A nerdy game I used to enjoy playing in high school started with the question, ‘Would you rather have fame, fortune or power when you grow up?’ It wasn’t really a game, more like a continuation of the more childish Aladdin’s magic lamp suggestion, ‘If you had three wishes…’.
I loved camping with my parents (I had my own ‘Famous’ brand rucksack and cooking equipment). I enjoyed learning about the woods and the ways of the world as a boy scout. I got into scraps while in uniform and one time I remember shouting as I got pummelled, “I’m going to be famous!” The bully just laughed, but I felt buoyed by my hopeful prediction. Even when I was older I felt that youthful sense of optimism when I saw myself through the eyes of the characters in the musical Fame. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqMmquNLnHg
In my youth, I thought it would be way cool to be famous. I saw only positives to being recognized wherever I went. The other two options didn’t appeal. I was actually frightened by the prospect of having more money than I thought I could handle. Likewise with power, I couldn’t see having dominance over another. I never felt my influence extended any further than the tip of my nose. But fame! Now that would give me access: Right this way sir. Of course we have room for you. Follow me I’ll show you to your table. Certainly we can make that happen.
There used to be a common saying, Big Fish in a Small Pond, that indicated you could be well known in your small community while no one in the wider world would have heard of you. Today I’m wondering if the reverse is true, due to social media. The potential for a small voice to be amplified through Twitter or Facebook can potentially enable a metaphorical small fish to make a big splash in the world’s ocean of varied opinions. I suspect that is why online platforms are so popular. I enjoy giving my opinion, whether it leads to nods or shakes of the head. The possibility is there to get more than just the 15 minutes of fame that Andy Warhol prophesied. The internet has expanded the idea of the nineteenth century speakers’ corner in Hyde Park, England for good and for ill. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4yHwCaptL0
I remember one of my elementary school teachers often using the proverb, “Oh how the mighty have fallen.” I can’t quite figure out why some people enjoy seeing celebrities come down a notch or two. But I guess fame is currency so if you feel you have been de-famed, you can seek restitution from your detractors in court by suing for defamation of character. If you fail in your suit, your reputation will live on in infamy, like those who bombed Pearl Harbour.
Everything has a down side. For instance, being famous would make it hard to find privacy. Achieving balance on the FAME spectrum from anonymity to renown may be difficult. I shall ponder further.
I live in a community where people come out to protest on a regular basis. I join in because I naively see it as a sign of democratic action. Based on the signs people carry to support their outrage/concern, there may be other motivations for their presence in the crowd. For example, at a recent climate change rally, I saw one overweight man sporting a T-shirt that read ‘I love CO2’ while waving another ‘I love fossil fuels’. Was he after sales or just being contrary?
Being somewhat afraid of large crowds and a functional introvert to boot, you can often find me at rallies like this leaning against a tree where I can appreciate the shade or gain some shelter from the drizzle. An activist I’m not. Rather a cheerleader/witness. My sign would probably read; ‘I see what you mean’ or ‘I’m here for you.’ Some protest signs written by a more anarchistic sort can seem like manifestos: small print on corrugated cardboard, begging to be read, to acknowledge the effort that it took to pour out such passionate thoughts. Short form declaration: ‘Pay attention! I mean it!’
Protests I’ve attended clearly allow folk to vent. Quiet self expression is as evident as a collective shout of alarm. At a recent Fridays For Future congregation I was impressed how Greta Thunberg’s leadership had encouraged a diversity of ages, backgrounds and emotions to come together in a harmonious demonstration of concern over the climate crisis. Amidst the speeches, music and cheering a small hole opened in a part of the crowd as a lone middle-aged male removed his clothes and poured a bottle of motor oil over his body, miming his anguish over pipeline leaks. He wasn’t arrested. People gave him space.
In our city protests tend to be peaceful. Marches and rallies offer up chants, poems, speeches and slogans. Some who line the streets join in if they find a friend or are moved by the cause. Sometimes it seems counterproductive to see smiles on the protesters’ faces while they’re shouting to end war. It makes me wonder about the line between protest and carnival. But in Canada it’s true we are polite and, for better or worse, we work hard at trying not to offend others, even those with whom we disagree.
