Tag Archives: David Bowie

Say something nice

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

Data breach is probably this year’s new phrase like fake news was last year. Facebook’s role in the latest iteration of campaign meddling and user- info-loot-bag-free-for-all has people making declarations all over various platforms regarding whether they will deactivate their account or keep their account but delete all extraneous apps etc. or that they are outraged that a free marketing online business used their data. Really? I think I’ve had maybe a hundred conversations online regarding the fact that no, Mark Zuckerberg isn’t your friend, he’s a rich technocrat who is using your activity on Facebook to boost its stock price and create ad money – and I’ve had these conversations now for five or six years. Being shocked by such revelations I am not.

My only thought or reaction to this data breach is what my brother Matthew said this past fall when he was showing me the dozen six hundred-page tomes he was reading, that nature is ordered, has systems, and humans are chaotic and consistently cause chaos. Raised Catholic and taught that man had dominion over everything, I always thought the opposite. That humans brought order and systems to the chaos of the natural world. But now that I think about it  the opposite is far truer and far more helpful. What the f*%k are we doing exactly?

The thing about spending most of one’s time contemplating and creating art is that you can open yourself to the idea that everything is absurd and trying to find sense in anything people do is a waste of time. Some people are helpful, others are not. It can actually be this simple. The older one gets the easier it is to believe this too.

Facebook users have now exposed this ‘people are chaos’ theory to be pretty accurate. While many people on Facebook just want to see their grandchildren or show off their pets/cooking/travel/renos/work/popularity, there are a large amount of users who are on an outrage campaign, believing everything they hear, open to all sorts of conspiracy theories and generally ruining it for the rest of us. I said to someone this morning, it’s like what we used to say in theatre, a show is only as good as its weakest link. This current chaos is sewn by people who are using the platform to extol their own uncertainty and fear – it’s a digital Lord of the Flies if you will.

Ridiculousness abounds on the internet because the people who share it are not thinking, they are in a state of confused chaos, they don’t stop and reflect. It is all about reaction and then the exponential impact of reaction. Auto correct and the fact that people can’t spell or sometimes write exacerbates an already heated melee. I’m lucky, I’ve had very little trolling and many of the discussions I’ve participated in since the early days on Facebook have been friendly albeit not always in agreement but friendly nonetheless. I don’t hate Facebook for turning the other way while Cambridge Analytics went to town on mining user info; I feel oddly complicit. I’m there to begin with so what the f*%k am I doing?

This group of Peterborough artists and arts supporters have used social media to create a bonafide cultural movement. A good example of how to use Facebook.

I think instead of freaking out over the data breach it may be time people started thinking about every post they make. I actually do this. I manage social media accounts for an environmental advocacy group; I have to comply with their mandate and protect their brand. I am careful about what I post. This has bled into my personal postings as well. Everyone I know that does this kind of work is very careful online. It is a form of digital literacy; we’ve learned how to use the platforms and how to protect ourselves on them. Everyone should do this.

But I have spoken in this blog about digital literacy before and I continue to do so into what seems is a void. People hate social media for it’s negativity, trolls and general sense that the world is a vacuous place full of miscreants. But people love social media for how it projects how they think they are perceived and in my feed some people are constantly fabulous, brilliant, brainy, gorgeous, hilarious, popular, in the know, fit, successful, do yoga all the time, travel and treat their dogs like humans.  Or they like to tell me what I don’t know or how I have things wrong. It’s like people are normal and then become Ayn Rand online. I gravitate toward those who think that life is less than perfect which I realize says more about me….

The best use of social media and the best way to calm the ills of our world is to be helpful and share helpfulness. This has always been the case with humans and it always will be – because humans create chaos regardless of them being online or not. Chaos is what we do so why not help each other drag ourselves out of darkness with usefulness. Or at the very least if you can’t say something nice….

