Profoundly Uninteresting People

“All I have to do is cover your big mouth and you’ll be dead, but that would be too easy and too boring”

This is an angry post. I may regret it later. But if this blog is about ordinary people, I guess I cannot pretend they are all awesome. Some really suck.

I’m preaching to the choir. If you’re reading this, we are probably like-minded and I am spewing the obvious. I apologize in advance if it is boring. But I have lost my groove. Recently, some of the nasty forces I have always known as general have become acute and personal.

I am handling it with the elegance of a donkey. My frustration is palpable. I am awkward and annoying. I have lost my sense of humour even in the most benign situations. Over a recent weekend, I watched a friend back away from all conversations I was party to. I don’t even blame him.

The time will come for me to articulate the details. In the interim, last week’s events have got me all wound up.

As everyone knows, the Boston Marathon got bombed. The guys that did it suck.  That much we agree on. Then we splinter.


Hey Mom! I learned a new term today!

Immediately, the internet lit up with intolerance. Not surprisingly, Muslims were targeted. One man punched a Syrian woman walking her baby in a stroller and yelled ‘Fuck you Muslims’ in her face. In the interest of national security, of course.


Hasn’t been a country since 1993

Far better people have spoken to the far-reaching impact of the nastiness that follows tragedies. I count myself among the many holding my breath and hoping it does not lead to worse foreign policy, decreased civil liberties or more excuses for bigotry.

I posted a disturbing article about a young Saudi victim injured in the blast and subsequently detained for no reason besides ethnicity. My friend Mike Coffey re-posted it. To date, it has received 90 comments. Despite myself, I chimed in.

A summary:

CoffeyArticle: Several cases of racial profiling happened following the bombing, hopefully we don’t use this tragedy to further institutionalize racism as we have in the past.

Dude: Whatever works. It’s not like an old white granny did it.

Chorus of people: Whoa Dude. Here’s a bunch of facts that show 44 out of the 62 mass murderers in America over the last few years have been white males.

Dude: You are a bunch of pretentious jerks with all your fancy facts. I don’t have white privilege. I served in Afghanistan and they killed my friend. Screw you all for calling me racist, I’m entitled to my opinion.

Me: Dude, racial profiling and racism boil down to far more than opinions. The impact is far-reaching and pervasive.

Dude: I’m a fucking paratrooper.

I finally had the sense to exit the conversation when he started arguing Chechen is an ethnicity.

Here’s how great it is to be white, I could get in a time machine and go to any time and it would be f***** awesome when I get there. I can go to any time and know when I get there they will have a table waiting for me.

“It is great to be white, I could get in a time machine and go to any time and it would be f*** awesome. When I get there. they will be like, ‘welcome sir we have a table waiting for you’  – Louis CK.

The next day, I listened to my facialist bemoan her existence while painting on a serum. Her poor white civil servant husband is routinely overlooked for promotions that go instead to unskilled darkies. Her poor white son makes a measly salary as an IT Consultant because, well, he is white. Her poor white daughter has been mugged at the hands of the black mob.  They shall have no choice but to leave their spacious beachside bungalow with maid and gardener eventually, there is just no place for them here anymore.

The same day, the Employment Equity Commission released its report showing whites constitute 73% of top management positions in the private and public sector. Blacks occupy 12%. At 34%, the gender gap soars above the global average of 18%. No offence lady, but if your son isn’t going anywhere in IT it ain’t because he is a white male.

A few things to get off my chest:

  • Opinions are awesome and everyone is certainly entitled to them. You can love death metal, believe in reincarnation and be all for big government. But if they promote ignorance or come at the expense of other people, they have crossed the line. Whether Muslim terrorists or Black criminals, the moment you separate yourself and decide someone else’s rights or needs are any different from your own, it begins translating into reality and impacting real people. And you suck.
  • Facts. If you are not interested in them, do not like to read or current affairs aren’t your thing then shut your mouth. It you fall within 9% of South Africa’s population that gets 73% of the best jobs but maintain you are marginalized or insist Islam condones terrorism, you are a dangerous idiot. For the record, “knowing someone who…..” does not a statistic make. If you need one, they are out there in droves. Pick up a book.
  • Check yourself. If you only share your views with a certain ‘type’ of person and deliberately not the poorest, darkest, gayest, oldest, most disabled woman you know, they probably ain’t right.
  • Oppression persists less because of people who wake up in the morning and say “how can I keep X people down” than because of people who fail to see it for what it is.  Sure, there are white supremacists and radicals of the like, their greatest service to their respective causes is letting the rest of us off the hook by setting the bar so very low. Oppression is not a yes/no or good guy/bad guy question, it is an institution. Pay attention.
  • Pity. It is not the same as equality or respect.  Put it away.
  • No this is not in the past. We do not live in a colourblind, post-racial society. Ignoring the issues do not make them go away, it denies people’s experiences as well as the root causes.
  • Privilege exists. If you’re white, you have it. If you’re male, you have it.  The list goes on and we all fit somewhere along a spectrum. Privilege does not make you a bad person, ignoring it does. Claiming victim does not absolve you of your responsibilities to give a shit, it just makes you a prick.
  • Check your spelling. The correlation between ignorance and terrible writing is pretty damn high.

And now I am done with this conversation.  If you have something to kick it up a notch and will make me better or smarter, by all means. Otherwise, I made a resolute promise a long time ago to never move backwards. I am done being muted by ignorance.  There is too much work to be done and too many smart people to learn from.

coffey and iNow let’s talk quickly about ordinary people:

I met Mike Coffey poolside in California. My sister was diving for USC and competing at Stanford. She was not at the top of her game and threatened me within an inch of my life if I came to watch. Thus, she was super happy when I showed up and Aresenio Hall’ed her back 2.5. The water carries sound perfectly. The other spectator in the stands turned around immediately. “So, you’re a diving fan?”

"Wait, I think someone dropped a rope"

“What’s this? I think someone dropped a rope”

He was the strength and conditioning coach for Stanford Athletics and it turned into a 4 hour conversation over chopped salads. Years later he came to Montreal to support a SHLF fundraiser and became the only man to ever crip walk in a Canadian winter. Proving that good things come when you least expect, 8 years later he is back in Florida and we’re still friends.

As an educated black man living in the South, this is a storm he weathers daily. When I asked him how he deals, I felt his shrug through my computer “You would be surprised how many people think like that.” So big ups a huge hug to Coffey for being a seriously cool guy and for handling himself so much better than I. The world needs more people like you.

Trying to see the forest for the trees – my Mom

mom 60thName: Mary Ann Hartley
Age: as young as she feels
Hometown: Maple Bay by way of Vancouver, Edmonton, Yellowknife, Montreal and Toronto
Occupation: Manager, Duncan Business Improvement Society
Hobbies: Running, biking, swimming, yoga, doggies, SHLF
Nickname: G-Ma

I learned quickly that the closest people are the hardest to write about. It is impossible to de-tangle yourself from them.  Never more true than for my Mom, who happens to be here on South Africa’s sweet soil (and a big reason for the hiatus).

Yes, this really happened.

Yes, this really happened.

Truth is, I have barely ever considered who my Mom is without us. We grew up in a cyclone. Four children in less than six years would be challenging under any circumstance but we were a particularly demanding lot. Between us we played ice hockey, soccer, football, baseball, basketball, wrestling, track and field, field hockey, swimming, skiing, diving, piano, violin, flute, drums and trombone. As early as primary school, days started with us piling into the wood-paneled station at 5am for swim practice, straight to school with breakfast in the car for track, soccer at lunch, walk to piano after school, bus to gymnastics, home for dinner, homework, pillow fight and bed.

At one point, Strachan changed our answering machine to thank people for calling the Hartley Zoo –  we would hit you back when we finished swinging on vines and wrestling crocodiles. It ended with us banging our chests like baboons.

Mom was chauffeur, chef, referee, coach and the glue that (just barely) held it all together. That’s all I needed to know.

My heart stays broken for what she lost when Strachan left. A Mother's love is just different.