Art lives and thrives in protest settings. Feelings pour out in creative ways. I always feel grateful for the civility expressed at protest gatherings I’ve been to in Canada. I’ve heard bystanders thank the calm looking police officers for just being there. My sons, in contrast, have been witness to protests that have started out civil but have turned violent, often as a result of police being instructed to clamp down on demonstrators.
There is much injustice in our current world. Perhaps there always has been, yet now it’s easier to see. It’s easier to name the wrongs. It’s easier to find something or someone specific to blame. At the same time it seems harder to find someone who will listen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHN6AViJAvI
Searching is what adventurers do. Some questers are fictional: Sherlock Holmes searched for clues to solve the unsolvable, Don Quixote searched for wrongs to be righted, James T. Kirk journeyed to find new worlds. Sir John Franklin was a real life adventurer. He searched for a Northwest Passage to China over the top of North America. When he and his crew disappeared a massive search was joined to unlock the mystery of their whereabouts.
One of my first memorable desires was to search the seven seas with Jacques Cousteau. I enrolled in Marine Biology at university to achieve what had become an adult goal. However, during the course of my studies I had to do an inner search. I questioned whether I had the right stuff to live life away from home and family. In this soul searching, I concluded that being a family man, married to a like minded woman was my primary goal. I quested for Mrs. Right: a woman with a heart of gold. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qkjchElp0s
That seemed like an adventure that would be the ticket to my happiness. Along with my search to find the secrets to a loving family I ventured into the world of religion. I self studied various texts and practised what could be found in the community of the United Church of Canada. I joined choirs, became a soloist. One choir leader found that I often changed some of the lyrics as I sang. When she asked why, I told her that my search for God hadn’t yet made me accept some of the script. She showed me how grace can be found through understanding. A hymn that captured my spiritual belief at that time was turned into a cool folk song by Jim Croce, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAjzEQgZBh0
When I started writing columns for a daily paper I enjoyed searching for the right words. I would pore through my small collection of books looking for quotes and phrasing. I had friends (research assistants?) at the local library who looked things up for me when I’d exhausted my personal resources. My eldest son is a historical writer and researcher. He digs deep to find primary source information: diaries, letters, journals, original news stories. My first wife used to love searching through microfiche to unearth dead ancestors.
Internet search engines are a game changer. For those who love knowledge, web sites can open worlds of information. Access to facts that previously had to be dug up like a pirate’s buried treasure, now spring to life at the typing of a few computer keys. I first tried Alta Vista, Excite (I liked that name) then Yahoo before I settled on everyone’s favourite: Google. How did we ever manage before we could ‘just google it’? When I want specifics I go to Youtube (music&video clips), IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes (film information) or Wikipedia (historical profiles).
Whether you travel abroad to search for answers or sit in Zen-like contemplation. One must do as Captain Jean-Luc Picard commands: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ie5usEuNdI
There is a difference between being alone and being lonely. I was taught early on, by circumstance and by design, to enjoy my own company so I rarely feel lonely as a result. As a young boy, I spent a lot of time going on imaginary adventures while roaming the neighbourhood creeks and woods. I’d be Robin Hood in the summer and in winter, when the plow made snow mountains in our parking lot, I would pretend to be George Mallory or Sir Edmund Hillary scaling those impossible peaks.
One of my early favourite comic books was about Lancelot. When I wasn’t head first into tales of the Knights of the Round Table, the television was a third parent. I was enamoured with the exploits of The Lone Ranger. He was my first TV hero. I loved running around the house yelling, “Hi Ho Silver! Away!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxIuIxqo2So
I usually enjoyed serious stuff over comedy. I recall being drawn to an angst ridden film starring Tom Courtenay called ‘Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXMS5ZXKvYA .
