A guaranteed fix to fire up the economy

I’ve heard it said before that the manufacturing required for WWII turned around a soft, lagging economy. I heard it described as equivalent to producing tens of thousands of vehicles and then dumping them into the middle of the ocean. It was the activity that sparked the momentum.

Hmmm.

I’ve also been learning about the perils of people on social media not understanding the art of reputation management. One of my professors told me Larry Page of Google believes everyone in the first 20 years of the internet should be granted an online amnesty from everything they’ve posted about themselves. Thus, no employer would be allowed, by law, to creep you on social media and then discriminate against you based on your personal texts i.e. revenge porn.

Hmmm.

This gives me an idea. Why don’t we purge the World Wide Web of all content? Not structure, but all the content.

Imagine the work required to re-build relationships and websites. There would be jobs for everyone and we could re-build it better since we are starting from scratch. The economy, an insane entity that wants to constantly expand or fall into crisis, would have plenty of expanding to do. People’s reputations would start from a clean slate once again.

Maybe we can do this every dozen years or so until we evolve past the need for an ever expanding monster called the economy. Maybe this will help stunt urban sprawl as everyone will be too busy getting rich in cyberspace.

The four horsemen of the suburban apocalypse

Are the suburbs the worst place in the world? Very possibly as they seem to be incubators for the worst people I have ever witnessed.

Note the typo. Image from http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/11/09/rob-ford-billboard_n_4244616.html
Note the typo. Image from http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/11/09/rob-ford-billboard_n_4244616.html

As I witness the Rob Ford theatre of the absurd playing out before us, I am keenly aware of the power of the sprawl of subdivisions that occupy between my current Hamilton outpost and urban Toronto. This area is very possibly is worthy of the greatest contempt and scrutiny we can muster for it’s deleterious effects, both physically and morally, on the rest of the Canadian landscape. By extension this phenomenon may very well be the harbinger of doom globally, undergirded (word usage inspired by Hume; see next paragraph) by the collective suburban consciousness’ inability to meaningfully self-reflect upon itself and the consequences of its own actions. I truly believe that left unchecked our entire continent will be someday be entirely and evenly blanketed by subdivision houses and shopping malls. Even more disturbingly, many if not most of our population would not see this a horrifying possible future.

Why am I harshing on the suburbs? The Star’s Christopher Hume has summed up the characteristics that offend me in his article here. In particular, this paragraph describes accurately the motivations of the class of people who hold our future in their hands: “Like Ford, they see little value in the city, prefer Tim Hortons and choose to drive everywhere. Their interest in civic issues goes no further than how much they pay in taxes, noisy neighbours and the state of the roads they depend on to get around. Like him, they want subways not because they will use them, but because they will replace the streetcars that would otherwise slow them down.”

I can already hear the protests and howls. I have read it in replies to his article from indignant suburbanites. I know there are “good people” in the suburbs. Maybe I am just a city snob out of touch with the reality of our society but the truth is I grew up in suburbs. To say I and others are unqualified or in an illegitimate position to meaningfully critique suburban culture is like saying someone who just finished twelve years of the public school system is not informed about how the public school system works. Conversely, I can say with confidence that those who grew up and remain in the suburbs are ill-suited to judge the merits of the urban core or, equally as distant, undeveloped natural environment. These people’s entire world is the suburbs and that perspective of reality is not to be underestimated – it’s powerful and palatable and always reinforced by a sense of being under siege by those who don’t have their lifestyles (read: from people who are envious of their material goods, because what else exists in this world?). The Fords understand this and deftly manipulate this insecurity to their political advantage. 

It is an interesting characteristic of people who live in the GTA, that I and others have noticed when moving here, that most of these people have never traveled anywhere. They don’t actually know anything about the rest of the world. They may of taken an all-inclusive vacation to the Dominican Republic or maybe have engaged in cross-border shopping but that’s it. This produces the effect of resisting change in attitudes or approaches to problems because they are willfully ignorant of how other communities of the world may of dealt with similar issues. This also, curiously, produces a somewhat counter-intuitive approach that the world and it’s resources are limitless – so what harm is one more subdivision going to cause? Why is one more car a problem? This isn’t Europe – we have more than enough space to spare. It occurs to me that these people share much with young earth creationists. They may intuitively believe that the earth was created 5,000 years ago and on the eighth day Jesus drove out of the ocean in a SUV and decreed it is a divine right that everyone should have a parking spot. 

