Rita Hartley

/Rita Hartley

About Rita Hartley

Rita Hartley is an author living in London, Ontario Canada. Read the About page on her website for her full biography.

Physically Distant, Socially Close

Transient hearts fly home, stay
Love from a distance today
Embrace freedom of the mind
Find joy there! A timeless kind

“Embrace freedom of the mind”?! “Find joy there!”? In my mind right now? A timeless kind of chatter that sounds exactly like breaking news.

And I wrote that quatrain! The first two lines are an ongoing duty. We must stay home! The last two lines? A desirable goal, seemingly unattainable at the moment.

I’ve been doing my Headspace mediation daily, bearing witness to zipping thoughts as I try to count breaths, glued to my chair for fifteen minutes or so, till Andy Puddicombe finally releases me, in his lovely English accent: “And you may open your eyes again.” Phew! And I pick up my phone to scroll newsfeeds, or check the TSX (up today), or catch a daily presser – Trudeau, the US President*, or if I’m lucky, my favourite, the Pacino-like, no nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is-with-facts governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo. Despite monumental challenges – the most coronavirus cases and deaths in the US, questionable help from the feds, various medical supply shortages (equipment, beds, etc) – he’s doing a good job, huh?

I’ve been working out most mornings too, doing Jazzercise in front of a full-length mirror in my bedroom, making sure not to knock over the plant on the shelf beside me with my arm, or kick the bed on one side, or the wall on the other. I had this grand idea of doing a junior Jazzercise set with my three grandkids – 7, 6 and 3 years old – daily, over FaceTime on my computer, but the camera is small, the connection dodgy, and well, it just didn’t work. Instead, I’ve been doing that set with my sister-in-law (we ignore the tiny images, dodgy connection) in exchange for art lessons, prodding my troubled brain to expand, learn something new.

But then this happened late last week. My daughter, Randelle, texted from her home in BC: “Hey fam, we think I have influenza. My entire body aches, headache, chills, sore throat. I can’t smell or taste anything.” Nooo! I was responding when my sister, who looks after WSIB claims for a food services and support company, called, sounding upset. She was up until midnight the night before working on employee layoffs. My husband B, who works in venue management, was upset too, also working on employee layoffs.

My background is construction; layoffs were part of the landscape. Fortunately, these layoffs are temporary and the government stimulus package goes a long way toward softening the financial blow.

As real as it might be, though, I rejected the notion of putting my daughter and coronavirus together. (I feel a mild headache coming on these days? I’ve got IT, a severe case, and I’m gasping for breath.) The fatal reports I’ve read are jarring: a 16-year-old girl in France who “just had a cough”, a 25-year-old pharmacy tech in LA with no underlying conditions, over 50 doctors in Italy.

Randelle and her fiancé had just made the sad decision to cancel their June wedding due to the pandemic. Please, I prayed, if she has IT, let it be the mild version.

One saving grace? B and I had started a 1500-piece jigsaw puzzle on the kitchen island and every time we walked by, we worked on it. An addictive and meditative distraction for a disturbing week.

Have you been able to figure out what’s going on with testing? CBC News tells me Canada has tested 221,000 and the US over one million. It seems we’re doing barely enough, and I keep hearing through medical channels that Ontario doesn’t have a good supply. Perhaps BC doesn’t either, because Randelle was not tested, despite her symptoms. Thankfully, she rallied by the weekend and was back up and about.

The experts, Bill Gates included (there’s a good new TED Talk interview on YouTube with him you should check out), say that to get our countries back on track at this point, now that the “horse is out of the barn”, we need to continue with physical distancing, while also ramping up testing so as to get a better handle on where IT is, contact tracing, etc. While Gates is truthful and knowledgeable about our current situation, he remains optimistic about our future abilities to handle a pandemic of greater consequence that may come.

I, personally, find the lack of test kits, ventilators and PPE deeply disturbing. Our countries have some of the most intelligent, creative and industrious minds on the planet and we can’t get our shit together to supply the front lines with the equipment they need to fight the war against this virus? Why? Are we that mired in bureaucracy?

If we don’t work in government, I guess there’s little we can do to fix things, except call our representatives. And, as far as our daily lives go, do we really need heads of state to show us the way, or can we help ourselves, in our own communities?

Earlier last week I listened to a great Podcast: Rich Roll and his wife, Julie Piatt. Roll made the comment that a reactive state is fear-based and therefore, not productive. Aha! That’s why the President* is an expert fear-mongerer: he prides himself on being reactive, not proactive.

So, if we go back to my little quatrain, this is a time for going inward. I mean, what the heck else is there to do? Most of us are stuck inside! One of Piatt’s cherished guides said this of our current situation: “This is a gentle way to wake us up to let us know what is going to be required for us to transform this planet.”

Pollution? Down. Consumerism? Down. Roll suggests, when we emerge from isolation, we pursue co-creation as opposed to consumption.

These are strange days. And scary and sad. I pray for the recovery of songwriting legend John Prine (“Angel from Montgomery”), who has been intubated due to coronavirus, is in stable condition. And I pray for anyone suffering, or anyone who has lost a loved one to any condition, as funerals are being downsized or postponed. And I pray for the front line workers, for the equipment they need, for the strength – physical and mental – for battle.

It’s a paradox, yes? We share the susceptibility to coronavirus with all of humanity, the world over, yet we must keep all humans, except the ones we live with, arm’s length away.

You have no choice right now. Go inward. See what you find.






Physically Distant, Socially Close 2020-03-31T10:16:36+00:00

Don’t Be a Covid-iot

“It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” R.E.M.

