, once we get back to the mainland, we may want a "real" ceremony when we get back, but why? Isn't it so that our loved ones can join in the celebration? However, that "real" ceremony will not change the minds of the family on whether they support you as a couple or not. When things are "official" it doesn't really affect people's hearts in accepting it.

I may make it seem like I'm just ignorantly sweeping away the political process out of the way and that I don't want to participate in society. That's not what I'm saying, I'm saying that legislation and rules are not the things that change the hearts and minds of people and ultimately culture. If you force people to go to church every Sunday and make them declare that Jesus is Lord, that doesn't mean there is any change in those people. That is the kind of approach that the Roman Empire had and it didn't work. It was the Christians who didn't depend on legislation being in their favour and rather focused on living like Christians that led to a cultural impact.

It's nice when the law of the land is always in your favour, but that doesn't matter that much. If you believe that there should be gay-straight alliances allowed in schools, why are you waiting for the government to give you the go ahead? You may say, "But my school won't let me." How? How are they preventing you? Are they coming in a disrupting the meetings? Are people coming around to beat you up there? Are they tearing down the posters? Are they calling you names? It sucks, but do you really think the attitudes will change once you have the law on your side? They will still continue to berate you and belittle you. And if it's truly the cultural change you wish to see, you will continue to take it on the chin.

If you think that I unsympathetic to your cause, it's not that, but rather that is the reality of cultural change. It's the persecution that the Christians faced for a long time before it became accepted. It was (and still is in some places) the persecution that black people face in America as they fought (and still fight) for equality. One of the best examples of this comes from this kid who would be affected by Bill 18. What I appreciate is that he initially started without the aid of the schools. He just did it. He's facing the consequences and it would suck to be in his position, but it's an approach like that that ultimately works. Legislation will not be the answer.

For those on the flip side of the argument, do you think rules are going to change anything? If you are opposed to what this bill because you believe that it will force the hand of the school, do you think that your Christian school is going to bring about the change you want to see from your fortress?

Cultural change has to start in the hearts and minds of folk and has little to do with government. I think one of the reasons that protesting to get the laws changed or not changed is because it is hands off. Yeah, protests might get you arrested or banged up or ridiculed, but it's also at a distance and you become a hero in your own camp, but it changes no minds. To see change in people it requires for us to have relationships with people. It requires for us to continue to be near people that maybe we disagree with.

The hard thing about changing the minds of folk in this day is that it's easier to find people who think like us and to block out the other side (except in anonymous pot shots across the internet where the enemy is a carefully chosen avatar of a sports team or movie character). When the person is summed up as faint-hearted liberal or fear-mongering conservative, then it is easy to dismiss their point of view, even if their journey to that point might be more nuanced that we'd like to believe.

Relationships demand for us to be present. Relationships require us to see each other as whole people. One of the reasons that racism is such a hard obstacle for society to get over is because for some individuals, they've never known a person of another race beyond his or her occupation. They see other races from an arm's length to keep them from attempting to understand what it's like to be the other race. If all people know of me as a Christian, they fill in all sorts of blanks without getting to know that perhaps I'm a little more complicated than that.

Fighting for or against laws and rules does have a place, but in the midst of it all, remember that it's really a tiny part. The hard part is in the actual living it out. The hard part is remembering that other side are human, too. The hard part is relationships and it's the only way anything will change.

"Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'."
- Title track from Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are a-Changin'"

Saturday, March 16, 2013

I Am Myself Like You Somehow

Today is a the day that marks the moment where I have spent half my life with my dad and half my life without him. I figured I should write something in regards to it.

A month ago, Kyla and I went out to Manitoba and we visited a few people, but the main reason we went was so I could visit dad's gravesite. That was the true reason for the trip. I'm a proponent of the act of remembering and it's importance. If you don't take time to remember, you may forget what good things you have or had. You may repeat history that shouldn't be because you did not remember it. I believe it can help you stay humble and grateful.

You should stay in the present and not dwell in the past, but I believe you can find wisdom for your present situation in the past. Remembering the past is a part of reflection that can help refine us as long as we don't let our past define us. I did not intend to rhyme there.

However, when I finally got to the cemetery and stood in front of the simple Canadian military gravestone in foot deep snow, I couldn't remember. I couldn't recall what dad was like. I haven't been able to recall his voice for years. The image in my head of him is one of a quickly fading photograph. Quick glimpses. I can't recall his words to me, only ideas.