I am writing this post as a way of making sense of how this person could be elected, supported and then defended. Some revelations have occurred to me during this time, such as when the Fords and their apologists are addressing the media they are not actually talking to their critics – they are bypassing the rest of us and feeding their army of suburban supporters with talking points and cliches to fall back on. That’s why their dialogue appears so childishly naive and ridiculous to everyone else i.e. “stopping the gravy train”, “war on the car” and “I’ll just drink at home from now on”. As they saying goes, never argue with an idiot because they’ll drag you down to their level and beat you with experience. The Fords depend on this as the more you patiently try to explain the flaws in their arguments, the more you are losing the war of attrition with their army of hollow men

For example, it is very interesting to watch the rats scurry from the sinking ship of Mayor Rob Ford’s regime. But why now? Why not six months ago? Why not a year ago? Because it only took a massive police investigation, international media covereage and undeniable candid video footage for any of those in the Ford camp to admit that anything may be amiss. Does this stubbornness and tunnel vision sound like an ideal state of politics and good governance to you? This smacks of fanaticism, of a kind of shallow consumer fundamentalist whose very nature precludes meaningful debate or compromise. In short, Ford Nation is a tribe of bullies and the man they elected is a perfect representative of their values and motivations. Those only now quitting his team or proclaiming their sincere concern for his well being are deserving of our greatest scorn.

Unbelievably to the reasonable person, there are those still defending Ford on the basis of his “good fiscal management”. Ok, seriously, what the fuck kind of reason is that for supporting a lying, crack smoking elected official? This is another pitfall of arguing with idiots because what is “good fiscal management” is actually a very fuzzy set of priorities based on your philosophical (or lack thereof) outlook on life. I’ve heard these people on the radio, and they claim that his private life and public life ought to be kept separated. Ok… so this sentiment does not apply to celebrities? Or how about to priests? Or to the person who manages your child’s daycare? How about to the surgeon who is about to operate on your parent? Or to the teller at your bank? Or the airplane mechanic? Are these areas of responsibility more grave than that the Mayor of Toronto?

What is really going on with this rationale is something I heard about a little while ago that makes sense to me – the absence of morals when making decisions in a marketplace environment. Do people sell and buy stocks based on ethical decisions? No. For example, you might of mutual funds but you don’t know exactly with what companies because you don’t care – this is a matter of money! Most people still buy clothes from sweat shops in third worlds because of the savings. Most of us will eat chickens that are raised in cruel conditions because of the convenience and savings within our marketplace. This same effortless self-entitlement is now applied to our politicians and is the basis for the appeal of modern day conservatism in general.

So, it’s ok for the Mayor to be a crack-smoker and liar – as long as he is saving us money. Putting aside the very valid arguments that he is not actually saving money, and that conservative governments in general are the worst possible approach to the economy, let’s assume it is ok for Rob Ford to be the way he is because of his fiscal management. Is it ok if he does cocaine too? How about crystal meth? How about acid? How about opium? What does it matter if he does all of them? What if he enjoys watching dog fights? What about porn? What about snuff films? Why does that matter anymore? If a certain style of fiscal management is desirable, then can we replace him with a robot? Why not? Why does it matter anymore if someone is human, or has certain values?

This line of logic pretty much lays bare that those who support someone like Ford have only self-interest as a guide to society. They have no understanding of history or much of a care for the future beyond their own life. They don’t care if the world is burning beyond the horizon because their world, their real world, is inside whatever routines they have carved out inside the noise and stink of your average suburb that you can find anywhere. And Ford nation gets to drive around it for $60 a year cheaper than if they elected another Mayor.