What a week, huh? How you doin’? Everyone ok out there in isolation land?

It feels like eons now, but it was just over a week ago that I sat on the couch with an upset tummy watching CNN. Instantly, the coronavirus became real:

  • Trump gave a solemn (he stayed on script) address from the Oval Office which was meant to calm, but ultimately rattled the masses
  • Breaking News– Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson, in Australia filming, diagnosed with coronavirus
  • Breaking News– NBA suspends season after player tests positive for coronavirus

Each item has impact, but come on. We know Trump lies, so the fact that he couldn’t get all the facts straight in his address? No biggie. And Tom Hanks? While it’s shocking that someone famous, someone we think we know, has IT, Hanks being ill didn’t shut down the movie industry. “NBA suspends season”!?!? Ok coronavirus. You’ve got our full attention.

Then? Over the next few days? Like “The Amazing Triple Spiral (15,000 dominoes)” I watched on YouTube recently with my grandson, all the various pieces of fabric that hold our society together were falling, click-click-click: schools, concerts, theatres, various sports, amusement parks, the stock market!

Buckle in and buckle up, folks. What a ride!

Prime Minister Trudeau’s wife tested positive, so he’s in self-isolation, holding daily pressers from a podium in front of his house, while camera crew and journalists stay a safe six feet away. I mean, just the fact that the PM is “holding daily pressers” is crazy. It’s a fast-moving target – “fluid” in newspeak – this pandemic, and all are scrambling to respond.

It’s not like we didn’t see IT coming. I mean, we’ve been watching the horrifying news on coronavirus from China since January, then cases were discovered in various other countries, notably in Italy, which has a high mortality rate and horrifying hospital conditions. Did we think coronavirus would somehow just never gain entry into North America?

And, as pandemics go, history is jam-packed: Black Death, small pox, Spanish flu. If you haven’t seen it, you must watch Bill Gates’ TED Talk: The next outbreak? We’re not ready Vancouver 2015, in which he predicts our current state of chaos. A 2017 study from the US National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) by N Madhav and others states, “Evidence suggests that the likelihood of pandemics has increased over the past century because of increased global travel and integration, urbanization, changes in land use, and greater exploitation of the natural environment (Jones and others 2008; Morse 1995). These trends will likely continue and will intensify.” Also, since you’ve lots of time to “quarantine & chill”, you could check out a new series on Netflix, “Pandemic”.

Canada has a “Pandemic Plan”, but I don’t think we have a pandemic team. The US had a “Pandemic Response Team”, disbanded in 2018. There’s been a shortage of tests (hindering containment and accuracy of statistics) and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), prompting the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) to say, “healthcare workers who can’t get a mask should use a bandana or scarf as a ‘last resort’ as supplies run short.” A “bandana or scarf”?! To protect people most at risk? And another truly frightening thing? Why we must work hard now at “social distancing” to “flatten the curve”? The US population is 330 million and there are approx 100,000 ICU beds and ventilators; Canada’s population is 38 million and there are approx 5,000 ICU beds and ventilators. With this illness, severe cases have required several weeks on a ventilator.

If too many people get seriously ill at the same time? Healthcare professionals are left in the excruciating position of having to make wartime-like decisions – like they’re doing right now in Italy – about who gets treatment and who doesn’t. Says reddit.com: “Your grandparents were asked to go to war. You are being asked to sit on a couch. Think about it carefully and act accordingly.”

If you’re confused on social distancing there’s a great article in The New Yorker called “How to Practice Social Distancing”. Basically, hunker down with the ones that brung you, the peeps you live with, while keeping all others a safe six feet away. The best advice I’ve heard is to go about your business like you have coronavirus; some stats say four out of five people infected got it from someone who didn’t know they had it.

Hosting a party with fifty of your closest friends? Hanging out on a crowded beach in Florida? The complete opposite of social distancing. You are being a “Covid-iot”, a term coined by my morning radio hosts, Taz and Jim on FM96, streaming from their separate homes, in quarantine for 14 days after returning from Florida.

Think Covid-19 is like the flu? Think again. Check out this article on Vox, “Why Covid-19 is worse than the flu, in one chart”. Here’s how:

  • Rate of infection (how many infected by someone infected): flu 1.3, Covid-19 2-2.5
  • Incubation time: flu 1-4 days, Covid-19 1-14 days
  • Hospitalization rate: flu 2%, Covid-19 19%
  • Case fatality rate: flu .1% or less, Covid-19 1-3.4%

The term “novel” virus means new; IT just jumped from animal to human so our bodies are also “fluid”, scrambling to figure out how to fight IT off. On one recent podcast I listened to, an expert explained that although a certain percentage of the population will get this virus over time, delaying it as long as possible not only eases the healthcare burden, but gives time for a vaccine to be developed and also may ease the punch.

Challenging times though, right? My husband B and I spent Sunday at the cottage, and it was a normal day – a sleep in, breakfast, a walk on the beach, hot tub, some reading – but just knowing IT was out there? Odd. I’ve not been sleeping well. I’m a news junkie, but need to ration the news right now. It’s too much to process. Like really, who would imagine that by yesterday this shocking headline – “California governor orders all 40 million residents to stay home” – would seem commonplace, one among a multitude of shocking headlines? And while I’m lucky in that my financial situation is not affected (except for the volatile TSX!), others around me worry about jobs, money, their future.

In times like these we must stay positive and practice gratitude for what we have. Technology allows us to stay connected, work safely from home. As one of my daughters pointed out on Instagram, “The outside is still open!” The supply chain is still in order, heat and lights are on.

