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On Studying Egyptologists

I work in a spot where I occasionally meet very smart people. I mangle and twist this pure intelligence into a garbled pidgin language resembling interpretation of exhibitions. It has happened before, and very likely will happen again. 

One subject that I knew next to nothing about six months ago was the subject of Ancient Egypt. Who were those crazy mavericks living in the desert 5,000 years ago? Why did they learn how to write? Where did they go to have fun? How did they survive in an area sandwiched by other groups that would adoringly smear their innards across the cindering desert floor, cooking briefly until the vultures swoop in for a proper burial by air? And what about the sand?

ROM Egyptologist Gayle Gibson is smart. She's also open-minded and gentle and pretty much a superhero.

ROM Egyptologist Gayle Gibson is smart. She's also open-minded and gentle and pretty much a superhero.

People study these questions. They're called Egyptologists. I learned that Egyptologists don't truly know the answers to these questions, but then again, these are very silly questions that don't really beget truthful answers of any kind. But what is truth? 

Truth in Egyptology is written between the lines of hieroglyphs - cheeky reminders from artists on artifact placement were a recent discovery that I personally found fascinating. To divine these mischievous flourishes of intellect, one needs to be creative, analytic, and open to reasoned queries. I would typically reserve these qualities to scientists, but I am very quickly realizing this earlier judgement was erroneous.

Dr. Shiela Ager is not an Egyptologist. She's a Classicist, though Cleopatra VII ruled Egypt and nearly pulled off one of the greatest upsets in the ancient world, commanding the ancient world by conquering the Roman Empire from within. Roman historians didn't like this, and figuring the truth out from propaganda seems smart.

Dr. Shiela Ager is not an Egyptologist. She's a Classicist, though Cleopatra VII ruled Egypt and nearly pulled off one of the greatest upsets in the ancient world, commanding the ancient world by conquering the Roman Empire from within. Roman historians didn't like this, and figuring the truth out from propaganda seems smart.

There are millions of stories to uncover in the ancient world - broadly speaking, everyone's got one. This, however, is a lie, and it's something that I believe Egyptologists know better than most. Let's conduct a simple thought experiment. Consider me (or you, if that is more helpful.) I share different aspects of myself to different audiences. There isn't an essential me that is the mere culmination of these narrative parts. I am a bit more than that in some cases, a bit less in others. Each Ancient Egyptian life foregone must have been the same, and it's a statement that Egyptologists grasp with on a daily basis. 

Thomas H. Greiner gives a pictorial tour of the Nile in modern times. He cautioned against the overzealousness of tourists to simply stamp their feet around and leave imprints where secrets might lie. This seems smart.

Thomas H. Greiner gives a pictorial tour of the Nile in modern times. He cautioned against the overzealousness of tourists to simply stamp their feet around and leave imprints where secrets might lie. This seems smart.

There are some pretty cool tools that Egyptologists use to attempt to figure out these faceted lives from the past. One modern trick is to check out the genetic code of those long deceased. What might have ailed the monarchs of the 18th dynasty? From that, why did they keep on marrying within the family when the ramifications were clearly seen? How devout would a family need to be to contain their power within so closely? Or how fearful would they be of shadows lurking in the dark?

Another cool trick is being able to read ancient Egyptian language. Who could imagine that a pictoral language that has almost been swallowed up by the sands would be understood by a group of people whose natural language usage comes from roots barely 400 years old. We're looking at a difference in origin at around a factor of 10. Not only that, but people are cheeky. They use puns, figures of speech, and other forms of wordplay irrespective of the language being used. An Egpytologist needs to learn how to think like an ancient Egyptian along with playing along with the probable sounds of the language.

University of Toronto professor Ronald J. Leprohon looks at the suite of stories that has established a glimpse of how Ancient Egyptians viewed their surroundings. We call that mythology. He calls it someone much more than that. Smart.

University of Toronto professor Ronald J. Leprohon looks at the suite of stories that has established a glimpse of how Ancient Egyptians viewed their surroundings. We call that mythology. He calls it someone much more than that. Smart.

I find all of this utterly incredible. Utterly impossible for my mind to decipher, to be certain. But we can all at least walk in the shoes of an Egyptologist from time to time - we don't need to worry about the sand, at any rate.

ClimateActionWR's 1st Anniversary

One can do a lot in 365 days. The average one of us spends around 2000 hours doing some branch of helpful labour to trudge along the human machine. We celebrate our positive impacts within the community - careful to discard the rest. An organization accumulates these collective nudges toward a common good, hopefully to achieve an attainable goal. What does an organization like ClimateActionWR do in 365 days?

Nina Blagojevic and Lisa Chapman handle registrants for ClimateActionWR's 1st Anniversary.

It sets a simple figure. 6%. That doesn't seem like too big of a deal. Reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions by a Carbon Dioxide equivalent of 6% from a baseline level set during the year 2010 within ten years. That's 2020. That's still six more years for 6%. 1% per year is totally easy to do and a seemingly reasonable figure until some more quantities are considered. What if that baseline is 3,613,870 tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions per year? What if 10,000 more people are planned to inhabit Waterloo Region each year? What if the Region of Waterloo's current population of 563,000 people don't commit to action?

Sustainability advocates converse.

