Re: Cable

The first transatlantic communications cable was completed in 1858. It was telegraph back then; dots and dashes pulsing under the waves. Now we have similar cables of fibre optic material. I’m sometimes not sure if we have come very far when is comes to cable technology. Full disclosure: I’m going to sound old-timey in this blog so laugh away if you could use some chuckle therapy. I wish I could laugh, and maybe I’ll get there but the wounds are still fresh. I’ve had two chats with two different cable companies in the space of a month and “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” (Network 1976) 

Incident #1: My WIFI receiver was getting hotter than usual. I went to Shaw Cable’s website and initiated a Live Chat. 37 minutes of soul sucking chatting later, it dawned on me (chuckle here) that I was discussing my problem with an algorithm (new word meaning Robot). I finally asked the robot if I could have a technician come and replace the old device. I got an appointment booked and was told they would mail me the equipment. Two deliveries of tech stuff arrive. The cable guy arrives. He shakes his head as I relate the story. 

Incident #2: After setting up cable & WIFI in a rental in Ontario I was contacted on the phone by Bell Communications, at dinner and on weekends, for a total of five calls. They wanted to know if I was pleased with the service and if I wanted to upgrade any features. I said it was too early to say, but I would call them if I needed any help and please don’t interrupt me again. When I did call them (at least this time I got a real service agent) about a question regarding service irregularities due to jet flight over the building, I was told they could do nothing. When I pointed out my parents-in-law, five floors up, didn’t have the problem, the fellow got defensive. When I asked for a cable guy to come check the installation he said that everything looks good from his end and he couldn’t authorize it. I asked to speak to a manager and was told I would receive a follow-up chat (again with the chatting). All I got was an email telling me I might want to change the location of my connection.

There was a lot of chattering going on. I should mention that I’m triggered by the word Chat. I used to work with a school Principal who used the phrase, “Let’s have a chat,” whenever he wanted to stress a point of discipline. Every time I Skype I see dozens of avatars who just can’t wait to have a live chat with me. On the one hand I’m grateful we have cables (chuckle again, as you do your Wireless Age type thinking). On the other hand I sometimes feel the cable community is manipulating me. Chipmunk chatter, is what this is. Forgive me for being such a chatterbox.

I’m only human.

Re: Hope

Hope is one of those words we hear all the time and never get tired of hearing. Hope is like the word Love: It’s easy to insert it into a conversation but difficult to explain. Hope is everywhere, except when it’s not. Hope, it’s been said, is the only thing that can’t be taken away from you. 

I’ve felt hopeless. I have hoped someone would die even though I never wished them dead. I try to live hopefully, especially when cynicism comes a calling. Living in a temporary, wait and see environment is difficult for me. It’s not about remaining positive; I can do sunshine and lollipops. Currently, Hope has become the catchword of my days. It is something I hang onto when I’m down and something I use as a planning tool when my mood shifts to building a better day. According to suggestions from environmental activist Greta Thunberg, hope must be equated with action. We can’t just hope that things will turn out all right, we must all be involved in the journey to find solutions.

It’s a good thing that Pandora, of Greek myth, closed the box before Hope escaped. Alexander Pope suggested that, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” Elton John contended that, “When all hope is gone/Sad songs say so much.” Paul the Apostle summarized a letter to the Corinthians, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.” There are many references to hope in art and culture. This song has always been an ‘in the shower solo’ favourite of mine.

Hope, Honor, Grace, Charity and Prudence are five human qualities that are sometimes used as names for girls. My mother’s name was Joy. If my mom was any example, I suspect it is very hard to perform in life if a virtue is your name. To hear Mom tell it she was always hoping to please her father. Her dad expressed disappointment that she wasn’t a boy. Joy never brought her own mom any happiness either because of her willfulness. Perhaps Wilhelmina would have been a better moniker for this feisty, self absorbed lady. 

We try to define hope by matching it with something we can see, even though it is something we only feel. Hope and light are often referred to in the same sentence. Rainbows signify hope as they come after the darkness of a storm. Hope can be the light at the end of the tunnel. Conversely, hopelessness feels like darkness or a void, a pit where despair and bitterness can grow. We can wallow, but not for long. We must hope that the sun will come out tomorrow. 

My niece thoughtfully created a symbol of hopefulness which is hanging in our apartment. It is a painting of a lighthouse, casting a beam into the unknown. It reminds me to be patient as my wife assists her parents over hurdles of declining health. Hope will see us through.