Control what you can. Wash your hands properly and often (there are great YouTube videos on the proper technique and you probably have time to watch); this bug is powerless against soap. Sneeze or cough into your elbow. Clean that elbow, use it to bump; don’t shake hands. Stay home as much as possible. Stay in touch with friends and family through FaceTime, phone, text, email, mail.

Don’t be a Covid-iot. Stay safe, stay strong my friends.

Website photo: My grandkids social distancing and dancing like no one’s watching (just Mama), wearing their homemade crowns. Photo credit, Jetanne Di Cola.

Don’t Be a Covid-iot 2020-03-20T11:24:40+00:00

Sound of Silence

“In silence we are at one with the world. We don’t stand out, we aren’t separate from nature, we are no different from one another.” Andy Puddicombe, Headspace

In early March I stood at the Lake Huron shoreline, surveying mounded up, frozen and dirty waves. There was no sound. Nothing. It was as if the lake was holding its breath. Suspended. Between life and death.

Surely under all that crystalized ice there was movement? Sound? A soft moaning perhaps? I’m alive, she might whisper. I still support life.

Canada geese on the nearby frozen river honked, letting me know they were alive.

Why is silence so shocking? Often avoided at all costs? Is it because we’re born into noise? Equipped with two good ears that hear, our own racket greets us the moment we emerge, squawling from the womb. A voice, distorted, but we don’t realize until we hear it later in life, played back on some recording device. “That’s not what I sound like!” we protest.

So, sound number one (aside, perhaps, from womb sounds, like Mom’s heartbeat, vibrational voice, and whatever else might penetrate our cozy nest) is our own bloodcurdling response to birth. James Hollis, Phd, author of Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life, describes the commencement of our lifelong trauma this way: “The birth of life is also the birth of neurosis, so to speak, because from that moment on we are in service to twin agendas – the biological and spiritual drive to develop, to move forward, and the archaic yearning to fall back into the cosmic sleep of instinctual subsistence.” Oh man! That’s why life can be so tough!

But? Mom was there to ease my passage: cuddling, cooing, changing, feeding. Singing:

“This little piggy went to market . . .”

And? If you were a Boomer, like me? When you got home there was a black and white TV in the corner of the living room, blasting out a commercial jingle like this one:

“Double your pleasure, double your fun
with double good, double good Doublemint gum”

Blaring from the radio at the babysitter’s:

“Playin’ solitaire till dawn with a deck of 51
now don’t tell me I’ve nothin’ to do”

A Hank Snow album crackling from the hi-fi on Saturday evening, as Mom and Dad got dressed up to go dancing:

“Lazy bones, sleepin’ in the sun,
how you think you’re gonna get your day’s work done?”

So much sound, all around. Mom: vacuuming, polishing the floor, running the mixmaster, talking. Screen door opening, closing: big brother home from school, Dad home from work. “Dinnertime!”

The telephone! Do you miss the telephone ringing? (I sometimes miss the simplicity: a device that does one thing, transmits voice.) It was a black one, high on the kitchen wall above a tall stool with chrome fold-out legs that I loved to fold out, fold in, fold out, fold in. “Just don’t pinch your fingers!”

And, a special treat for me, just after I turned nine and was beginning to tire of my dollies: a real live baby in the form of my sister, crying from time to time. “There, there.”

A family. A life. Chock full of nuts! And sound.

If you desire and are lucky: your own family. Babies: crying, crawling, toddling, walking, running. Your own house! Full of sound. Inside, outside. Dog(s) perhaps: barking, nails clicking on the hardwood, collar clanging on the water dish.

It’s remarkable, yes? To experience years upon years of sound and then find yourself plunked on a beach near Grand Bend on a still day where there is . . . silence.

Like Simon & Garfunkel, The Sound of Silence: “Hello darkness, my old friend.”

Is it darkness that keeps us running from silence? Fear? Does silence mean the end of something? An era? A life? Our life?

In silence must we face something? Mortality? Eternity? The constant voice in the head: “I’m enough. No, I’m not. I matter. No, I don’t.”

You do know you’re divine, right? Christic – meaning “of Christ” – even? Perfect, as is.

You sure were to the Mom and Dad who greeted your squawling lungs all those years ago. Those two? They wanted nothing but the best for you.


It’s ok. Nothing to fear here. You arrived on the wings of love.

The lake will thaw. She’ll recover her rhythmic beat. Lap, lap. Woosh, woosh. A heartbeat.

The lake-death-silence is temporary.

Like your life.

It’s ok.


Sound of Silence 2020-03-12T11:54:52+00:00

Goal of Life

“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with nature.” Joseph Campbell

Wise words, yes? They’re from a man known for his work in mythology. Says George Lucas, the creator of the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises, “Joseph Campbell peers through the centuries and shows us that we are all connected by a basic need to hear stories and understand ourselves.”

Stories connect and help us make sense of what it means to be human. That’s probably why we feel such a buzz after watching a movie or reading a book that resonates. And while movies and books are part of our culture, what about the rest of it?

In his medium.com article “The American Life is Killing You”, Erik Rittenberry writes, “This is the American Dream and this is the definition of success in our culture – degrees, jobs, families, consumerism, and raging debt.”

He calls it the “American Dream”, but it’s also the “Canadian Dream”. Years ago, I ran on this life treadmill: along with my late husband, Hugh, I oversaw various businesses, three kids, several properties, a few Standardbred horses and lots and lots of vehicles of various sizes, shapes, and purposes. Hugh came to me one day to say that we had inquiries into the purchase of our main business. We looked at each other and said, “Yeah, but then what would we do?”

