Columns

From the category archives: Opinions

Dr. Gerry Turcotte

A symbol's history can reveal surprising meanings

Dr. Gerry Turcotte
May 4, 2015

It's hard to imagine getting through our daily lives without symbols. Few in the western world would fail to recognize a bright red octagon and not know it meant "Stop!" It's perhaps why there are so many funny additions to the sign. My favourites include the prankster who wrote "in the name of love" on one, or the person in a country town who crossed out "stop" and wrote "Whoa!" Not all symbols are as universally understood, however, and many have lost or changed their meaning over time.

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When speed replaces patience, our sense of wonder is hijacked

Dr. Gerry Turcotte
March 9, 2015

In 2004 I published a multi-genre book entitled Border Crossings: Words and Images that featured poems, essays, short stories and images. Virtually all of the photographs were "old school" – that is, analog not digital. The book was a combination of writings that I had written for performance, including a live dramatic reading with a jazz ensemble at the famed Sydney Opera House, and a photographic installation at the Wollongong City Art Gallery, also in Australia.

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Ordinary Time can still bring exhilarating experiences

Dr. Gerry Turcotte

February 9, 2015

As a child I was always thrown when the priest announced that we were in Ordinary Time. Sometimes it seemed self-evident; but often it was anything but ordinary. My uncle bagged a moose; someone won the lottery; another had triplets. And in the papers . . . goodness me, nothing seemed ordinary. So why was the priest proclaiming that we were in the fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time? What, I always wondered, was extraordinary time? Maybe I should come back later when the cool things were happening.

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New Year's can be time to restart the engines

Dr. Gerry Turcotte

January 12, 2015

I was struck by the following quote that is often repeated in the context of New Year's resolutions: "Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties." It's an inspirational statement, though you might be forgiven for thinking that such messages sometimes fall flat when you are really struggling. Many complain that New Year's Day is an equally provisional symbol of a fresh start . . . as though all the pain or joy, the failures or successes of the past year suddenly vanish just because we reset the clock.

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Grandma helps boy find the true Santa

Dr. Gerry Turcotte

December 15, 2014

For the last three years I have faced insistent questioning from my 11-year-old daughter Sophie about whether there is a Santa. Her sense of hopeful wonder has been struggling mightily against the majority of her classmates and their clear certainty about the ruse. As we talked this through, I told her about a wonderful story I have always loved. It was about a similar child who, upon hearing from classmates that Santa was fictional, fled to his matter-of-fact grandmother for the truth. His grandmother never sugar-coated anything, and he secretly feared she would support his classmates. Instead, she insisted that Santa did exist and took little David to a general store to prove it.

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Angle of Death puts reporter on notice

Dr. Gerry Turcotte

October 20, 2014

A recent CBC segment featured a radio host who explained that she had received death threats following an unexpectedly controversial news story. The letter, she said, was filled with spelling errors and it was signed: the Angle of Death! Which, let's be honest, is not quite as scary as an Angel of Death, except perhaps for Grade 6 students studying geometry. The anecdote reminded me of a Michel de Montaigne quote: "The greater part of the world's troubles are due to questions of grammar." This in turn invoked a funny line by Jennifer Crusie: "His sentences didn't seem to have any verbs, which was par for a politician. All nouns, no action."

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Jesus used parables to challenge his hearers with a radical message

Dr. Gerry Turcotte

September 22, 2014

Few people would deny the importance of education. This week I had the pleasure of welcoming a record number of new students to the St. Mary's orientation. It was a thrill both to watch the excited faces in the crowd and to observe the educational styles of the many speakers who came forward to greet our students: from campus ministry to student advisor to the president of the student legislative council. What struck me most about our event was the range of rhetorical techniques the speakers used to communicate with the audience.

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A gift of plagues for our supporters and a cross-eyed bear for Jesus

Dr. Gerry Turcotte

August 25, 2014

Of all the columns I have written over the years, a few seem to have had special resonance, though perhaps none more so that my column about typographical errors.Readers may remember that I began by admitting my own most embarrassing moment when I wrote to my then faculty with the salutation, "Good morning Dead Colleagues," instead of "Dear Colleagues.".

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Few events are as exciting as a convocation

Dr. Gerry Turcotte

July 7, 2014

Like many of my fellow presidents I had the honour recently of speaking at our university's convocation. As so often happens, I spent a fair amount of time thinking about the structure of the event, what my speech would focus on and how we would ensure that our students had a perfect day. Once the event was over, though, I was struck (as I always am) by the sense of shared joy that permeated the reception.

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Fatherhood a gift that calls dads to love, guide, inspire

Dr. Gerry Turcotte

June 9, 2014

I never got to speak to my father as he lay dying. Quite simply, he was the most important figure in my life, a humble, funny and deeply honourable individual, a unique person who could discipline without anger, inspire without fanfare, and who kept the ship afloat no matter how bad the seas. Despite a desperately poor upbringing and a difficult life, he managed to steer his family through good and bad times and to ensure that we had all the necessities of life.

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