Re: Move

A fellow my age moved into our complex last weekend. He had a small rental moving van, his daughter and another young fellow were helping. I introduced myself and welcomed him to the neighbourhood. He puffed, “ I’m getting too old for this moving business. Next time I’ll pay someone.” Like me, he had concluded that he was coming to the end of his moving on, moving in, moving out options. I figure my next move will be my last. I’m no longer as young as Billy Joel when he recorded this ode to movement; then again neither is he.

Many of us can describe multiple moves within our lifetime; some comical, some hair-raising, some ill advised, some work related, some to upgraded digs and others for practical reasons only. We move because we can and we move when we have no choice. In our youth we can relish the feeling of being on the move; people to see, places to go. Couch surfing is a great descriptor of an adolescent’s freedom of movement. A backpack and a place to lay your head are all the requirements needed for adventure. When we get older our joints are less moveable, we’ve accumulated things and we’re settled into our routines. The movement that becomes most important is that of our bowels, preferably on a regular basis.

I’m emotionally moved more frequently these days. A song might move me to tears. A conversation might move me to action. I can be moved by a single line in a film. I find moving pictures, or movies, to be aptly named. Who doesn’t laugh at the movements of Charlie Chaplin, the physical humour of Dick Van Dyke or Melissa McCarthy. I found Earnest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast yawn inducing yet his poignantly perfect The Old Man and the Sea continues to feed my emotions and my thoughts.

“Move it!” would be something my mom would shout when she was exasperated with my sister and me as we lollygagged before a trip. Getting in the car usually meant a long uncomfortable drive in hot muggy weather to visit someone we didn’t like. We had several household moves during my childhood, always to find a dwelling my folks could afford to rent. My favourite move was to a falling apart farmhouse which had a chicken coop where my job was to collect the eggs every morning. Later we moved up, status-wise, to actually owning a small semidetached house in suburbia, which unfortunately took me away from all my high school friends. I’ve only cried harder twice more in my life. In my case it’s probably not coincidental that emotion contains the word motion, i.e. movement.

My latest move came after retirement, to a land of milder climate. I’m no longer moved by the sight of gently falling snow, nor angered by the need to shovel the driveway. I’ve removed all reference to winter. This home finds me moved by the plaintive call of the gull and the beauty of the seashore.

Re: Phone

Change is exasperating. It’s never just one thing that changes. Dominoes will fall! Lately my three year old phone failed to do what was expected. Being a smartphone made it a smart aleck. The problem seemed to be that it refused to communicate with other digital devices in my home. I tried password changes, account changes and rebooting (an old fashioned term?) But it was all for naught. By using the word naught I guess I’ve firmly placed myself in the pre-computer era. And that, despite my best efforts to remain tech savvy, is the problem with my general attitude concerning The Phone. I rant. Yet really I stand bewitched by this technology.

My dad would send me off on adventures when I was barely in my double digits with these instructions: Do you have coins in your pocket? Have you got your handkerchief? Call home if you have trouble. Calling home in those days meant finding a phone booth, which I learned how to use quite early in my life. Any call from a booth could connect me with the home phone, and if I was out and about someone was always home. Safety assured.

Safety is the number one reason parents in the tech era buy phone plans for their children. Safety is also the top reason adults cite for switching from home phones to cell phones. The phone was a lifeline for me in the late fifties and is truly a must-have for Generation Alpha. Needing a phone for emergency use is one thing, but now it is clear phones are so much more. The term smart phone is apt; mini computers they are indeed. With storage capacity, links to other digital devices, connectivity with more than just your mom is assured. The camera capability of a smart phone has changed communication; we can send a text of our meal, or hold police to account for their actions. We can start a Movement.

I’m in awe over how it has changed our culture, and I’m also intimidated. I’m trying. I’ve come to terms with the need to regularly update my device. I still talk English on my smartphone even though it has gone through several iterations of operating systems. My smartphone has regular conversations with my other digital devices so that things can continue to function. Somehow that doesn’t make me feel more secure. For old folks, being hacked has taken the place of falling down as the number one anxiety. Forgetting a password is tantamount to losing our wallets.