Re: See

I’d like to buy a seeing-eye dog for my mother-in-law. She is legally blind, and at 93 cannot see her way to the effort involved in engaging a support animal. Her inability to see details bothers me a lot. We used to play Scrabble together and she’s sharp at cards. We’ve tried braille versions but again, there is a learning curve that requires time; a lot of which she no longer has. Being with a less-sighted person requires patience and elements of translation. I guided her fingers to help me put together a table recently. I held out a bolt, showed her the hole, handed her an Allen key, then marvelled at how she used her fingers to ‘see’ the way to complete the job. She giggled.

Of all the senses, sight is the one I fear losing the most. I rely on my vision to warn me of danger and to remind me of beauty. If seeing is believing, I wonder what you can trust when you no longer have the confirmation of sight. In my mind’s eye I have enough experience to generate a memory of sight; a whiff of watermelon will produce a juicy picture of thought, the smell of salt in the air will point me towards the seashore, the taste of salty tears will vividly call me to the sight and sound of ocean waves.

As a young boy I was mesmerized by tales of vision being taken, hampered or restored. I loved the way Rapunzel cures her lover’s blindness with her tears. Odysseus could enjoy watching the Sirens by being tied to his ship’s mast, later he bested the Cyclops by driving a stake into that beast’s solitary eye. Perseus was able to take the head of Medusa by averting his gaze from the Gorgon, using his shield as a mirror.

Visualization can transport. I use this technique often when I am stressed or feeling alone. It’s a way of seeing that is equally underrated by the general population and overused by self-help gurus. When I hear a siren I visualize that someone will soon receive help. I find it useful to see into the future; projecting my thoughts along a potential pathway so that I can test the ground before I commit to a step. I taught my sons to climb a tree using this forward thinking method. Now they tease me by suggesting that I imagine myself already achieving the task. It makes sense to look before you leap.

People still go to fortune tellers to see if someone else can picture their road ahead. These seers, using a crystal ball, tea leaves, palm veins or tarot cards may access another form of seeing. We, mere mortals, must rely on the electro/chemical signals produced when light passes in front of our eyes. When I dream of having super powers I wish for omniscience, or at least X-ray vision like Superman.

I’m not a superhero though. If I were I would restore my special mom’s sight.

Re: Visit

I just had a visit from my son, his wife and our grandchild. With Covid concerns and all that going on it’s been a while since we have seen each other. Their stay reminded me of the twice yearly visits to grand folks that my first wife and I undertook. And it was always an undertaking; packing the right toys, snacks for the trip, clothing for outdoor activities, allowing time to visit the loo. Road trips to family always gave me mixed feelings. Regardless of how much I might have enjoyed the company, expectations always hitched a ride along with the luggage. 

“Come on in, welcome, how long can you stay, what brings you this way, make yourself at home, what can I get you, it’s been too long, how was your trip, remember the time when…” Phrases spill out during the first moments of greeting of the visitor, often in a tumble of words and feelings. The excitement makes me breathless. Perhaps that’s why the first question to a visitor will often be, “Can I get you a drink?”

Next to visits to the zoo my mom’s favourite activity on Sundays was popping by to see friends of the family. As a kid I felt the awkwardness of tagging along as many of these visits were unannounced and without invitation. Much later in her life, I saw my mom squirm when she had to accommodate well meaning drop-in visitations at her nursing home residence. She once shooed out a ‘man of the cloth’ with the shouted words, “What makes you think I need saving?” 

One sided visits can end badly. I have been on the receiving end of a final visit that put an end to our relationship. She just dropped in to say goodbye. The outcome, in hindsight, was appropriate. Yet those visitor’s words still sting. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rETA22Z_a9g

Some visitations, like death-bed rites, are formal. Hospitals recognize the limits of a visit by posting visiting hours. Visitors bring joy and assist in healing yet they can overstay their welcome. The phrase ‘pay someone a visit’ suggests a transaction of sorts. Your mere presence can be a gift and therefore requires a ‘thank you’ at least. Many cultures have an unwritten rule that guests cannot be turned away without offering food, drink or lodging. Countries value dignitaries who come to meet and greet; photo-ops are important to diplomacy. Ask any waiter how thin the line is between hospitality and wanting the table cleared for the next customer. 

Currently I am on an extended visit. I am sharing a palliative care mission with my wife. We have endeavoured to create for each other an environment that provides some comforts of home while recognizing the temporary nature of the stay. My son’s visit did a lot to make a bad situation seem more normal. Another son has planned a weekend with us to bring us some laughter. In the big picture, Life itself can be described as a visit. And we only have one.

