Summers of Love
I’m celebrating my own personal 40th anniversary right now. Yep, it’s been 40 years since the summer of 1971 when this wide-eyed schoolgirl found herself in the midst of the summer of love.
And what a summer that turned out to be! My fascination began with the communal living. Young people from all over north America were drawn to the neighbourhood near the beaches called Kitsilano, the epicentre of Vancouver’s hippie movement, and they piled into large older homes, coming together to live, work, play, protest and change the world. Their goals were sometimes clear and sometimes a blur, but overall they aimed to shuck off old thinking and and create what came to be known as a counterculture.
One hippie I met was Bobby, a 28-year old American who fled his country after his second draft into the Vietnam war. The first time he’d been sent to Vietnam, the experience nearly destroyed his mind. The second time his government tried to force him to go back, he’d become a pacifist and refused to go. His father, who was a business man of some social standing, disowned him and kicked him out of the family. Bobby wandered west from New York to San Francisco, then headed north over the border into Canada. When I met him he was bound for the Kootenays where he’d heard a man could farm, where he’d planned to grow healthy vegetables free of pesticides in harmony with mother earth, where he hoped he could, as lyrics to a popular song went, get back to the land, try and set his soul free.
I remember the evening I met him. It was inside a communal house where a brainstorming session for an upcoming anti-nuke protest was taking place. The air was sweet with incense and Indian sitar music played on a console stereo. Bobby’s thick curly hair was down to his shoulders, he wore a floor-length caftan, and he was embroidering pink flowers onto a business suit vest. I watched him calmly pushing the needle through the fabric and asked him why he was doing that. He’d smiled sadly and said that some days it was the only thing keeping him sane.
The protest being planned that evening was against the US military’s testing of nuclear bombs in Amchitka, Alaska. As it turned out, the peaceful protest in Gastown turned into a riot when the actions of baton-weilding police and police on horseback got out of hand. But this did not, however, dissuade a small group from planning to hire themselves a boat and go north to put a stop to the testing. Many believed they were just a bunch of drugged out lunatics. They decided to call themselves Green Peace.
That summer there were smoke-ins and be-ins where thousands gathered to sing, dance, and protest. People were getting together, joining hands, using the force of large numbers to get what they wanted. When the entrance to Stanley Park was under threat of hi-rise development, which would have ruined a beautiful section of Coal Harbour, the hippies went down there and camped out. They occupied the land for several months and refused to leave until the City revoked the developer’s plans; today the entrance to world famous Stanley Park is green, intact and forever beautiful.
During that summer of love so many things were revealed to me, a pre-teen girl hungry for meaning, ethics and values. People were embracing the spiritual life, the existence of consciousness, meditation, and yoga. They were talking about taking care of the earth. They started pushing for their rights, whether they were women or gay or people of colour. A kaleidoscope of revolution was taking place all around me, most of which set the groundwork for steady, positive social change for decades to come.
Hippie values and ideology have stayed with me throughout my life and continue to guide me even now, so many summers later. Time may have moved forward some, but basically some truths remain the same. People power is the key to making positive change possible. Be the change you wish to see out there in the world. Peace matters to the earth and her creatures. Love is all you need.
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10th Floor or Bust
Standing around a nice crackling campfire in the semi-darkness, I confessed to friends for the first time a moment of dire embarrassment. It was a shameful secret I’d hidden for over two decades. They howled with laughter. Hearing their laughter made my shame disappear. Now I’m busy polishing the story so I can use it at parties.
It was the early 1980s and I was in my early 20s. I was working as a customer service representative for BC Tel. The company was undergoing a major data conversion project in Kelowna and they asked me and another woman to assist in setting up the new office systems. We were both single and three weeks in Kelowna, all expenses paid, sounded like an adventure. So off we went.
It was my first time on the company tab. They put us up in the only high-rise hotel downtown. If memory serves, it had twelve floors. In any case, we each had our own big room on the 10th floor. BC Tel also gave us a very generous food allowance for three meals per day and we tried to spend the maximum allowable each and every meal—full breakfasts with eggs, sausages and toast, large lunches with soup, sandwiches and pastries to go, big dinners with appetizers, steak and potatoes. We totally pigged out.
The days went by. And I had not had a bowel movement. But I didn’t really notice. I was young, dumb about my health, and paying a lot of attention to the demands of the job. Still, hungry or not, there we were, eating way too much three times a day. I don’t remember eating any vegetables. On about day five or six I started to feel nausea. I would get sudden lower abdominal pains. It was intermittent so I would push on my belly until it passed. This went on for a couple of days.
Then late one afternoon, the pains didn’t stop. I felt dizzy. My face was pale, my forehead was dewy with sweat. I was asked if I could be pregnant, if I still had my appendix. Finally, a supervisor put me in a taxi and sent me to the hospital.
