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Enjoy, laugh, rage, disagree or simply empathize with those who lived life in THE sixties and are now rockin' life in THEIR sixties+.


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Hillbilly Elegy is a quite simply a must read


There’s a reason Hillbilly Elegy, A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance has been on the New York Times’ best seller list for several weeks. It’s an amazing book. If you enjoyed The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, you’ll love Hillbilly Elegy for the same reason. Some might consider Vance a bit young (he’s only in his mid-thirties) to be producing a memoir, but many people including Walls and Catherine Gildiner who was the author of the wonderful trilogy about her early years, have lived young lives truly worthy of sharing. Memoirs by people who have risen above challenging beginnings to succeed in life have always fascinated me and we have so much to learn from them.

J.D. Vance was born into a poor, uneducated, unstable Appalachian family surrounded by a larger community of similarly dysfunctional people. His mother was pregnant at sixteen and although his father didn’t stick around he was never completely estranged. Vance was born into a life anchored by an alcoholic and ultimately drug-addicted mother with an endless stream of boyfriends and husbands, some good but most bad, an assortment of half-siblings and dismal prospects for a better life. The only stable element in his ever-changing life was the presence of an older half-sister and his gun-toting, cussing, mean maternal grandmother who truly loved him. His grandfather, although ultimately living apart from his grandmother was equally loving and loved by Vance and provided a kind moral compass for the boy. He moved back and forth between Kentucky and Ohio depending on his evolving family situation with all its domestic strife, his ever-changing sets of siblings and even changing last names.

Many of the social problems experienced by hillbillies are attributable to their own poor choices in life.

When children are born into a community of people who are always fighting and are disinclined to hold regular jobs or even have ambitions of doing better, they grow up without incentive, without hope and without direction. Those who are lucky enough to find someone in this quagmire of humanity who can see beyond their obvious limits is truly fortunate. Vance possessed a level of intelligence that allowed him to at least finish high school despite poor grades and poor attendance in the midst of his family’s turmoil. Despite their own lack of education, his grandparents encouraged and promoted education helping him by providing a safe home when he needed it, moral direction when he strayed and were successful in regularly putting him back on track. When a cousin suggested the only way Vance would be able to get a college education which was the key to a better life, he opted to pledge four years of his life to the Marine Corps to subsidize his later college education. He ultimately parlayed this into a law degree from prestigious Yale University and through Hillbilly Elegy shares the experience of his journey with others who might benefit from what he learned along the way.

Vance’s enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps was step two in bettering his life after step one which was completing high school.

Vance discovered a world entirely different from what he had always known when he enlisted in the Marines and to a greater extent afterward when he went to university and law school. “When I joined the Marine Corps,, I did so in part because I wasn’t ready for adulthood. I didn’t know how to balance a checkbook” he said. The Marine Corps assumes zero knowledge on the part of its recruits and even accompanied him to open his first bank account. He had received no early guidance in nutrition, fitness/wellness or personal pride during his growing up years and describes himself as a cultural alien. He came to learn and understand the value of interpersonal skills and what he refers to as social capital to help smooth the way through networking. New relationships with friends and fellow students introduced him to a completely new set of social behaviours that were not aligned with his temper and hillbilly upbringing. Most people acknowledge that not all education is gained in the classroom but Vance had no experience with such everyday basics as table manners, how to dress appropriately, how to handle conflict or even how to give and receive love. Interestingly, one of his valued law school mentors at Yale was Amy Chua, author of Tiger Mom.

While he’s circumspect about suggesting solutions to the economic and social problems that are rampant in the rust belt of America, the author provides a rare glimpse into the lives of those people who live hopelessly grim and depressing lives. He knows better than most how they reached this point and why it is so self-perpetuating. Poor life choices, poor role models and social problems breed generations of people with no hope for betterment.  His observations are informed, articulately presented and blunt. What I found particularly revealing was his perspective on how entire generations of rust belt people turned against the Democratic party and put their hopes in the Republicans. Vance explains the misconceptions and clever rhetoric that guide their votes and destroys any hope of a better future. They are told “premature parenthood, drugs, incarceration . . . what separates the successful from the unsuccessful are the expectations that they had for their own lives. Yet the message of the right is increasingly: ‘It’s not your fault that you’re a loser; it’s the government’s fault’.” Untrue and unproductive.

I can’t recommend Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance strongly enough. I learned so much reading this book and only wish the people of Kentucky and Ohio who are described in its pages would also earn from the wisdom he dispenses. I’d give it 10 out of 10.

To order a copy of Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance from Amazon, click here.

To order The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls from Amazon, click here.

To order the third book in Catherine Gildiner’s trilogy, Coming Ashore, click here.

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Trump was right. Who knew it could be so complicated?