Re: Panic

I have a panic room in my head and it works the opposite of a safe haven. I’ve never seen a film style panic room; where actors portraying people victimized by home invaders find sanctuary. My panic room is a room in my mind. My panic room must have doors and windows to let fresh air in. I’m only there because I have been stifled by repeating thoughts that whirl me into a panic response. My panic room door must not be locked for then a key may be lost, the key to understanding how I got there in the first place, even if the key is found the latch may be corroded, the knob broken, a sealed room of past hurts will continue to mildew with dark mold teeming with disease. No confidence can be regained whilst in the panic room of my mind.

I once helped a student take the moment necessary to come out of his panic room. Something triggered him to rise beside his desk. I called his name. He had the posture of a cornered animal. He started towards the door, tripping and falling to the floor. Students quieted as he lay there, eyes darting. It was not a seizure but some strange force had seized him. Taking advantage of his stillness I moved beside him and placed my palm lightly over his heart. His breathing calmed and his classmates remained breathless. He looked at me. He sat up. I asked his friend to accompany him to the office so the secretary could call his parents. He left for the day. It wasn’t until year’s end that he mentioned the incident and thanked me. I told him I would always remember what happened as though I had been guided: The right person, in the right place, at the right time.

I most feel panic when things seem out of order. My way seems barred. Access is being denied. I feel trapped, painted into corner, claustrophobic, breathless, suffocated. In the midst of this anxiety attack I feel there is no way out, yet why I enter there in the first place is always a mystery to me. I don’t know the why of panic’s approach, yet I’m getting better at the how of waving it goodbye.

A Yoga instructor once advised me to see disagreeable thoughts as flowing through and not lingering. Deep breathing helps. Calm may be the opposite of panic. I like the way some pronounce calm with a noticeable ‘l’. When stressed I will linger with the middle section of the word repeatedly sounding it out as ‘c-ah-m’. I’ve developed strategies as I’ve aged to minimize the risk of entering into a panic response. I have medicine that brings comfort when needed. Just knowing it’s there in the cabinet is often enough for relief. I’ve learned to visualize safe places; like a verandah with a swing. Peace is found there, sitting for a spell with a cooling lemonade, taking time to gather my thoughts, settling me into a fresh perspective.

Re: Crisis

What one considers a crisis is subjective. I write this knowing that the troubles in my life can’t be ranked on the scale of dilemmas others in the world have now, or will experience. For example, on tonight’s news, I just watched horrified as hundreds gathered at the Kandahar airstrip clambering onto the fuselage of a taxiing aircraft. That was a scene of crisis on an unforgiving and unforgivable scale.

One could say that our thoughts on crises are all relative. Yet that is so dismissive. I’ve known people who would not admit their troubles just because they thought others suffered more. That would be like not talking about love because you feel outclassed by romantic stories you have heard others share. Shakespeare, Byron or Browning would advise you to proclaim your love in words relatable. Every person’s feeling has value, from woe to whimsy. Judgements on the quality or quantity of your experience will only send you into a crisis of confidence.

I’ve had momentary crises; like locking my keys inside my car, forgetting important papers for a meeting, or getting stuck in traffic. I’ve had prolonged crises that have required persistence and courage. Recently my hot water tank burst moments before I came downstairs to make my morning coffee. I stepped into a puddle of water and immediately panicked but then sprang into action, took off my terry towel bathrobe with a Sir Frances Drake flourish, dropping it on the water so I wouldn’t slip. I turned off main valve and clicked the power switch to the unit. I called the plumber to arrange repair, mopped and prepped the area. Within 30 hours from start to finish it was all sorted. I felt gratitude that I had been there to catch the situation before it became the crisis that it wasn’t.

We can’t always be so lucky. And yet our imaginations can lead us into crisis mode so quickly. A problem that is hard to solve at first glance may be deemed a crisis, that’s when you need help and you need to work toward a solution. I’m learning to be more critical while in the throes of a crisis. Even a moment, for prayer or meditation, can give me the time gap needed to act more efficiently, prudently, safely. I worked with a school principal who told me he handled a crisis by giving it to someone else. Others I’ve known have been able to just let things be. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TGg7cGQRlg

As far as the climate crisis goes we can’t just let it be. Neither can we turn it over to someone else to fix. Regular maintenance of our selves, our institutions or our systems will minimize problems. The evidence of our neglect of the planet has been around for many years and yet we continue to fail to act. We ignore all warning signs of a crisis at our peril. Now we find ourselves in a perilous planetary situation. Our Earth is calling for a common collective critical response.

We must answer.