What would we do? Hmmm. Why do we feel a need to be DOING all the time as opposed to BEING? Ok. I get it. I know you can’t just sit around all day BEING: debtors would come calling, you’d get pretty hungry, and your possessions would fall to rack and ruin. And besides, you’d get bored. But, for most people, there comes a time of reckoning, a time when one questions the wisdom of our capitalistic culture. What am I running for? What am I really after? Why not take a break and go walk in the woods?

Rittenberry puts it this way: “We prize HAVING over BEING, material possessions over experiences. We have contempt for nature these days and are too engrossed in the mechanical ways of living to truly FEEL what it means to be alive on this planet.”

If we spent more time with nature, took the time to “match” our nature with nature, perhaps we’d be more committed to climate change solutions? And be way less stressed?

According to mindyourmind.ca September 19, 2013, “. . . anxiety is the most common mental illness in Canada. More youth (aged 15 to 24) met the criteria for mood disorders and substance use disorders than any other age group.” And in the US? From time.com May 8, 2018: 18% of the US population have an anxiety disorder while almost 40% of Americans are becoming more anxious, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

How did we get so anxious? Rittenberry blames the stress mess we’re in on Edward Bernays, who was influenced by his uncle Sigmund Freud. Working in the post WWI era, as a propagandist – or in “public relations” if you prefer – Bernays employed his uncle’s theories on the human psyche to get people to buy stuff, such as cigarettes, which he promoted to women by labelling them “Torches of Freedom”. Wikipedia says, “he described the masses as irrational and subject to herd instinct – and outlined how skilled practitioners could use crowd psychology and psychoanalysis to control them in desirable ways.”

No! We were duped? By clever advertising? Again, from Wiki, “Consumerism is a social and economic order that encourages an acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts.” Which means? If our goal of life is to buy, buy, buy? We can’t get no satisfaction.

Says Rittenberry, “Instead of living poetic lives close to the earth with little possessions, we barricade ourselves behind drywall and plastic and sit in front of screens, constantly buying things we don’t need to impress assholes who are doing the same thing.”

How do we stop the madness? The trend toward minimalism sure helps. It may not be good for the economy, but it’s good for the environment and gives one a heck of a lot more time to spend in the great outdoors. Which makes one less stressed.

As for the economy, recall climate activist Greta Thunberg’s strong words at the UN Climate Action Summit last September: “People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are at the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

I love that line: “fairytales of eternal economic growth”. High time to change our thinking – and hence, our actions – yes? Are we truly just about money? Power? More stuff? How do we define success? Are we happy?

Writes Rittenberry, “Decondition yourself from culture, quit suppressing your uniqueness, travel to places that frighten you a bit, learn to embrace silence and solitude a few times a week. And most importantly – you must awaken from your culturally-induced slumber and try to find simple joy among the sacred.”

Ah, the “simple joy among the sacred”. And with that in mind, here’s a beautiful – and appropriate – poem I saw in a recent blog, to remind us of our place on the planet:

The Moment by Margaret Atwood

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.

Website photo: My daughter, Randelle, hiking trails in BC, discovering her goal of life all around her.

Goal of Life 2020-02-28T12:33:50+00:00

Patience of Job

You’ve heard that saying, yes? “Oh, look at poor Margie. Husband’s a drunk and kids are all on the dole. Got the patience of Job (pronounced Jobe) that girl.”

My mom – who’s been on my mind a lot lately because she passed at this time of year 16 years ago – used to say it all the time. Mom’s speech was also abundant with hyperbole – much like the latest impeached US president – but she never used it to deceive or be unkind. Here’s some examples from one of our last dinner outings, at a Mexican restaurant:

“This is the best coffee I’ve ever tasted.” “Look at the size of this glass of water. This is way too much! I’ll never drink this in a million years.” “Do you like Mexican food? I don’t. My friend Shirley loves it so much! Can’t get enough of it.”

As a child these extremes were alarming. Our family could go from having “the best day ever” to having the worst in zero to 60 seconds. As I grew, though, I came to realize that this was just Mom’s way – Dad always said she had the “gift” (of gab) – and I learned to decide for myself what kind of day I was having while tuning out Mom’s take on it.

Which is what, perhaps, the majority of Americans – as well as so many in the free world – do (or feel they must do) whenever the current president* tweets or opens his mouth. In response to Truth or Consequences my brother’s girlfriend, who refers to the president* as “he who shall not be named”, pointed out that the best way to train a dog – or even a kindergartner demanding attention – is to turn your back, ignore them, so as to not encourage bad behaviour. Less press might do the trick?

Even White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, in defense of the president*’s threatening tweet to House Manager Adam Schiff (“He has not paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our Country!”) suggests not giving his words much thought:

“People put meanings behind what he said. The president* speaks in a very unique way, he’s a counter-puncher, he’s saying what’s on his mind.” Hmmm. He’s “saying what’s on his mind”, which is dark, but people shouldn’t “put meanings behind what he said”? Conflicting, to say the least. After these types of comments and more than 15,000 false or misleading claims since taking office? Impeachment gets to the Senate, witnesses and evidence are turned down and Republicans lose it because most people can’t believe the president* when he says, “no quid pro quo”, “Parnas, I don’t know him” and his Ukraine call was “perfect”. Wow.

Since a great deal of patience seems necessary for at least the next several months, let’s get back to the story of Job. He was a wealthy guy, “blameless” and “upright”, living in Uz with his extended family and vast flocks. God brags to Satan about Job’s virtue, but Satan says it’s just because God has favoured him and convinces God to let him mess with Job in an experiment, certain that Job will end up cursing God.