I have categorized my observations of the worst, most destructive inhabitants of the suburbs into four thematic categories I call…

The four horsemen of the suburban apocalypse 

1) The taxpayer:

What a great tool for dividing our communities into quarrelling factions! If you pay more income tax than me, or own property and thus pay property taxes then you should have more influence in a democracy. When a politician refers to a serving taxpayers, they are creating a class based society and removing morals and values from the conceptual equation of who to vote for. Don’t worry about doing the right thing – just worry about your entitled position in this pyramid scheme.

Society is all business right? Of course, this rhetoric is complete bullshit. We all pay taxes in one form or another. I remember former Toronto Mayor David Miller warning about the dangers of segregating society in such a way and he urged people to think of “citizens” as opposed to “taxpayers”.

I am a citizen and I have a responsibility to the world around me.  A “taxpayer” is someone who sees the world as having a responsibility to them.

2) The Stooge:

Remember “Dave from Toronto“? This is typical of our society and happens all the time. More than you think, probably. I’ve seen this at a community meeting I attended to plead for the preservation of a heritage building. We were essentially shouted down by employees of the elected official we were pleading to.

It’s a normalized practice in Canadian municipal politics to cherry pick the community members you consult with. There is a such a disconnect with politics that the majority of people don’t vote – so only those with an immediate vested interest or beliefs approaching the fanatical are the majority who vote. If I am a politician, I will tailor my campaign to appeal to the 10% of the population who actually vote and not to represent the interest of 100% of my community because they don’t all vote.

I will hire communication professionals to mediate with the media to create a perception that my campaign represents the democratic majority. Thus the rise of the Stooge as the most powerful incarnation of politics today because things in Canada are getting downright tribal – what or why is not important anymore as who.

3) Mall security:

Malls are the cultural centres of the suburbs. They are the mass-produced, big boxed heart and soul of these communities and yet they remain private property. If you are not there to shop then you have no business being there and can be legally barred from the premises.

How do they know if you are not there to shop? If you act different or look different, then you will be singled out. This is true for all of the suburbs – the police, for example, would have no problems stopping someone wearing a top hat and toga and walking backwards on a sidewalk. They are not breaking any laws, but they are acting “suspicious”. You, as a tax-paying property owner residing in the suburbs would have no problems with police stopping and investigating this oddly behaving individual. You would not consider the intagible implications to our individual rights or our democratic freedoms – because you don’t care about the past or future or they way things work elsewhere. What you don’t understand you loathe and Mall security feels the same way you do because Mall security works for you.

By contrast, someone wearing a toga and top hat and walking backwards through a large urban core would tend to be tolerated much more.

4) The friendly mafia:

When I think of mafia, I think of back room deals, winks, nudges and financial transactions within closed systems that ought to be open. I think of an agreement to gang up and punish those who get in the way of conducting business.

Well, this is the way the people typically involved in Canadian municipal politics operate. To me, it is very arrogant and naive to believe some of the revelations of corruption in the City of Montreal and Laval are not present in the GTA or Hamilton. In fact, it is probably much worse precisely because it has not been remarked upon.

I call this “the friendly mafia” because those who sit as trustees and on city councils typically have deep connections business wise to the community. Contracts and policies that lead to contracts tend to happen to the benefit of these public officials and their buddies in the community. For example, a quaint lakeside town not far from Hamilton recently compromised its scenic appeal by allowing a monstrous condominium to be built on the beach front. Though this may have detrimental effects on the local economy, in the short term the council member who owns a duct installation company and subsequently got the contract for this condo building benefitted greatly. He’s a business and community leader. Gosh, a really nice guy and even volunteers with XYZ Charity once a month.

He has also helped unleash the pattern of suburban sprawling development onto his community. Nothing can or will be done because his is part of the local friendly mafia – everyone knows each other and dissenting views bring repercussions unto themselves. This is the marketplace and ethics have no place here. Besides, if he didn’t benefit from it the next guy would of.

Conclusion

Everything I have written here is from a weak position because the greatest weapon in the Ford Nation arsenal is the fact they just don’t care. You can be right, clearly and unequivocally, but it does not matter to these people. That is their source of strength and pride.