Re: Normal

I’m challenged by this word right now. I’m looking for anchors as I am being swept into the whirlpool of opinion regarding the New Normal. My previous definitions are lacking the clarity they once had for me. I feel like my brain might be labelled Abby Normal as interpreted by Igor in the film Young Frankenstein. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9Pw0xX4DXI

Sometimes I surrender to the unknown cauldron of noxious bubbling stew that can be life, by placing it in a corner where I can keep an eye on it. On these days I’ll settle into a favourite chair with a book and a heating pad. As I reflect on written works presented by an array of authors, I lose my anxiety while a multitude of characters play out theirs. One magazine article recently suggested that PTSD sufferers most often complained that their life no longer had any semblance of normality. In all seriousness, I can relate.

Normally we go about our lives with a routine. Even if it’s an unhealthy routine it can have some satisfaction because the elements don’t stray far from the norm that we expect. That’s one of the reasons that change can be so frightening: Because it goes against the norm.

The question of what is normal can be as perplexing and profound as asking what is the meaning of life itself. These questions become more overwhelming when everyone is experiencing war, famine or pestilence. Under normal circumstances I’ve built my days around my comforts and my knowns. The current and inconvenient truth is that now I feel less comfortable and I find I know less than I thought I did. Searching for a state of normalcy is exhausting. It is not in my nature to go with the flow or leave things to others. I’m not one to fly by the seat of my pants. I resist the possibility that I might find out something later. I’m normally known by my loved ones as being the man with the plan. I don’t want to wait and see what might happen without considering all possibilities and probabilities, thereby establishing a normative approach to life. This makes me feel more confident when it comes time to take that next step, even if it is a baby one.

Maybe the so called ‘new normal’ is really a version of the paranormal. Funny how there is a resurgence of interest in UFOs and aliens. Real XFiles are being released from security vaults distracting us from the real horrors of our present; ie, Climate Crisis! The highest grossing films have fictional characters that are definitely super normal. These comic book super heroes are depicted as saviours. They may be bringing us more comfort than we like to admit. Establishing a feeling of normality can come after data collection. I like my experience being placed on a spectrum or a Bell Curve. I’m mathematically challenged so a graph brings me perspective on what is normal or what is fringe. My life, graphically, feels like that kind of wave.

Re: Library

I have temporarily relocated to come to the aid of family. My first consideration was finding a place to stay. My second; to get myself a library card. For me, books are a source of comfort and libraries are a hub for enquiring minds.

In grade three I was intimidated by Mrs.Powers, the Teacher Librarian at my school. It didn’t help that I committed a crime that year. I lost a book that I borrowed from one of her shelves. I  searched everywhere while reporting to Mrs.P.  each week about my lack of progress. She became a constant reminder of my shame. When I found the book, months later, I couldn’t bear to return it. I tossed it down my apartment incinerator chute.

Many years later Janice appeared. She was my first high school romance. She volunteered at our town library. I would meet her there to go on a date. She encouraged me to get a membership. I developed an association between my feelings for Janice, the other librarians I encountered while waiting and the overall atmosphere of calm found in this stone building filled with things to read.

Being a solitary sort of person I somehow feel less alone while searching the stacks in a library. In University I sometimes arranged to meet someone in a library rather than a campus pub. I filled my spare time between classes in Teacher’s College sitting in a comfy chair catching up on ‘classics’ I had missed through my youth. Later as an elementary school teacher and as writer for a newspaper I depended on my town library for research material. My wife and I took our children for library programs while they were still comfortable to sit on a lap for story time.

I came across a letter my son wrote to his grandparents regarding his love of books. While in high school he worked at a Coles book store where he had borrowing privileges. He reported, “I’m so in love with words right now that I feel I could easily make my life’s ambition to read until I’ve lived thousands of lives, in thousands of lands by merely turning the pages of worn out books that come alive by my active eyes.”

Last month I was in the branch of my local library picking up a hold I had requested. I overheard a lady struggling to describe a book to the librarian at the front desk. It sounded like the very book I was about to check out so I held it up, boldly calling, “You mean this one?” I could sense the half dozen bibliophiles presently among the shelves stop breathing. The lady turned to see me holding up the book. Her eyes widened. “That’s it!” she cried. Two librarians came from a back room to confront the ruckus. There was still a pause felt in the air. A voice said, “Now that’s serendipity.” Another, “It happens all the time. You just have to be alert.” I left smiling, happy to be part of such a splendid community.

Re: Practice

I was taught in grade school that if Practice was spelled with an ‘ice’ ending then it was a noun, otherwise it was okay to use the spelling Practise in any situation. For all spelling rules and forms I now count on my wife who has a phenomenal memory for such things. She is also practised in the healing arts so when I get a headache from too much wordplay I have access to a nurse and a quick soothing remedy.

