From Hastings to Green Island - one man's long and winding road out of the Box.
No bio here - that's gonna take awhile, with about 20 binders of past stuff gathered and now a lot of stuff on a hard drive and CDs as well, not to mention 40-odd years of stuff in the grey matter hard drive. Brief demographics - born in Toronto in 1950, father about to graduate from medical school, mother recovering from TB. The family made a stop in a small town in northern Ontario called Desbarats, and another brief one in Oshawa, before settling in another small town called Hastings, where the parents (by 1960 with 5 kids, all boys) spent the rest of their lives, dying in 1982 (mother) and 1992 (father), and the rest of us grew up, all the formative years kind of stuff. I've done quite a lot of work on the family history (starting in the mid-1980s), find that kind of thing interesting and important - better grounding if you know some of this stuff. In the family I was the oldest kid, with four younger brothers, who now live in Ottawa (2), Fredericton and Swift Current. Typical sort of post-war, middle-class box pre-teen, top of the class through public school stuff - read a lot, a bit introverted, physically active, pretty good if not a star at any of the sports I participated in. Then came 64 and the Beatles, just after I started "the change", and my teen years became one long fight with authority, starting when I grew about an inch of hair on my head and everyone panicked - kicked out of high school many times, taken out to the edge of town on at least two occasions I recall by the town cop and told not to come back until I got a haircut, etc and etc. Seems like small stuff, but it had a big impact on the young brain - from a life of security to a life of ostracism because I refused to cut my hair. I think it was a turning point though - for some reason, the Great Authority Figures demanded my bending of the knee, resigning me to eternal servitude at their pleasure, at that tender young age before I had a chance to learn what or who they were, or what options there might be, just pledge eternal fealty NOW or face the consequences!!! - and I told em all to go fuck themselves, both literally and figuratively. I've never regretted doing so - it has caused me a lot of grief in many ways, but it also put me on a path to learning things I would never have learned otherwise, the path out of the box of modern society, as I have come to think of it. I could have probably had a pretty comfortable middle-class sort of lifestyle, but it would have required becoming a company person of sorts, tied to a regular job and timeclock most of my life, and accepting a certain view of things that I know to be wrong, and accepting a whole lot of lies about the way things are without questioning them in any serious way.
Anyway, that was the first turning point - I was still young and stupid (the brain was and is ok, I've always topped the list on IQ tests - comments about 'crazy ideas' and stuff are opinions, no more - Copernicus was considered a wacko too for refusing to toe the party line, most people who get out ahead of the pack are similarly mocked, so I'm in good company and don't worry about it) but in terms of the "ways of the world" I had no learning, and no (mentor-type) teachers and no advice outside of "cut your hair and get a job and you'll be happy"), and stayed that way for a lot of years following - but I was walking my own path, doing my own learning, and making my own mistakes - a lot of that over the next couple of decades. I spent my late teens and most of my 20s playing music and writing songs - pretty good at it too - and absolutely certain my life would be spent thusly - but the break never came, and somewhere in my mid-20s I realized that making it in music had dick-all to do with the quality of the music, but there was more involved - a willingness once again to bow down to the Man, and be an Entertainer for the Masses. I didn't understand well what all that meant, but it was a piece in the puzzle, a step in the learning process (don't start with the 'yea-buts' - what rock star, from the Beatles to Dylan, has actually led anyone in effecting real political change? None of them - they provide an outlet for a certain kind of feeling, but it's a dead end street - we are not going to change our society by singing songs no matter how good the message is, we are going to change it by taking control of the government - and the only way to do that, outside of bloody revolution which is mostly another dead end street (replacing one set of dictators with another, usually), is the way we did it on Green Island - no leaders, just the people en masse taking over. But that's all another story - you can find more here About Green Island).
By the time I was 30 I was pretty much resigned to the fact I was not likely going to be a rock star, and had better get on with something else, not being independently wealthy, and living in an enclosed society (no American West or wilderness left anymore where you can go and be free somehow, no matter where you go the gov is going to want, at least, some kind of taxes, etc), I needed some kind of income, somehow or another (I'd been getting by on some music gigs, some part time jobs, some unemployment insurance, welfare at times, a bit of top up money from my father at times - none of which were very viable as long term future security or anything). By then, through too much beer drinking and a bit of indiscreet buggering about with other women during some of the beer drinking times, I had caused my common-law wife to leave me, with my two kids, and figured that if I was going to make a new start, it was going to have to be somewhere else besides Hastings, where I was unlikely to either find any good opportunities or live my reputation down - I think I was somewhat of a better person than the gossip made me out to be, but you can't really get away from the gossip, and few people look beyond "long hair, no job, drinks beer too much", and the dreaded "womanizer!!!". I liked playing euchre too much too. So I packed up my stuff and headed for Halifax with a new girlfriend, determined to become a marine biologist - the reasons I wanted to become one of those are lost to me now, but that was the plan. Dalhousie U in Halifax wanted more money and paper than I had, so I went off to Prince Edward Island, and they took me in at the university there, where I spent a very happy 4 years getting a biology degree, graduating "cum laude" in 1985.