And yet we soldier on. I was one of the first on my block to buy a computer. I’ve had an early Star Trek phaser-like flip phone. I no longer have a land line. I know how to Facetime, Skype, Zoom and Tweet. I’ve just installed a new device that makes my television smarter so that I can stream new entertainment catalogues. My old phone will have to be replaced with an updated version. Like a little lost ET, I still need the comfort of knowing I’m able to call home. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xZif3WmG7I

Re: Side

An argument I had with someone long ago involved the use of this question, delivered at maximum volume, “Whose side are you on anyway?” It was really a one sided yelling match with someone who felt unsupported. I didn’t know how to answer the question. I still don’t because choosing sides makes me uncomfortable. Waging war is all about picking sides. Wayne Dyer once said, “When you live on a round planet, there’s no choosing sides.”

As a young boy I enjoyed the mythic stories of King Arthur and his Round Table. By definition the table lacked sides; no left, no right, no head, no foot. Political equality in theory and practise. Every knight’s opinion counted and there was no need to forge allegiances. There I go being naive again. Every kid learns early how to choose a member for his/her side or team and often it has less to do with talent and more about hard to define things like loyalty, friendship, or expectations. The business of Sides usually is about favours earned or collected: You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

And that’s when things can go sideways since one side often perceives that they are not getting an equivalency. Strong emotion then comes into play as the one on the other side feels let down, “I thought you had my back!” There may be good reason for someone to be construed as a turncoat. Sometimes a person’s principles dictate a different path from their usual comrades. Friendships aside, there are times when it’s important to diverge due to conscience.

Imagine being a staunch Trump supporter because you’ve always been a Republican in the United States. Perhaps your view of things from his side is now starting to unravel. Perhaps The Donald is making you question your loyalty to the Party of your ancestors. You may be virtually beside yourself with the dilemma of how to vote this November. Your country’s core values are being questioned at an international level. This particular decision to choose sides is way more crucial than what side of the bed you might prefer.

Heads or tails. The coin is tossed in the air. It has two sides and you are encouraged to choose. Yet often in life things can seem like two sides of the same coin. Environmental concerns and the use of fossil fuels are linked. In Canada we feel that Peace, Order and Good Government are not mutually exclusive.

A celebrity’s fan base can have members that vary from mild appreciation to rabid exclusivity. A Fan is often called on to take sides based on their celebrity’s announcements or positions on things unrelated to their particular talent. A celebrity may ‘go too far’ and alienate previous followers. Taking sides is serious business. Taking sides can sometimes involve an oath, of love or of fealty. Promises made aren’t necessarily kept for all time. Circumstances change, new data disturbs the parameters from which the original decision was made. An awakening!

Siding with truth, is something with which I can find fidelity.

Re: Preserve

Preserve and Conserve are words often used interchangeably, yet each will evoke a different feeling within the spoken or written context. As a result, their subtle separate meanings can feel rather jammy in your head. When I’m writing, sometimes I want the exact word that will deliver my point, other times it’s just fun to mess with all available synonyms to create a mood rather than a message.

My former wife was into preservation, of fruit, of vegetables, of well used bits of fabric which she turned into kid’s clothing and patchwork blankets. She loved the process of conservation. She maintained detailed genealogical records and worked hard to sustain the values she found in her local church. She was proud of her choice to be a modern example of a Homemaker. I built a cold room space that was stocked with the many varieties of her jams, jellies, pickles. I made my own wine from berries picked from our yard, preserving their goodness in a different way. We both worked at preserving the culture of family mealtime.

