LONDON, ONTARIO – Like most Canadians, I first heard of Jordan Peterson in September of 2016 and the first impression he made on me was very favourable indeed. Could it be that we finally have an academic with sufficient spine and wit to call out the spiralling inanity of our institutes of higher but narrower learning? A clinical psychologist and a very popular University of Toronto psychology professor as well as a researcher in the psychology of religious and ideological belief, Peterson shot to national prominence by putting down his foot. By the simple act of saying ‘no’ to governmental bullying dressed up as compassion and accommodation for those of untraditional sexual identities, Peterson suddenly became headline fodder right across the country.
LONDON, ONTARIO - It’s a little known fact that I attended university for a grand total of two days; just long enough to earn a profound Degree of Distaste. It’s not the kind of accomplishment that I’ve ever been able to list on a CV when applying for jobs. But those two days did constitute an education of sorts and have provided an effective inoculation against the kind of regret I’ve often heard older, self-made people express when they look back over their lives and say that they wish they’d been able to spend more time in school. It also probably explains my uncontrollable sneer reflex whenever I’m in the company of someone who identifies herself (except for the late Roy McDonald, it always seems to be a woman) as a lifelong learner.
LONDON, ONTARIO - I’ve been invited by Justin Press in Ottawa to submit an essay for a collection to come out later this year in which an assortment of writers will recount how they made their way into the Roman Catholic Church. That publisher’s first collection of Canadian Converts came out in 2009 and included essays by such worthies as Conrad Black, Douglas Farrow, Ian Hunter, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Fr. Jonathan Robinson and David Warren, so I’m thrilled to have been asked to contribute to this second gathering of such stories.
As that little project is monopolizing my attention right now, I’ve gone rooting through the tickle trunk to put up something relevant or timely for this week’s Hermaneutics post and realizing that we’re now at the midway point of Lent, I’ve pulled out this 2001 interview I did with Fr. Michael Prieur (whose The Art of the Confessor we reviewed here a couple of weeks ago) then the Professor of Moral and Sacramental Theology at St. Peter's Seminary, in which he talked about the challenges of his job and reflected on the traditions and significance of this season of repentance and renewal.
LONDON, ONTARIO – It’s been a melancholy week with the announcement of Roy McDonald’s death last Wednesday. The first reports suggested that he may have been dead for as long as three or four weeks before his body was discovered tucked up in bed in the house where he lived for all of his 80 years but that got walked back considerably and it is now believed that he’d been dead for only a couple of days. (Or maybe they’re just saying this, so we won’t go, “Eww.”) With no phone or internet connection he wasn’t the easiest guy to keep tabs on.
Until fairly recently I usually managed to bump into him a couple times a year. Always at the Home County Folk Festival where he presided for all three days at the back of the mainstage crowd as a sort of non-musical attraction. And then, less dependably, I’d meet him standing outside of Joe Kool’s or the Starbucks at Dundas and Richmond where he’d plant himself and hold court with whoever passed by. In any of those situations, you’d have to hang around for about an hour to get in ten minutes worth of fractured conversation with Roy because he’d always pull in passersby and do the full introductions and bring everybody up to date and then that person would wander away and, “Ah, where were we? Yes, I’ve been reading this wonderful book about the holistic powers of organic cashews but the thing is you’ve got to eat them at a time when you’re . . . Oh, just a minute, Herman, have you ever met Ernest Forepaw?” And off we’d go again.
LONDON, ONTARIO - When I was accepted into the Roman Catholic Church, I heard from a number of lifelong Catholics who told me they envied me my fresh apprehensions of the glories of a Church which, through long habituation, they feared they sometimes took for granted. And there certainly were times during my months of study and preparation when I was all but overwhelmed by the blessings and the significance and the implications of the relationship I was entering into.
Nothing stands out quite so vividly from the many impressions of that time as the memory of my first marathon confession when, shaking like the proverbial leaf as butterflies waged thermonuclear war in my guts, I was able to set down nearly 32 years’ worth of regrets and remorse at the feet of Our Lord and receive His absolution. The buildup to my first participation in that Sacrament had been a knotted tangle of fear and self-recrimination and I anticipated that once I got through it, I would want to drag myself off to some dark corner and go to sleep for a week. Instead, I practically levitated out of that confession room, infused with an energy and hope and sense of gratitude that I hadn’t felt in years.
LONDON, ONTARIO – For a full quarter century through a City of London program called Focus 60, I worked as a discussion group convener for senior citizens – at least 90 percent of them women. While I also hosted one group which discussed current events for a few years, the two real mainstays of my convening years were weekly, two-hour sessions with a group of aspiring writers and another group of very accomplished readers; folks who’d read widely and avidly for 60 or 70-some years and were a goldmine of suggestions and recommendations. My reasons for finally packing in my job in June of 2012 were four-fold.