Hospital staff were very busy and I waited for what seemed like forever. My gut felt full of hot spikes. Finally a male nurse took me into a small room, asked me some quick, friendly questions, then gave me a small paper cup full of this chalky liquid. I gulped it down. He asked where I was staying, calculated the time in the taxi, assured me with a smile that in 30 to 45 minutes I would be feeling much, much better. For sure, he did not tell me what results to expect. His big smile simply made me happy that this would all be over soon.
In the back of the taxi my stomach began to gurgle. Five minutes later, the gurgling was worse and I felt these thunks low down in my belly. My blood pressure seemed to go cold and sink. In the hotel lobby I rushed for the elevator. I got in with two other people, a nice-looking couple who nodded politely to me. Now there was an urgent rumbling down there. They pushed the 12th floor button. I don’t remember, but I must have pushed the button for the 10th. The doors closed.
Those super tight skinny leg jeans had just come into fashion and I was wearing a pair. The elevator was climbing excruciatingly slowly. I started to feel panic. I was trembling. All I could think of was this huge urge to pass gas. I squeezed my muscles as hard as I could, to little effect. A tidal wave was building in my belly. By now the number on the panel was at 3 or 4. Through my inner panic, I looked at the nice couple. They were so squeaky clean. The lift was taking forever. I decided that I would just let a small one go.
And I did. But I couldn’t stop. And what was supposed to be a teeny little desperately needed relief until I could really let go inside my hotel room turned into something completely out of my control. It was like my muscles down there were paralyzed. And the relief was so incredible that I could not stop. My pants were filling up. I was horrified. I remember thinking how lucky I was that the legs of my jeans were so tight. A smell was rising. And I remember the couple had these very pinched looks on their faces. Their backs had gone stiff. Then the elevator arrived at my floor and I had to walk out past them. They were going to see what I had just done.
I waddled down the hall as fast as I could. I rushed past the door to my co-worker’s room. I knew she’d be awaiting my call, had probably made dinner plans. If I haven’t grossed you out by now, let me just wrap up my most embarrassing moment story by saying it was quite something to peel off those jeans in the shower.
All I can say is, remember to eat your greens.
* * *
Pre-occupied with Occupy
What do you think about this Occupy movement? I was so proud of Lillooet to see its very own Occupy Main Street event. This town has some pretty cool, savvy folks living here. I wonder if there were many other small towns with their own Occupy protest.
Recently I was in New York City with a friend and we were only blocks away from Wall Street when the Occupy Wall Street protest began. We heard about it on the bus, while we were on our way to the Staten Island Ferry where you can take a free ride past the statue of liberty. The bus driver was talking to another man about some protestors being beaten and arrested. He said there were thousands of people over there. It sounded exciting and we wanted to go and bear witness but the thought of police and violence, American style, kept us away. So we just listened intently to their conversation instead. One fellow asked the bus driver what they were protesting about. And the driver said, Whaddaya think? The fatcats. And the other fellow nodded his head.
That question—what are they protesting about—is one that’s often asked here, too. Almost everyone I personally canvassed in Vancouver is either unclear about what Occupy is or they are unsympathetic and just want the protestors to be gone. Which got me thinking. Maybe Canadian fatcats aren’t as flashy as American fatcats so they have escaped our notice. Or maybe our media has not been focused on greed and unethical business practices the way they do down south and so we are less aware—or some of us are under the misguided notion that we have higher ethical standards. Or maybe our social safety nets and universal health care means Canadians are at least seeing some tangible benefits of our tax dollars and therefore not so disgruntled. Or maybe because people have not lost their homes here to the extent that they have in America means our Occupy focus, though related, is going to be somewhat different.
Whatever the reasons, I decided to go see for myself. When I visited the Occupy Vancouver site two weeks ago what I saw were numerous sleeping tents, a kitchen tent serving healthy fresh food, a volunteer/chores tent, first aid tent, a little library tent, even a tent for peaceful meditation. There was a large, informal circle of people and a process of inclusion—anyone who wanted to speak could do so. The people listening to the speaker would respond with hand signals to show their level of support or agreement. Issues varied: the commodification of water, concerns over failing ecosystems, native land rights, a highly flawed electoral system and voter alienation, endemic corruption, politicians in bed with business, the war machine, homelessness and poverty. Etc etc.
At one point, as I listened and observed, I remembered something from way back. John Lennon was being asked by a reporter what he thought about war. And Lennon replied, When the people want peace, they shall have it. Simple as that. At the time it was quite a powerful statement and it literally shifted my headspace. I knew in my gut that he spoke the truth and the day would come when the people would awake.
