2014: The year of evoked potential

In medicine, evoked potential is “an electrical (response) recorded from the nervous system … following presentation of a stimulus.”

A practical example: you have a seizure, your neurologist gets oddly enthusiastic about replicating the experience, and next thing you know you’re hooked up to an EEG with a bunch of lights being flashed in your eyes at ever-more-annoying intervals.

Spending the next three days washing adhesive out of your hair is the most pleasant part of the experience, is what I’m getting at.

Though the actual thing is a (clinically necessary) pain in the ass, I’ve always loved the lexical thing: evoked potential. It speaks to something that is present but sequestered, something known to some but not to all, a latent capability that can come to life given a very specific set of circumstances.

That was my 2014.

Much less amazing (to me) than anything I actually accomplished is the fact that there exist in the world people who are able to perceive, beneath whatever combination of invincibility and insecurity we adopt as daily habit, something worth a second look. Couple that simple act of noticing with a desire to help – or maybe a desire to be helped, or who knows what – and next thing you know, potential is being evoked all over the place.

I’m not big on resolutions, as you know. Nor gratitude, as you also know.

But I know that my year would have been measurably less exciting, chaotic, challenging and fun had others not evoked, had potential not existed in the first place.

I am thankful for those people and I would like to be one of those people. That’s about as close as I’m likely to get to a resolution.

2014 has given me many things, among them the tummy-level suspicion that if we’ve been put here to do anything vis-à-vis our fellow human beings, evoking potential is probably as good as it gets.

So let’s go out and do that, shall we?

A review of the Sing-Along Messiah by Seve, age 5

“I wanted to sit in the back row because it’s higher up.  I REALLY wanted to sit in the back row.

I wanted to go see the top level, too.  We saw it at intermission, which was a lot of steps, but I like that better than an escalator because it’s better for exercise.  You can see more stuff but the seats are NOT soft.

I LOVE the seats that bump back and forth when you stand up.  Those are my FAVOURITE seats. You stand up a LOT in this show.

I didn’t get all the jokes.

My favourite instruments are the two trumpets and the two kettledrums.

My favourite song is Ha-le-you-lah.  It goes like this:

HA-LE-YOU-LAH!
HA-LE-YOU-LAH!
HA-LE-YOU-LAH HA-LE-YOU-LAH HA-LE-YOU-LAH!
KING OF KINGS!
AND LA-DI-DAH!
KING OF KINGS!
AND LA-DI-DAH!
HA-LE-YOU-LAH!
HA-LE-YOU-LAH!

I got gummi bears during the intermission.  I also got a hot chocolate with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles after.

I REALLY wanted to leave after Ha-le-you-lah.  My mom let me play with her phone.

I did NOT like all the clapping after the man sang with the trumpets.  People just would not stop clapping!*

We got to do Ha-le-you-lah two times which is the best part when they do it with the drums.

People on the stage got flowers.  Then we went home.

Oh! And I liked the lights in the building, too, but my mom wouldn’t tell me what P-O-O-O spelled BUT GUESS WHAT IT SPELLS?**

It spells poo!  Now I understand that joke!

I would go see this show again.”


Massey Hall typo* Baritone Brett Polegato was outstanding.  The thunderous applause following The Trumpet Shall Sound was well-deserved.

** Seve asked me this question in the world’s loudest stage whisper. I had no idea what he was talking about until I looked up.

For a sense of what the afternoon’s performance was like, check out Tafelmusik‘s event page or watch this video and sing along to the Ha-le-you-lah chorus in the comfort of your own home.

Marvelling at the sheer fucked-up-ed-ness of it all

coffee is the answer to every questionFamous asshole beats the crap out of women, and in the quiet heat of the shower, women think, “Dodged that bullet. But I was never pretty/smart/interesting enough to be picked out of a crowd, anyway.”

Video showing a woman being harassed on the street goes viral, and sitting alone on the commuter train, women think, “This never happens to me. Did it ever? Have I let myself go? Was I ever desirable?”

Women huddle in the corner of the coffee shop, alternately confessing to the above and marvelling at the sheer fucked-up-ed-ness of it all.

