Popular Culture

Photo by Mat Napo on Unsplash

Here in Canada and in many other countries, we likely all know loved ones and colleagues who have gotten that precious and life-saving dose, if not had it ourselves. Having said that, vaccine hesitancy is real. A recent Canadian poll shows that 66% of respondents would be willing to get a vaccine right away if it were available, but hesitancy may vary based on the specific type of vaccine as well as other factors. As well, that figure leaves a significant minority of vaccine hesitant individuals.

Full disclosure: I’m generally somewhat risk-averse when it comes to medications/interventions, and the April 14 Health Canada Advisory on the AstraZeneca vaccine did give me pause. If I’d been offered an mRNA vaccine I wouldn’t have thought twice; but that wasn’t on the menu. Nonetheless, I registered for AZ on multiple pharmacy waiting lists, and when the text message came with an appointment, it got real. I had a decision to make and in all honesty, part of me hesitated – in fact, I kind of panicked. So I did what most of us do: I spoke to trusted friends, colleagues, and loved ones and shared my anxiety and hesitation. The person who tipped the balance was a physician I used to work with

My friend the doctor noted the extremely low risk of admittedly serious adverse effects (which I already knew…but still…what if I was one of those rare cases?!). Then, he noted that in the very unlikely event I was one of the few who experienced VITT, there are treatments available. Somehow I totally missed that part on the Health Canada web page! There it is, clear as day, on its own line:

“In the very rare event that someone experiences unusual blood clots with low platelets, there are treatments available.”

So I had to wonder, how did I miss that crucial and highly reassuring piece of information? For all of us, decision-making is impacted by cognitive biases. There are evolutionary and biological advantages to these biases, but they can also seriously hamper decision-making, especially when we feel like our safety might be at risk. In reading that Health Canada web page, I automatically focused on the content outlining the side effects and risks of the vaccine, as opposed to their rarity and treatability – attentional bias. Even before I started reading, I was primed to hone in on the scary stuff:

“In our personal and professional lives, attentional bias can give us tunnel vision, overemphasizing some factors and blinding us to others. When we narrowly focus on one or two things, we end up overthinking them, and assigning them greater importance in our decision making than we should.” 

All to say, I promptly confirmed my appointment and got vaccinated. That night I had shivers and a headache, and felt a bit feverish – and I visualized my immune system marshalling the defenses. The following day – all was well. I was relieved and grateful, and I also felt uncomfortably guilty thinking about the many essential workers, families, and high-risk populations who haven’t yet had the opportunity to get vaccinated. Prioritizing higher-risk communities and populations reflects an ethical approach to vaccinating a whole province/country/world, although not without missteps and stumbling blocks along the way.

We all need a ‘shot in the arm’, and I mean that both literally and figuratively. To everyone waiting anxiously for that appointment or for your eligibility to get that appointment: I am crossing my fingers for you and knowing that it won’t be too much longer. If you’ve already received your vaccine, I am so very grateful to join your number. And to those still on the fence, you’re really who I’m writing this for. These are not always easy decisions, and they are for each person alone to make.

Crossing the milestone of 20,000 COVID19 deaths in Canada is a stark reminder of the tremendous human cost of the virus. Each and every one of those individuals was a parent or grandparent, a sibling, friend, or loved one. The ongoing impacts for COVID19 “long haulers” are also sobering and hard to comprehend in their magnitude and duration. Increasing numbers of younger people in Canada’s ICU beds reinforce the reality that we’re all vulnerable, although by no means equally vulnerable. Life is precious and it’s fleeting, and COVID has already robbed our world of so many.

Photo by Efe Kurnaz on Unsplash

Passing the one-year mark in this global pandemic has got me taking stock and thinking about what it means to be living (and having lived) through a strange and historic time. We’re still very much in the midst of things, and the years to come will unpack, analyze, process, and document what feels like a “time out of time”. It is a remarkable milestone delineating the “beforetime” from the post-pandemic, while right now we continue to occupy a strange and liminal space in between.

In our ‘virtual reality’ we’ve co-created a new normal in which we’ve invented and adapted norms and conventions, shared experience, routines and rituals. Take Zoom for example – much has been written about Zoom fatigue, and “metastasizing meetings”: i.e. “We can book back-to-back-to-back Zoom meetings or accept meeting invitations because we are not physically trying to get someplace else. Every meeting occurs where we already are, in front of our laptop.” Being tied to a small box among a sea of boxes on a screen, day after day, hour after hour…self care and wellness aren’t a luxury, they are a necessity. Many of us have discovered (or rediscovered) hobbies and interests: home improvement; cooking and baking (especially sourdough!); sewing and crafts; writing, music-making, photography and painting; 1000 piece puzzles; gardening and growing;  tinkering in the garage; video gaming; long drives; and more.

And speaking of Zoom…so many questions! Are Zoom backgrounds the proxy for how we normally express ourselves at work through body language and office attire? What proportion of your wardrobe has become utterly redundant? Why is it so natural to eat lunch in a classroom or meeting room, and so deeply discomfiting online? (And is that why we almost never see actors actually eat on-camera?). Also lighting – I didn’t even know what a ‘ring light’ was until my 23 year old got me one as a gift. And the etiquette surrounding when to mute or unmute our cameras and/or audio, the criticality (and precarity) of WiFi bandwidth, the cognitive and dexterity challenges in toggling between multiple screens and sharing screen, those Zoom emojis, sidebar chat conversations … the list is long. Phrase of the year: “You’re on mute”. And in those Zoom meetings we’ve gotten to know each other in new and even deeper ways – we’ve met/seen pets, children, partners, kitchens – so many parts of ourselves and our lives that were never so real and present in our former reality.