We can trace the problems to amalgamation of cities, giving councillors from surrounding suburbs the advantage of numerical supremacy to downtown councilors and thus power over the budget and lives of citizens living in the urban core. I must point out the decision to amalgamate was a budgetary one by a conservative government and this sensibility has led to the depraved and hypercritical stance of Ford Nation supporting a drugged out Mayor who appeals to them because he lives in house like them and drives to work like them. There is nothing redeeming or noble here.

I know I am a better person than most of these people because I can and will admit my faults and hypocrisies. Unfortunately, this kind of honesty is a detriment when engaging Ford suburbanites in a similar way as it must of been to admit you are a sinful person to the Spanish Inquisition.

Economy, jobs and good fiscal management they refer to would be easier for me to accept if it was actually a responsible and sustainable model for prosperity – but sadly it’s not. But that is another post for another time. For now, I suppose my post can be dismissed as an argument against society in general and these values are the way it is so I better stop complaining and get a real job. I better stop considering the past and stop hoping for a better future and get as much as I can right here and right now while I still can. Someone like Ford can make that quest a little easier for me.

The next level evoluntionary stage of artists

There are a lot of artists out there. Some people say anyone can be an artist – all you have to do is try hard enough. Other people say whatever you happen to be doing can be art, if you do it well enough. Artists without art school say labour is the defining element of being an artist, and artists with degrees and diplomas will lament all of the above and write about it as their differential. People with little or no empathy for the arts will simply shrug and mumble something about the free market dictating who are artists.

They’ll probably also complain that no one paints like the old masters anymore.

Reminds me of when internets was taking over during the 90’s and Architects and Engineers where shocked – SHOCKED – that their professional designation was being co-opted by fly by night IT school. Instead of taking 6 years to become an Architect, you could become an “Information Architect” or “Software Engineer” in six months. You still can, but becoming an artist is even easier and more exploited (Hello sandwich artists).

So being an artist is simply not enough to distinguish the top of the industry anymore. The industry as we fantasize about it is gone (if it really ever existed at all), and all that is left is a series of merchants selling marketing to this dream of a profession – and that’s fine. I waive my claim of being an artist and leave the fields of this empire of dirt burnt sienna to the political and social mob that chases wall space, status and art supplies with fervor and passion.

I abandon this title of being an artist because I want to be more – I want to evolve to the next stage of being an artist: media.

Media artists is not a new concept and most of you will be familiar with it. However, I am not talking about being a media artist, which is still bound to place and time but rather becoming Media.

Ai Wei Wei has done it. So has Damien Hirst and Banksy. All of their work, and the artists themselves, could disappear tomorrow and it would not affect their influence for most of us. They transcend place and time and manipulate our very mediums of communication with whatever art in whatever way they wish.

That’s pretty bad ass and just obtuse, obscurantist enough and without immediate practical merit (“How do I buy and sell this?”) that it should work as a mechanism to keep the art barbarians outside the gate and provide a historical measurable to strive for.

I want to become media.

This post is follow up to two previous musings about media and artists: Great art is 1% substance and 99% media ~and~ Reject being called an artist – when making art, be a somebody

Rise of the Social Eunuchs: Trusted guards of Reputation’s bedroom.

art hamont 050

During discussion in my media & reality class last week, I learned of and been thinking about the concept of two classes of social media citizenry emerging – those who keep their reputations online clean and those who don’t.

Of the those with a clean reputation, there are those who flourish online as communicators and those don’t.

Of those who do excel in this medium, there are those who digitally represent brands and personas.

These are trusted and valuable to an organization, as they are closest to the identity machinery, are typically not an owner but an employee, and yet trusted with it. This reminded me of Eunuchs, castrated to serve as of class of slaves or servants throughout history. They too were trusted in the most intimate and public environments as the thinking was that, among other presumed losses of particular desires, there would be the lack of ambition.

I’m thinking of that person who dropped their pants or posted something in passion or conflict. The Social Eunuch would never do that – so you can trust them.

