by Greg Blanchette, Tofino
Oh, we've all sat here before: a hardback chair around a big table in an airless room with many other people. The stink of lassitude, like a fart nobody wants to acknowledge, beginning to taint the air. The Orga-nazi in charge, with her over-the-top, weirdly eroticized love of organizing things -- usually other people's lives, usually in the form of meetings.
But this is not about the Orga-nazi, or about any of us. This is about the What-Not Committee and its January meeting, which is roaring on. And on. And which now hits a speed bump because a vital First Nations rep is not here to speak to a key agenda item.
We've all been here, too, and it still kills me, every time: White guys 'n' gals a-popping with great ideas -- heck, earth-shaking ideas -- and the drive to get 'em done asap. Revised meeting schedules flying in the air like bank notes at a Chinese wedding, everybody going crazy grabbing for them.
Except the First Nations folks. They stand along the walls, arms crossed, nodding seriously, watching the fracas. Then when the big, "agreed-upon" meeting day arrives... they don't show up. Or maybe they do. You never know.
It used to drive me nuts, too. With all the other palefaces I'd roll my eyes, grind my teeth (in a quiet, politically correct sort of way) and agonize over how we'll ever get anything done around here if people don't show up to the meetings.
But that was before the Y*O*N*M. Now, you know what I think? I think if anything's going to save us it's that Indian attitude. The one that, without speaking a word, says, "My people have been here 5,000 years, white man. Your overblown sense of urgency does not impress me."
'Cause that's the twist on civilization these days: The faster we move it, the more we screw it up. The more we screw it up, the more frantic we get in our hamfisted attempts to fix what we barely begin to understand in the first place. And the quicker it all gurgles down the rat-hole.
The meeting, meanwhile, is imploding, whipping itself into the righteous organizational frenzy that's supposed to make everything fine again by the next meeting. At the same time, though, something that has built quietly inside me over months and months of meetings finally gives a welcome click: my cash-out, my Waterloo, my Y*O*N*M swan song. I rise to my feet, hand over heart, and stand there till a puzzled silence falls across the meeting and everybody's paying attention. "Ladies and gentlemen of the Fill-in-the-Blank Society," I declaim, "your cause is just, your efforts worthy, your patrons grateful. Let me say this with all due respect and from deep in my heart: Eat my shorts."
Heads turn, eyebrows rise... trains of thought derailed for a moment. "Or, to put it another way," I go on, "bite me. Please do not take this personally, for it is the Y*O*N*M, and by simple logical fiat this is not about you, it's about me."
And then I leave. Stage right, with dignity, in a wake of "what-the-?" looks and murmuring.
That wasn't the whole truth, what I said, but I didn't want to go into it. I'm not walking out of the meeting simply because I'm fried crispy by an endless stream of petty deadlines. No, I leave on principle. I leave for everybody like me who uses meetings as an excuse for a social life. (Which is why so many meetings out here turn into half-baked social events -- it's less about furthering the cause than about getting out of the house before you go lu-lu.)
I duck out -- from this meeting and all others -- because of the whole "meeting paradigm" that saturates this coast like a year-round drizzle, and saps our vitality by making meetings the only available model for doing things -- always with the chief byproduct of spawning more meetings.
I bugger off for everybody who ever thought of a meeting as a "venue for dialogue." News flash: The Weigh West on a slow Tuesday night is a venue for dialogue. Across a slice of rum-butter diplomat at Sweet T's; piled on your couch with mugs of genmaichai; afoot at Cox Bay of a misty 10 a.m... these are venues for dialogue. A meeting, by contrast, is a parade ground for entrenched views. Or a battlefield.
I walk away because of The Boyz -- that smattering of meeting-mogul guys (always guys, it seems) who are all about axe-grinding, back-room deals, and the diligent preservation of the strife that has cursed this region for 15 years. Way to carry the torch, Boyz, but I've lost enough sleep over past wars. (Oh, and gents: If you're dead certain you know who The Boyz are, that's a good sign you're one of them yourself.)
Most of all, I bail for me. For free evenings and time with friends. For reading a good book now and then. For doing things I feel passion for, and not just an ingrown, unshakeable sense of duty. I leave the meeting for fun, you know? I can barely remember what it feels like.
Out in the evening drizzle I suck in a deep breath to kick it off: the Year Of No Meetings. Man, the air's clean out here; it's like I never noticed before. I can walk home through it slowly, without looking back. After all, what have I got to do? Where have I got to go, besides places I actually want to go?
This is a work of fiction (sort of), with no slight intended against any organization. Greg Blanchette lives on the Second Nations reserve called Ucluelet, where these days you'll find him mainly just hanging around. He occasionally reads email at email@example.com.