Bob Ramsay

Why are there no prizes for promising old writers?

I asked myself this on Monday when I and 600 others gathered at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto to hear the British writer Robert Macfarlane give the first annual Weston International Award Lecture, a prize (with $75,000) that Macfarlane had accepted two minutes earlier. Funded by the Westons and run by the Writers’ Trust of Canada, it’s the latest dish on a growing buffet of prizes for artists, and particularly for writers, to reward excellence (and Macfarlane is easily that), but more and more, to promote promise.

From medicine to movies, accounting to influencing, the world is awash in promise. That world, however, is largely limited to the young. Indeed, “promise” means you may someday have a brilliant future. So the world places a bet on you fulfilling that promise because you have many years ahead to do that.

There are also a rising number of ‘mid-career’ prizes, (including some by the Writers’ Trust) given to people with a couple of decades in the trenches, who need a little help to make their next work their big one. These, too, are ‘promise’ awards.

But there are few to no prizes for promising old writers.

True, there are lifetime achievement awards in writing and every endeavour from surgery to sky-diving. But 70-year-olds don’t get rewarded for their promise. Their glow comes from past performance.

I wonder why this is.

Meanwhile…

R.H. Thomson

Join us to hear R.H. Thomson break a family secret.

It goes back more than 100 years to the First World War… and still shapes his family and himself.

Now, one of Canada’s most revered actors has written a searing memoir, By the Ghost Light, about how war changes every family and should change how we view history.

So join us for a special Remembrance Week event with R.H. Thomson in conversation with Eric Peterson who co-wrote and performed in Billy Bishop Goes to War, one of the most widely-produced plays in Canadian theatre.

We don’t have a lack-of-doctors problem. We have a lack-of-access problem.

Hard time finding a family doctor? Scads of them have left town or stopped running clinics. It will get worse. Nearly 20% of Toronto family doctors plan to retire in the next five years. But the problem isn’t too few trained doctors or too many sick Canadians. We can import enough physicians to give every Canadian a family doctor.

In 2014, Dr. Danielle Martin, then from Women’s College Hospital, testified at a US Congressional hearing on the difference between the Canadian and US systems. In one of the great examples of young-female-non-American beats old-white-male-American-senators-at-their-own-game, Dr. Martin, now the head of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto, made one thing clear:  Whether you’re a patient or a doctor or a business class flier, it all depends what line you’re in.

Meanwhile…

Rick Mercer and Jann Arden

You’re invited to a singular evening as two iconic Canadians reveal their new books and their bonds with each other — live, on-stage in Toronto.

Rick Mercer launches the second volume of his #1-best-selling memoir, The Road Years.

Jann Arden launches her career as a novelist with The Bittlemores, a coming-of-age mystery story.

Click here for tickets.

Decay is what happens when you’re making other plans.

I’ll be 74 next month, so I’m used to forgetting things like my best friend’s name, or my PIN number, or my glasses and keys, one of which I always eventually find on the top of my head. This is the slow, steady drip into decrepitude.

But what’s shocking is to do something you’ve done well all your life, and suddenly you can’t do it at all. This has happened three times this summer.

I used to sing well and was the “Head Choir Boy” in high school. But on July 1st, I tried to sing O Canada and could barely carry the tune. Instead of three octaves, my range was cut to what seemed like three notes, except as I later learned, in the shower where I’m still The Boss. Still, to suddenly not be able to carry a tune was a shock.

In June, I went skipping with the grandkids over the rocks at our cottage on Georgian Bay. I have to tell you I’m a great rock-walker, deftly leaping from one uneven surface to the next, and have been all my life. But suddenly, I got wobbly. These rocks weren’t a challenge; they were a deathtrap. We all know what happens when you’re old and ‘fall.’ I quickly retreated to the sandy shore.

Then last week, some friends asked me to join a beanbag-throwing game. The hole was 20 yards away and you just had to throw the bag into it. Mine never got near that hole. It splayed everywhere but. I’ve been great at ‘ball’ games all my life and beanbags should be no different. What was this fresh hell?

Meanwhile…

Jesus had two dads, and He turned out okay.

The Pride Parade is on Sunday, June 25. Toronto’s parade is one of the world’s largest, and oldest, founded in 1972, nine years before the infamous bath-house raids.

It wasn’t always a party. In 2001, the Rev. Brent Hawkes, then the senior pastor at Toronto’s Metropolitan Community Church, performed the first legal same-sex marriage in the world. He wore a bullet-proof vest. When he retired in 2017, he created Rainbow Faith and Freedom to combat the rising tide of anti-gay rhetoric and regimes around the world. Sadly, he was ahead of his time. Today, it’s illegal to be gay in 66 countries, and in 12 of them you can be executed for being gay.