I mulled in an earlier post about how it seems better to not have a presence online at all for some. Some politicians and organizations now wish they weren’t. So the next best thing is to have a replaceable, dependable and (at least as an online footprint) completely unremarkable person as your social media lead. This is the Social Eunuch and is perhaps has emerged as the most valuable class of online citizenry today. The stereotype of our historical notions of the personality traits typical of a Eunuch lends itself to a Social Eunuch’s presumed virtues of no desire for sex, no ambition, docile and dependable.  This lends itself to a standard of reputable online presence free of sex scandals, criminal accusations and no desire for online conflict like being snarky to a competitor or critic.

Eunuch’s were considered easy to replace – so is the employee who tweets out something racist or sexist. First impressions are very important on social media so if suddenly a lot of people notice your social media profile online because of a bad or embarrassing behaviour, then that is your first and lasting impression unless you become immediately and permanently bland and unremarkable. This is strategically attainable to middle class citizens by never appearing publicly on Social Media again  – and thus castrating yourself from your shameful extension.

For a brand, the only hope is to acknowledge a distinct personality was associated with the brand.  Little he/she had a mind of their own and are now cut from the team.

To achieve Social Eunuchism:

  • Hire someone who does not have an online presence or has a very careful, minimal and unremarkable online presence.
  • Person(s) anonymized when acting as the brand voice or the person(s) are identified as persons but only publicly online as the persona.
  • Person is a dedicated professional.

Does this affect artists?

I think artists are, as usual, a special case and social media is a different tool for us. Our reputation can “take more heat” than non artists, intellects or celebrities. Even boutique or cultural enterprises can cross lines on the web and actually benefit from it. There are Social Eunuch artists and cultural entities, to be sure, but there are also more social selfies (social media as a self portrait construct) and more controversial artists who are also social media elite citizenry. I look forward to posting more thoughts about this.

Is social media the middle class?

It occurred to me that those who are very poor and those who are very rich do not use social media. The former for lack of access and the latter for lack of use.

Wealth that is generated by the middle class and thus dependent on the middle class is represented i.e. a large retail or media corporation. Political interests as well, but the truly powerful have no reason to engage risking their reputation by being noticed at all. It’s a far safer strategy to be off the radar.

The marginalized and those toiling in poverty are represented, but arguably by industries that depend on the cycle of poverty such as non-profits, activists and charities. If you have access to the internet via a signal and device, and engage on platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest then chances are you are (relatively) not representational of the plight of the truly disadvantaged – especially globally.

Social media is more and more of a shopping mall – and the super wealthy don’t shop where you shop and persons living on the street aren’t allowed in.  In the meantime, we are hearing more and more about reputation management and the need for a respectable online footprint if you want good career opportunities, or even to not be fired for indecent behaviour or comments in public. These are concerns of the aspiring middle class.

The Artist’s Shoulders #3: The terrible weight of the GTA rushhour

This is the third post in my series about my shoulder problems and how it ties into problems with our health system, some public & private problems of being an artist in Canada, perceptions that promote poverty  and thus ultimately the economy … seriously, they are all related and this post outlines a second example of this. 

Life in the GTA can be nasty, brutish & Commute.*

Sometimes you have to go where the work is, and work through any issues involved in getting there.

My first job when I moved to Toronto involved commuting from Parkdale Village to North York. Not stressful but long and unreliable time wise. Trains would always “short turn” as I was travelling opposite rushhour traffic. I was working in some guy’s basement office in the middle of suburbia and he demanded I arrive at 9am sharp. That’s why he was paying me the barely living wage bucks for, so I felt duty-bound to oblige.

To do this I left the apartment at 7:10 am and took the street car and then the subway to Wilson Station. From there I could walk or wait for the bus. Either way, I would usually arrive about 30-20 minutes early and wait outside the house. If I left the apartment any later than 7:10 am, I would be late by about 20 minutes to half hour. It was a goddamn time-space singularity tear in the fabric of North York I tell you.

Going home again took about the same amount of time, but going against rushhour was a real luxury. This was actually a cakewalk compared to what came next … commuting from Hamilton to Toronto everyday.

GTA rush hour is a monster movie twice a day.

Seriously. You have to plan around it or you risk being in the belly of the beast for many hours. The stinking toxic angry oozing innards of the man-made creature called “Toronto Traffic”.