During those years I also started my "real" education, getting involved with the so-called "justice system" on PEI a few times, a real eye-opener. I had had dozens of encounters with the police and courts of Ontario before coming to PEI, but the laws were clear enough about booze and driving, and I didn't think much else about it, just developed a life-long pleasure of driving on back roads, and an equally life-long aversion to the sight of flashing red lights in my rear-view mirror. But in PEI I started moving into the bigger world through a number of instances where I felt I was being treated either very unfairly by some part of "the system", or encountering outright corruption in high places, and being brushed off like the annoying ant I eventually came to understand was all I was, all talk of "citizenship" and "equality" in Canada notwithstanding (until that time, I had been a firm follower of the central "democratic Canada" dogma - that Canada was one of the very best, fairest, most equal democratic societies that ever existed in history - really, I was. Like I said - stupid. (Don't mistunderstand me, here - Canada may well be one of the most democratic and best etc countries in the world - but there comes a time for thinking people when you come to understand that, at the present time, that is not a real high bar to meet, for those who actually understand the real, current situation everywhere)). For example, I've written about The Beer Story elsewhere - not a big deal, the cops took a few pints of beer from I and some friends one day and I got them back, but doing that was a real learning process in the way "justice" actually works in our country - and if you can't trust somebody on the small stuff, you're not very likely to trust em on the big stuff. There was also the matter of CN rail having my car towed, after having given me permission to park it in their lot, which was another eye-opener, as I got all the way to the Supreme Court of PEI on that one - and learned some good lessons about how "judges" conduct themselves once again, covering each other's mistakes, and simply ignoring evidence that undermines whatever it is they want to do in terms of the political decisions concerning who wins legal cases when powerful entities meet powerless entities in PEI. And then I got involved with mounting legal challenges against the new seat-belt legislation there as well later on, lots of extra-curricular learning. And those were my introductory sessions to how the legal system worked. All during the same time I was studying biology in university and maintaining good marks. (in case you're wondering - the beer drinker was drinking a LOT less beer in those days, beer story notwithstanding...)
Following graduation from UPEI, I got an Ontario Grad Scholarship to go to Trent University in Peterboro, where I took the first year of a two-year program in Watershed Ecosystems. That sort of fizzled out - they wanted me to do some very reductionistic work along the lines of looking at PPM (maybe PPB - same dif to me) of some heavy metals in some beaver ponds, whereas I wanted a more holistic type of experience, the life and times of a beaver pond sort of thing, so that experiment in higher ed ended after one year. But it was a great year for learning in many other ways. I was renting a room at a farm house in the country a few miles away from the university, and had a lot of opportunities to read and study on my own, and walk around the drummonds and streams and cow fields and think - I read a lot of scientific stuff around the watershed course, which was interesting and not without value, but more importantly for my overall education I also started a lot of reading about things that were wrong with our society, and others who were trying to do something about it. It seems very strange to say now, but up until that time - 1985, I'm 35 years old - I had known next to nothing of other people in the world who were actually thinking that things were wrong on a big scale, and working on ways to make things better - I just had not been exposed to anything along those lines, either in Hastings or in PEI during my university years (I don't want to paint too incorrect a picture here - there was undoubtedly some stuff available during these times, but I was too self-centered to be aware of it). It seems very odd indeed to think that, given my earlier years as a "hippie" and musician - but that's the way I recall it - regardless of the potential of my brain, I was locked into a certain lifestyle in Hastings for my early years, and then in PEI I was concentrating on being on my own for the first time, really, and studying science as well, without a lot of exposure to new ideas about society, aside from mainly getting involved with the justice system, and starting to understand that the whole society was really a lie, like the justice system. I do recall that the reading I did that summer and fall of 85 was like an epiphany, an actual rebirth of my brain, my spirit (my second rebirth, the first being zonked by the Beatles and dealing with the reaction to my hair), reading a book called The Aquarian Conspiracy, by a lady named Marilyn Ferguson. I remember it clearly still, reading that book mostly sitting in the front porch of that old farm house, the fields out in front of me, that summer or early fall of 1985, and being absolutely astounded at the things I was learning about the way our world was run, and about alternative societies past and present, and the other people who had been thinking the same thoughts I had been slowly finding around my brain for the last several years. It was a real eye-opener to understand that not only was I not alone in the world, but there were so many others who had been down this road before, and thus were obviously much, much further along it. And I started reading and reading, based on the places that book led me to.