You set some small crumbs along the path so that you don't need to take too large of a step. ClimateActionWR's five milestones are outlined here, and what's truly awesome is that we've already achieved three of the five! By that reasoning, we're well ahead of schedule. The next two steps, however, will be very challenging and will require the committed collective action of a working community. That includes politicians from municipal, provincial, and federal levels, business-owners and entrepreneurs, academics, advocates, and common citizens alike.

Sustainable Waterloo Region Executive Director Tova Davidson captures the crowd.

There are a lot of really good people spending their 2000 (and likely significantly more) hours nudging toward this goal of 6%. The staff and volunteers of Sustainable Waterloo Region have committed over 63 organizations to take action in reducing their Greenhouse Gas emissions. Thus far, they've successfully reduced Carbon Dioxide equivalent emissions by 29,990 tonnes - a significant chunk out of the required 216,600 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide equivalent emissions to be reduced across Waterloo Region. Not bad.

MPP of Kitchener-Waterloo Catherine Fife addresses the audience.

This can be further supported with representation by elected representatives and for them to lend their voice to support progressive government policies that might support things such as cleaning our supply of energy or incentivizing reductions in the demand for energy.

University of Waterloo Professor Sarah Burch discusses case studies of other successful sustainability initiatives in urban communities.

We can implement the research. Other cities are doing it too. Burnaby, BC is in the process of developing an Environmental Sustainability Strategy in-line with other successful strategies across the Social and Economic developmental axes. And maybe others will become inspired by our model. Cities like Niagara Falls, Durham, Kingston, and Ottawa are taking steps in their sustainability journey that are echoing our own. They have a long way to go - just like us.

Huron Heights Student Kiana Chin is poised to contribute to our sustainability journey both now and in the future.

So if we have representation from our most respected public officers and our future leaders alike, what's our excuse? If you feel like your voice will be lost in the crowd, take note: the crowd is on your side. It wants a better future for us all and I think that's something to rally behind. All it takes is a small nudge.

ClimateActionWR Plan Manager Elizabeth Hilgers nudges a crowd into collective action.


Night \\ Shift

I don't have a particularly strong grasp of Kitchener-Waterloo's art scene. Though I'm employed in a cultural institution, I only see a slice of the work that local artists are outputting - and it's a narrow slice at that. This is quite problematic for someone whose domain should be at the cutting-edge of artistic development in Waterloo Region. I have friends and colleagues that do art and are artists, but if I were to try to consider what K-W art was about in a boilerplate message, I'd be unable to produce something. So how does one fix this?

Several arts festivals fire off throughout the Region's calendar year. The Box Art Show, Summer Lights Festival, CAFKAKultrún, and Word on the Street all flash in the cultural pan, each fulfilling a different niche. Last year, a newcomer to the scene emerged: Night \\ Shift, the brainchild of former Alternative Journals editor-in-chief, Eric Rumble. The inaugural year's events were new and engaging, an unexpected intersection between arts and environmentalism. Spoken word artists braved the cold betwixt large-scale kinetic sculptures cautioning against unsustainable consumerism. I caught a convivial thread of participation throughout the evening, with a devoted crowd shambling together until the wee hours of the night. I felt alone and together with them both at once.

Last night Pierina and I headed for Night \\ Shift's second iteration. We bundled up and started at Kitchener City Hall, venturing eastward as the night progressed. We did a little bit of pre-preparation and planned our route in advance, which in hindsight, I will be shirking in future years. Regardless, we begun by checking out Apparations briefly, watching participants watch each other in an endless loop - communicating across a seemingly vast chasm of the City Hall Square. It took us more than a moment to discover what was occurring, which I'm hopeful wasn't similar to other nightshifters. Three cute Creatures of the Gyre greeted us as we headed indoors. The sculptures attracted several visitors and very effectively connected the hazards of irresponsible waste handling and its effects with our oceans. I would have preferred some accompanying signage to convey the actual impact of one bottle making its way into our waters, but I think the installation would have provoked those interested to find that information themselves.

Inside were a few academic and professional organizations considered with responsible resource usage. Inside those groups in the rotunda was a performance entitled Samarian Woman 28. We caught the element featuring a young artist in contemplation, dripping paint in a live painting performance overlaid with a projection of the Grand River. It was quite serene, and I regret not sticking around to see how successive performances evolved. We also briefly checked the caucus room to see Signature, which I found to be the most technically impressive installation throughout the evening.

It was there that I ran into the first of several acquaintances. This was a consistent theme throughout the night - head to a hub and meet up with a friend. This was also totally unplanned and a pleasant surprise; a sense that I was part of a larger community. This repeated at THEMUSEUM, the Duke Street Food Block (three times,) KW|AG, Goudies Lane, and even transiting from location to location. Transit was rapid - the night was fiercely cold. Glad I wore long johns.

Some other highlights: Agnes Niewiadomski's oversized Lite-Brite installation was spectacular! The Goudies Lane Arcade in general was an excellent reminder that experiental art is most successful at festivals such as this. People crowded around to experience something new and interesting, and the artists seemed to be enlivened by all of these happy interactions. The Empty Shoes Project served a somber message as a path of empty shoes led us into a courtyard depicting the stories of the dead. These were stories of those killed by drunk drivers, and was artfully treated by a passionate group of volunteers.

We missed several sites and more stories that likely unfolded throughout the night. But I think that's a commendable achievement. It is rare in the Region to be cast into something that feels much grander than what's seen at the surface, with many more mechanisms than one person alone can achieve. This is what Night \\ Shift felt like to me, and I can only imagine how the festival will grow in coming years.

Stay Warm,

Brent