‘Then Came Bronson’, a short lived series based on a man traveling around on a motorcycle all by himself, also captured my attention. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYsztoaU9Ls
Later I enjoyed novels and short stories that contained characters who defined the theme: one person facing challenges alone or, at the very least, on their own terms.
Having such a childhood pattern of being on my own naturally led to me being perceived as a loner in high school. I had a group of friends during those years but I was never a part of that IN crowd that many aspire to during adolescence. I hear my mom’s voice when I reflect on those days. “Don’t be a sheep.” she would say. My classmates never treated me with suspicion for my lone wolf status. One year I was valedictorian for my cohort and I often won public speaking contests, so I wouldn’t call myself shy.
Solitary figures in history cast their spell on me as I grew older. The imposter story of Archie Delaney, or Grey Owl as he wanted to be known, fascinated me as I was reaching into adolescence. The exploits of solo sailors Robin Knox-Johnson and Robin Lee Graham enthralled me. I wanted to have an occupation like Jane Goodall where I could be left alone in the jungle interpreting my own wonderings about the world around me.
Texas calls itself the Lone Star State, perhaps because collectively the settlers there wished to distinguish themselves from Mexico or even the rest of the United States. Likewise, I was never frightened by my inherent separateness. I have used my independence to define myself, while still valuing those I let close to me. After reading the book Quiet by Susan Cain it became clear to me that introverts have a role to play. ‘One’ doesn’t have to be the loneliest number after all. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5ab8BOu4LE
I told someone the other day that I was a one woman man. They recalled that phrase as the title of a song by country music legend George Jones.
Being a person that has spent time getting to know himself has made all the difference to my selection of a mate. I’m guided by what I see in another and what I see tends to be a reflection of me. By that I mean I am drawn to people who hold similar values, have similar interests, in short, get life in the same way I do. I’m not looking for a clone of me, but there has to be enough similarities so that we can relate, as mates. I have to feel a friendship, a kinship, before I can settle into a long term relationship. I need to recognize this person. From that comes the security of familiarity and then love, a very hard word to define. I’m a birds of a feather kind of guy. I don’t relate to the opposites attract theory. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xweiQukBM_k
In the wild kingdom we often describe an animal mating for purely instinctual, procreational reasons. Some animals are known to mate for life, but it is rare outside the human species. I belong to the tribe that values exclusivity in mating, even while I was dating I could only manage one woman at a time. While my relationships have been one on one, I can admit I might fantasize but, oh my, polyamory?
I saw in my first mate a mutual desire to build a loving family. She caught my attention as a true friend, growing into a confidant, then a loving partner. A strong bond was formed. We had so many mutual ideas about how we saw life unfolding. We planned continually. We eyed the future as a promise. When cancer took her away from me it was hard to recalibrate my thoughts on life, what to do next, or who I might wish to spend time with. The very idea of a life mate had changed in me. Surprisingly I found someone quickly, she appealed because she was more a colleague. We both worked in education, loved reading and were writers in our spare time. It seemed like a match. However, our differences soon overcame our initial connection. Thankfully, she changed her mind and left. However, I was alone again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_P-v1BVQn8
Finding myself in the world of digital dating, I considered my options, gingerly. Could a computerized approach to finding a mate bring me the woman I dreamt of? Quickly intimidated by online choice, I decided a party was in order. Lucky me! My fantasy woman magically appeared. She had the image I desired and the substance I admired. She shared my passionate adventuring view of life and was brave enough to take risks with me. We both continue to believe in the importance of the singular moment. Check. Mate. On with life. Together. Eyes forward. Hands clasped. We are mated still. Love is beautiful.
I have donated to ‘Medicine Sans Frontier’. In English this band of brave men and women are called Doctors Without Borders. They believe bordered countries prevent medical equity. Some human issues are borderless. My wife loves to suggest: For the unity of all human kind we need an attitude of People Without Borders.