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A few things I learned about cancer

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

“Something happened on the day he died,
Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried
I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar”

David Bowie dying was a shock. That he died from cancer made it even worse. There have been gazillions of beautiful tributes to this man who crossed so many boundaries in culture. Many of the tributes are far better written than I could ever attempt.  I will say this however, had I not gone through the last few months of watching my partner recover from cancer treatment I might have felt different about this passing. For starters, cancer is an astonishingly awful disease on many levels – and the varieties of cancers only mean that the body is then issued an exacting horror route to death. All I could do for several days was to conflate my own experience with that of a man I never met but felt deeply sympathetic toward. It doesn’t seem fitting that someone so other worldly can die in such an Earth bound way; I prefer to think he just sailed back to the star he came from.

I’ve learned a lot in the last few months. Some of it very specific and unique to my experience; what I will do with this acute knowledge I do not know. Some of it more general and helpful (maybe?), I wish to share a few thoughts here.

Cancer is complicated. There is nothing simple about getting and dealing with cancer. An MRI will reveal something that a doctor might recognize but only a biopsy will tell you what it is. And then, the doctors are never definitive. It all begins with percentages and numbers. Lots and lots of numbers. Are you good at numbers? If not, and you find you have cancer, get someone who is. We were lucky my partner can do math in his head and our prognosis was in the 80 – 90% recovery rate. These numbers meant everything to me, they became a mantra.

There is tons of information to absorb. There will be many, many tests. Everything happens at once because the doctors are motivated to get you into treatment as soon as possible, so, what the treatment will do the body, where you are going to live during treatment, what you will be able to eat during treatment, how much money you will spend on pharmaceuticals, what floors of the hospitals are for what session, what weekly meetings and appointments you will have to keep is all told to you while you are reeling from the shock of realizing that this is in fact really happening.

A public domain image of a cancer cell. While there is a referral to this kind of thing as a black star, I think Bowie was probably not being that literal. In any case, it all seemed pretty chilling to us.
A public domain image of a cancer cell. There is a referral to this kind of thing as a black star, was Bowie being that literal? Cancer can make one very inward thinking; maybe that is all that is going on in his last recording.

Cancer treatment is as horrible as everyone says it is. Radiation therapy is hardly therapy it’s more like a slow form of high tech torture. If it wasn’t so awful it could be kind of cool, like in a Bond film. A really slow anti-climactic Bond film. The machines are impressive; in fact the technology is stunning. As someone who believes that technology is an extension of consciousness, I was fascinated… eventually, most of the time I was just scared. The worst aspect of the ‘therapy’ is actually what the hospital called pain management. I scoffed at this term initially but it is exactly that, a course where you need to balance several medications in order to manage pain. Again, if you are not good with numbers find someone because knowing your milligrams is important.

Cancer is isolating. You will stop being invited to anything because our society has no idea how to handle personal crisis and people get spooked easily. It’s not a nice word: cancer and there seems to be a feeling in our culture that to be near it is to get it. Plus no one knows what to say. My favourite response was from a really good friend who just said “oh shit.” Yeah, that was great because that was all that you can say. But you can’t get angry at people; we are not schooled in how to help in these situations. Not everyone has that Jesus gene where they know exactly how to help the sick.

There are however astonishingly devoted people in your life that will call every week and offer all manors of things. Do you need money? A place to stay? Drives? Grocery shopping? Some people are just plain golden.

Caregivers live in a void. The treatment my partner received was top notch, state of the art cancer treatment, his doctors the best in the country and it was all free. I can hardly complain about the other failings of our health care system. So I won’t. But I will say that it is perhaps a societal failing that leaves so many people who look after cancer patients without anyone to talk to or look toward for guidance. I was lost many times while my partner was essentially immobilized in pain or exhaustion. I ran our household, our careers and also spent every other waking minute looking after someone with very complicated needs. My friends and family were a tremendous support but they understood the disease less than me. It would be great to have medical professionals whose only duties would be to be available to people who look after suffering loved ones.

The worst thankfully is now over. We just await that moment when the doctor says, “it’s gone.” Meanwhile we are enjoying our cabin nestled in the Ontario snow, a blue moon making the darkness light – as always the wilderness around us emits its own metaphorical poetry and becomes our salvation again.

The above quote is from David Bowie’s last recording Blackstar, a monumental work that will transfix and beguile people for generations.