Human communities value conservation efforts so we set up wildlife preserves. A conservative thinker will often choose the preservation of jobs over the conservation of natural resources. Often we work hard to maintain an institution because we want to preserve a way of life that has become our very identity as a society. Here is Old Fezziwig in a scene from A Christmas Carol, asserting his believe in the ways of old. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qy_G0wvlJXU

Planting a tree is an act of preservation and conservation. We are sequestering carbon dioxide, creating habitat, and providing shade for future generations. We can’t know what the future holds but we know trees are an important part of the picture. Doing art is conservational and the results may be found in a conservatory. Taking aspects of our culture and portraying it in any artistic form is a statement about our present reality and a message for our future unknown selves.

If preserving history means never updating our understanding of its context, then I’m with the people who are currently tearing down the statues of former slave owners. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVELtGOaqxY. I’m into sculptures as an art form but not to iconify individuals. Death belongs in the past and must be documented within the past: Not as a roadmap for the future, but as a story book of how things were.

As a society we sometimes hold on too tightly to outdated things. We give too much credence to conserving tradition when considering how we want our future to look. I believe there is no truth to the phrase; “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” We humans just keep being human regardless of our memory of history. Unfortunately, our nature drives our actions more than our intellect.

Preserves come with an expiry date. If used beyond that point we risk our health. Our current climate crisis suggests we have failed to conserve our valuable resources. Our pantry is being depleted of the things we need and poisoned for lack of stewardship. We are losing sight of the garden.

Re: Distraction

Covid Pandemic, Climate Crisis, Trumpian America, Rainy Day Mondays; are some of the persistent bad news realities of our current world. Sometimes it seems like staying in bed all day is the right choice. Logically we can’t escape from these inconvenient truths so we thrash about trying to find a distraction. Even for a moment the respite a distraction provides can seem like a holiday from inevitable doom. There is good news to find these days, but you have to be watchful. It’s also incumbent on us all not to be like Rachel Dratch’s character, Debbie Downer. We all know someone like her can be as negatively infectious as any virus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qse8erP8zEk

A friend once told me she devoted one day a week as a ‘techno-free’ 24 hours. She eschewed devices that brought her news, while choosing to distract herself by walking around town, meandering in parks, or hanging out at a coffee shop watching others. She also loved to read, my favourite distraction, and would often bring me wonderful suggestions that helped me broaden my world view. I admire these approaches to shutting out the busy world. It’s way healthier than was my sister’s distraction of choice: alcohol. There really is nothing that can make problems completely disappear, unless you are a magician.

A magician is skilled at the art of distracting the audience. This talent has been called The Art of Misdirection: While you are busy looking here, the trickster will do something over there. This brings distraction to an art form and I find it so very amusing. As a child I marvelled at the escapes of Harry Houdini. I loved watching the sleight of hand of Canadian Doug Henning and the theatrics of American illusionist David Copperfield. Recently I have been turned on to the unbelievable close-up work of the British magician called Dynamo (Steven Frayne) and stunned by master pickpocket Apollo Robbins, who is able to distract the audience so well one begins to doubt one’s own common sense. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZGY0wPAnus

Along with word pursuits, watching others is a favourite distraction for me; bless those entertainers. Some people are distracted by the joys of cooking and eating, not me. I can lose myself in a challenging crossword and have been known to stare out to sea for great lengths of time. Thinking really is my favourite distraction. I’m contented getting lost in my thoughts. It’s a form of meditation; I just have to be aware that as I ponder, I dwell longer on positives. For example; our newspaper recently reported that in one month 170 people had died in our province from drug overdose while in that same month, in that same province, 415 births had been recorded. How does one deal with those two numbers?

People have been distracted by music throughout history. Music can bring a moment of peace, while directing our attention to a more promising land.
Curtis Mayfield led us well. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOXmaSCt4ZE

Re: Death

I’ve been thinking about death lately. Daily COVID19 updates will do that to a person. It isn’t the fear of death that has gotten to me, but the inevitability of it. Recently I dreamt of my childhood apartment, home to four: I walked about the small rooms.  Bedding was in a tumble, wiring was exposed. I called out for my parents and sister. I woke with a start. 