Job gets four reports in the space of one day, learning that thieves and natural disasters have killed his sheep, servants, and ten children. Job tears at his clothes and shaves his head, but still praises God. Satan then inflicts him with terrible skin sores and Job’s wife urges that he give up God and die, but Job protests.

Three of Job’s companions come to comfort him, each offering their thoughts on his situation, seeming to suggest that he must have committed some evil act. As noted in the Bible Story of Job, Job becomes “bitter, anxious and scared. He deplores the injustice that God lets evil people thrive while he and many other honest people suffer.”

Injustice! Evil people thriving while honest people suffer! This is my point. This is what tears at me! I keep looking for justice and it won’t come! Should not our heroes be good? Honest? Decent? At least likeable?

God eventually comes to Job, commanding he be brave, explaining various aspects of His creation and, when Job accepts the limits of his mortality, he is rewarded with good health, property, children, a long life. The message? Never give up hope or faith.

In a recent Rich Roll podcast with actor Edward Norton, they discussed how belief in God is such a sure bet. If heaven doesn’t await? There is no God? You will have lived your life well, with kindness.

They brought up climate change in this regard as well. So what if some of the science is incorrect, if we don’t really know how fast the environment is deteriorating, or how quickly we can bring it back? Planting a gazillion (you’re welcome, Mom) trees, saving species and eliminating plastic are still worthwhile endeavours, yes?

Belief in “he who shall not be named”? I still don’t get it, but so many still do believe in him. I want to turn my back, but if he’s a bad dog, he’s a pitbull attacking, and, while he often acts like a kindergartner, he wields a shit ton of power and, for sure, he carries a knife.

As I’ve noted before, growing up this president* was told by his pa, “You are a king. You are a killer.” The Senate crowned him King USA. With the exception of the odd terrorist, let’s hope and pray he doesn’t take the killing thing so seriously.



Patience of Job 2020-02-07T09:57:57+00:00

The Opposite of the “H” Word

“Hatred corrodes the container it’s carried in.” Senator Alan Simpson

What is the opposite of hate? Hmmm . . .

Let’s ponder that while we honour the 75thanniversary this month of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the most notorious of Nazi Germany’s death camps in which 1.1 million people died, 90% of them Jewish.

Zigi Shipper was just 14 when he arrived there in the summer of 1944. Now 90, Shipper spends time sharing his experience, admitting to Melissa Bell in a recent CNN interview that he often asks people, “Tell me something, have we learned? And everybody says, ‘No.’”

Genocides continue, as in Myanmar where government atrocities against Muslim Rohingyas have killed more than 10,000 since 2016. Anti-Semitism continues. In 2018, according to Tel Aviv University, anti-Semitic attacks rose by 13% worldwide. An October 2019 piece in The Hill reports that in the US, the Anti-Defamation League, an anti-hate organization founded in 1913 by B’nai Brith “continues to see ‘record-high’ numbers of anti-Semitic incidents across the country”.

Hate is harsh. Hate hurts, kills. But . . .

Hate, sadly, also really fires people up. Hate motivates. Case in point: Roger Stone, decades-long friend of Donald Trump, indicted on seven counts for what Wikipedia calls “perhaps the clearest picture yet of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia”, has a shocking set of rules he lives by, ones he calls Stone’s Rules. You can check out his unabashed, outrageous behaviour and connections to Trump in the Netflix doc “Get Me Roger Stone”, but this rule stood out for me: “Hate is a more powerful motivator than love.” O-M-G.

Frightening, yes? Stone’s been a political operative for years, he’s had Trump’s ear for years, and hate is what he’s peddling? “I revel in your hatred,” Stone says, “because if I weren’t effective, you wouldn’t hate me.” Wow.

Compare that to the response of House speaker Nancy Pelosi in December, after announcing the move forward toward impeachment by the Democrats. As she walked from the podium, a reporter asked, “Do you hate the president, Madam Speaker?”

She turned on her heel, jabbed a finger at him and said, “I don’t hate anyone.” Referencing her Catholic upbringing, Pelosi said she prays for the president, admitting she feels he’s a:

  • “coward” on gun control
  • “cruel” on immigration
  • “in denial” about climate change

Before she walked out, she said, “So don’t mess with me when it comes to words like that.”

In her 2018 article “What is the opposite of hate?” Jacki Zehner expresses her feelings about hate this way: “This may sound like the ultimate contradiction, but I hate the word hate. I hate the way it sounds. I hate the way it feels. And I especially hate the fact that I can’t seem to avoid it these days. Politically and socially this word has seeped into our collective consciousness at an alarming rate, and while a lot of people have spent countless hours debating how we got to this point, I’m personally far more interested in how we move forward from here.”

I’ll admit to having used the word hate. Through a continuous pursuit of learning? I appreciate the power of words and work diligently to remove it from my vocabulary.

So, how do we move forward? Zehner, in her article, interviewed Sally Kohn, author of The Opposite of Hate and here is how Kohn feels we should respond to divisiveness, the “H” word:

“It’s not love. Not for my purposes, anyway. You don’t have to love someone to not hate them. But you do have to understand how we’re all fundamentally connected as human beings, how in spite of our differences and disagreements – which, by the way, I think are incredibly important and even worth celebrating – we’re still more alike than not and have more in common than not. And we all want a world that is less divided and less cruel. And the way we get there is recognizing how we’re connected, and studies show when we connect with people outside our own bubbles, the people we think of as ‘other’ we hate them less. The opposite of hate is connection.”