Sometimes I need to go to a medical clinic. Nowadays I might be checked over by a Nurse Practitioner and she might tell me that my issue isn’t within her scope of practice so I’ll be referred to a specialist. The medical profession offers a wide variety of practices which have, in Canada at least, taken over the almost heritage realm of General Practitioners. Seems like everyone practises something these days, which is a good thing if viewed through the lens of life long learning. Meanwhile I continue to practise being patient.

One of my deficiencies is that I abhor repetition. I was one of those irritating students who picked up things quickly enough to be at a B level most of the time. I was content when one teacher referred to me as a Jack of All Trades. Never too good at anything, that way I could just blend in, go unnoticed, especially in high school. Practise is all about repeating the task until it becomes second nature yet I still can’t persevere. It’s an area in life where boredom wins out. I’ll try almost anything, but briefly; until I feel I’ve got the taste of it. My history is littered with “That’s enough” decisions: only two week’s of lifeguard training, one week of violin lessons, barbells that collect dust in my closet, a Polish dictionary with an uncracked spine and a forehead sweatband for jogging that was used once. Give me a New York Times crossword however, and I’ll bend over it until it’s filled.

Practise makes perfect is a cliché that never grows old. It’s one of the few expressions that I don’t yawn over because it is so relevant to anything that requires effort. I’m amazed at the amount of practise it takes to go beyond acceptable. Levels of human accomplishment in sport, art, science don’t happen overnight. I believe those folks we call genius types have raw talent for sure, but that gift is only fully realized through practise. All three of my sons practised piano. Neither wanted to be a concert pianist but their parents both thought that music experience was a good thing for general proficiency: We wanted our children to practise what we preached. Practically speaking it was an effort for all concerned; the student was often reluctant, the parent was sometimes annoyed, finances were definitely drained. However the practising resulted in a lifetime love and understanding of music. And the youngest son has been a member of several bands and is a practised song writer. I’m allowed to be proud.

Re: Prime

Any Star Trek fan will tell you that The Prime Directive is the primary consideration whenever contact is made with another life. I’m priming the metaphorical pump here, when I suggest that this fictional Star Fleet Regulation is relevant to current discussions surrounding colonialism. In our real world of the late 15th century, explorers were faced with similar moral dilemmas yet were emboldened by The Doctrine of Discovery to claim whatever land was found for God and Crown. Aboriginal land was considered prime real estate by powerful naval nations. The expectation was to expand the Empire, fully sanctioned by the powers of the day. Living things, including fellow humans, were either considered in the way or resources to be used by the conquerors. Settlement and extraction of wealth was the prime directive. Throughout the world there is currently a renewed accounting of the results of this maniacal arrogance.

It’s enough to make anyone want to give a Primal Scream. Countless millions of lives lost like so much prime beef: Disregarding, dismissing and debasing fellow humans by renaming them as Primitive. Disgusting! Impossible to escape from the reality of man’s inhumanity to man. Seemingly impossible to reconcile the idea of human progress with all that degradation. Information we were fed in schools is sanitized through the lens of the victor. In my experience, public schools in the 1950s and sixties did not promote diverse historical viewpoints. In the countries affiliated with the British Empire, the pink area on old maps, we were taught to honour the establishment of the colonies. We traced maps and learned of benevolent conquest. We wrote essays about the captains of tiny ships who sailed through impossibly vast seas. Between the lines researchers can reveal grasping power hungry individuals, corrupt systems, antithetical religions and evil societies. The injustice has always been there and new evidence of it is being brought to light everyday. Truth is being spoken. Secrets are being exposed. Lies are being challenged. Apologies are being made. There is a demand to have these errors acknowledged by current governments.

And still the primal patterns of power and racism continue.

I dream of a world where we are united by discovery and share what we find. Our planet suffers due to our selfishness. As shepherds of the Earth we are failing to unite around a common healthy cause. Primarily we seek to serve our own needs regardless of the consequence to others. It seems a grim reality, an inconvenient truth even, that our primary function is to satisfy our urges. I’d like to believe that science has the answer: a Unified Theory of Everything as envisioned by the likes of Stephen Hawking. I wonder if there is a place of thought where it’s understood that individuals are like prime numbers sometimes and composite numbers at other times. Yet it’s impossible to dream up an appropriate metaphor for what it means to be human. We don’t fit into Number Theory. We have names. We are far from being mathematically perfect. We are all united by life.