Not all women, sure.  But more of us than you’d think.

Canada, The Country, Endures

1. I am not a fact-checker.
2. I am not a journalist.
3. I am not a writer with a column in Esquire.

BUT WE’RE GONNA DO THIS THING ANYWAY.

Earlier today, Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a 24-year-old reservist, was killed – gunned down while standing guard at the National War Memorial, steps away from Parliament Hill.

Cue shock. Horror. Incredulity. Tears.

Followed by reflection. Commentary. Punditry. Partisanship.

The latter was worst on Twitter. It always is.

But the pièce de résistance – the cake-taker, if you will – was this piece by Esquire’s Stephen Marche: Canada, The Idea, Is In Pieces

Let’s read it together, shall we?

Starts off well enough, with a review of the day’s events and some background on the place itself, notably the “lovely wide lawn around the Parliament buildings on which families play frisbee and walk dogs and occasionally protest.”

And that’s where all rational reflection leaves the building (which, incidentally, many staffers were unable to do until well into the night, still on lockdown nearly 12 hours after the shooting began).

That blissful, sun-dappled lawn? According to Marche, “that was the Canada of (his) youth.” Canada now … well, it’s in pieces, apparently.

Except that: it’s not. It’s not in pieces, if it was ever whole.

Marche continues: “If I’m being honest, I guess I believed that we were too irrelevant to be attacked. Too marginal, too inconsequential. Canada didn’t fight the Iraq War. It fought in Afghanistan. But it was always a follower or a refuser, never an inspirer.”

Well, listen. The man is entitled to his opinion. And I’m entitled to think he thinks too little of us. He calls his world view naïve. On that we can agree.

I’ve yet to see – surprisingly – a word cloud of the day’s coverage, but it wouldn’t be naïve to expect to find “innocence” featured prominently. It’s a word that many used, almost always in the same context: innocence gone, innocence lost.

In contrast, I found these comments more accurate, if less dramatic and retweet-worthy:

From Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s national address: “Canada is not innocent to the threats we face, and we know that we are not immune.”

And from another young leader, 19-year-old mayoral candidate Morgan Baskin: “Canada is not innocent and never has been. We have a complicated past that includes things we cannot be proud of.”

Different uses of the word, to be sure. The first talks about our collective understanding that we are not beyond the reach of terrible, horrible, unspeakable acts. The second, about the fact that whatever innocence Canada once possessed died a very long time ago.

In my lifetime, it died the day Denis Lortie killed three in Quebec’s National Assembly.

It died again five years later, when Marc Lepine walked into a classroom at École Polytechnique and shot dead 14 female engineering students.

It died in Mayerthorpe.  It died again in Moncton.

Canada’s innocence died at Dieppe, and before that, at Beaumont-Hamel.

It died in residential schools. It died in our Japanese and Ukrainian internment camps.

It died in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. It died, along with 1,181 murdered Aboriginal women.

It died so many times I couldn’t even place all the horrors listed above in any kind of sensible chronological order. It died again and again and again.

But it’s okay because, as Marche reminds us, we are the first to experience the searing pain of loss. Oh, and we still have wi-fi: “This is what the twenty-first century feels like: You sit at your computer trying to figure out how much of what you love is about to fall apart, and how soon and how completely.”

He also went on to say that Canada’s motto is “Peace, Order and Good Government.”

It isn’t. Our motto is A Mari Usque Ad Mare (From Sea to Sea).

But it’s the article’s conclusion that really grinds my gears, sufficiently that I put off sleep long enough to write this piece: “This is the one sign of hope on this day of looming darkness: Canada seems capable of facing the twenty-first century with some guts, at least, now that it has finally, brutally arrived.”

I would hope that the Twitter backlash – many of the examples I listed above were referenced there – will serve to remind Marche that today’s tragedy stands in sequence, not isolation.

And if it should happen again, as it inevitably will in some awful form or another, I hope he remembers another motto, that of Quebec: Je me souviens.

If you think I’m talking about you here, yeah, you’re probably right.

If you think I’m talking about you here, yeah, you’re probably right.