I had just turned 60 years old myself and figured it was probably time to toss this plum position over to a younger person. A lot of my enthusiasm for the job drained away when the front office started demanding police checks and diversity training workshops for all of their conveners. This demeaning irritation arose almost 20 years into my gig during which my employment record was utterly unstained by incidents of harassment, groping or (except for one addle-brained scribbler who wouldn’t stop writing about her bloody cat) disparagement. And for my final year they had retired the reading group due to dropping enrollment while the writing class just kept getting bigger and bigger – too big, in fact, to give an adequate amount of attention to each student. Also, that spring I had received my commission from the Catholic Art Guild to write Three Artists: Kurelek, Chambers & Curnoe and needing to undertake a large amount of research, I dreaded breaking my concentration every Friday to monitor this one discussion group.
LONDON, ONTARIO – My good friend Vince Cherniak will be familiar to many of you from his two-year stint as in-house art critic for The London Yodeller which I edited from 2013 to 2016. In addition to his regular Look at This column, Vince was also a frequent supplier of our Yodeller Interviews where his usual modus operandi was to plop two to three times more material than we could possibly publish into my lap with a request to pare it down into usable form.
Well, Vince is now working away at his family memoirs and in a shamelessly ingenious ruse to save himself some labour, he has decided to outsource some of the writing for this project to other people. One major theme of Vince’s life story is his amazement that he still lives in the same house that he grew up in on Forward Ave. He’s not sure that he ever meant to do this. Indeed, he’s still not sure that he really likes it here in London and wonders if his lifelong but unintentional commitment to this place makes him, not just a regionalist, but a hyper-regionalist.
LONDON, ONTARIO - The four-season term of Michael Shamata as artistic director of the Grand Theatre (1995-99) seems to be remembered primarily for its clunkers. In the first season he foisted his own adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula on us (a remarkably leaden ‘retelling’ as opposed to a ‘reshowing’) and then there was his second season’s preposterous production of Maureen Hunter’s Atlantis. Nobody who saw Atlantis remembers the story or even the acting; just the fact that the entire stage was covered in seven inches of water – some 4,000 gallons – that was kept at room temperature to prevent Tanja Jacobs and Benedict Campbell from breaking out in chilblains as they sloshed around for two soporific acts and made every patron feel like they’d spent an evening at the sauna.
By the end of Shamata’s directorship, the Grand was once again saddled with a hefty operating deficit of $1,300,000. However on the plus side, in his last two seasons he did introduce The High School Project, which has been maintained and expanded in ensuing years. This innovative program invites high school students from across the city, on stage and backstage, to work with professionals in mounting full productions – often musicals – that crackle and fizz with intoxicating energy. These shows link up our theatre with the community in a very dynamic way and did much to repair the bruised feelings that still lingered 25 years after the Grand Theatre went professional in 1971 and no longer featured amateurs from the community in their productions. And with all those relatives who are compelled to buy a ticket and see what their young people are up to, these shows do fabulous business.
-LONDON, ONTARIO – Seven years ago we named a newly developed South London park after Paul Haggis, the London-born Hollywood kingpin who picked up Oscars for writing back-to-back Best Picture winners Million Dollar Baby (2005) and Crash (2006) – which he also directed. Naming parks, streets, highways, bridges or schools after people who are still alive and therefore capable of getting themselves into trouble, can be a risky business. Folks used to have a better understanding that the time for honouring accomplished people in this way was after those citizens had died.
The reasons for striving to take a longer view when handing out such civic honorifics are twofold. You want to make sure that your subject lives out the entirety of their life with some semblance of dignity; that they won’t tarnish their escutcheon with any late-breaking acts of gross malfeasance. And you also want to ensure that the accomplishments you’ve chosen to honour will still seem praiseworthy a decade or two down the line – or even next week. I remember back in 2004 when the CBC was running their Greatest Canadian contest (aping the BBC’s Great Britons contest of the year before) and among the names being put forward by large numbers of people as worthy contenders for this crown was Avril Lavigne. I took that as my cue to nominate my dog but in the final heat – we wuz robbed! - Badger lost out to Tommy Douglas.
LONDON, ONTARIO - My goodness but the times are tetchy. It has been appalling to watch the pile-on by media and assorted pedantic ‘experts’ and ‘woke’ activists which engulfed a young London Police officer for the combination thought crime and costume faux pas of applying black skin tone to her face and body and donning an impressively elaborate outfit of traditional African attire complete with neck coils for a Hallowe’en costume more than 11 years ago and more than ten years before she joined the London force.
An Instagram photo from the long-ago party innocently posted to social media on December 13th by the sister of Constable Katrina Aarts, was then less innocently forwarded to our never-less-than circumspect mayor, Matt Brown. Brown, who also sits on the Police Services Board and knows a thing or two about disappointing people, then forwarded the photos to London’s Deputy Police Chief, saying “This is frustrating, concerning and disappointing. There is no place for racism in London.”
Herman Goodden is a writer, journalist and playwright based in London, Ontario. His latest books are Speakable Acts, a collection of his six plays, and Three Artists which examines the lives and work of William Kurelek, Jack Chambers and Greg Curnoe.