a forced march on the sunny side of life

Dear Uma: Edward Abbey, wise old man of the desert, once said: “Society is like a stew; if you don’t stir it up once in a while a layer…

Dear Uma:

Edward Abbey, wise old man of the desert, once said: “Society is like a stew; if you don’t stir it up once in a while a layer of scum floats to the top.”

Canada’s multicultural stew has produced a very fat layer of scum and these days it is being vigorously stirred up; now the big question is who is to skim it off?

I’d sworn off reading or watching or listening to news, learning that a headline a day was keeping the warm and fuzzies at bay, but I couldn’t stay away from the theatre presented by Parliament in these last several days.

The politics of Canada have at last succeeded in engaging the populace, though what is keeping us paying attention to the circus our Parliament has become does not appear to hold much interest to the rest of the world.

The mystery of government was always not how it worked but how to make it stop, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper has succeeded in stopping it; surely this is worthy of some international notice?

Surfing the web, I notice there is not much mention of this achievement anywhere other than in Canadian publications.

It is yet another event, however, to add to the growing pile of concerns that have begun to keep me awake during the hours when I ought to be replenishing myself with restful slumber.

Many of the places I resided before coming here have issues like starvation, disease, unsafe water, poisonous snakes and insects, and armies of madmen to be dealt with on a daily basis. In those days, in those places, I rarely concerned myself with more than what was happening right before my eyes. I didn’t read newspapers often, nor listen to the news on the radio. I was one of the blissfully ignorant.

Here in Watson Lake, no one is threatened by hunger — the odd craving, perhaps, for some Asian fusion cooking, or a fresh Copenhagen pastry. There are no rampant, incurable diseases wreaking constant havoc on the populace, just the seasonal bouts of flu, sore throats and head colds to discomfit us for a brief spell while we lie in our cosy beds in safe warm houses to recover.

The mosquitoes are a nuisance and the spruce beetle can cause pain, but neither one can kill us. Our drinking water, while possibly doing us damage that will be revealed in the future (remember the Bro!), is plentiful and readily available.

Yet it is here that it began, my rapt attention to news, and it is here that I have come to internalize it to an unhealthy degree.

Watson Lake is where I, once omnivorous in my reading, began to read only non-fiction books, mostly about dead civilizations, climate change and corporate crime.

I watched mostly documentaries, all exposes of some sort and all ending badly. I read news, any and all news, on the internet. My mailbox was stuffed with news magazines. I even read the Yukon News, every issue and every page.

The threatened environment was the first bead on my worry string, closely followed by the economy.

Thanks to a CBC documentary, I learned to worry about the takeover and evil manipulation of my computer by Russian mobsters.

There are new, scary viruses to worry about, segueing beautifully into worrying about overworked nurses, the growing shortage of nurses, doctors who don’t wash their hands and filthy hospitals where people die of something they didn’t have when they checked in.

I worried about encopresis, and I would not have even known about it if I hadn’t read every word of an article in one of the medical mags that had somehow ended up on my list of subscriptions.

I worried about corrupt government, and the fact that no new animal has been domesticated for the last 4,000 years.

I worried about aliens coming and then I worried that they might not come.

It was as though a dam had burst; now my worry beads are too numerous to count, though nightly attempts to do so are what keep me from sleep.

When I found myself fretting about what was to become of the children of the dwarf who was swallowed by a hippopotamus, I realized it was time to get a grip. I didn’t even know if the dwarf had children, yet I was spending time attempting to find an address to which I could send a donation to their college fund.

Well, no more. I am declaring a personal moratorium (a temporary prohibition of an activity, nothing is forever) on world issues. These feet are staying on the sunny side of the street.

I shall be one of those who see the light, not among those who blow it out. No more trying heroically to make sense of it all while bleeding on the thorns of life.

The mephitic world of the popular media will no longer have my attention. No more thrice-daily visits to peruse the Yahoo home-page news. No more fretting over oil spills, fallen Amazonian jungles, the icterus index, and why a duck’s quack doesn’t echo.

The domestic front shall be the sole arena of my future endeavours. I have my work, my primary relationship, friends, family, and the noble effort of running a comfortable, energy-efficient home to keep me occupied. Maybe I shall volunteer with some community organization, perhaps.

There was a time when such pursuits were all one needed for a satisfying and fulfilling life. Indeed for many it was all that was available, and if we are to heed our elders it was a good life.

Back to long walks of the kind I enjoyed just last year, where I thought of nothing but the beauty of my surroundings and came home invigorated and inspired, glowing from fresh air and exercise. No more dragging myself into the house feeling morose and dark from thinking of the possibility of uncontrolled, thought-less devastation of the land.

More get togethers for fun: people appreciating and enjoying each other and our great good fortune in being here now. No more lengthy and earnest discussions about world shortages of everything while we eat heartily and drink imported wines. We will be eating heartily and drinking imported wines and talking about the margarine of the future, or why some wines are strangely dumb in the glass.

I’ll focus on a deepening of existing relationships and openness to new friendships. There is always further to go and more to learn about those already in our lives, (Pete’s new attention to the Relationship, for instance), and there is always the joy of finding yet another kindred spirit to celebrate life.

Not long ago, I lived more from my heart than my head and it was good. I don’t believe I have gone so far from that path that I cannot quickly find my way back.

The political stew will be skimmed or not; it’ll still be a stew. It’ll be served and like obedient children of a harsh parent, we will all have to eat it in silence or leave the table.

The very last piece of news to penetrate was Bob Rae stepping aside from the position of Liberal leader. The very first piece of good news from inside my new resolution is that I don’t know how to say or spell the name of the new leader and I am not going to learn.



Heather Bennett is a writer

who lives in Watson Lake.