This reminded me that Canada’s population crossed the 40 million mark last week. That was a bit like seeing all the new skyscrapers in downtown Toronto. Were they there last week? Really? We’re growing by leaps and bounds because Canada has opened the gates to immigrants. In 2021, we took in 1.1 million people from elsewhere (compare this to 1.5 million for America which has 10 times our population).

What does immigration have to do with being gay?

Hard to say, but if I were gay and deciding to start a new life far away, I’d likely choose a place where tolerance reigns. Maybe not excellence, or productivity, or chutzpah where America beats us cold. But as Wade Davis noted: “Canadians are the nice couple living above the meth lab.” And more and more, we’re the nice gay couple living above that same lab.

Meanwhile…

Fast-Checking. Fact-Checking.

All of us need to open a new folder on our desktops called “AI”.

Or “Eh-eye?” if we’re still not sure that artificial intelligence will overwhelm our 2,500-year-old ideas of reading and writing and creativity.

Into this folder, we should drop any article or video that catches our interest about the future of AI. We should fill it up once a week at least, no matter how despairing the prediction about AI is. Ever since ChatGTP made us aware that climate change is not our only existential crisis, I’ve been avoiding those who say we will soon be enslaved by our technology, and avidly reading those who say AI will be our salvation.

But at what other time in history have humans (at least those of us who can read and write) been able to not only be bystanders at the revolution, but players in it. Indeed, our participation is compulsory. We’ve all been drafted. So best that we at least learn what the rules will be, and how they’ll change because they’ll change faster than any other revolution in history. And for those of us who crave a ring-side seat to history, here’s your chance.

Meanwhile…

Whither the weather?

A friend of mine who spent a year in Leavenworth said: “You can get used to anything.” But getting used to summer sunshine in March one day, followed by a brutal snowstorm the next, will take some getting used to. I get that our punishment for overwarming the earth is extreme weather. But I can see a huge uptick in the sale of suitcases, for example, so that we can put our summer duds in one and our winter ones in another when we go to Montreal for the weekend. Or when we pack our bathing suit in the trunk, to think: “Where’s my toque?” No wonder North Americans consume well over two-thirds of the world’s production of antidepressant drugs. It’s the weather.

Meanwhile…

A place to stand? Or a place we can’t stand?

My brother Jim built Ontario Place, so I have a familial interest in the fate of the theme park on Toronto’s shore whose future is being loudly fought over. I also have friends on both sides of that debate.

What’s incontestable is that you should take an active interest in its future – not just because Ontario Place will likely be part of your leisure life, but because it will signal so much of what kind of city Toronto is and can be.

While Ontario Place is owned by the province, which is pushing forward on its plans for a new theme park to open as early as 2027 and serve up to five million people a year, last week Toronto’s planning department issued a critical report on the facility’s new spa in particular.

In 2019 a citizen’s group, Ontario Place for All, was formed, and Alex Bozikovic, The Globe and Mail’s architecture critic, has written a number of gloves-off reviews of the park’s design and funding. Meanwhile, Therme Group, the Austrian-based spa designers, have already made alterations to their original design.

One big question is whether Toronto’s next Mayor will support the new Ontario Place the way our last one did.

There’s a lot at stake here. Well worth some time to study up on the issues and the facts.

Meanwhile…

Wade Davis

If anyone knows about the promise and perils of psychedelics, it’s the renowned author and anthropologist Wade Davis.

In 1996, he wrote One River, the story of the riches of the Amazon rainforest and the extraordinary plants whose effects range from medicinal, to magical, to marginal.

Since then, he has gone on to become one of the world’s authorities on the deep connection between people and plants; and how psychedelics are enjoying a resurgence as a treatment for many mental maladies.

So what better time than now to have this daring and original thinker talk about the psychedelic journey, past, present and future?

Please join us to hear Wade Davis.

To say the world is his stage downplays his effect on Covent Garden, the Met, Stratford, the National Arts Centre, Quebec City, the West End, Cirque du Soleil, the Canadian Opera Company, and of course many moving pictures on screens large and small.

And now, Robert Lepage will reveal where he’s headed next.

The Mounties and the English language.

I’ve never been a fan of Brenda Lucki, the Commissioner of the RCMP who decided to retire next month. Far from being an empathic female leader, she struck me as more of an old-fashioned, command-and-control leader who had a great deafness to politics and people.

But maybe the Mounties’ current state of disrepair is not just about leadership, but language. George Orwell’s famous essay, Politics and the English Language comes to mind when I read that, instead of abandoning a controversial neck restraint, the Mounties issued new guidance in November that “strengthens and clarifies definitions, oversight and accountability measures, the risks of applying the technique on medically high-risk groups, requirements for medical attention, the threshold for use and requirement to recertify annually on the policy regarding application.”

Meanwhile…

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