Sometimes, we just need the noise to stop. The Syrian crisis, the threat of nuclear war with North Korea, Putin’s crimes against humanity and the ongoing terrorist threats scare the crap out of me. Then, we have escalating trade wars, racism and climate change denial. Not to mention Trump’s lies and regressive new laws that completely disregard the ordinary person and the future of our planet. When the news starts I get a knot in my stomach so I turn off the television or radio. As I sit looking out my window into the yard watching the trees move gently in the breeze and the new flowers coming to life, listen to the birds, my mind melts into a more peaceful state.

Has the world really become so much more complicated or is my memory failing me?  In the swinging sixties while we were wearing mini-skirts, dancing the night away to Creedence Clearwater or worrying about whether “he would call”, there were still serious issues. We had the the horribly escalating Vietnam War, Bay of Pigs, Khrushchev, and of course, Richard Nixon. We were convinced the world was constantly on the brink of nuclear attack. Later on, Bush Jr. baffled us with his stupidity, lied to the world about false threats and sent innocent young members of the military to their unnecessary early deaths.

Since the beginning of time the world has been in state of turmoil and seemingly on the brink of some war or another. Catastrophic economic depressions in the seventies and to a more serious degree in the nineties wiped out financial security for large segments of the population. AIDS, SARS and other chronic diseases were front page news. Every so often I have to take a sabbatical from the news. Electronic media can simply be turned off. Reading print media requires I just skip over the bits I find distressing. Talking about issues with friends sometimes means changing the subject when we get too frustrated and angry about current events. Despite his stratospheric ego, Donald Trump doesn’t know much which is truly frightening. But the world is a complicated place and the further away I get from his noise the less complicated it becomes. That’s one thing I can do to make the world a better place, at least for me.

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The Price of Illusion exposes flaws in the life of luxury


A popular song from 1969, Where Do You Go To My Lovely (click here to listen) by Peter Sarstedt played in a steady loop in my brain as I was reading The Price of Illusion, a memoir by Joan Juliet Buck:

“You talk like Marlène Dietrich
And you dance like Zizi Jeanmaire
Your clothes are all made by Balmain
And there’s diamonds and pearls in your hair, yes there are

You live in a fancy apartment
Off the Boulevard Saint-Michel
Where you keep your Rolling Stones records
And a friend of Sacha Distel, yes you do. . . ”

Joan Juliet Buck. Been there; done it; got the Chanel bag.

That song, although written long before Joan Juliet Buck embraced the lifestyle it describes, could have been her life. The Price of Illusion, a memoir by the former editor of Paris Vogue is a fascinating read. The story of her childhood drags a bit in the beginning but picks up when she becomes a young woman and begins her peripatetic transcontinental life. Buck was the silver spoon only child of Hollywood producer Jules Buck who was responsible for such memorable films as Lawrence of Arabia and Goodbye Mr. Chips starring newly discovered Peter O’Toole. She lived a transcontinental lifestyle in Paris, London, New York and Los Angeles, spending much of her childhood in Ireland at the home of her godfather, John Huston. There, she formed a life-long friendship with his daughter Angelica.

Moving in such illustrious circles obviously positions her to name-drop many famous people in the worlds of entertainment, politics and business. At first I found this off-putting but soon I was enjoying the rare first-hand insights into a world of wealth, glamour and superficiality. I learned the high life is not all glamour and glory. While Buck was an enthusiastic participant in all forms of pleasure, her highest highs were achieved while overseeing the rebirth of Paris Vogue from its traditional, staid format to a more edgy, avant garde publication. Under her stewardship in the nineties, the magazine doubled its readership and appeal.

Paris Vogue presented itself as being all things representative of French women.

Buck is an excellent writer and her brutal honesty combine to produce a wonderful read. I was halfway through the book before reaching her Vogue years but it was worth the wait. Being close friends with such icons as Yves St. Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld, Charlotte Rampling, Lauren Bacall and Angelica Huston, Buck transports us into worlds we would otherwise never be able to access. Like any human being, her life is composed of extreme highs and correspondingly debilitating lows. When she was sabotaged by a business associate at Paris Vogue and sent to rehab on false charges of addiction, her life unravelled. Losing her job along with its corresponding salary and benefits meant she could no longer support her ailing father. No matter how charmed one’s life may seem, no one escapes pain, loss or disappointment, even the privileged.

The Price of Illusion is obviously the story of a woman who lived most of her life in a superficial haze of privilege. As a life-long journal keeper and a keen observer of human nature, Joan Juliet Buck treats us to a view of the glamorous life that undoes many of our misconceptions. Her recollections and challenges along the way make for a fascinating read. As someone retired from the corporate world, I found the business and political challenges she encountered along the way to be particularly interesting, especially since I plan to be a magazine editor in my next life. Although I was unsure I would enjoy the book when I first began reading, I was soon swept up in the excitement of a life lived in realms beyond what any ordinary person would ever experience. And, ultimately, that’s the essence and joy of reading. I escaped into another world and thoroughly enjoyed the adventure.