This sucks where ever you live in the GTA, but if you are living in Hamilton and commuting to Toronto is especially heinous. One friend who made the trip only a few times described it as follows: “It’s hellish and will suck your soul out through your eye balls.” – that seems extreme but it is reflecting a real situation that has Toronto ranked in the top 5 for worst traffic in North America and worse than New York, Berlin or London (which seems surprising as those are really big cities and the last two are much older, so I imagine with narrow streets in many parts).

The morning rush hour starts at 7am and lets up about 9:30-10am. The evening rush hour starts at 3:30pm and ends usually around 7:30pm. If you go into and back from Toronto outside of those times then you are very fortunate – otherwise it takes about two hours to get into Toronto and between two and four hours to get home.  The worst part is how exhausting it is – you can’t take your eyes off the road. You have to be constantly inching forward and stopping every few feet, and then gunning whenever you can to – usually for a few seconds then slamming on the breaks. It’s a real battle to get through, and especially to keep an eye out for erratic and angry drivers who start cutting people off suddenly in their induced congestion stupor.  Like me, these people are frustrated that it *should* take under 40 minutes from downtown Hamilton to downtown Toronto and vice-versa. On paper, it looks like Hamilton is close to Toronto – but it’s not. It’s really not.

Why not take public transit and save some time and money?

Good idea. Taking a bus or train will save time and money … except when commuting from Hamilton to Toronto. This is where things get into into the realm of bad planning and thus bad economics.

Believe or not, a one way fare costs more than $10 and so going back and forth costs over $20. You can buy a monthly pass for nearly $350. If you are living on typical cultural worker wages, minimum wage or near the poverty line this amount is prohibitive. When I would drive, I could park for $8 near my work, and factoring in gas that’s actually still less than taking taking the bus or train. The real spit in the eye is that it’s not as expensive the closer you take the bus or train to Toronto. What this means is if you live in the affluent suburbs of Mississauga or Oakville, you are paying only three or four dollars. Those living in depressed Hamilton are paying the most, are the least able to afford it and are in the most need of affordable transportation to find work. Oh, and there’s no wireless on GO Transit, which is no small inconvenience as I explained in a previous post.

Another bit of salt in the wound is Hamilton’s last train leaves at 7:15am and makes most stops along the way, resulting in an almost two hour trip anyways in a *very* crowded train. A train by the way you are not allowed to bring your bicycle onto to so you’ll have to pay more again if you don’t work within walking distance of the Toronto station.  You can take the bus, and even load your bike onto it, but you’ll probably be late if you take it later than … 7:15am.

Oh, and there’s no park’n’go in Hamilton. I would have to pay extra here to take a bus to the station or walk 40 minutes.

You can take a bus to Aldershot station in Burlington, just before Hamilton, that does have all day trains and lots of parking. Aldershot is remarkable for having a Walmart, an empty field and a giant pile of dirt. Hamilton has more people, but apparently the problem is freight trains have more priority than passenger trains. That should help paint a clear picture of the priorities at work here.

They are increasing train times and opening a new station in Hamilton, in time for the PanAm 2014 games. This is a separate boondoggle and we’ll see what actually becomes of it, but I’ve learned to take good news in Hamilton with a grain of salt.

The solution is obvious, and so is the problem: There should be free public transit and there are too many cars on the road (especially with single drivers. Grrrr).

It wouldn’t really be free of course, but already paid for through our taxes. Unfortunately, we live in knee-jerk conservative simpleton times. I’ve gotten into a few disputes about this and sometimes with people who I initially credited with having more reasoning skills. Their argument always boils down to a) they don’t take transit as they have a car so why should they pay for it? and b) it’s too expensive without people paying fares.

Their argument does not make much sense to me. First of all, the service is already publicly funded so how exactly much are we paying for ticket collectors, ticker checkers, cashiers, gates, consultants, services, payment systems, lawyers, training and everything single other thing that goes with having a fare system? Quite a bit I suspect.  Secondly, these people railing against taxes paying for public transit seem to have absolutely no qualms about taxes paying for their roads. What if we slapped a $10 toll on every road into and out of Toronto? Then I suspect we would have a large outcry that roads should remain “free” to drive on. Yep, most people in the GTA aren’t terribly self-reflective.