My heart stays broken for what she lost when Strachan left. A Mother’s love is just different.

We grew up in an idyllic Canadian suburb under the unconditional love and tireless effort of two parents. They lost their tempers and made mistakes. We heard ‘no’ often. We drove terrible cars and wore second hand clothes. We fought many fights, threw parties when they left town and shoplifted candy. I let my crush cheat off me in French class.  Wyatt had a permanently runny nose and Blythe could not pronounce r’s or l’s until she was 10 (Bwyfe Hawtwey).  Strachan ignored me in the school hallways and made us play ‘dodgeball’  -– you stand still while I throw the ball as hard as I can.  My teeth are still crooked from one of the many times he punched me and I have registered the sound a math textbook makes when smashing a second storey window and the subsequent thud when landing on the patio below, after he got a B on a test.

I still consider it the purest form of perfection I have ever experienced.



I am a Mom now and trying to negotiate the ‘balance’ that us new age Mommies strive to achieve.  Children, husband, family, friends, career, health and an awesome annual vacation while still looking good in a bikini. It is hard. As one of my friends (pregnant with her 3rd in 4 years) recently said  – “screw balance, I’m just trying to survive.”

Only now has it begun to sink in that my ‘normal’ was in fact the very deliberate vision of a highly determined person that came at many, many opportunity costs. My one Mother had one car, a full-time job and an overabundance of people pulling at her with blatant disregard that she even had other options.

Stealing oranges from an orchard while biking across Portugal because 'they have Vitamin C'

Stealing oranges while biking across Portugal ‘but they have Vitamin C!’

My Mom is a remarkable woman by all accounts. Smart, industrious and brave. She steps up to every challenge, solves complex problems for fun and has never left anything unfinished. She takes genuine interest in people, loves to help and makes time for everyone. She has a will of steel –  she started running one week after I moved out, within a year she had qualified for the Boston marathon. She has since run 2 more, countless halves (in 1:29 at age 50+), a half Ironman , 2 fondos and biked across Canada and Portugal. She gives tirelessly, is a respected member of her community and simply makes people feel good.

In a parallel life, this blog could read very differently. I have no doubt that my Mom could write a book, run a company, steer a ship or tackle global warming. I take for granted daily that she chose me instead.

If I want my own kids to have similar chances, it means being there before, during and after school. Meals on the fly. ‘Vacations’ to small towns for hockey tournaments or swim meets. Quality time during carpool, no new clothes for 20 years and finding true joy in watching others shine.

MomWhile trying to find my own motherly ‘balance’, I wonder if we would have turned out any worse if we had trimmed down on activities. I can say, with certainty, that my 4 years of violin were a sunk cost. And I’m sure the Wizard of Oz would have received the same critical acclaim without my black cat performance (yes, there were black cats in the Wizard of Oz).

But where do you draw the line? Skiing was the most time and money intensive sport of all.  Blythe’s diving required her to cross town in rush hour 5 days a week for 6 years. Those sports in turn paved the path for everything that has followed. A very reasonable parent with a little less resolve would have had us walk to piano lessons instead.

2004 Olympic bronze with Blythe and Strachan

2004 Olympic bronze with Blythe and Strachan

In its very best form, Motherhood is selfless.  In case that makes us feel oppressed or relegated to the Dark Ages or Stepford Wives – choosing someone over yourself requires the most remarkable courage. Only some of us have the strength do it. Growing up with a Mom who chose us and considered it a privilege is the greatest gift I have ever received. If I never make a million dollars but can show my own children a fraction of the same, I will pat myself on the back.

MOm champagneA couple years ago, we participated in a group visioning exercise. The task involved mapping life goals and attaching them to ‘champagne’ moments: winning moments that could be caught in a picture. About half the long-term “I have arrived” snapshots involved sitting back, watching and grandchildren. We are currently rounding the bend on 4 weeks of deliriously happy tri-generation fun –  quality time, home cooking, family adventures and a house full of baby shrieks and belly laughs. As always, I have gained much from time spent with her. In return, I can only hope she has had some of those champagne moments – she has certainly earned them.