To order The Price of Illusion by Joan Juliet Buck from Amazon, click here.

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Maud Lewis respectfully recognized in superb Canadian film


I find it impossible to look at a painting by Maud Lewis and not feel uplifted.

Art is subjective and very personal. Sometimes it leaves us cold; other times it touches us deeply. I’m certainly not an expert but over the years I’ve discovered that the work of certain artists draws me in, makes me feel connected and engaged when I view their work. French Impressionist Augusto Renoir and Quebec artist Marc-Aurèle Fortin both have that effect on me. And, so does Nova Scotia primitive folk artist Maud Lewis. Simply looking at one of her paintings of a spring scene with bursting, colourful flowers, blue skies and puffy white clouds, happy cows grazing in bright green fields bisected by a meandering country road fills me with joy. It’s easy to disparage her work as it resembles the happy, brushwork of a young child. That’s the secret of its enchanting beauty.

Her world was small but her reach expansive.

Like so many artists, Maud Lewis didn’t gain a lot of notoriety and respect until after her death in 1970.  Born in 1903 with multiple birth defects Maud faced challenges right from the beginning, leaving school in the fifth grade. Her protective parents died when she was a young woman and her older brother refused to accept responsibility for her care and support. Destitute at the age of thirty-four, Maud responded to an ad in a local store by 44-year-old bachelor Everett Lewis who was looking for a live-in housekeeper. Maud presented herself at the door of his 12 ft. by 12 ft. cabin and never left. And now there’s a movie about their life called Maudie.

The movie stars Sally Hawkins as Maude and Ethan Hawke as her husband Everett. Before I saw him in the role, I couldn’t imagine handsome Ethan Hawke playing Maud’s contrary, awkward husband, but he was amazing. Sally Hawkins’s portrayal of Maude’s common sense, inner strength and sense of humour was exceptional. Maudie accurately depicts the life of Maud Lewis from early womanhood in Digby, Nova Scotia until her death in 1970. There were credits attributed to several Canadian organizations and it was gratifying to see the woman and her work represented in such a sensitive, respectful movie. There are so few films that the Boomer generation can enjoy (unless you’re into endless sci-fi special effects fantasies) and Maudie nailed it. I loved the movie. The girlfriends who went with me also loved it and if you go see it, I’m sure you will too.

Footnote: A few years ago I visited a Maud Lewis art show of her original work at a small gallery in Yorkville in Toronto. I was totally captivated and would have loved to buy a piece but the most affordable one was $16,000.00. Considering certain pieces now sell for upwards of $100,000+, I should have sold some RRSPs and bought it. Although it might have been a better investment, I probably wouldn’t have been able to part with it. I’ve also visited her tiny cabin which was dismantled and reinstalled in the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia in Halifax. If you’re ever there, don’t miss it.

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From this day forth, all male citizens will be circumcised


Imagine if Parliament passed a law that required every male in the country to be circumcised. Or, what if getting a vasectomy required the written permission of the local Catholic priest, regardless of your religion. What would the reaction be if every male in the country was forced to undergo a rectal exam before he was allowed buy condoms. As bizarre as this sounds, that’s exactly the kind of obstacles and unwarranted control over their bodies that women in the United States are now facing compliments of a reactionary, misogynistic government.

There are reasons the original fathers of the American constitution insisted on separation of church and state.  Removing funding from Planned Parenthood has eliminated access for millions of women to assistance in health-related services like breast and pap examinations, STD testing, birth control and other counseling. Students, low-income women and minorities are not the only beneficiaries of services related to women’s health and particular segments of the population are totally dependent on them.

It’s difficult for men to comprehend the challenges faced by women on many levels in everyday life. We cope with lower pay, gender discrimination and general lack of support for “women’s issues”. Many men are oblivious and it’s our responsibility to educate and inform the men in our lives about the importance of fairness and equality. I wish I’d been more vocal when I was younger. If I had, I would have made more money and had a much fatter pension plan waiting for me upon retirement. But, it’s still not too late to make our voices heard.

This won’t hurt a bit. Trust us. We know what’s best for you.

Fortunately, as a Canadian, I live in a more enlightened society. We take care of our sick through universal health care and are more progressive in recognition of women’s issues than our southern neighbours. Canadian women are able to access maternity and health care services our American sisters only dream of.  Perhaps they should start lobbying for reciprocal restrictions on males in health, economic and social issues. Many health plans reimburse men for the cost of Viagra but do not reimburse women for birth control pills. Imagine the backlash if men earned just seventy-six percent of what women made? How would they react to being told they had to get the approval of a fusty old doctor before they could father children or alternatively, choose not to father children. The threat of mutilation or something physically invasive happening to their little boy private parts might get the attention of the alpha neanderthals running the country. Only then will they truly understand what it feels like to have a third party have the final say on what happens to their body, i.e. to be a woman. Religious dogma notwithstanding, men as well as women are the beneficiaries of freedom. America’s founding fathers understood this, but unfortunately the current government can’t read.