The ‘real world’ is just as strange in relation to the beforetime. Masks can be a challenge, including for those of us who wear glasses (unless the fit around the nose is almost perfect i.e. never). And shopping: I don’t ever remember lining up for any store other than on Boxing Day or a sample sale. Shopping is far from relaxing that’s for sure. Browsing in stores is a thing of the past – get in, get out – replaced by online browsing?  Physical distance, even outside, and taking a walk in the city is kind of like a live video game of switching from road to sidewalk to the opposite side of the street as we encounter others in the opposite direction.

A few months ago on one of my neighborhood walks, l came across a small patch of grass with a stone bench, tucked off to the side near a place of worship close to my house. I’ve lived in the same place for over 20 years and had never noticed that peaceful, lonely little spot. I often see someone sitting on the bench – just sitting. It’s always someone different, sometimes a couple, an older or a younger person, sometimes it’s me. I guess we’re all trying to make sense of something so big, so impossible to fully grasp.

As the vaccine roll-out in Ontario and elsewhere finds its way into eager, grateful arms, I’m resolved to fully inhabit and be present in this liminal space, this in-between time. It won’t last forever, we’ll all be glad to get to the other side, but we’ll have lived through something extraordinary and beyond imagining.

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

This past week, I’ve been thinking about a powerful interview I heard on November 29 on CBC Radio’s The Sunday Magazine with Piya Chattopadhyay. Her conversation with Philosophy Professor Carlos Alberto Sánchez seemed to perfectly encapsulate a lived experience during these past nine months, through the word “zozobra”: framed as “the oscillation between hope and hopelessness”. This resonated strongly, in how one moment I might find myself feeling very hopeful (e.g. hearing reports of progress in vaccine research trials, approvals and production); and then the next hour/day/moment, truth be told, feeling kind of hopeless (“Will this ever end?!?”). The ‘oscillation of hope’ (in Dr. Sánchez’s words) can be deeply disorienting as we cycle through these extremes and points in between.

In the seven-minute interview, Dr. Sánchez talks about our current state of uncertainty and disorientation though this shared experience of ‘oscillation of hope’. He notes that we can learn from Mexican philosophy (and specifically names the work of philosopher Emilio Uranga), in recognizing common suffering – and using this recognition to develop “bonds of love and common struggle”. Dr. Sánchez contests Western notions of radical individualism, and how this contributes to the sense of isolation that so many have been experiencing. The importance of community, relationships, connectedness, are meaningful and necessary. The interview is worth a listen! Check out this link in the text below, and scroll approx. half way down the page:

Interview Link: Word Processing: Zozobra
The various crises of our day have left many of us feeling anxious, disoriented and uncertain about the ground we stand on. Carlos Alberto Sanchez, professor of philosophy at San Jose State University, says Mexican philosophy has a concept to describe how we’re all feeling: “zozobra”. In the latest installment of our ongoing language segment Word Processing, he breaks down the meaning of “zozobra”, its Mexican roots and universal relevance, and how it can help us get through a turbulent time.

Now I am by no means a student of philosophy, but I can’t help feeling that philosophy has – and will continue to have – much to teach us in making sense of an experience that is so hard to make sense of. Finding hope and meaning are deeply human needs, and the voices of educators, scholars, activists and artists can offer pathways into hope and community.

Photo Essay on Toronto’s Kensington Highlights


Kensington Market art installation

Cactus leaves and raspberries

Delivery Truck: Cherry berries, peppers & avocados

Vintage clothing storefront

Jerk chicken, curried goat & goat roti

Kensington Market Street Art Skull

Special army surplus

Kensington Market Street Art Woman and Poster

Kensington Market Empanada Columbiana

Kensington Market see you soon










Don’t judge me for liking Reality TV – it’s not my fault


Just over a year ago I wrote an article for educators and presenters titled 5 Reasons why Reality TV is not a waste of time (describing 5 lessons learned from Reality TV shows).

Since then, I’ve noticed that “Reality TV Waste of Time” comes up again and again in peoples’ web browser search terms. This makes me wonder, why is Reality TV so strangely compelling to so many?

Let’s face it. “Reality” TV is a bit of a misnomer since there is little “real” about the story arc portrayed over the course of a season. Out of hundreds of hours of video, a post hoc narrative is assembled to reference traditional literary/cinematic tropes. What we see is merely an illusion of the unscripted and imperfect.


Nonetheless, these shows tap into some deeply human essentials:

First, we all seek social connectedness and community and are reflexively interested in one-anothers’ lives. If you live in a small town everybody knows your business, but populations are increasingly centred in urban environments within which it’s not uncommon to have limited (or no) interaction with our geographically proximate neighbours. Enter Reality TV:

Television occupies our most intimate spaces offering a simulacrum of community and connectedness (Allen & Hill, 2004).

Furthermore, we think in narrative structures – the human brain is hard-wired for story-telling. Reality television simultaneously represents and distorts powerful human stories. (Roche & Sadowsky, 2003).

The modern “quests” described by Reality TV represent a contemporary re-imagining of centuries-old themes: innocence, villainy, betrayal, honour, valour, (in)justice, victory and defeat (Ibrahim, 2007).


So, from a mortifying wealth of choices, here are a few illustrative examples:

The epic journey: Amazing Race, Survivor, Ice Road Truckers

The Combat Myth: Hell’s Kitchen, America’s Got Talent, The Apprentice

The search for the “Holy Grail”: Storage Wars, American Pickers, Pawn Stars

Love and betrayal (and sometimes betrothal): The Bachelor/Bachelorette, Four Weddings, Real Housewives

A window into the lives of others: LA Ink, 19 Kids and Counting, Breaking Amish.


I am not saying that any time watching any TV is time well spent. There are lots of better things to do. But…all things in moderation, that’s the key.

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