Another obvious boon would be the boost to the local economy as more people traveled to different areas – buying a coffee, shopping, get a haircut and a job, or whatever. More than this, it would decrease car traffic significantly. Then we wouldn’t have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in expanding roads to accommodate more traffic.  We would save on extra police, ambulances, road maintenance, insurance and even health care costs as the stress levels drop. I bet you dollars to donuts that “free” transit saves more money than having fares.

But what do I know? I’m only an artist and not one of the corporations who are profiting greatly from this current state of affairs and enabled by terrible political leadership. In Canada, we have a very “silo” way of thinking about things, and column A in the spreadsheet is not considered when looking at column B, even if we could save much more tax money overall, and ergo we are left with a disastrous mess that is costing the region billions.

Really hard to imagine that a fare-less transit system is worse than this.

There are improvements they could make immediately like allowing bicycles onto the train. The argument against this is that there is not enough room during rush hour. My argument is that it’s a train – you can add more cars. Their counter-argument is that Union Station can’t handle a larger train or bicycles. My counter-argument is that there are stations on the way and close by, like Exhibition Place, that would accommodate this – the great thing about bicycles is that you can travel to places on them. Obviously, my pleas for reason have been in vain – at least to the transit cop I was arguing with who was busting a kid for bringing his ten speed on the train. When I last saw him, they had pulled him off the train and there were about eight of these “special constables” surrounding this scared teenager. It really broke my heart and opened my eyes that there are interests out there that don’t want things to improve and be more efficient because they are making a living off of the way things are now.

Another immediate improvement would be to equalize the payment on GO Transit so it’s the same all over the system, just like any other public transportation system such as the TTC or the HSR. This would help make it more affordable for Hamiltonians and people in Oakville can pay their fair share. This argument usually ends with the other person giving me a look like I’ve got a tentacle growing out of my forehead.

What has this got to do with my shoulder condition?

So I would commute every work day. It was during this time of living barely paycheque-to-paycheque (but with a very nice job title) that my right shoulder started to hurt. I am a big guy, about 6’4″, so fitting into these little seats built for a shorter brand of human meant I would always be “hunched up”, especially with the masses of people who crowd onto the train along the way and back from Toronto.  I didn’t know about my shoulder condition at that time, so decided to tough it out. My job meant long hours hunched over a computer at work and then long hours at the computer at home (usually when I got back at 8pm) trying to keep up with my own work. Eventually, my back gave out a couple of times and I tried going to physio (quickly ate through my meager health insurance) and exercising but honestly I was so tired all the time. I could hardly function most times.

At the end I could feel my whole arm starting to go. If I reached behind me, or up, a lightening bolt of pain would shoot up from my shoulder and my arm would tingle, go numb, and swell a little bit. I thought this was normal, as I had been experiencing less sever pain in my arms and shoulders throughout my life. It’s kinda funny – I’m experiencing pain doing a certain range of movements so everyone must experience the same thing right? I remember thinking everytime I would have to reach back in the car or up to get something, or even paint or draw on an easel, about the Princess Bride movie where Wesley says “Life is Pain“.

After almost two years I just couldn’t do it anymore. I just couldn’t physically handle the demand, and was too financially impoverished to be able to move closer to downtown Toronto. Without another job lined up closer to where I live, or any other work lined up, I quit. I remember reaching up from my chair to hug a co-worker goodbye and almost cried out from the pain in my arm and shoulder. I couldn’t bear the pain of people bumping into me during the morning commute and the agony of holding onto something because of heavy footed bus and streetcar drivers.

I figured rest would heal my back and shoulders. Lord knows I couldn’t afford massage or physiotherapy, and didn’t have a doctor to go see, but I was sure I would get better sooner than later and be back to painting and drawing. I was wrong.

More to come… in the meantime, please enjoy the below stills from a video of one of my commutes (January 13th, 2012 I believe). This is the shared landscape we have in common, and in turn informs each one of us of the world we live in and the priorities of our communities. Any of this look familiar?