I’m fascinated by how borders are created. On the desktop map I had in my room as a youth, I would skate my finger through Germany, France and Spain on my way to Italy. My digits had no need for a passport as I straddled the 49th Parallel, testing the waters on the U.S. side of the continent. I’d love my family’s once a year camping trip to Maine as much for the thrill of crossing the border into New York State.
After one particular trip to the seaside we returned to Canada via the New Hampshire forests. It wasn’t our usual route since it took an extra day and Dad only had so much holiday time. It was Mom’s idea since she had always wanted to see Lake Champlain so a route was planned that included a night at White Mountain National Forest. While the camp was being set up I was told to monitor my younger sister as she rambled through the hardwoods. She found a turtle! It was about a quarter her size as I recall, so it took the two of us to carry it back to our site. Much oohing and aahing ensued. We constructed a sort of corral out of firewood for the hapless creature. I think my folks were suspecting Mr. Tortoise would be gone by morning but he had retreated into his shell so now what to do? My sister said, ‘please, please’ so arrangements were made for his transport accommodations: A bed of leaves inside our large metal Coleman cooler which was always placed in the middle of the back bench seat of our Plymouth to separate the siblings. As we came up to the border crossing Mom repeated the warnings to “Look straight ahead. Don’t say anything. Under no circumstances open the cooler.” At the customs gate I kept thinking the words, Turtle, Turtle, Turtle with such intensity that I was sure I was yelling them out loud. Fortunately, I didn’t speak (although several years later while at a similar checkpoint, family lore has it that I told the border guard my name was Mr. Wetsuit on account of the undeclared contraband I had bought with my life savings). Back at the apartment, Dad put the home made car-top carrier on one end of our balcony and filled it with leaves, fashioning a wee pond from an old metal basin and our Mr. Turtle seemed happy. Until the first winter frost came.
Natural or man-made borders exist and more boundaries are created every day in the belief that we can keep things out, or keep things more safe within. Yet here we are on a finite spinning ball bordered by a thin atmosphere surrounded by space.
I had a difficult time voting in this election. It dawned on me that I usually elect a candidate first, and a party second. It’s better if I feel a connection to the individual running for election. I also have to agree with their vision. I take my role as an elector seriously so marking a ballot based on promises is a fool’s game, so is always voting for the same party. I try to acquaint myself with the policy documents that guide the electable political party’s platform.
There was one time when I thought my country was getting it all wrong so I considered a strategic vote. Fortunately we collectively booted the fellow out of office. More times than not though, I feel my vote seems to not count at all since the another side wins. Playing politics can be frustrating in any country. Sometimes it seems that even the idea of democratic action through elections is not possible as a result of gerrymandering, super PACS, electoral colleges, super delegates and other suspicious interferences that conflict with the notion of one person, one vote.
In my university days in Canada, the prospect of voting in an election was exciting. I felt anything was possible. I had trust in a system that enabled me to do things like get an education. Yet even in those naive days, many of my fellow students made an active decision not to vote. One fellow told me that he did go to the polling station, only to spoil his ballot with a graffiti message. I said I couldn’t do that because it would seem like I was letting someone down; perhaps my parents who had less opportunities in their lives or perhaps I felt I was letting my country down, or maybe even myself as a citizen. I didn’t want to void my electoral responsibility. I felt voting was a hopeful act for a future I wanted to be a part of.
Much of the world presently seems in a state of doubt. There is disruption to the status quo everywhere. Perhaps the roots of democracy need a reset. Our country is trying to get the idea of proportional representation into our elections. Rather than a winner take all approach to a final election day tally, the votes are more clearly representative of how electors feel about priorities in government. There is also a movement to create easier voting systems so no one can find an excuse to abstain from casting a ballot. Perhaps a secure digital platform can be a replacement for long line-ups at election centres. Maybe elections can become as routine as filing your income tax.
However our electoral systems change, we all have a role to play. Good citizenship can be a commitment throughout the year rather than merely on election day. We can be active in our desire to inspire and be inspired. Ideology needn’t be a bad word used to describe a radical sect spreading hatred. The gift of ideas can come from each of us, every time we elect a healthy future for all.