So when I was standing there at the Occupy Vancouver protest, I realized that here indeed was the seed of that revolution. Yes, we need to work for change in real tangible ways. But we also need to occupy our own minds, get our heads clear of some dreck, get rid of defeatist notions that nothing can change, that the 1% are too powerful, that it’s only losers or lunatics who protest. We need to claim our intrinsic right to direct our collective future. We are the 99%. Time to connect all the dots—that all these issues being protested are not the result of a lack of focus or a matter of confusion. The issues are all inter-related and the same ones being voiced by many people in places all over the world. We need to create the space inside our heads that allows us to believe, add our voices to the growing movement of people pre-occupied with creating a future that is fair, sane and peaceful. Time for us to realize that we are the people, we want what we want, and we shall have it.
* * *
This Big Little Town
I just love this ‘guaranteed rugged’ town for so many reasons. On any day you can go out and experience the stunning, pristine wilderness and then drag your sore, weary body into the Wellness Center and get some spa-style pampering. It makes me smile every time I think of Main Street being wide enough to turn around a stage coach and team of horses. This town is chock full of cool, smart, open-minded folks. I love the Native strength and pride and for the last two years I’ve attended The Gathering, which is a week-long healing, rejuvenating retreat featuring international indigenous leaders. On warm summer nights at the height of fruit season you can lay in bed and listen to the volley of dog barks—the canine brigade keeping tabs on foraging bears. At dawn, sometimes you hear the yip-yip-yipping of coyotes. I love the fact that there is no McDonalds. Or big box stores. I love that the air space is peaceful and not polluted by the sound of jets. Instead, you often hear the piercing cry of a hawk, the sudden buzz of hummingbird wings, the shifts in wind. And there is so much more I love about this big little town.
So imagine how delighted I am knowing that the recent political acrimony and interpersonal conflicts seem to be drawing to a close. Lillooet is turning a corner in its evolution, raising its consciousness, making efforts to heal the wounds of division and repair its harmony. And for these efforts it can be proud. No town of any size should be without its rough patches, its dark night of the soul. I commend the people who have fought for their beliefs and kept up the pressure for change. And I also commend the leaders and healers who have helped steer things toward repair, renewal and growth. All relationships worth having are open to being strengthened and improved by conflict. In its best possible light, conflict is an opportunity to gain deeper understanding and a more enduring form of peace.
So in support of this goal, this humble writer did some research and googled some websites and would like to offer a wink and some words—mostly light-hearted and irreverent—to help guide the process.
If you can’t be kind, at least have the decency to be vague.
Indecision is the key to flexibility.
Aim low, reach your goals, avoid disappointment.
If you can stay calm while all around you is chaos, then you probably haven’t completely understood the situation.
If something doesn’t feel right, you’re not feeling the right thing.
A person who smiles in the face of adversity probably has a scapegoat.
The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right time, but also to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.
Nobody exceeds beyond his or her wildest expectations unless he or she begins with some wild expectations.
Lillooet, keep on being so cool and so awesome. You rock!
* * *
Pssst, Did You Hear About So and So….?
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about communication—the art of conversation, what we need when we share ourselves with others, the difference between a good talker and a good listener, which kinds of interpersonal dynamics are healthy and positive, which ones are not. Being able to communicate with others in an appropriate, effective manner can make a huge difference in the quality of one’s life. In fact, it’s so important that I believe this subject ought to be taught extensively during the school years.
One form of communication which can have negative, destructive consequences is gossip. Why do we gossip? What do we get out of it? Researching this subject I found a funny quote: A gossip is someone who talks to you about others; a bore is someone who talks to you about himself; and a brilliant conversationalist is someone who talks to you about yourself.
Humour aside, how we talk with others reveals much about ourselves and our social milieu. Often when there is chronic gossip amongst members of a community, there is actually a need for a deeper and more authentic community, for relationships based upon more positive values. When I reflect upon this, a bunch of questions arise. When I gossip, am I coming from a place of caring and concern? Will my words sow goodwill, peace and harmony? Does what I am about to reveal about someone have their dignity in mind? Does what I say have the potential to harm the person about whom I’m talking? If I know the person, did that person ask me to be discreet? Do I value my relationship with that person? Would I want to be in their shoes, knowing that someone I trusted had betrayed my confidence? And if gossiping is the normal order of things, would I really be able to trust anyone with my confidences? For let us remember, as a Spanish proverb goes, Whomever gossips to you will gossip of you.
Sure, it’s true that some gossip is relatively innocuous and actually serves a social purpose. Maybe you’ve just met someone and a variety of conversation topics build a bond between you. Sometimes gossip is a form of commiserating: If his situation is bad, and it seems worse than mine, then maybe I can feel a bit better about myself and my life. Or it’s a way to relieve boredom. Perhaps my job leaves me seriously underwhelmed and a bit of gossip passes the time. Or maybe I secretly admire the person for living in a manner which I myself would like to do but don’t have the courage. Sometimes gossip is just a bad habit, plain and simple.