Today, I am the sole survivor. When will the grim reaper come for me, like in Ingmar Bergman’s classic film, The Seventh Seal. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtkFei4wRjE

It’s natural to be uncomfortable with the subject of death. During my years as an elementary school counsellor I listened carefully to many children who had questions about life and death. I participated in death and dying workshops at Kings College at Western University in London, Ontario. My experience led me to offer sessions on grief with members of my United Church congregation. During an ‘Art Healing’ afternoon, one young fellow captured a positive note by making a button with his slogan, ‘Death is Interesting’.

Film producers deal with death in a variety of ways. Some confront it with a collage of blood spattered bodies, bullets flying and body count so disproportionately high that viewers soon become desensitized to dead people. Death can be treated comedically, like in this bizarre feature starring Hollywood’s leading lady of drama, Meryl Streep. 

Speaking of zombies! The undead hold a special place in the imagination of many people. I don’t share that fascination but I can appreciate the walking dead as an undying metaphor for racial discrimination. I admit to a curiosity for death whenever it has appeared in my life. I’ve witnessed several people die. I’ve only had a death wish once and luckily was clutched from the jaws of death. I’ve seen five productions of the play, Death of a Salesman and watched Dead Poet’s Society at least six times. Once, I took a death defying leap off a waterfall, diving into a small natural pool many metres below. I’ve also tempted an early demise by eating a serving of Death by Chocolate. I’ve had my share of la petite mort, a French term for orgasm, relating to the notion that climax provides a loss of consciousness equivalent to a small death.

The quote, “Nothing is certain except death and taxes.” is attributed to Ben Franklin. Death is clearly a part of life. I appreciate cultures that integrate that reality into their social observations.The Aztecs had Death Day festivals that have been continued by Mexicans and other cultures as The Day of the Dead or Día de Muertos. The belief that the departed are never really far from us is comforting. Two wonderful animated feature films that explore this healthy view of death are; The Book of Life https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCSljmwNs_U 

Coco https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_5DD9G89rI .

Death need not be something to fear.

Re: Levidrome

During COVD19 lockdown I became one of those people who relearned the joy of jigsaw puzzles. In fact puzzles of any kind are great for stimulating the mind and distracting you from dark or worrying thoughts. A Levidrome is one such puzzle that I came across while tweeting on social media. Levidrome is a new word that is reminiscent of the word Palindrome. We know a palindrome is a word that can be spelled the same backwards or forwards: Anna, Otto, toot and sees are palindromic words. But what happens when a word is spelled backwards creating an amusingly different word? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpZ3bh1R6Kk

This boy named Levi figured out that stop spells pots in reverse. He asked his dad why there wasn’t an English word for this phenomenon and the word Levidrome was invented to fill the void. From then a movement grew to get this word in the dictionary, any dictionary. Connections were formed on social media and elsewhere. Folks from all walks of life (even the multi talented William Shatner) joined the campaign. Oxford Dictionaries had this to say: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJkV9HwtM4k

School teachers from various world locations have reported that they are using Levidromes in classrooms. Creativity is stimulated when playing with words and much has been learned from these activities. A song has been composed by Lola Parks to entertain, simplify and enlighten. 

To date I have been unsuccessful in getting this new word and its concept accepted by the people at Wikipedia (apparently something about promotional restrictions which somehow does not conform to their policies). Maybe someone else with more experience on that platform will have better luck. Being a cheerleading kind of guy I’ve been  levidroming with other levidromers to keep the word in the public eye and to have fun coming up with new Levidrome pairs. It’s a truism that when you discover something new, it makes an appearance in unexpected places. The 1994 film Reality Bites contains a scene where one of the cast humourously discovers a Levidrome pair. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQVw58aDt3Y .