Connection. Ah. And real life connecting, not social media connecting. Let’s connect!

Getting back to CNN interviewer Melissa Bell on the 75thanniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, she notes that survivors continue to dwindle as they reach the end of their lives and asks, “Can collective memory last longer than a lifetime?”

Let’s hope so. Zigi Shipper, the Holocaust survivor she interviewed, cautions us: “I say, whatever you do, don’t hate. Hate is the worst thing you can do. Never mind what nationality they are, what religion. To me, everybody is the same: we are just human beings.”

Website picture: my granddaughters connecting a few years back.

The Opposite of the “H” Word 2020-01-23T15:06:55+00:00

What is Beauty

“Any girl can be glamorous. All she has to do is stand still and look stupid.” Hedy Lamarr

I’m heading into a brand new year (and decade) feeling inspired after reading The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict. It’s billed as fiction – historical or biographical – but it’s based on the true story of American-Austrian film actress Hedy Lamarr.

Just google “Hedy Lamarr images” and see for yourself how stunningly beautiful she was: porcelain skin, raven hair, exquisitely-shaped face with perfectly-set eyes, sweet little nose and full lips. She was a trend-setter. After the release of her first film Algiers (1938), her hairstyle, black as pitch with a centre part, was all the rage, much like Farrah Fawcett’s four decades later.

While her exterior beauty was inherited, obvious and captivating, it’s her interior beauty – largely hidden and unacknowledged throughout her lifetime – that was truly stunning.

Just to get to America to launch her career she had to escape marriage to Friedrich Mandl, known as the Merchant of Death. One of the wealthiest men in Austria, Mandl owned companies that manufactured munitions and other weaponry in the 1930s, when Hitler was in power in Germany and looking to overtake his country of birth. So while Lamarr enjoyed great wealth, entertaining royalty in castles and grand country homes, Mandl preferred her as a trophy on his arm, insisting she abandon her acting career and keeping her under the watchful eye of servants. She found she could be useful to Mandl by eavesdropping on the many male conversations that took place at their homes, which had strategic importance as the war escalated. Later, that information contributed to the invention she’s now known for that we use daily.

Leaving Mandl involved serious planning. She amassed money by selling small pieces of jewellery and also sewed jewellery into her clothing. She hired a maid who looked like her, slipped sleeping meds into her tea, then donned a maid’s uniform and escaped to Paris, then London. Once in London, she connected with Louis B. Mayer of MGM, following him on board the Normandie and eventually to a film career in Hollywood.

In the midst of that career, she and her European friends became deeply disturbed by reports from home. Did I mention Lamarr (born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) was Jewish, a fact she never revealed to her American family and friends? Through contacts, she managed to get her mother (her father had passed away) to Canada and eventually California to be with her.

Passionate about helping the US war effort and armed with her knowledge about how torpedoes often missed their mark due to frequency jamming, Lamarr hooked up with “the bad boy of music” George Antheil to invent a device that could frequency-hop. Antheil was known for Ballet Mecanique, a composition which involved the synchronization of 16 player pianos. Therein lay the inspiration behind the invention: a scaled-down ribbon, as used in player pianos, placed in the plane or the submarine, and also in the torpedo, to guide it to its mark. It had 88 distinct frequency hops, matching the number of keys on a piano. Lamarr and Antheil applied for (and received) a patent and also presented their device to the navy, but it was turned down.

According to Wikipedia, “Lamarr wanted to join the National Inventors Council, but was reportedly told by NIC member Charles F. Kettering and others that she could better help the war effort by using her celebrity status to sell war bonds.”

Isn’t that just a big ol’ kick in the booty? She was forced to let the patent collect dust, but Lamarr did polish up that beautiful mouth of hers to plant kisses, over and over, on a sailor named Eddie Rhodes, raising millions in a war bond-selling campaign.

It was Orson Welles – who Lamarr wanted to work with and possibly even dated – who famously said, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”

And you could stop the story there, where the crushing defeat of the invention is tempered by the millions of dollars raised due to Lamarr’s plucky attitude, resilience and determination, but there’s more. Patent 2,292,387 was dusted off, updated and installed on navy ships in 1962 for the Cuban missile crisis. Says inventorsdigest.com, “Lamarr and Antheil’s frequency-hopping system served as the basis for modern spread-spectrum communication technology, which is used in cell phones, fax machines, GPS systems, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.” Holy smokes!

In 1997, almost 50 years after the patent was issued, Lamarr and Antheil were honoured with the Electronic Frontier Pioneer Award and later that year Lamarr was the first female to receive the BULBIE Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award. In 2014, 14 years after her death, she and Antheil were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Unfortunately this remarkable woman, once billed as “the most beautiful girl in the world”, never benefited financially from her invention. She also made some poor decisions and faced some unpleasant challenges in the latter half of her life. After six failed marriages: there was parody (eg Hedley Lamarr, Blazing Saddles), shoplifting, bad plastic surgeries, financial difficulties and reclusiveness.

Longevity, while coveted, is hard and if achieved, there’s the issue of beauty fading. Lamarr was too early for this insight from Amanda Shaw’s 2008 song Pretty Runs Out:

I’m not just skin deep
And I’m not dirt cheap
I like the finer things
But, there’s so much more to me

There was so much more to Hedy Kiesler than a pretty face. She knew it, she just couldn’t convince the world while she was alive. Thank goodness we know now, so she gets the happy ending she deserves and we know who to thank the next time we look at our cell phone.