Tracey Ullmann captures the essence of women’s struggles brilliantly.

If you haven’t seen it already, you’ll understand the imbalance when you watch this YouTube Video by British comedienne Tracey Ullmann. Click here.

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Now’s the time for a great American President


Where’s a John F. Kennedy or a Franklin Roosevelt when the American people really need one. After watching the Trump/Clinton debate last night, I came away with one thought: thank heaven I don’t have to cast a vote in the American election. I wouldn’t want to bear any responsibility for the future of the United States based on my choice on election day. Whatever the outcome, the results are going to be scary for the American people, although I would love to be proven wrong.  It’s amazing how they arrived at two equally disliked candidates, but that’s democracy at work. I can see the book just waiting to be written: “The Rise and Fall of the United States of America”.

Then, this morning I burst out laughing when I read the editorial cartoon in today’s Globe and Mail called “Pick one” by Brian Gable. I couldn’t have said it better.

cartoon1

 

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Are you as fed up with Hydro One and the Ontario Liberals as I am?


I thought extortion was illegal.

I thought extortion was illegal.

When I clicked to open my on-line hydro bill this morning, I nearly went into cardiac arrest. While clutching my chest, the first thing I had to do was check to see if the bill was for hydro or gas as the names sound the same and I’m always getting them confused—Enersource is for hydro electricity. Enercare is for gas. My bill has doubled in the last year, in part to pay for the gas plants fiasco. There’s been a lot of backlash about mismanagement of this resource by the Ontario Liberals and the situation is not improving. In fact, the problem is escalating. Everyone is aware of the fat-cat culture that has endured for generations at Enersource, Hydro One or what we used to call Ontario Hydro (and what we recalcitrant Boomers still call it), not to mention the pervading lack of accountability. Who hasn’t watched an idle field crew of six or seven Hydro One workers standing around on the ground next to several trucks watching one person up a pole or down in a manhole doing something. Do we even have an opposition leader these days? Where is whats-‘is-name when we poor taxpayers need someone to advocate on our behalf?

hydro3Does it not strike you as peculiar that Ontario is so blessed with abundant electrical resources that we end up dumping it to outside markets at cut rates just to meet our contractual obligations to Enersource/Hydro One? We’re all doing our best to conserve. I do my laundry on Sundays when the rates are cheapest and hang clothes outside whenever possible to save running the dryer; I run my dishwasher late at night when rates are lower; I go around turning off lights and try to be as efficient as possible in my daily use of power. The reward I get for this conscientious behaviour is the highest, most expensive electricity rates in North America while our government sells cheap surplus power to outsiders who don’t pay taxes here. My father lives on the Eastern Ontario border where they import electricity from Quebec and his bills are one-third of what I pay in the GTA.

Cut off their power and redirect it to those who will use it wisely.

Cut off their power and redirect it to those who will use it wisely.

It’s time to storm The Bastille. Emperor Kathleen Wynne and her gang of dilettantes must be brought to justice. Likewise, the lazy fat cats running Hydro One or Enersource or whatever they call themselves these days. We keep reading about the outrage experienced by Enersource customers but we all feel impotent to do anything about it. Let’s get the ball rolling with some suggestions: I’ll start.

  1. Turn off the air conditioning/heating and hot water at Queen’s Park and all the MPP’s homes including Premier Kathleen Wynne until they understand what it feels like to choose between paying your Hydro bill or buying groceries to feed your family.
  2. Send our laundry and dirty dishes to our MPP’s homes so they can pay for the increased costs of keeping our province clean. Perhaps we should shower there too.
  3. Launch a petition on Change.org demanding a transparent audit of Hydro One operations and the Ontario Government’s mismanagement of same.
  4. Slash the fat at Enersource by whatever method is the fastest and most effective. Put a single mother on a fixed income in charge of things there and task her with cleaning house. When she finishes there, she can go after Queen’s Park. (I realize this is sexist but since single mothers on average earn only seventy-six percent of what single fathers earn, mothers tend to be more creative and conscientious in their spending habits.)
  5. . . now it’s up to you.

Click on the Comment section of this blog and give me your suggestions on how we can stop the insanity. Answer this question:  “How can we fix the mismanagement by Hydro One and the Ontario Liberals?”. I’ll collect your feedback, publish it and we’ll see what happens. If the responses have merit, I’ll forward them on to Kathleen Wynne.  Power to the people.

blogger3Click the “Follow” icon to receive automatic notifications of new BOOMERBROADcast  blog postings.

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