And sometimes gossip can be a way to blow off steam in a safe manner because telling someone to her face what you think about her behaviour is confrontational and could actually be dangerous. So gossip fills a gap—due to communication skills being low on our educational priorities, most of us don’t generally possess the skills to handle conflict well.
When there is conflict without effective, appropriate communications, what happens? Gossip can become malevolent, and can function to uphold a destructive group dynamic. It’s been my observation that malicious, chronic gossip is often about a character assassination and there is usually one strong personality leading that charge. I have seen this time and time again. A popular person gathers people around him and he revels in the attention. There’s laughter and comraderie and on the surface things look as though they are functioning well. Eventually the dynamic shifts and takes on uglier tones. Now the group is a gang. And when their leader is popular, charismatic and blind to ego, s/he can do a lot of damage. Soon the whole group is trading half-truths in a large-scale character assassination. In extreme situations such as this, gossip can really harm.
As I mull over these issues, I think that one of the worst aspects of gossip is how it wounds our own self esteem. If we know we are not trustworthy, if we know that we’ve engaged in these bad behaviours, what does that say about us? As they say, talk is cheap. But it doesn’t have to be.
* * *
What We’re Really Thirsty For
My boss at a former job, who was in his late 50s, spent a great deal of his leisure time drinking alcohol. Every single day after work he’d go out for beers and he had a belly like a bowling ball to show for it. It soon became apparent that if you wanted to get ahead, you had to go drinking with him. When a posting came up for the position of supervisor, a woman doing an excellent job who didn’t go drinking was passed over. Instead, the lazy, pandering guy who often got drunk with the boss was given the promotion. I’m sure many people have similar stories to tell.
That event took place in the 1970s and was an egregious example of the boys club functioning at its worst. It’s what I have come to call cocktail diplomacy. People were very open and naive about drinking back then. Booze was celebrated and encouraged at every level of society, so it’s no wonder it was commonplace in workplaces, in government, in business dealing of all kinds.
But those days are over. My old boss probably couldn’t get away with that behavior now, he’d be called out for promoting mediocrity and most likely he’d be fired. Furthermore, after decades of alcoholism, most people are now pretty knowledgeable about the many problems associated with the disease. We all know that alcoholism is about dysfunction; excessive drinking is used to cover up the pain of emotional wounds; heavy drinkers tend to make poor decisions; they are usually co-dependent; alcoholics cost society a tremendous amount of money; alcoholism runs in troubled families. And so on.
With this in mind, I was stuck by something I read a few weeks ago in this newspaper’s Council Briefs. It was reported that Council had amended its Travel Expense Policy to “allow council members or staff to purchase alcoholic beverages on occasions when they are hosting or entertaining members of other levels of government or the public, or holding meetings during meal hours when representing or promoting the District.”
Reading this caused me some alarm. I pictured a group of people seated around a couple of tables in a lounge or bar somewhere, the yukyuk factor way up, tables laden with drinks, and my tax dollars footing the bill. And I thought about the wording ‘during meal hours’ and figured this could include the meal at lunch hour. That gave me pause, too. Why would an elected official be drinking during the lunch hour?
So I placed a couple of calls to the municipality. I’ve never done this before so I was a bit apprehensive. I didn’t want to make waves and I wondered about the kind of reception I might receive. But I wanted to know how far this policy goes, how often it’s been used, and if there’s a ceiling to the amount that could be spent.
Let me say that I spoke with two people and both were professional and informative. The first person told me the new drinking policy would allow council members or staff to buy rounds of drinks. The second person informed me that so far nobody has used this particular perk, but that if receipts for alcohol were submitted, no doubt there would be taxpayer scrutiny. Which, in my opinion, is as it should be.
Now I’m not suggesting that there are alcoholics on council, nor that there would be fiscal irresponsibility. And I must confess that I myself drink. So I’m not preaching. I appreciate the wonderful effects of mild intoxication, the gentle mind-altering effects which make me feel elevated, expansive and a bit freer in spirit. Nothing wrong with that. Moderation is key.
But not while you’re working. And drinking on the taxpayer’s dime is no longer acceptable, even more so since the district of Lillooet has some distinct financial challenges. As a society we have turned a corner in our collective ideas about booze. It’s not the 1970s, the boys club is being replaced with more progressive, harmonious and inclusive models of organization. Cocktail diplomacy is definitely not cool.
A fundamental sea change in public attitude has occurred and people who don’t understand this, especially elected officials, are woefully out of step. I totally disagree with alcohol being paid for by the taxpayers. Good working relationships of all kinds need to be forged on clear thinking, healthy attitudes and honorable conduct.