Tag Archives: aging

Lennon’s Latter-Day Lessons Also Lost 30 Years Ago Today

By Jason Menard,

On this day, 30 years ago, the world lost one of its most influential poets. And while today’s a day to remember the life and music of John Lennon, it’s also a time for those of us approaching a certain age to consider what else we lost on Dec. 8, 1980.

I was only seven when Lennon was murdered in front of his New York home, so his passing didn’t even factor into my life. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-to-late teens that I discovered The Beatles – and it was very soon after that first exposure that I firmly became a John fan. Continue reading

Facebook — A Friendly Whitewash of our Community?

By Jason Menard

So, are you my friend? Am I yours? Am I an acquaintance? A colleague? An enemy? An annoyance? An inspiration? We all know what the people around us mean to us, but unfortunately Facebook has forced us to paint everyone with the same brush — diminishing some, elevating others without merit, and cheapening the concept of “friend” through our own compliance.

Facebook is about community at heart – and it’s filling a void we may not have even known we had. As we continue down this technological path with all its rewards and potential, the tolls have been paid by increased isolation. How often do we send an e-mail instead of picking up the phone? At work, how frequently do six-hour e-mail back-and-forth conversations replace what would have been a five-minute face-to-face chat? Our interactions are largely through a screen – and the genius of Facebook is reconnecting us to our communities through the medium of choice.

Of course, just because we live in a community doesn’t mean we have to like ALL of our neighbours.

I have co-workers, both past and present, some of whom I consider friends, others who are acquaintances. There are schoolmates – again, some of whom I consider friends, others who were passing acquaintances (and, of course, there are those people who I thought I recognized, but ended up having no relationship with!) Sure, friend could work in some of these cases, but what about the rest?

I have had the honour of meeting a number of people over the years who, whether they know it or not, have had a profound and inspirational impact on me. Through their own talents and dedication, they push me to do better, to be better. “Friend” just doesn’t fit for those people on Facebook that I admire, the people who inspire me, the people who, whether they know it or not, have played key roles in me becoming the person I am today. Where’s the classification for that?

And what about those who have meant so much to me at various points of my life? Yes, it’s true, I’ve never been good at keeping in touch. But that fact doesn’t diminish what these people meant to me at the time. Again, they helped me become who I am today.

That’s what’s Facebook’s good for. It’s a way to reconnect with people from my past. Sure, in large part, I don’t care about one’s FarmVille or Mafia Wars updates, but I don’t spew the vitriol that some do against these games (in fact, I never understood why peopel get angry. Just turn off the notification. It’s easy). If these games make you happy, then go ahead. I’m sure my hobbies would probably annoy some of you too! And generally, I read with varying degrees of interest the day-to-day minutiae of people’s lives — some posts are captivating, others are forgotten as soon as their read. I’m sure my posts are met with the same degree of apathy by most. We post because we want to share our experiences, to connect. But we’re not just connecting to the present. Most importantly, our posts serve as tethers to our past. Today’s post may mean nothing in the grand scheme of things; yesterday’s memories do.

On the flip side, Facebook can bring out the worst in people. It feeds the needy, attention-starved, narcissistic desires of those who are perpetually stuck in a high school-esque drama of their own creation. It allows them to perpetuate a reality wherein they are the victims of an oppressive world, obviously created by whichever deity in which you believe to serve as a Hell on Earth.

From the plaintive, but out-of-context, “sighs” posted on wall, to the various permutations of “Oh, I can’t believe this happened to me,” or “Why do I bother,” these comments are designed nothing more than to elicit nothing more than the well-meaning, but enabling, responses from other “friends.” And then, of course, comes the cat-and-mouse teasing out of the whole story, which is followed by the initial intended result – the reaffirming platitudes.

Seriously, if I ever do that. Shoot me. Both on Facebook and in real life.

Spit it out, say what you want, and stop being coy. It’s pathetic. In addition, we only see one side of the story. Certain people use Facebook to spread gossip, start rumours, and distort the truth. I have one “friend” who is, well, how can I put this nicely… The Least Self-Aware Person Ever to Exist (I was going to say Hypocritical Douchebag, but I really don’t like the word douchebag.) She is constantly put upon. She is constantly distorting the truth – unfortunately effectively – both in real-life and on-line. And she loves to play the victim whilst, in reality, is actually the victimizer. She is a user to the nth degree, but is completely unaware of that fact. Well, let me change that. I would hope she’s completely unaware of it — otherwise, she’s an even worse person than I think. Unfortunately, we allowed ourselves to be used. Why? Pity, mainly. But eventually the capital raised by that is exhausted. Especially when it becomes apparent that the cause for the pitiful situation is rooted in selfishness. Alas, the ties that bind mean this person’s still in our lives.

