I watched ‘The Social Network’ last night. It was a surprise. I wasn’t expecting a powerful, dramatic movie with all the traditional protagonists, the evil courtier, the loyal friend, the flawed hero, knights and damsels of mixed chivalrous qualities – and it made me think.
How does anyone live a reflected life anymore? When you can sit down and blog, facebook and twitter, your every thought – as soon as you get it. Are we turning ourselves into monkeys with keyboards? I’ve been struggling ever since I lost my run for Mayor with the question – what do I do now? How do I reshape my life? And I’ve found no easy answer. My best friends give me advice that I utterly agree with – ‘rejig and restart’. Alex Munter was very clear – ‘quit cold turkey’. I agree.
But how do I uproot a lifetime? It’s not just about a job. Cities and how they work have been central to my life since I met Jane Jacobs 45 years ago. And how cities work is largely dependent on politics. Cities are not trees. They don’t grow out of the ground in the natural biological round. They are inventions of human beings. If human beings manage them well, the city does well, if not – not so much.
Then there’s the problem of focus. The non-political focus is very different. A Mayor or a City Councillor’s focus is about 24 hours. They are excellent Facebook material. I will always remember my first important vote on Council I’d only been elected for a few months . We were trying to figure out how to clean up the mess the ice storm had left and staff had proposed a 4 million dollar tree planting program. The rural and many suburban councillors thought 4 million was a waste of money. Let Mother Nature handle it was the line. We urban councillors tried to explain Mother Nature didn’t so well on concrete sidewalks.
The debate roared back and forth. I held my breath as the votes were counted. We won by one vote. If we had lost the city’s trucks which were loaded up and ready to roll, would have rolled their loads right back to the nurseries, and that would been the end of the tree planting. This is the ‘in your face’ world of city politics. It’s not that I miss sleepless nights over votes, but I do miss that ‘wake up, go and think later’ world, because when you think later you get a very different vision of reality. The human world and the natural world don’t have a 24 hour focus. The change arc is much longer. This last election was decided five years ago by the Chiarelli/O’Brien/Munter election. Everything since that election has been an after shock.
The winner Mr. O’Brien dismantled previous council’s entire surface rail program, returned the city to a roads-first policy and the city swung like a ship in the wind back to an old direction. The 2010 election instead of being a natural and healthy changing of the guard was primarily a reaction to the previous one. In 2010, what should have been a welcome change of city council was dominated by an angry ‘get rid of ‘em’ election sentiment. There was no new mandate, because the public were terrified of another four years of squabbling. So it was change the faces but status quo will do. In this way, the aftershocks continue, they are just not as visible. I’m not complaining here. How can you complain about the river moving on?
What I am saying is that when you have been living in a 24 hour political world for many years and suddenly step back the wider, longer view can be vertiginous. And I ‘m not afraid to admit that adapting to civilian life is not easy. This is one of the reasons I’m going away to Europe for six months…I need time to ponder without being confronted with the flotsam of my old life. Perhaps there I can escape being confronted with Made in Canada Tea Party ads and brave women who receive death threats for speaking their minds.