So I read and read and read. Finished the year at Trent (withdrew in good standing was the official transcript), did a lot of tramping over deep snow that winter, but never got much interest in PPM of cadmium, zinc, lead and copper - but the isolated beaver ponds, frozen in the winter, were something to remember, and the deer that followed me one day, some things like that), and went back to PEI, full of new ideas and thoughts about our country and society.
And now it was 1986 - the Mulroney years just getting under way with the new panic about the National Debt, and I started doing a whole bunch of reading and studying about what was going on in my country, Canada, following on from the earlier eye-openers of the "justice" system, and then my readings of the year before about what things were wrong in my world and what people were thinking about it all. During this time I started a long series of "Letters to the Editor", mostly to the local main Island paper, the Guardian, on any number of things I was reading about that I thought were wrong or required some sort of alternative commentary than the paper was giving it, who actually published them for a couple of years - big scrapbook somewhere. I also did a column for a year or so, nature writing mostly, called "Birds 'n' Stuff" - which met an end around the 88 "free trade" election when the editor informed me that nature writing did not include political commentary - I contended that if a government activity ("free trade") was going to have a major environmental impact, then it certainly was grounds for "nature" commentary. The newspaper, of course, won - another lesson about who runs things and what they require of people. Another voice silenced. But only for awhile. But I had gotten the letter-writing habit, and have been writing them ever since (the great majority of letters to editors since that time have gone unpublished, needless to say - but I can't keep quiet, I just can't !!! - and I figure I'll let em know someone is watching, anyway (one small collection on-line here, part of an earlier website. This may prove to be a bad strategy, as when it comes time to round up the dissidents, I'll be in every file. But I guess one reason I fight, with others, is to try to see to it that that day never gets here.)
And it was around this time I also started getting more interested in the reality of propaganda in our lives, serious propaganda, 'full spectrum' propaganda, as I have come to think of it, pervading our lives from the time we are born in Canada - the national "debt" was so obviously being "made" into a big issue, with very political realities following, and then shortly thereafter we had the 88 election, the so-called "free trade" election, and the issue of propaganda in our society suddenly became much more obvious (as Big Business in Canada did all they could to influence the vote) - at least to me - and has been one of the main things I've considered in my writing since. And the media are obviously a central part of the propaganda, gatekeeping what is given to Canadians to read (or, equally important, what is NOT given to them), and the spin that is put on everything - so I had to start looking at the role of the media in what was wrong with our society, and the role of Big Business (again, I know that nothing I say is "new" - but it was new to me, on my voyage of discovery - I have certainly learned a lot, as I have said, from the many who went on this path before me).
And so it went through the last half of the 1980s. The lady I came to PEI with had found another boyfriend during my last year of university, and I subsequently found another lady friend. "Work"-wise, following university, I spent a year with a Canada Council grant writing a book on the Natural History of PEI (finished but not published), a year (most of it) working in aquaculture on Tracadie Bay (hard at times, and I don't think I will EVER be a "get up at 7 am" type of person, but it was a great time being on the Bay so much), some time washing dishes (do all writers do this??) and doing income taxes (leading to the 3rd big legal battle for me of the decade, getting screwed around by UI, and took an appeal right to the Federal Court of Canada (took me over two years, but I actually won that one - talk about vindication! the judge (a lady) actually said, quite indignantly, to the tableful of lawyers sitting across from me "What have you been doing to this man?!?") - a story I gotta get written down someday). (and no, that's not some kind of contradiction concerning my distrust of the legal system - there are good and bad judges, and I lucked out - but hoping for an honest judge is not a good way to run a justice system)
I did my only "officially" published books during this period, 1990-91, a couple of kids books.
Another failed attempt at "true love" saw me moving to a small cottage in rural PEI in a community called Harrington in 1990, where I spent 4 very happy years, overall, writing and thinking and gardening and playing my piano, and a couple of them with probably the biggest love of my life, some amazing times. I got my first computer (thanks Mike!), and did the weekly newspaper called the Alternative Voice for a few months until I ran out of money. I got my first 'comprehensive' run of my ideas about how a society ought to be run together in a pamphlet called The Prince Edward Island Revival Plan, and then worked for a year for Mel Hurtig's National Party, a real eye-opener that was. I ran at the end of the year as a candidate in the 93 federal election, and learned first hand how deep the suspicion of anyone even thinking of politics is among the general population - so many are so cynical and sick of being lied to they just can't bring themselves to trust anyone who promises to try to make things better.