But don’t we all have these people: the hypocrites, the desperate, the sullen (in her case the Bat-Shit Crazy?) Back during my Gazette days I had the pleasure of having lunch with Gwynne Dyer and we started talking about the Internet, which was still very much in its infancy. I mentioned that there seems to be way more wackos out there on the Internet. Mr. Dyer responded, ever so succinctly, but eloquently, “There aren’t more wackos out there. It’s just now they’ve got a forum to share their craziness.”

Is that what we have on Facebook? A forum for the crazy, the narcissistic, and the obtuse to rage against whichever machine is allegedly oppressing them? Is it a forum where old friends can strengthen the bonds that have frayed by time? Maybe it’s a way to engage in a form of voyeurism and exhibitionism? Likely, it’s a bit of all the above.

I know I’m no innocent. I’m likely guilty of some of the above. In my youth, I was an ass. I was sarcastic, biting, and very insensitive. I made jokes that I shouldn’t have. I spoke without truly considering the feelings of others. And for that, I’m sorry. If you knew me at 15, 20, 25, you only knew part of me – and, I hope, not the best part.

I’d like to think that life changes you. You grow, you mature, you become more understanding. You learn to appreciate people for who they are. You learn to appreciate who you are. In my early 20s, I thought I had it all figured out. In my 30s, I’ve learned that I didn’t know squat in my 20s. I recently had an on-line conversation with an old high school friend of mine (she fits into the paragraph about the writers I admire and make me want to be better…) and we both agreed that it takes until your 30s until we finally are comfortable with who we are. Of course, talk to me in 10 years, I may say, “Mid-to-late-30s Jay was a moron.”

But I know that 16 to 25-year-old Jay was a moron. Not intentionally, I just needed to grow.

Pain, and seeing someone you love suffer from it as well, wizen you quickly. And the natural passage of time helps too. You learn what’s important, what’s not, and you learn to leave the fake drama behind. There’s enough real drama out there – why manufacture more? And I’m happy to see that the majority of people who are my “friends” on Facebook have done the same. They’ve matured, they seem more accepting. They’ve left high school behind. Others are still stuck in some Gossip Girl/90210 world of their own creation (personally, I’d rather be stuck in some Charmed world of my own creation, but that’s again alluding to my continuing infatuation with Alyssa Milano. My apologies.)

A day doesn’t go by when I don’t read someone posting how it would be better to just walk away from Facebook. But that’s allowing the negative to overwhelm the positive. Yes, living your life entirely on Facebook would be bad. Restricting your interactions to an electronic medium isn’t healthy. But there is a valuable balance to be struck.

I guess it all comes down to the value you get out of Facebook. For me, it’s keeping in touch with friends who, in the not-too-distant past would have been lost forever. It’s learning from others’ experiences as they share them on their walls, etc. It’s about remembering the past (and, hopefully, learning from it). It’s about retaining a piece of who you were and understanding how it made you who you are. In the end, the good in Facebook outweighs the bad.

I just wish we didn’t have to paint everyone with the same “friend” brush.

Music for the Ages

By Jason Menard

Sometimes it takes a new set of ears to remind you how powerful music can be – and how it can move your soul.

That new set of ears came from my five-year-old daughter. On the weekend, as I was cleaning the basement – that new mess, of course, also came from my five-year-old daughter with a healthy assist from her 12-year-old brother – I decided to break up the monotony by putting on a CD.

Compounding the fact that I was dating myself with that aging format – I find the MP3 format seems so cold – I decided to delve into my personal archives for a long-lost friend. The band doesn’t matter, but it’s safe to say that I haven’t heard them in over a decade. But as the first ballad on the CD played, my daughter perked up and came to me, arms extended, asking to dance.

As we danced, I thought about how powerful music truly is. How it can create such a heartwarming memory, and how it can literally help define who we are. That night, my daughter asked for that same CD as her nighttime music – and, with just a few chords, our common bond was strengthened again.

My daughter loves music. She sings all day. Whether it’s the songs she’s learning at school or the latest hits on radio, music is a big part of her life – just as it was for me.

But as we age, that passion for music seems to fade. As a youth, in my teenage years, my friends and I used music to define who we were – and, more importantly, who we weren’t. While others were listening to the Top-40 songs that saturated the airwaves, we were delving into our past to find music with meaning. I suppose, in a way, we were looking for depth in our music to make up for our relative lack of depth in life experience.

While others were listening to dance and pop, I was delving into Elvis, The Beatles, and Bob Dylan. Some were content to Fight for their Right to Party, while I was reliving a counter-culture youth I never experienced with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. I chose The Cure, The Clash, and The Smiths, over The The.

