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?

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.


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.

The play’s the thing

I don’t imagine that if one were to create a Venn diagram to illustrate this post, that the intersection between People Who Closely Follow Canadian Federal Politics and People Who Enjoy Amateur Theatre would serve up much more than a hair’s breadth of overlap. But surely there are a couple of people who can lay claim to both. So, Rodney MacDonald of Inverness and Katherine Sousa of Strathcona, this one’s for you.

There has been much debate about the level of civility and accountability in the Canadian House of Parliament. Some are suggesting that the solution lies in giving the Speaker of the House greater powers, others feel such a move “goes too far.”

But two things caught my ear during debate earlier today, and they pointed at the same thing.

First, Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada, referred to the performance of some MPs as “bad high school theatre.” Not long after, MP Scott Simms (Liberal) described Question Period as “expensive dinner theatre … and not necessarily good theatre, either.”

My first impulse, after banging on my invisible desk (aka: my lap) and spilling my non-invisible beverage (aka: my coffee) was to wonder what kind of actual theatre one might be able to get away with in the House.

There are the Aristotelian standards: tragedy, comedy, melodrama, drama. I think those are fair game and already well represented, though perhaps unintentionally (comedy, I’m looking at you).

Then there are different theatrical styles, everything from classical (Shakespeare’s Hamlet) to postmodern (Müller’s Hamletmachine).  Theatre of the Absurd. So many options to choose from!

But I am limited by time (have to pick up my kid) and space (see earlier reference to lap desk) so I have decided to limit my suggested lineup to these three stagings:

Tony and Tina’s Wedding (dinner theatre)
A “festive celebration,” this show dispenses with the public gallery, and invites visiting groups to join in on the fun. Raise a toast to democracy! Amuse your bouche with Parliamentary procedure! Main course: Pizza. Don’t ask.

Phantom of the Opera (musical)
The spirit of accountability returns to haunt Members. Featuring the popular songs, “All I Ask Of You,” “Why So Silent?” and “Notes.”

Death of a Salesman (tragedy)
An older man struggles to accept that his services are no longer needed. Will his children face a brighter future, thanks to his sacrifice? (Spoiler: No.)

And … scene.

On glitter in Canadian politics

A week or so ago, I found out about an event — a fundraiser — for my political party of choice.  I saw the invitation and decided quickly that it wasn’t for me.  Last night, the rest of Twitter saw the promotional piece and promptly asploded.  Here’s the item in question:


(Here’s where I include the disclaimery copy about how I actually am a party member and supporter and wasn’t asked for my opinion but I’m a mouthy broad so here it is anyway.)

The backlash started off with a kind of subversive/sarcastic take on things, and a clever repurposing of the event’s hashtag, #askjustin.   Not surprisingly, the critics were women, and not surprisingly, they were very, very funny:

Of course, things devolved rapidly and thoroughly over the next couple of hours once the partisans got their paws on it.  But for awhile there, #askjustin offered some really interesting insights into Canadian women voters.  By which I mean the vocal ones on Twitter; I’m sure if I showed it to my female friends who are largely offline or disinterested in politics, the response would have been a dismissive, “That looks stupid. Why would I go to that? Here, try this chocolate, it’s insane.”

When I first saw the promo, and even now when I look it at, I mostly feel confused.  I don’t get the “unplugged” angle (he’s a politician, not a musician).  And speaking of insane … what in Helvetica is up with that font?  I am 100% sincere when I say that that font is partially responsible for my decision not to attend, as is the fact that I have my own unplugged (a cappella) rehearsal to attend.

Unlike many of the #askjustin Tweeters last night, I didn’t find the graphic offensive.  I did find it trivializing.  The issues facing women — to the extent that there are gender-specific concerns not directly related to our unique physiology — are legitimate, and deserve to be treated respectfully and seriously.  I have no doubt that’s exactly what will happen at the actual event.  Still, I don’t understand why the organizers felt this was the best way to get those women in the door.

The answer likely lies in that visceral reaction I had when I first saw the invitation.  As I said, the reaction was an instant and complete sense that this event was not for me.  It’s not the $250 price of admission — fundraisers often have big-ticket prices.  No surprise there.  It’s more that I looked at the address — trendy Queen West — and knew that that $250 would escalate to $500 or more because I have nothing to wear.  Not one thing.  I’m a work-at-home-mom.  My wardrobe is 50% jeans and 50% yoga pants so old that their sheerness is due to overuse, not recent changes in textile inputs.

In other words, the event felt exclusive — in the sense that I felt excluded, from this singular event.

That is not my experience of the Liberal party as a whole, nor its leadership, its advisors, its members and hordes of volunteers.  I’m not bailing on anyone or anything over this.  I rather resent the implication that I should.

Again, no one asked for my feedback, but this second half-caff is kicking in, so there goes … here’s what I’d do to make things right, if any right-making is required:

  1. Reconsider the concept.  That is, the utility/effectiveness of gender-focused events.  We’re more than half the population.  Our issues are your issues: full stop.  On a practical note, day-to-day, I have more in common with a harried dad than I do fabulous single girls.  Our bonding points are childcare costs and aging parents and the goddamn miracle it is that any relationships survive having children.  Not nail polish (as Tweeters suggested) or virtues (as the invitation did).
  2. Find five serious questions you can answer.  Find them on Twitter and answer them there.  Won’t take more than 10 minutes of sifting through the #askjustin posts to find the genuine queries about barriers to income equality, the lack of affordable childcare, the problem of mounting student debt, the dearth of women in boardrooms and backrooms.  Not everyone can afford to attend and ask in person.  Don’t let that limit your outreach, now that so many more are paying attention.
  3. Ignore the rest.  I haven’t checked the #askjustin threads this morning.  I suspect event organizers are doing just that, as it’s the smart and reasonable thing to do.

UPDATE: And as of just-before-8:00-AM, that is, hours before I sat down to write this, #2 was taken on in full. Not just five, but about two hours of answering questions. Nicely done.

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.