Some puzzlers have invented crafty clues to challenge the search for Levidrome answers. Some have found ways to use other languages to expand the reach of young Levi’s idea. These riddles sometimes take the form of poems or narratives. For example this riddle sounds like an opening to a short story: In the kitchen Amy was in charge, the celery was not cut small enough so she chopped it again.’ The Levidrome answer is: Decider/Rediced. Someone has made a list of Levidrome pairs and posted it online at https://www.levidromelist.com/. There are more than 500 English words that have been discovered so far.

Who knows what new forms levidroming might take? Even ale drinkers are getting in on the Levidrome action. A local brewery appropriately named a special batch of beer, ‘Regal Lager’. I enjoyed this review of the brew by a frosty imbiber. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRjD8OZJnr8

Re: Performance

I miss performances. The COVID19 pandemic has created an environment where culture has been a victim. China’s lunar new year holiday celebrations were affected. Italy and Spain curtailed their street cafe traditions. European countries lost their football community. I have a friend who lives for sports and he mourns the absence of watching a high performance team. He and I were both shocked when the summer Olympics in Japan had to be cancelled. What a blow to all the athletes who were robbed of the chance to perform, after years of practise, for a coveted medal of Gold, Silver or Bronze.

A large part of my enjoyment in life comes from attending a play, a dance or musical performance. I’m always awed at the work it takes to bring a piece of art to the stage. It’s thrilling to witness a one of a kind performance. I take great delight in watching young artists get their first taste at a role. When I was in elementary school I took part in public speaking competitions and my sister excelled at baton twirling. Together we once auditioned for a youth talent competition at our local television station. Our parents would admit, after we came off the stage, that they experienced sheer terror over a potentially bad outcome. We were just delighted it was over so we could go to the promised dinner and movie.

We have a performing arts college in our community and many theatre companies ask the students to perform with more veteran actors as part of their course work. These shows validate the effort it takes to make a performance count for something special. I wonder how these student actors will realize their dream of performing in front of a large audience, when large crowds are scary places to be, even while a death dealing virus is on the loose. 

The most uncomfortable times in my teaching career were when I had to undergo a mandatory performance review. Working with senior teachers during the practice teaching sessions at Teacher’s College was tense enough, but being under the watchful gaze of a principal for a week created performance anxiety. Even when I felt I performed well it was hard to deflect the feeling of judgement. Performing artists must have very thick skins.

Television can fill the need to watch performers showing their skills. There is a plethora of talent shows on all major networks right now. The monotonous commercials get in the way of me engaging with the backstory behind each performer. Sometimes I tire of the need producers feel is necessary for me to know the details of each of the artist’s lives. Like a magic trick, sometimes I just want to be amazed by the performance, without knowing the details of how, why or what came before it. 

I was recently moved to tears by this work from the genius of Lars Von Trier. The power of performance is breathtaking, the magic of creativity is spellbinding, the result is inspiring.

Re: Cliché

With the COVID19 pandemic, clichés are going viral: ‘We’re all in this together’, ‘The new normal’, ‘Flatten the curve’, ‘Social/Physical distancing’. Everyone is catching these phrase viruses. Clichés are just phrases that were once respected for their originality and meaning yet in these compacted times, a phrase, however helpful, can easily become worn out from overuse. Then people may stop paying attention.

My former father-in-law wrote the book on clichéd discourse. He revelled in bromides such as, ‘Love your enemies:It drives them crazy.’ He enjoyed teasing actor friends with the worn platitude, ‘Break a leg’. He preferred the banality of weather talk over conversations that challenged his one sided view of things. He sometimes sat me down and issued a string of trite phrases that blurred into a single slurry of thought, like this memorable one after I asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage. As I recall he said something about; ’The blushing bride, bury a hatchet, at loose ends, busy as a bee, depths of despair, easier said than done, the fair sex, calm before a storm, to the bitter end, in no uncertain terms.’ We shook hands after this confusing monologue, which I took to mean he was blessing our union.