*Adaptation in subtitle is from “Life is … nasty, brutish and short” via Thomas Hobbs but you probably knew that already. But at least you scrolled through the commute pictures – thank you!

The Artist’s Shoulders

My right shoulder. Now also my like my left shoulder.

My right shoulder. Now also my like my left shoulder.

It’s been over two years but finally I have an appointment with an Orthopedic Surgeon regarding my shoulder issues. To be fair to the Doctor his waiting list is only seven months and not two years – I should of insisted to the walk-in clinic Physician to refer me to one when I first was almost literally crippled with a painful, swollen arm and shoulder.

Been thinking about the economics of being an artist, and by extension, the dynamics of perpetual living near the poverty line.  For example, clinics are the only real option for those who can’t find or get to their own GP. You have less than an ideal long-term relationship, and they in turn have to make a call on a stranger’s predicament.

In my case, it was kinda misdiagnosed as Bursitis and that explains a great deal about why the treatments did not work – at all – for many months. I saw a second clinic doctor who initially agreed with the first. I saw a physio therapist, as prescribed, and for sure those over-head-exercises were a terrible idea and helped to further aggravate what is actually wrong with my shoulders.

Unfortunately for me, getting instant relief via a cortisone injection was next to impossible, as it was “only allowed” by prescription from an Orthopedic Surgeon.

Ok. Remember the aforementioned seven month waiting list? So it didn’t seem to make sense to either clinic Docs to request an appointment.

I think there is a bit of Doctor politics going on and they did didn’t want to look bad by referring a patient who *probably* had something that didn’t need a specialist’s time.  I mean, it does not make much sense to me that cortisone is so well guarded by such venerable stewards such as Orthopedic Surgeons. It’s not like Oxycontin or something. People don’t buy and sell cortisone shots in back alleys do they?

I think this chain of events is due to income and associated issues of accessibility, resources and support network. That’s bad enough but it gets worse, because I think the normalcy of this kind of situation is – strictly speaking – very bad for the economy.

Cent for cent, I believe everything is more expensive near and below the poverty line than anywhere else on the income scale. Where I have been living for three years is rife with evidence of bad planning and continued decisions that are largely reactions to both the real and perceived poverty of this Ward. I and others think many of these decisions actually keep this area in a perpetual state of decline.

My shoulder woes are also largely a reaction to the economies around me and I have not even touched yet on artistic, career and social impacts this has had – both positive and negative. I think I have had many insights through some truly unexpected twists and turns. One of the biggest insights for me is that I’m actually quite privileged compared to most people, and there are many with much less than I in worse situations, and they all handled it better than I’ve been handling this. I can only imagine.

A series of blog posts to document called “The Artist’s Shoulders” is something I’ve been thinking of doing for awhile now. (I really wanted to make a pun with it involving Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” but haven’t got a good one yet. That will have to a be a subtitle later on).

I’ve been looking forward for a chance to describe this ordeal so far, and why I think it’s happening. I will try to clarify some of my more pertinent thoughts on health & creativity in our society. I don’t want to forget what’s happened here, and I’ve also been feeling that way as an artist lately.

So in my upcoming posts I’ll talk about what is actually wrong with me and why it’s not fixed – and why that is so troubling for me. Plus other weird shit happened I gotta get on the record as this is going to be a long process. In the meantime, here some links to interesting work involving the effects of poverty on both the mind and body:

Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function: Recently in the news, and rung familiar for me as I read about it.

Decision fatigue: I remember this came out a few years ago.  Making lots of important / stressful decisions results in some sort of brain fatigue that results in bad decisions. This applies to CEOs and Politicians but also very much for those caught in the cycle of poverty. The example given as I remember was of a low-income single parent going grocery shopping. Lots of decisions, and they are ALL important because you are poor and thus that person experiences this kind of fatigue.  This is very familiar to me as well.

Food Desert: A food desert is an area, typically a populous urban environment, in the industrialized world where healthy, affordable food is difficult to obtain. (Wikipedia)

Stay tuned..