Monthly Archives: August 2011

Death of a Great Auk

In Canada yesterday, a great person died. Why a great auk? The great auk, as a book I’m reading tells me, was a powerful, gentle, flightless bird majestic yet unsung – spectacular and humble.

It’s not often that I feel deeply about the shifting fortunes of politicians, personal or political, but in this case I felt compelled. Jack Layton was a wonderful person, deft, convinced, clever and true. He was what politicians ought to be – sincere, strong, and humble. 

Jack Layton

I’m not entirely sure how his passing will change the politics of my country but I’m sure that his life changed them for the better. There are many politicians with whom I have disagreed. With some I respectfully disagree. With others I am loathed. With Jack, I have nothing but admiration.

He is the first or perhaps the last of a particular type of politician. Starting first in municipal politics he was not shy of the camera. But he knew how to be known – not just by the camera, but by the people who needed to know him, some of whom could only be known through the camera. It was, in a way, a necessary mistress for him. 

Later, as he became the leader of a federal party, particularly of late, his always smiling face seemed to preoccupy him. The one thing that I respected the most of him was that he was not one to shy away from anger – respectful and helpful directed anger. The smile sometimes seemed to force his anger to a shadow.

There is, to my mind, altogether too much glad-handing, over-gleefulness, and condescension in politics masked by smiles and hiding anger, disgust, and duplicity. In my feeling, not by Jack. Though he smiled more than he ought to of late, I think part of it was because he was on a high of success, but also because he needed to fit the needs of the machinery – he was a politician after all. But it never seemed fake or forced. Never just for show.

It is this show that troubles me most of politics. Like the last post, one is not meant to see what goes on behind the scenes of the show. But politics is not entertainment nor is it entertaining and stake-less. For better or for worse, Jack let us in on the invisibility of politics, helped us to be heard, and used his last public efforts to inspire us to live better as a country and members of the world of humanity. 

Though I never met him personally, I feel as though I have known him for nearly 2 decades. I will miss him as a person, but more so, I will miss what he was for us as humanity. 

Behind the scenes

Naturally there are things in the ‘foreground’ and ‘background’ of everything. Perhaps the background is a layer of invisibility. I suggest this because, as the saying goes, ‘you never know what’s going on inside someone’s head.’ 

Right now I’ve been thinking through a number of different things. It’s the end of summer, the start of school looms, figuring out the next big move sits on my shoulders, my family (who were away for a few weeks leaving me on my own) are finally back (and I missed my kids considerably more than they fully understand), and I’m wondering how my CFP will be received.

Yet, the answer to the simple question “how are you” I will receive today will be “fine.” All of the rest of it will remain in the background, at least insofar as it will be operative and evident in my behaviour but will be masked by my feigning of ‘fine.’

I had a colleague once who studied the lies we tell ourselves (psychologist). I didn’t get it at first. It’s not that I didn’t believe that we tell ourselves lies, it’s that I wasn’t sure how I would deal with acknowledging that they were lies – what magnificent absurdity it would be to live in a world of complete truths, to always ‘know’ the ‘legitimate’ back story.

An interesting article

An interesting article

The value of attitude

I am the smartest person who ever wore these pants.

  • If these pants are new I was smart for picking them.
  • If these pants were used then I’m smarter than the idiot who gave away a perfectly good pair of pants.

Either way, I win.

I’ve been given a few reminders about the value of attitude this week in various ways. I find attitude to be an interesting thing because it is the belief that one possesses some quality (or doesn’t) and can be en/disabling. 

Let’s face it, there are plenty of highly productive people who we’ve all thought at one time or another “isn’t really that good” at what they do yet they are still highly productive. I’ll leave defining the notion of success for another day (I once spent a year of research at an organization to help develop measures to track success to no avail – a hornets nest if ever there was one).

At the same time, there are people who are confident and firm in what they do and that helps them be ‘successful’ in life whether we think they are ‘good’ at what they do or not. 

Attitude can equally be debilitating in that a bad attitude becomes self-fulfilling. Think of a glass half-empty scenario. Negative attitudes tend to bread ‘negative outcomes.’ 

But why I ask?

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that attitude is at play in the field of invisibility, privileging affect (emotion) to the extent that it transforms what we see, hear, and how we exercise our power. 

CFP for the edited collection

I’ve spent the last little while working on the Call for Papers for the edited collection I’m proposing to address invisibility. In truth, I’ve been sitting on the idea for the better part of a year stuck in that phase of wondering if I missed something important or if my idea isn’t important and that’s why it isn’t in the literature already.

The thing is I’ve presented on this topic of invisibility as a construct at three separate conferences, two national level (Canadian Sociological Association and Canadian Communication Association) and one international (International Visual Sociology Association), and held one well attended public talk at my university. In each instance I found that the idea was well received and, though clearly not complete, was a wonderful invitation for some very interesting conversations.

Owing to age or intellectual maturation, perhaps I’ve determined that a good book (academic or otherwise), isn’t one that offers answers but invites contemplation, after a few more passes at this draft the CFP will be good to go.

One never knows how such things will be received but here’s hoping!

Insomnia

Every now and then I get a bought of insomnia. It can last a few days or a few weeks. It’s hard to predict. This time around I have the extra added bonus of being on my own (family away on vacation). I suspect that my family being away and having things on my mind are the cause of my insomnia but I can’t say for sure.

The funny thing about insomnia is that it is rarely caused by a physical thing – or at least this is so in my case. The causes of insomnia are what Gregory Bateson might consider informational and ecological. They are the bits and pieces of things that float around in your world of information and give rise to a physical output. I’ve always liked Gregory Bateson and thank my lucky stars for having been introduced to him by Peter Harries-Jones during my undergraduate studies. The idea of informational ecologies is not dissimilar to my own concept of invisibility; or perhaps it’s the other way around.

Invisibility is both a type of information that floats interdependently with the other information in the ecologies of our lives and is also the context of how that information interacts.

Fingers crossed for tiring myself out and getting a good night’s sleep tonight.