I was deep. Even if growing up in a middle-class, suburban environment left me as deep as a puddle in reality, my music showed the world that I got it! I understood the world and wasn’t going to conform.

Then something funny happened. I grew up – and I started tuning out.

That same syntho-techno dance crap that I would rail against actually turned out to be pretty good. Those 80’s cheese songs that I thought were the bane of my existence actually turned out to be pretty damn fun to sing along to. And I stopped defining myself by what I listened to, choosing instead to define myself by who I am.

In essence, music no longer defined who I was. It was simply a part of my life. I didn’t need to be the tortured poet or the whimsical bard. I could simply be Jay. And if I find the new Avril Lavigne or Nelly Furtado song catchy, then who am I to second-guess? There’s no Sex Pistols’ credibility card out there – and it certainly wouldn’t be revoked if I’m caught bouncing my head to pop radio. Grandmaster Flash, NWA, and Public Enemy won’t turn their backs on me because I’m singing along with the flavour-of-the-month Hip Hop artist today.

Heck, even Parliament/Funkadelic wouldn’t begrudge listening to Justin Tim… well, on second thought, not even I’m ready to go there.

Looking back on it, the depth that I was conscribing from my music has been displaced by my life-earned knowledge and wisdom. Before I was searching for music that I could relate to, that I could play as a calling card exclaiming to the world “Here I am, here’s who I want to be.” Now, I am who I am and I’ll let that speak for itself.

We spend so much time in our adult lives searching for pleasure, it seems like such a waste when we deny ourselves a full range of musical enjoyment in our youth. But that’s just a fact of life, I guess. It’s a part of maturing. As youth, we define ourselves by those with whom we associate – for better or for worse.

In the end, I’ve found that those who are most prone to criticizing things that are popular or, even worse, not obscure enough, are usually those who are most apt to define themselves by their influences. Instead, I’d prefer to define myself by who I influence – and that starts with raising quality, generous, intelligent children.

Of course, if I can start them off with a few solid bands to help them find there way, well then there’s no harm in that? After all, eventually they’ll just tune them out and be themselves – defined by who they are, not what they listen to.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

A New Perspective on the New Year

By Jason Menard

As we age we often lament the loss of things that we enjoyed in our youth. But that mentality is short-sighted when one considers all that we gain in return. All in all, it’s hardly a fair trade.

Like many of you, when I was younger I rang in New Year’s Eve as hard as possible. From nights at the bars to house parties to rock star-esque trashing of hotel rooms, New Year’s Eve was a time for revelry – usually fuelled by alcohol.

In years past, I greeted the New Year with a bottle in both hands. This year, I quietly welcomed the New Year with my daughter in my arms. And there’s really no comparison.

It’s been a steady descent into adulthood over the past few years. Before we were rocking the streets of the town, now we calmly watch Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve and ring in the New Year not with a gong, but with a quiet kiss and embraces with friends. The old me would wonder what’s wrong. The new me knows that it’s finally all right.

With two children, aged 11 and four, my wife and I no longer feel the need to go out and paint the town red. We’ve long realized the game of life isn’t won by partying or staying up all night. No, the game of life is won or lost based solely on who your teammates are. And I get more satisfaction now spending an evening at home with my family than I ever did bellying up to any bar and racing the rising sun home.

While I still have friends who continue to frequent clubs and bars, I can’t say that I have any inclination to join them. Instead of drinking myself into oblivion, I’d rather head home and remember every single moment that my son and daughter give to me. As I watch them grow – and as my son gets closer and closer to those teenage years – I realize that each passing page of the calendar means fewer opportunities to share their lives. And I’m not willing to let those moments go. And when I do go out, I don’t want to be stumbling arm in arm with some drinking buddy, but rather enjoying an evening on the arm of my wonderful wife.

So as I sat on our friends’ couch with my wife at my side and my four-year-old in my arms, I watched as my daughter vainly tried to hold out until midnight – less for the New Year’s celebration and more because of every child’s wish to stay awake. Instead of slamming down shots or squeezing another tune on the dance floor, I read to her the assortment of books she continued to bring to me.

At 11:56 p.m. she finally lost the battle, her eyes fluttering closed as she fell asleep in my arms. With my wife at my side and my son nearby, we counted down the last few moments of 2005 and greeted the New Year with smiles and hugs. Our daughter saw the arrival of 2006 through sleep-heavy eyes and promptly fell back to bed.

Shortly thereafter, as we drove the Montreal highways back to our temporary home, we watched the traffic that accompanied us on our route. It wasn’t the over-lubricated revellers that stumbled along the streets of our past, but fellow families heading back to their homes with similarly somnolent offspring in various states of repose in the backseats of their cars.