I’ve always thought that clichéd statements were examples of lazy speech, much like swearing. I discouraged my sons from wearing out words while trying to say what they were feeling or thinking. When my wife and I went on a cruise, we agreed beforehand to steer dinner table conversation away from clichés like; ‘So, where are you from?’ or ‘What do you do for a living?’ or ‘What’s your story?’ Or, the worst of all; ‘Is this your first cruise?’ Instead of using these banal queries we tried something refreshing like; ‘How do you express your artistic side?’ or ‘What would you find hard to live without?’ Or even a cymbal clasher like, ‘Who do you love most?’

Clichés can be considered the comfort food of language. A cliché will sound familiar and therefore safe. We often speak them to get quick acknowledgement of our ideas and a sense of where the other is at, in their view of the world. A cliché spoken and received may identify your level of understanding or establish you as part of the club or tribe. For example, when we want to show support for soldiers we speak of their ‘supreme sacrifice’. We often acknowledge grief by sending ‘thoughts and prayers’.

Over time, we might cultivate phrases that become the proverbs or slogans by which we live. My favourite is, ‘Plan for the worst/Hope for the best’. The truism, ‘You get what you pay for’ will quickly establish a point of view. ‘Every cloud has a silver lining’ holds bits of sage wisdom, however the language we use to describe our complicated lives requires more than hackneyed old sayings. Insight can be found in some clichés yet I’d hate for them to disguise the whole truth about me or the world.

Re: Hate

I actually hate Hate: It scares me. Hate is normally directed towards others on our human evolutionary tree who we don’t believe belong, neither on our branch, our tree, nor even roaming around our savannah. Hatred springs from intolerance. This strong feeling can produce behaviours that damage relationships, families, communities and nations.

Love is often considered to be the opposite of hate. I prefer to think of these two feelings as residing on different spectrums. Apathy, Indifference or Ambivalence would likely be found on the other end of the Love scale. On a second spectrum, Hate on one side might be opposed by Peace. Mahatma Gandhi well demonstrated that the compassionate promotion of peace could resolve hatred. His practises in a time of change in a divided India during the first half of the twentieth century persuaded millions of people to reject hatred.

Hate has always been with us. It is sustained by each generation. As a human feeling it resists corrosion. The language for its expression sometimes changes yet the result is similarly dangerous. Currently countries are struggling with a resurgence of nationalism, racism and tribalistic reactions to local or national problems. Hate crimes have been defined, and legislation written as a response to outrages committed by the intolerant few.

The internet has been a wonderful invention that I can fortunately embrace in my lifetime. I enjoy the way its structure permits a free exchange and expression of ideas. Yet hate is found here. On various social networking platforms it is easy to find hateful comments that are passed off as reasonable or comedic opinions. Hate mail has become illegal in several countries as a result of suicide claiming the victims of this horrid form of harassment.

I have felt hatred. I once called a nasty Principal ‘Raisin Head’ in front of my young sons. I hate the current President of the United States. I have hated human behaviours, like arrogance, hypocrisy and bullying. I’m not very tolerant of people who have great wealth. I ranted over billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates ‘controlling the agenda’ of health response and I said I hated him. My friend was shocked, “I never saw this side of you.” I was angry. That’s not always my response to hateful feelings, usually I retreat and ignore out of fear of this strong emotion.

Passionate feelings can get mixed up with other stuff going on in one’s head, so it can be hard to sort everything out. Recent protests due to government requirements to quarantine over COVID19 realties have shown that some people just hate being told what to do. https://www.cbc.ca/news/world/protesters-michigan-whitmer-coronavirus-covid-19-1.5551373

I hate being in crowds. The unpredictability of human nature makes me nervous. Shouting from a group can cause an alarm response in my heart. I can be timid yet I will speak out if I feel the cause is just. I would and have rallied against Hate. I try to keep a close watch over my prejudices so I may steer around them when they produce hateful notions.