What is Beauty 2020-01-07T14:11:51+00:00

Jazzed To Give

Jazzed to give again this Christmas? How does that make you feel? Giving?

The first thing one tends to go to is the stress, the pressure, right? Of what to give loved ones. Let’s face it, some people are just darn good gift-givers, picking out just the right thing time and again, wrapping it so beautifully and magically. Me? Not so much.

For some weird reason, I could never pick out anything for my mom and she’d give it right back. “Here, Rita,” she’d say, “you can use this more than me.” A skirt in her size? A sweater in her size? Oh boy. But she loved Christmas, and her eyes would light up, glittery with excitement, when she’d present her well-thought-out-and-beautifully-wrapped gift to me. And Mom did know me best, because I always loved what she gave me.

Whether you’re a darn good gift-giver or just so-so, tis the season for giving – more than just gifts – so embrace it. Take a moment to think about how it feels to give something special to someone. Anyone. Even in anonymity, giving something good of oneself has the power to lighten one’s load, doesn’t it?

Did you happen to see that viral Facebook post going around a few years back at Christmastime? About the boy who was old enough to question the existence of Santa? The father made a date with him for “coffee” at the local coffee shop, made a comment about how he’d probably noticed that most of the Santas he saw in the malls, etc were people just dressed up like him. “Some of your friends may have even told you there is no Santa,” he said. “A lot of children think that, because they aren’t ready to BE a Santa yet, but YOU ARE.”

The boy was pretty excited to have graduated to being a Santa. His first recipient? He chose a mean neighbour he and his friends called The Witch because of how cross she’d get if they came near her house or their balls accidentally ended up on her property. He noticed that when she came out for her paper in the morning she had no slippers. Father and son purchased slippers, wrapped them, marked them “from Santa” and left them on her doorstep. The boy did get to see her retrieving her paper a few days later with those slippers on. It inspired him in later years to continue giving, doing things like refurbishing a bike for a needy child and mentoring his younger brother when he was ready to BE a Santa.

I recently watched the Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2019. They all inspired me, but wow, some of the Young Wonders are truly incredible. There’s a 12-year-old boy in Chicago, Jahkil Jackson. Deeply disturbed by the homeless in his city, he started distributing food to them with his aunt and cousins when he was five. When he was eight he started Project I Am. His Twitter feed says “Offering a little help one bag at a time for those in need.” It’s called a “Blessing Bag” and contains things like a little first aid kit, Chapstick, granola bar, tooth brush and tooth paste. Kind of like a grown up Christmas stocking. Watching this young boy personally hand out these “Blessing Bags” to people down and out on the city streets brought tears to my eyes. Will it fix their plight? Not likely. But it sure will ease their day, huh? Knowing someone cares, knowing some of their immediate needs are met.

Already, at six, my granddaughter Naomi’s empathy gene seems evident. Unprompted by her teacher about gift-giving, here’s her letter to Santa, written at school:

Dear Santa,

This Christmas I would like to spread kindness.
I will help donate food to peope (sic) in need.
I will also smile at people around me.

Happy Holidays!
Love, Naomi

*“spread kindness”
*“donate food”
*“smile at people around me”

Nice advice Naomi! For all of us. While we tend to think of giving in monetary terms, it need not be. Right now, with climate change and Greta Thunberg prominently in the news, best to keep monetary purchases to a minimum anyway.

So, turning thoughts from what you want or need to what others might want or need not only lightens your load and makes you empathetic, it taps you into abundance. Remember the “negativity bias” we talked about in Catch A Wave? Focusing on negativity, while natural, just brings more of the same. And if there’s good stuff kicking around? You’ll likely miss it. Spiritual experts say that shifting your focus – giving away what you want, or are lacking – will bring that abundance to you.

Like this song my grandson Beau sang at his pre-school Christmas concert: “Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more.”

A final word from my granddaughter Simone, seven. A friend told her, “Christmas is about getting presents.” And Simone said, “No. Christmas is about spending time with your family.”

Enjoy spending time with your family this Christmas. Don’t stress if he doesn’t care for the tie and you don’t really care for the sweater because it doesn’t matter. Give oodles and oodles of love away . . . and just keep right on giving it all the way through 2020.

Jazzed To Give 2019-12-19T13:59:06+00:00

Fifteen Years Gone

Fifteen years! Without Hugh’s light, laughter. Where does it go? The people who knew him, loved him, the ones who still exist, carry it with them. I think of Billy Crystal’s Emmy tribute to his friend Robin Williams:

“That beautiful light will continue to shine on us forever. And the glow will be so bright it’ll warm your heart, it’ll make your eyes glisten, and you’ll think to yourselves, Robin Williams: what a concept.”

Hugh Davis: what a concept. If he were here now he’d have us in stitches doing Trump impressions. He’d be jumping around with his grandkids. He’d greet us in the morning with, “It’s going to be a great day today!”

Our days are good, great in fact; they’d be oh so different were he to have stayed longer. It’s disconcerting, makes us wonder about reality. We’d be different people in different homes leading different lives.

And now, I give up the blog to my oldest, Jetanne DiCola, with a message to her father:

Fifteen years ago you died. And I have tried on many faces since. One where I was a victim. One where I was a martyr. One where I was a shell (filling up on other people’s dreams). You got further and further away.

We go up to the cold place on Purple Hill to remember your name. I remember your warmth.

The last two years my other faces died too. I’m still peeling back the layers to find what is underneath. I get a little closer when pen meets paper. I get a little closer when I remember the creases at the corner of your eyes when you smiled big. Even closer when I get real still. When I close my eyes to see the dance of brilliant blue cosmic sparks.