And after that, burned out from the 18-hour days of the election year (my job was basically the "organiser" for the Maritime provinces), heartsick at the latest, and probably biggest, love of my life leaving me, still feeling the effects of my father dying the year before, I joined CUSO in 1994 and came to Thailand, both running from and to something, I think. For the next 3-4 years I did not pay much attention to things in Canada - couldn't, really, as there was no widespread net available, and the local newspapers carried about as much news of Canada as Canadian newspapers do of Thailand (one very memorable moment came when Chretien was at a G8 meeting or something in Russia one of those years, and in the picture of the heads of state, he was identified as "unknown"). Anyway, I was supposed to be paying attention to things here, and was busy enough learning to live in a new culture. I was working with NGOs, my first direct experience with such a thing, and my education concerning things international got a big boost at this time, and added a whole new dimension to my learning curve, taking me outside of Canada and into the world at large, getting a lot of new stuff (I started with the World Bank at my first NGO job, and carried on from there - there's a lot of stuff to learn!) to put into the equations of what was going on everywhere. And then by 97-98 we were starting to get some net stuff, and I was starting to find my way around it, and then the MAI campaign got underway, and I (with no arguments I must admit) got sucked right back into caring about what was going on in my country and trying to do something about it - but with the added perspective of some understanding about how Canada was deeply influenced by things in the world. Talk about a Don Quixote complex.
I finished with CUSO in 1999, after a couple of renewals, and decided I would rather stay in Thailand than go back to Canada and the brutal winters there, at least until I saw some hope of some kind of political movement starting that promised some success. I'm still waiting. I taught English part time for awhile, and then full time here at the university where I live - it's not a bad gig, a few hours of teaching and editing a week, and I have the rest of the time to read and think and write. My first foray into web stuff ran for a little over a year, called The Rude Macedon, from which I learned quite a bit, and managed to get a lot of built up bile and frustration released (frustration from having so much I want to say about the way my country is being run, I have always just wanted to contribute my opinions to the public debate, not dominate or anything, just be heard, but no mainstream media will publish anything I write - about half a million words of frustration, altogether on the RM site over that year or so - I'm not a sound bite sort of guy, I write long - but that's the way a thinking mind is, full of caveats, full of explanations, full of words - it's only the modern tv minds who demand simple and simplistic comments to believe, the world in black and white in 10 seconds, during the commercials, I suppose - part of the dumbing down of society). You can see a bunch of the unpublished (in the MSM) letters from the Rude Macedon days here - they're mostly still relevant today, as I tend to not write about smaller things that many others write about, but about things I don't see covered in the MSM - such as questioning the crazy idea that the Canadian media is 'lefty lib' - what an idiotic idea, yet they keep complaining about it. Anyway, I wasn't getting big readership on the RM site, and decided in the fall of 04 to devote the few 'quality' free hours I had left each week after teaching to finish a book I had started way back in PEI called Greenways, which was planned to be a fictional version of a society as I thought it might be structured to work the best for the most people, and sent RM off to the phoenix fire.
Over the next year or so I finished Greenways, and a big job it was, coming in at something over 350,000 words. I also started a more modest website called From Here to There, which was supposed to be ideas on how to get from the current dystopia called Canada and the World to a more modern society such as I posited on Green Island, the setting of Greenways, and also to give at least some small voice to the occasional letters I wrote to various parts of the Canadian media when they wrote something that particularly annoyed me - which they managed quite regularly, always have, still do - pretty much every day, actually, I read things at which I shake my head, wondering how people can believe such blatant nonsense, or fall prey to such lies. I spent quite a lot of time looking for a publisher for Greenways, with no luck. I then spent a good amount of time rewriting it, and giving it a new title, A Place to Stand (a few chapters are online here, on the Green Island site, from the old quote about 'Give me a place to stand, and I will move the world', which seemed perhaps a bit more fitting.
Well, there's not much else to tell in this short overview, although a great deal has been left out as well of course - but that gets us pretty close to my current life, and I won't really have much perspective on it for a few years yet. The fight goes on, I read and think and write and live my life; where I am at currently in my thinking is pretty much reflected in The Box book.
I still look for a publisher for A Place to Stand - I do believe it is a great book, comparable to Rand's Atlas Shrugged in some ways, as setting out a vision for a society - I think PTS is much more honest in its portrayal of the various characters and situations of modern life - capitalism, no matter what lies they portray it with or what pretty ribbons they try to tie around the box, is about rulers and serfs, and I believe in a much more equitable type of arrangement in our society. And life goes on. The From Here to There site got no traffic either, and I eventually morphed it into the Letters from Green Island site, which is now On Green Island, Outside the Box, my current place for writing about the lies of the Canadian mainstream media.
And now, in Gandhi's spirit of 'Be that which you wish to see', I have made Green Island real in the pages of A Place to Stand, and it's time to invite people to join us there.