I realized that while I enjoyed the follies of my youth and don’t begrudge anyone their decision to keep living that life, I’m enjoying the company I’m currently keeping. And like most of us in the not-too-long-after-midnight traffic crowd I went home not regretting the life I’ve long since left behind, but fully embracing the life that I now enjoy.

Because, when it comes down to it, while holding a drink in each hand may have had its moments, they’re easily forgotten. Holding my child in my arms as she succumbs to the security and warmth of a father’s love – that’s a moment that’ll last forever. And I can’t think of a better way to ring in the New Year.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

The Soundtrack of Our Lives

By Jason Menard

They say that music is the soundtrack of our lives, but why should we restrict ourselves to repeating the same song over and over in perpetuity?

Music takes us to a time and a place that may never have existed. It lets us imagine our lives in a different context and helps to define the person we envision ourselves as being – the true inner self manifested through a horn section.

We look at the music of the past through rose-coloured glasses, embracing its ideals and purity, without being tainted by the day-to-day reality of life. That’s why, on a long drive, I spent the better part of an hour swinging with the Rat Pack, Louis Prima, and their contemporaries, being transported to an idealized hipster lifestyle. And, yes, I lament the loss of the fedora (I did try, unsuccessfully, to bring it back into vogue during my high-school years).

Music’s also the reason why I want to walk down the street with a 70’s blaxsploitation groove in the background. My inner funkster demands to be set free. And think of how cool it would have been to woo my wife with a four-man Temptations-style band in the background, echoing my sweet words of inspiration!

But music is more than just a representation of who we want to be, it’s an indicator of who we are.

In our early youth, we want to conform and be like the others – and that’s why teen pop has and always will be so popular. Yet, what the critics don’t understand is that teen pop is a necessary evil. It’s an introduction into music based on conformity that forms the foundation for individuality. And many of us cynics tend to forget that we, once, were young and passionate about music – appreciating it for its ability to move us, not stand up to scrutiny.

In our insecure youths, we all have a need to fit in, which is why we’re drawn to the music of our peers. And because music is such an integral part of our self-validation, we defend it with fiery passion and vigour. Try reproaching a teen or a pre-teen about their music and the response you’ll get is akin to an emotional wound – and that’s because, in a way, it is.

By questioning a youth’s music choice, we’re – in essence – questioning who they are and where they fit in this world. When you define yourself by your musical taste, having it called into question also calls into question your sense of self.

Eventually youthful passion burns away and a desire for exploration takes hold in all of us. That desire to conform to the masses fades away and is replaced by a desire to assert our individuality. And the best way to broadcast our newfound emancipation from the masses? Music!

Of course, the irony of all of this is that we move from conforming to one set of norms to another – but on a smaller scale. As we age, we are defined by our musical affiliations: rockers, punks, skaters, hippies, artsy types, etc. We move in smaller circles, embracing a new sense of self that’s reflected in the lyrics. We wear our musical tastes as a badge of honour and use them like secret handshakes into a private club.

In a rejection of the music of my youth and in an attempt to set myself apart from the crowd, I embraced the music of the 50’s, particularly that of Elvis Presley. And as I moved through the halls, I encountered little musical cliques, ranging from the Led-Zeppelin retro-rockers, the CSNY-influenced modern-day hippies, the Cure and Smiths-fed melancholic popsters, and the various members of Public Enemy’s Nation (please remember I was a child of the 80s…)

Of course, university was no different. Despite the increasingly diverse collective of people, the basic need to affiliate to a style of music remained the same. Except now we increasingly encountered the Hipper-Than-You Brit Poppers, the Smarter-Than-You College Rock fans, and the Drunker-Than-You Frat Boy/Tragically Hip collective.

But what meeting all these people throughout our lives enables us to do is to search out new styles and genres, learning from our musical history and appreciating what came before us. Like a musical buffet, we’re able to sample the flavours of each and every style – embracing what we like and rejecting others as not suited to our tastes.

It’s then when we learn to appreciate all the genres, styles, and forms music takes. Ask most teenagers to listen to Bach and you’ll get indifferent stares back for your efforts. But find those same people 20 years later and they’ll be more receptive to the idea.

I may be a child of the 80s, but I’m by no means defined by that musical era. However, that music is why I can spend an enjoyable morning passionately discussing with a friend of mine soul/funk music that predates both of our births. It’s why I can feel my frozen Canadian blood warmed by Latin and Brazilian beats. And it’s why I’m now able to appreciate music for what it is – an expression of life.

No matter when we’re born, our contemporary music gives us the foundation from which we are able to build a varied and diverse appreciation of music. Eventually we outgrow our youthful passion and zealousness and learn that one style of music doesn’t define us completely.

We are, by nature, rich and diverse people that move – and are moved – by different beats at different times. And that’s truly the soundtrack of our lives.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved