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I just finished watching Michael Moore’s new film, Slacker Uprising.  As of today, September 23, 2008, you can go online and download it for free at http://slackeruprising.com  I intended on working on a couple of articles today for publications in England, but I got sidetracked by Mike – again. I always find his movies interesting and moving. And again I marvel at his prowess in making captivating documentaries with a message – you can call it propaganda, but that’s okay. As is part of his message, we are inundated with propaganda daily in a media that supports the powers that be, making sure their message is being spread far and wide. One of the first things he talks about in Slacker Uprising is the responsibility of the media to investigate beyond the walls of controlled information, ask the difficult questions, dig up the facts, and disseminate truth. Which is exactly what wasn’t done in the months leading up to the second invasion of Iraq (or probably in the build up to any military performance) – instead the mass media supported the United States heading into a war based on lies. And further to Mike’s message is that this work of seeking and supporting the spread of truth should always be protected by the famous First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States – the freedom of religion, expression, the press, and speech .

 

Mike started a movement in the weeks prior to the 2004 presidential election when he saw John Kerry and the Democrats’ campaign floundering. This film records the Slacker Uprising Tour that he embarked on, organizing events in sixty cities to see that the truth about the war in Iraq and the antics of the Bush administration would be heard. The slackers referred to are the youths of America who are uninterested in politics and can’t be bothered putting down their playstations and ipods long enough to vote – with reason they have lost faith in government and fail to understand that their vote can still count in making real change. On his mission to get them up, reinspired, and moving to the ballot box, Mike was joined along the way by musicians, actors, politicians, parents of fallen soldiers, and war veterans opposed to the insanity of this war. He has now released this new film, without a doubt timed so that its message will be seen and heard far and wide before the coming presidential election amd hopefully rile up the masses to get out the vote. It is the first full-length film to be made available for free on the internet. Mike has become a master at editing film clips into a powerful, flowing instructional video for an angry society and giving the public the alternative facts from what they are being fed on CNN and Fox. He is equally as skilled at getting publicity, both by his own actions (free download throughout North America? – the attention he’ll get just for doing the download will serve his purpose) and by the ensuing media reaction to his documented outcry. 

 

Slacker Uprising shows the opposition to the war that is omnipresent, as well as the outrage from both sides of the issue, including those who believe that he, Michael, is the devil, not Bush.  To me you don’t need to see mothers crying about their children who died in Iraq to be against war, but obviously those are powerful images. Mike employs them. As the father of a soldier says in SU, people would be “supporting our troops” more by bringing them home then sending more into Iraq. To be against the war is not to be abandoning the young men and women who are fighting for corporate and entrenched political interests in Iraq or Afghanistan, it would be demanding a saner approach to solving conflicts than throwing usually young, usually poor citizens into that so often deadly arena. There are people who continue to make huge amounts of money as war rages on, and it generally isn’t their sons and daughters who are dying. 

 

Of course much of Mike’s films are edits taken out of context and he pieces together each film in a very deliberate way. But every newscast that we digest is prepared in just the same way, night after night, deliberate information sent streaming into each home in the country. Here in Canada we are only marginally ahead in the fairness and non-partisanship of our media. Mike isn’t looking to be president, he is simply asking that people think and seek and stand and vote. As Joan Baez says in SU, she believes his best quality is his compassion. I have found that the people who spend their lives doing difficult but important work on behalf of the less fortunate or powerless or voiceless, must be driven by compassion – as well as a sense of outrage. And hopefully are blessed with a big sense of humour for their own sakes. Michael Moore obviously has all of this. As Michael Moore states so eloquently in Slackers Uprising, it is not what we look like or what we own that we should be judged by, but by how we treat the poor, the less-able, the disadvantaged.

 

I am one of those with believes that war is not the answer. Perhaps peace takes more work, but war is generally waged at the price to the poor and for the benefit of the rich. Wolf Guindon is one of those who stood up for his conscience as a young man at nineteen years of age and went to jail for refusing to register for the draft. He took this action in peace time, in 1948 and 49 when the US was between wars, but he did not believe in what the military was standing for and therefore would not support it.  As he says in Walking with Wolf, it was reasonable to believe that American taxes and its military should be used for promoting peace and helping the poor and hungry in the world, but not preparing to enter into and raise the level of armed conflicts outside of the border of their own country. Wolf, along with three young Quaker men from the Rockwell family in Fairhope, Alabama, spent four months of a one-year sentence in prison. Their incarceration was followed by their move from the U.S. to Costa Rica, a country which had just abolished its army following its own internal conflicts. Pacifism is a central tenet of Quakerism. It is one of the beliefs that draws me to the Friends.

 

I happened to meet Michael Moore last year. I was in Traverse City, Michigan with my friend Cocky.  We went to visit her brother but also to attend the film festival there.  Mike started and supports that festival and was present at the various screenings. On a beautiful warm summer’s evening, Cocky and I went to the opening party of the festival, mingling with the pretty people of Traverse City. Mike arrived himself half way through the evening, obviously exhausted, and I have to say, not looking well but pale, short of breath, and obviously too overweight.  One of the men we were with went over and asked him if he’d like a plate of food as he collapsed into a chair. He said that he would and soon a plate was put in front of him which he tried to eat while being smothered by the pressing crowd. A couple of hours later, we were walking by his car just as Michael Moore was coming to get into it.  Cocky spoke up and thanked him for making the great films he does. I piped up, “And take care of yourself Mike”, as I’m quite convinced this man is going to drop over dead if he doesn’t look after his own health. We need him as few manage to get done what he does in spreading the truth to the masses – but he is just a mortal like the rest of us, moving into a time of his life when health issues become serious, and I truly fear for him.

 

He thanked us and then noticed the man with us, the one who had brought him that plate of food. Somehow, in the crush of fans and media and film buffs all wanting to get near him, he had actually noticed this man who had quietly brought the food to him. He stepped back as he was entering the car, and walked over to the guy, saying, “Thanks man for bringing me that food. That was real kind of you.” He shook his hand warmly and then got in his car. That moment cemented for me the image of Michael Moore as a real human being who speaks the truth with compassion, who is paying attention, and who believes in doing the right thing and taking the moment, or lifetime, to just do it.

 

In Slacker Uprising there are performances or speeches by Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Eddie Vendor, Rosanne Barr (never my favorite but her sarcasm here was priceless), Viggo Mortensen (who mentioned Canada in a positive light), and another of my great heroes, Steve Earle (see my blog post Steve and the Hammer). Steve sang Rich Man’s War, another in a long line of anti-war, anti-insanity songs that he has written. When he sings, or even talks, it gives me shivers, because he poetically and musically always speaks the truth. All of these people, along with the thousands who filled the arenas on the Slacker Uprising Tour, are committed to the future, dedicated to finding better ways to solve conflicts that don’t involve killing young people and destroying environments, speaking up against the powers who control and profit by the military mentality. I sure hope that in both the American election in November and the Canadian federal election in October, that the compassionate ones will win – those who care for the poor, who don’t support sending them to war against other poor people to do some rich man’s dirty work, who believe in demanding that politicians and corporate barons take care of the world not use it as a playground for profit and power games…and who believe that speaking the truth is the only way we will ever really begin to solve anything.

 

    

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I am back in Hamilton, Ontario, my home. Even though I just spent ten weeks in the tropical rain forest during the rainy season, there has definitely been more rain here this summer than I experienced there.  And I thought I was getting wet! The jungle that is my backyard is evidence of a great growing season. Luckily, in the week I’ve been home, the sun has been shining in a bright blue sky more often than not.  It poured earlier today but the planets aligned, the solid bowl of clouds broke up into popcorn, and the few stars you can occasionally see above the city glow were out. On this beautiful night, I went and spent two hours at the base of my musical hero, Steve Earle.

I’ve been listening to Steve – songsmith, multi-instrumentalist, political commentator, troubadour, activist – for more than twenty years. He has written the soundtrack to my life. I feast on each new CD that I hear and somehow this southern boy from Texas, ex-heroin addict, ex-con but also anti-war, anti-death penalty, anti-insanity activist has spoken in his music of my own experiences, moods, frustrations and loves.  When he was singing songs of restlessness, I was restless.  When he’s been angry at his government, I’ve also been livid.  Now he’s in love both with his new wife and with his new city, New York, where he moved to after years of living in Tennessee.  And although I’m not in the big love, I am in love with the Hammer, this rusty little city I live in. 

He has constantly expressed my politics in beautiful simple poetic lyrics and gone down a number of musical avenues from country to rock to tropical to folk to bluegrass and taken me with him on each ride. Tonight, after playing his guitars, mandolin, and banjo and dueting with his wife, he played with a DJ behind him providing electronic beats. He has so many songs, all great. And although there was a big representation in the Hammer-crowd of drunken wild folks demanding “Copperhead Road” (which you can see him cringe to with impatient disdain, for it would seem that, fifteen years later, it is the only song people know of despite a repertory of hundreds), the majority of the audience were singing along to his lyrics from several of his albums, demonstrating that they, like me, were in awe.  To have the chance to sit twenty feet from him, down below the high stage of the Festival of Friends, on the concrete ground (which, of course also doubled as a seat right on the dancefloor), be encouraged by him to sing out, and to be able to watch his face as he sang, and watch his subtle and not so subtle reactions to the antics of the crowd, well, in an odd way,  at moments it was like it was just him and me and we forgot the other ten thousand folk.  In fact, I’m quite sure he smiled at me at one point. Sigh.

His wife, Allison Moorer, played the first set and although the best thing about her for me is that she is Steve’s wife, I do enjoy them singing together and she is a good singer of songs.  I do know from reading her blog that they are both readers, and she writes about the books she reads.  So after my soul was totally swelled by the sounds of Steve, I lingered outside his black bus for a good half hour or more with the other diehard Steve fans – all guys wanting to get their albums and CD covers signed.

Fortunately he finally came out and although I wasn’t the first in line, he turned to me (probably because I was the only woman) and I quickly handed him Walking with Wolf. I could tell he was tired and wasn’t going to have patience for long. I told him how thrilled I was to give him these words of mine after all the years that his words have excited me, pushed me, caressed me, comforted me, filled me (actually, I mumbled something much shorter). I truly believe that he and Allison will enjoy Wolf’s story.  I was so moved to be able to give him the book.  He looked me in the face and said “cool, thanks” in his southern drawl and with a tone of surprise, maybe cuz I wasn’t asking for anything, just giving him something. He reached out his arm and I touched it. I’ve still got chills.

These chills were much better than the chills I had all last weekend when I had a reoccurrence of the swollen gland in my neck with a touch of fever that I had about a month ago in Costa Rica.  I finally went to the doctor and got the right drugs and started feeling better, after five days of laying around moaning.  My beautiful neighbour, Genevieve, who left a lovely welcome home spread of wine, cheese and crackers in my fridge, also fed me fresh corn and grilled vegetables through my illness – what a wonderful person to have nearby. 

Once I felt better, I went into Toronto and distributed the book to media outlets and Pages bookstore.  I also put signed copies in the hands of my grand gurus, Bruce and Ken, who were so much a part of the final production of the book and continue to support, encourage and amuse me.  I know I will re-employ their services in the Spanish translation (which Wolf’s son Carlos is now in the process of working on). Meeting these two talented blokes (along with Jane our editor and my old friend Laurie who did the layout) was one of the biggest gifts of the last year.

Now that I am slowly coming back to earth after my near-Steve encounter, I have to get out in that jungle and get it under control.  The next month is so busy with preparing for the book launches in September and for all the visitors who are coming to help me celebrate my 50th birthday at the end of August, that I gotta get those weeds outa my path so I can see the forest through the trees.  But I will be working to the sounds of Steve in my soul, renewed, rejuvenated, re-happy. Consider the following photo a “before” picture…”after” to follow.

It is now Sunday, which was once heralded as a day of rest but not for the wicked, as my grandmother would say.  Guess I know which list that puts me on.  I’m on the cusp of leaving for Costa Rica, in full-blown sales mode, completely caught up in the celebration of the arrival of Walking with Wolf in book form and trying to see friends before I leave for a couple of months.  I will sleep on the plane.

The reaction I’ve received from people who have bought the book and started reading is just what I would hope for – they don’t want to put it down.  That’s all a writer can ask for – because it doesn’t matter what brilliant thoughts, keen observations, delectable wisdoms or hilarious anecdotes you wrote in your book, if people can’t read it, or don’t want to go beyond the first page, then it’s all for not.  So the second stage of publication – receiving feedback – is being met with great positive reaction and I’m breathing easier still. 

I have now become a book peddler – fortunately I believe in the book and the story so selling it isn’t so hard.  I’m not a natural salesperson – I’d rather give it all away – but after pouring my life and money into this project for so long, I really have no choice – it’s take money or I’ll be pouring coffees at Tim Hortons, and that could get ugly really fast.  As the coffee is spilling down the front of the customers, I’d be explaining, “but I’m really an author.” And I can hear what the caffeine-deprived in their stained shirts would be responding…

Ken, the manager at Coles in Jackson Square in downtown Hamilton, was my first book merchant who I dealt with and he was extremely kind, supportive, enthusiastic and gentle.  Took the book at a reasonable commission, and told me that Chapters/Indigo/Coles, the cross-country chain, would most certainly pick this book up to go to their stores across Canada. But they take 45%!  I reacted quite unprofessionally and a mellow expletive escaped my lips, but caught myself (well, my friend Freda kicking me helped too).  Although the writing of the book paid me nothing and the production of the book took a lot of time and money, I’m so glad that I persevered and went this route of self-publishing.  What a lift I get everytime someone tells me how good the book looks or how much they are enjoying the read. That’s all my heart and soul and aesthetic on those pages within the smiling Wolf cover – certainly with the professional influence of those who worked on it with me as well as Wolf’s stories and spirit – but the overall product was within my control and I now reap the direct results.  And I am really enjoying that. When my friend Lori wrote and said, “You see Kay, I feel that I know Wolf already, feel a little possessive, and I’m only at page 40, so your book is a true success!!” amongst other wonderful comments, well, the satisfaction is overwhelming. 

The last few nights have also brought some great music – the musical mayhem of Gallery 435 on Barton Street here in the Hammer, a place that gave me faith that I could survive in the urban jungle when I first returned to the city after many years of living in the bush.  I hadn’t been there for ages and am thrilled to see that Ellis’ room is still happening, hotter than ever, a hidden den of bliss.  A little dancing on the bayfront in the wee hours under an almost full moon, car stereo pumping out great tunes by local rockers – that was also too much fun.  Rocking day and night with the eight-month Lily, the granddaughter of my Mattawa friends Patti and Leo, a gem of a baby and a hot little dancer already – while Steve Earle kept the tunes rolling on Sirius.  Don’t ever stop the music she screams! Last night with my wonderful, old, until-recently-lost friends, Dave & Carolyn Stupple and their daughter Beth…we used to do the bluegrass circuit in the 70s and I haven’t seen them since.  And here they are again, dropped back into my life, in time for the arrival of the book – another night that meandered through magical musical moments. I just have to get them down to the jam at Gallery 435 – a completed circle. How lucky am I?

But now I really have to get with it, finish arrangements for sales while I’m away, PACK! When you have a chance to read the book, I think you will find that if you don’t already drink coffee, you may have to start.  Coffee is a recurring theme in the book because Wolf is such a regular imbiber – and the love of the nectar comes across in the pages enough that it may help boost coffee sales in Costa Rica – but I think I may have to lay off the coffee for these next couple days so I can slow down and concentrate.  This will be the last post till I arrive in Costa Rica and meet Wolf at the airport and hand him his life as printed on the pages (100% post-consumer recycled paper pages of course).  I will write again when I find a computer with a half-decent keyboard that doesn’t stick all the time – and a chunk of time to concentrate.  Hasta pronto chicos!

 

 

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