I was thinking about how he died as I was in grade 9 and how he would have been my source for advice for after the silliness of high school would be passed. I know there were things we could have talked about but didn't because I wasn't old enough to care or understand.

It feels like a treasure chest I had and then it fell overboard and is now lost to the sea.

That's all I could reflect on there. We left there and as we left, I couldn't help but feel like it was fleeting. It didn't feel like much. It is simply too long ago. The hurt is now not so much of the grief of the loss of his life, but the grief of the loss of my memory of him.

I don't want to forget him, but I am.

Recently, two youths I know have lost their dad. I didn't know how to reach out to them, to be truly honest. I remember when dad passed, a man from the church told me about how his dad died when he was young and although we were connected in that regard, it didn't necessarily help. I found a lot of the words said by people, Bible verses quoted by people, to be medication for the symptoms. 

In the end, the best way to deal with the grief, is to not avoid it. The one thing that the guys in the story of Job did right was to sit with Job in mourning. Their misstep is when they tried to solve it when he didn't ask them to. It will pass. In the meantime, remember them and learn from them.

I've thought about the idea of "Honouring your father and your mother." One of the Ten Commandments that is frequently taken to mean, obey your parents or the wrath of God will be on your head. It's weird, because those are two different thoughts. If a parent is abusive or neglectful, it would be weird to demand that we demand that children be dominated by that.

Honestly, I think the best way to honour anyone, would be by learning from them. Learn from the good things they've done and the mistakes they've made and perhaps more importantly, why. Understand that your parents are people who are trying to take what they've been given and trying to figure out what to do with it. Some do it well and some do it terribly. If your dad was abusive, the way you can honour him is by trying to understand why he was. Was he abused when he was young and so the language taught to him was one of violence? Have you picked up the same kind of language yourself that you need to be aware of or address? The cycle of abuse I believe can be due in part to idea that people think that they think they won't be like their parents, but because it was the only way they know how to deal with things, then the only answer available is the one that was taught to them.

I know the one thing that stuck out for me about my dad was his perseverance. He worked hard even when it was difficult or was thankless. He never complained and did what needed to be done. Why did he do it? I think it was because he found motivation inside himself. He didn't need to be pushed to do something, but rather he intrinsically knew that if he didn't do it, no one would and so he would do it. I find that many people will look for any excuse to get out of doing things, but when I think of who my dad was, it's his character that pushes me to step forward.

Regardless of whether your parents were fantastic or terrible, the best thing for us is to honour them. Honouring them, requires us to remember them and learn from them.

I think what makes this whole thing difficult for me is that I haven't taken time to reflect in general, recently. Time is dwindling away now that I'm working full time and doing comedy part time and so when the break in the whirlwind comes and I have that moment in front of the grave, all I can hear is the noise of the wind that's coming.

That's why I tried to write this today. To stop and remember to slow down to reflect on where I am every once in a while and be grateful for the good things in my life and see where I'm going. I'm sorry, if this was a little scattered, but my thoughts on this tend to scatter.

"I see the world
Feel the chill
Which way to go
I see the words
On a rocking horse of time
I see the birds in the rain
Oh, dear dad
Can you see me now?
I am myself
Like you somehow
I'll ride the wave
Where it take me
I'll hold the pain
Release me"
- "Release" from the Pearl Jam album "Ten"

Friday, February 08, 2013

Why There Aren't Many Good Martian Comedians

I've been trying my hand at stand up comedy for the last few months and one thing that stood out to me is that I have yet to see too many good Martian comedians on the Edmonton scene. You know, a comedian with a different perspective and approach to life in the old Milky Way galaxy and at the same time make me laugh. I look at the comedians around me and I think, "Man, us Earthlings really outnumber Martians." To be fair, maybe more of them are Martian, but sometimes it's hard to tell. The lighting, their choice of clothes and some are really good at hiding their methane-filtering blowhole. If you find that offensive, look it up. That's what is called.

I sometimes hear the complaints that there should be more Martian comedians and that comedy is an "earthlings' club" and thus make it sound like that I, as a oxygen-breathing bi-pod, am somehow a part of the problem of denying Martians their shot at comedy. Thus I am contributing to denying human culture of some sort of sitcom that follows the day-to-day of a Martian clanpod as they deal with wacky situations that will get wackier (but not because of their Martianish) and then resolve in a feel-good lesson about life. Possible names for the show: "Martians with Children" or "The Robin Williams Show")

I mean, it makes sense to me that should be more Martian comedians in Edmonton. There are a lot of Martians out there and it seems logical that the folks who have discovered the secret to interplanetary travel and dryer sheets should have the capability to be funny. However, the handful of times I've seen an amateur Martian perform on stage, it has been lacklustre to say the least.