I see you. With me always. I see US. Dancing with the vastness of it all under a blanket of stars.

Also, a beautiful poem, by Jetanne as well, for all us humans, hue men and women, and Hugh Man too:

Light Being

Oh there is so much beauty in the subtle and the subtler still
I don’t want to know surface and small talk
I want to know the light reflecting off the pavement on a warm October afternoon
All the different shades of my daughter’s hair
Like spun gold as it passes through my fingers
The kindness of strangers as they smile at my son and
The simple offering of the divider on the grocery belt
My breath rising and falling, each at once, and a lifetime of breath
Creating more spaciousness inside of me
Giving me life
The simple act of connection
Locking eyes
Feeling as one heart
Creating expansion over contraction or reaction
I want to know hearts
I am a humble student walking this path on and on
Trudging through darkness to rest silently in the arms of the
Surrendering to all that is
Open to the flow of the continuous heartbreaking beauty that is life
As a Hue Man

Website photo: Hugh reeling in Big Fish in Mexico a couple of weeks before his death.



Fifteen Years Gone 2019-11-29T20:19:04+00:00

Truth or Consequences

Should there be consequences for not telling the truth? Has Trump, through repetition of obvious untruths – “there was no quid pro quo”, “the fake whistleblower lied” – numbed his base into accepting falsehoods, rendering truth null and void?

Do you find it shocking? That not one Republican has turned on Trump (like in the Nixon era) despite his shenanigans? Oh man, I thought the end was near last week when Ambassador Sondland testified, questioning-and-answering himself, “Was there a quid pro quo? As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes.” O-M-G! “Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.” Wow! It’s finally over, I thought. The jig is up.

But no. Republicans hammered at Sondland all afternoon, getting him to admit to the word “presumption”.

The biggest mystery to me? The reason I watch this tumultuous train-wreck that refuses to derail? I keep trying to figure out why. Why does ANYONE still support this dangerous man (with the codes to the nukes) who does and says vile things ALL THE TIME IN PLAIN SIGHT?

In an effort to understand, I’ve read several books on Trump, one of them by Steven Hassan, The Cult of Trump. Some think it’s too much, to suggest Trumpism is a cult. But if you view the current situation in America with an open mind, if you follow credible news sources (the ones Trump calls the “enemy of the people”, “lamestream” and “fake news”) and stay away from extreme propaganda machines Trump follows, like Breitbart and Fox (it’s labeled “right” bias and factually “mixed” due to poor sourcing, the spread of conspiracy theories, yet reliability of straight news) it’s hard to understand the Trump phenomenon in any other way.

Would you agree Trump – “the stable genius” (his own words) – is narcissistic? To be sure, narcissism, in and of itself, is not bad. A good dollop of narcissism is, and has often been, found in world leaders. It’s the over-the-top kind of narcissism Trump exhibits that is truly frightening. Example: going on and on about himself in his father’s eulogy, to the point mourners understood the best thing about Fred Trump’s life? The production of The Donald. In short, he lacks empathy. By the way, so do psychopaths.

From blogs.psychcentral.com, some cult leader traits that match Trump’s leadership style:

*acts larger than life
*subjugates cult members’ rights for “good” of group even if self-destructive– Note Sondland’s words “everyone was in the loop”. Also, it appears the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, is facing an ethics probe into his role in the Ukraine scandal.
*us vs. them approach– Trump calls Democrats, a valid US political party “Do Nothing Dems”, “un-American”, “treasonous”
*questioning and dissent are not tolerated– Those who participated in the hearings? Labelled “Never Trumpers”.
*closeness to leader rewarded, distance punished– Those who participated in the hearings? “I don’t know (Ambassador Sondland) well,” Trump says, despite appointing him and receiving a $1 million donation from him.
*“lies are repeated so often they seem true” I mean, O-M-G!
*“cult leaders enrich themselves at members’ expense” Ukraine scandal anyone?
*“communication is coercive or deceptive” An actual quote from President Trump: “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” Say what???
*“sameness is encouraged” T-shirts/hats at rallies. And those chants: “Build the wall!” “Lock her up!”

Another thing I’ve noticed? Whenever Trump and his allies are labeled anything due to bad behaviour – racists, conspiracy theorists, corrupt – they flip it. “You’re the racist!” It’s mind-boggling and mind-bending.

I found Trump’s treatment of Marie Yovanovitch, particularly awful. A 33-year veteran of foreign service, who has been literally under fire in her job working for America – Democrat and Republican presidents – and Trump blanket-labeled her “bad news”. No proof, no detail. While on a recent ridiculous Fox news rant (53 minutes!) he offered a reason, said she wouldn’t hang his picture in the embassy. Yovanovitch’s legal team says photos were mounted “as soon as they arrived from Washington, DC.”

Who do you believe?

Ah, truth. It matters to me! I was raised on it. Trump? His father apparently raised him on these mantras: “You are a king.” “You are a killer.” Ain’t that the truth? Guess Fred got the eulogy he deserved, huh?

Are you old enough to remember the game show Truth or Consequences? It was hosted by Bob Barker when I was nine, watching it in black and white, upside-down, practicing headstands on our cowboy motif basement couch in Chatham, Ontario. Barker would sign off, “Hoping all your consequences are happy ones . . .”

If you try to be kind and mostly tell the truth – I was pretty old by the time I could master and parse white lies – your consequences should be happy. But if you’re unkind? Lie like breathing? How do you continue, time and again, to get happy consequences?


Truth or Consequences 2019-11-27T17:01:55+00:00