Episode Forty Two: The Ultimate Question of Life

IMG_20131015_153320Virtute and I have a confession to make. We’ve both been anticipating writing this episode for some time now.  The number 42 has very special connotation in our conversations. It is the number worn by the great baseball player Jackie Robinson. It is the angle rounded to whole degrees at which a rainbow appears. But most importantly it is a number that gets at the crux of this whole Diaries of a Cat Named Virtute project. 42 is of course the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything.  So this week, Virtute and I spent a few minutes reading through our favourite passage of the Douglas Adams book, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, before reflecting on this important question.

I asked Virtute how a simple number could explain something so complex.  He explained, “Well even though most people seem to consider me a very complex character, I tend to live life simply.  I enjoy catching the cracks of sunshine when they appear, I appreciate genuine cuddles from the people that I love, and I never miss a meal – especially if it’s chicken! If 42 is the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything – and if we are all just living on a large supercomputer called Earth tasked with determining what the ultimate question was in the first place, then I guess we need to start simply.”

Perplexed, I asked Virtute to elaborate. “Well 42 isn’t just a number. It’s an expression of a relationship.  We’re all simply expressions of relationships. Some of them are chemical, some are physical, some are spiritual, some are emotional, but they are all relational. Just like the arc of a rainbow or the number on your baseball jersey, we are bound to the relationships that sustain us while we exist within this plane.”

What if we never figure out what the ultimate question is in the first place?  Virtute was less certain, he gazed out the window as a rainbow began to emerge in the distance.  “Perhaps the problem is not finding a response to our question. Perhaps the problem is the way we have posed the question in the first place. What’s brilliant about the question’s answer, 42, that the super computer Deep Thought solved a long time ago, is not that it provides us with new knowledge that we can attain and use, but rather that it points to the mysterious nature of our relationship to life, the universe, and everything. That mystery is beautiful.”

Even though Virtute was eloquent as always, I wasn’t satisfied and prodded him a little further. What does it mean for us right now? Slyly, Virtute turned around and said, “What does it matter, they’re gonna bulldoze this place for an intergalactic highway any minute now.” He turned back and continued to watch the rainbow arc its perfect 42 degrees.  I went to the kitchen to prepare some chicken for Virtute, I figured I might as well nurture this relationship as much as possible.

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Episode Forty One: Eduardo Galeano, Presente.

IMG_20150407_223312~2Virtute and I spent some time yesterday reflecting on the passing of a movement elder, Eduardo Galeano.  We talked mostly about the fact that we have lost a number of movement elders in recent years and it is worrying because it feels as though our movements have trouble remembering our stories and our histories.

Virtute definitely considers himself to be a storyteller, so I asked him about the importance of stories and histories in radical movements. I could tell he had been thinking about this for a while, as his face immediately shot up in a dignified manner as he explained, “Eduardo Galeano had this quote that’s resonated with me for years. He’s talking about capitalism and colonialism and he’s explaining the way it works to make us forget. Galeano says, ‘It’s a system of power that is always deciding in the name of humanity who deserves to be remembered and who deserves to be forgotten … We are much more than we are told. We are much more beautiful.’  This is an important lesson to retain.”  Touched by this quote, I asked Virtute what he thought was a good way to honour this lesson.

Normally self-assured, he slunk down a bit in consternation, “I don’t think it’s easy.  Storytelling is such a critical part of our movements.  But stories need to bring us to action, not just to understanding or to knowing.  Galeano’s stories called us to action. They not only called us to action, they compelled us to action. They came from action. They were part of the struggle. They were a narration of the ongoing dreaming of another world.”  I was lamenting this loss, when Virtute was quick to remind me, “Over the past few years, you and I have both witnessed the flourishing of storytelling within our movements.  Don’t underestimate the important work of people like Harsha Walia, Glen Coulthard, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Leanne Simpson, Zainab Amadahy, Chris Dixon, AJ Withers, and the many many other people within our collective movements who are writing stories that compel us to action, that are part of our actions.”  With those words, Virtute injected me with a little hope, hope that Galeano was right and that we are much more beautiful than we are told.

Episode Forty: Sun in an Empty Room

IMG_20150330_182955I walked in on Jenny and Virtute engaged in a long conversation about Edward Hopper’s painting “Sun in an Empty Room”.  They were discussing the ways in which John K. Samson’s lyrics to the Weakerthans’ song of the same name captures a very important and intimate reference to the disjunctures of home and belonging in Hopper’s work.  Of particular interest to them was the concluding lyrics where Samson points to the ways in which even refractions of light can seem unfamiliar once you have begun the act of moving out.

Jenny was very adamant that the song and the painting revolved around our perceptions of the familiar. “What does it mean to know home? Can we ever know home? Is home not something so fragile that a small change in the angle of light across a room can create a feeling of unbelonging?” Virtute tended to agree, and quoted a line from the song:

“Take eight minutes and divide (sun in an empty room)
By ninety million lonely miles (sun in an empty room)
Watch the shadow cross the floor (sun in an empty room)
We don’t live here anymore (sun in an empty room)”

“For me, this is an important indication of how a process that takes place across time-space can have a significant effect on our relationship to home”, he explained.  I wondered about this myself and as I snuck away from my eavesdropping on their conversation, I passed by the bathroom where Gumption was engaged in her most recent ritual of staring at the shower curtain.  I asked her what she was doing. She responded, “I like the light on the curtain.”  Feeling that the topic was relevant I asked what about it was interesting.  Her response kinda put the whole discussion in context: “Sometimes you can’t explain things that you like, sometimes you just take the time to observe it. To know it.”

Gumption definitely doesn’t get enough credit in this house. Sometimes big questions have simple answers and sometimes we just refuse to answer these questions altogether. Sometimes it’s just sun in an empty room.