They have tended to go towards the cliched "Earthlings always eat their food like this/Martians always latch their tendrils into the skulls of their prey like this" jokes or talk about their plasma metamorphosis rituals. It is aggravating because I want the Martian to be funny, but they go for the hack (or shortcut) joke. For some of my fellow humanoid comedians, this is an indication that Martians are not funny or and the ones who are more widely regarded funny (such as Gorblarch C.K. or Demetri Martian) are the exceptions. Unfortunately, this is what ticks off the crowd who believe that Martians are very much funny and the whole thing turns ridiculous on both sides when there doesn't need to be sides.

I believe that the reason that there are few good Martian comedians is simply that they're a minority and being a minority in a given situation makes the task tougher. Look, the bulk of Martian comedians suck. There is a 90% chance that you go and watch a rookie Martian comedian, they'll be nervous and use weak  jokes and can't engage the audience. However, you need to remember that the bulk Earthling comedians suck too. I've seen so many Earthlings use terrible hack jokes too. I've heard so many "Isn't it weird how we breath oxygen with our mouths" jokes or jokes that always relate to the size of their nasal cavities. Unfortunately, Earthlings are such petty creatures that we will be more okay with our cliched jokes and yet roll our vision orbs at the Martians.

One reason why there aren't more great Martian comedians is that there aren't a lot of Martians even trying to do comedy. The shear vast number of Earthlings trying comedy means that statistically it makes sense that there are more well-known and talented humanoid comedians than those with glowing thoraxes even though the bulk of them stink all the way to Mercury.

Regardless of what gas you intake for life, what makes a comedian great is how they can connect with their audience and bring their personal experience to others in an engaging way. But that's bloody difficult and takes time. How do you get there? I'm still figuring it out and perhaps I never will.

The bigger problem for the Martian is not that they lack the ability to be as funny as the Earthling, but rather it can be difficult when there aren't others that empathize with you. If you're the only one of your kind doing comedy, it can seem daunting. It can seem like the others are keeping you out. Reality is that most of the comedians are not trying to exclude anybody. They just want to get their slice of the laughter pie (which is something like a flougaboo for my Martian readers but with laughs instead of crystallized argon). Most comics, whatever their stripe or carapace shape, will be excluded.

So how do we get more good Martian comedians? The same as how we get good Earthling comedians. They have got to keep going up and work on it and refine and fail and keep trying. We can't just move up Martian comedians due to them being Martian. They, just like every other comedian will have to overcome the barrier between them and the audience. Some audience that can be easier than others and hopefully you can overcome that. However, to blame other comedians or even the audiences for your inability to succeed in getting them to laugh is not going to make you a better comic. Comedy is one form of entertainment with a pure response. You as the performer, know if the audience finds it funny, thought-provoking, boring, silly or understandable. Did they laugh? Smile? If not, then they didn't find it funny.

A Martian comedian will have to be a pioneer. A pioneer in the sense that it may feel like they're the only one. Which, I think that's what every comic kind of feels like anyway. If one wants to be a minority, then they will continue to see themselves as one. Instead of lowering the standards of Martian comedians, I would encourage the Martian comedian to push hard to not be the best Martian comedian they can be, but the best comedian they can be and know that they will essentially be doing it on their own.

If you're not a comedian, then I encourage you to give the comedian on stage a chance to do his thing regardless of the amount of similarity to you. You don't have to bend your tastes just to say you like them. In fact you owe it to them to give them a fair shot one way or the other. If you don't think that the Martian on stage is funny, then let that be the reason, not your prejudice against their unfamiliar exoskeleton.

You know why I have a hard time writing this. Because I'm an Earthling. I'm the majority. The world has given me all these advantages that I didn't ask for. Some say I can't fully understand the plight of the minority. Maybe they're right. Maybe I should just be quiet.

Or maybe, just like the comics who have to be funny in order to be called funny, maybe my insight can be judged by the content of what I'm saying. Isn't that what every carbon-based being deserves?

"You're a zero
What's your name?
No one's gonna ask you
Try and hit the spot, get to know it in the dark
Get to know it whether you're crying, crying, crying, oh, oh
Can you climb, climb, climb higher?"
- "Zero" from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs album "It's a Blitz"