Re: Dismiss

In the digital dating world the act of swiping left is an example of dismissal. The social media apps and sites are primed to get you what you want in the impulsive twitch of a finger. My eldest son is not happy with this form of meeting people yet it is the sign of our times: We want immediate access. In general, we’ve become dismissive of one another’s point of view so profoundly that we seek shelter within our tribal connections. Our thoughts are comforted by the wishes of the flock. It’s easier to disregard the outsiders when we are on the same page of groupthink.

I watched an episode of Star Trek:Enterprise that was streamed on television the other day. Disclaimer: I am a trekkie rather than a Star Wars fan so don’t dismiss me out of hand. May the Force be with you. In this particular episode the captain tells three separate crewmen that they are dismissed. The meetings take less than a minute each. All three had more to say but the head officer was done with gaining feedback. Space army language, it was clear, is perfunctory. The script in this case was obvious; we all have a job to do, so do your duty.

Imagine life in the armed forces on Earth, where being dismissed is a regular occurrence. I can’t imagine what that does to your self esteem to appear so individually inconsequential. Someone decides what’s best for the many, while the individual is always expendable. Soldiers are tools, militarized human beings, trained to function for one purpose, discarded when expired, honoured once a year. Attention! Eyes front! You’re dismissed.

Dismissal is a failure to accommodate even more than it is a case of poor communication. I was a career teacher, with a daily requirement to hear a room full of students’ thoughts and feelings. The class management component was always a challenge for me, since I have a more one to one communication style. Many lessons would involve a debate of some sort, either over content or perspective. I was never a ‘My way or the highway’ educator, which sometimes made me an easy target for a persistent dissenting voice, calling out, “But why?” If I’m being kind to myself, I can’t ever recall saying, “Case dismissed” as a judge might, while ruling over a controversial situation. I never wanted a student to feel that their opinion had been lost in the translation. However, at the end of some very long and eventful school days, I was very pleased to pronounce, “Class dismissed!”

Strangely, we can be dismissive of good things too. Consider when we wave off a compliment from a colleague, family member or friend. Humility has its place, yet acceptance of someone’s regard for us is important to acknowledge. Likewise when we neglect to give praise or take goodness for granted we dismiss the nectar of life. The value of another soul is precious. We gain so much by pausing, by paying attention, before moving on with our own lives.

Re: Percent

Mathematics and Language don’t initially seem to go together. My random anecdotal idea regarding the word Percent is that people use it often in an attempt to win an argument. Folks are best off not using math terms if they have little number sense, like me. I refuse to get into a debate with anyone who uses percent as part of their language, not because I don’t choose to believe them but because I’m going to get lost in the numbers. I’ll ask for a print out. With a hard copy in hand I’ll be able to source their point of view in a calm manner before endorsing or denying their position.

Really, I’m more comfortable visualizing a scale of one to ten. There are fewer numbers. Everyone loves it when a friend tells them that they are ‘there for you 150%’ but no one really believes it. You can’t carry around more than the whole 100% of yourself. Percentages can be manipulated just like any other statistic. I understand the math of 100%. That’s a whole thing right there. I am a complete entity, but I have 100% of me to work with as a starting point. Take off, say 10% for poor hearing. If it’s a Monday, deduct another 5%. During the winter, after sundown, my sense of self is reduced by a further 15%. Here you go; 70%. There. That’s all you get. Sorry.

Netflix advised me that I could watch a certain film feature because it was a 95% match to my viewing history. That’s good to know. I enjoy a healthy interest rate on my investments but the interest on my mortgage is worrisome. Because I’m not a smoker I have a lower chance of getting lung cancer. But because I’m lazy my percentile risk of heart disease is as much as 5 times more than an Olympic athlete. I don’t buy lottery tickets so I have 0% chance of winning. I can live with that.

I think it’s cool that percent is used in the dairy aisle in my grocery store. I don’t have to squint to read the nutrition stats. I don’t have to calculate the portion size from the package volume. I don’t have to do any math when I shop for milk: I just use the label that’s handily provided on the package. If I’m thinking heart healthy I’ll go low, say 2%. If I want to feel a bit of luxury for tea time I’ll go 10%. When I’m looking to feel Royal I’ll choose 18% to pour on my sliced bananas. If I’m going the full Herb Alpert then it’s 35% baby!

Relationships often fail because one partner decides that the significant other isn’t doing their share. A 50/50 arrangement is often discussed as the goal but that could be ambitious when one of you is in the dumps (review second paragraph). My partner loans me some of her percentage when my reserves aren’t very rich. I try to reciprocate. 100% can be neared when two share that goal.

Re: Tree

During the time I have spent in a fifth floor apartment in the midst of suburbia, I have come to appreciate a maple tree outside my window. From my balcony perspective I am living at the level of the tree’s canopy. I have now gone an annual cycle with this tree; through the four seasons of change. My time began here as leaves turned colourful, then brittle enough to escape with the breeze. Winter branches crackled with frost and sleet. I was close enough to watch the buds burst in spring, while birds built their nests. As summer leaves widened, branches moaned in the wind. Now the tree and I have come full circle. I mourn a little as my tree returns to its dormant state. I have more waiting to do.

It’s hard not to be a forest activist when your permanent home is in British Columbia. While I’m away from the towering firs and cedars I’ve been reading about trees. There are some wonderful recent books on the subject. I’ve joined several authors in their revery of dendrology. I devoured the description of the passionate arboreal warriors in The Overstory by Richard Powers. I found a kinship concerning the science behind The Arbornaut by Meg Lowman and Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard. Call me sappy, but I rewatched the film Avatar for its tree hugging sentimentality.

Canadians are blessed with opportunities to experience trees in nature. Cutting down your own Christmas tree is part of our culture. Most folks know how to use an axe to chop wood into fire sized chunks. I’d be surprised if I met someone who hadn’t climbed up into a tree’s branches as a child, testing themselves while finding a fresh perspective. My son often carries a hammock in his hiker’s bag so he can rest between two trees, gently swinging. His brothers and I have planted many a tree sapling while sharing hopes for future groves, bringing environmental health and integrity.

Trees are great metaphors for many aspects of life. My first wife was a genealogist. She spent much time researching family trees, revealing fascinating ancestral connections. She traced some branches back to early North American colonial settlements. She discovered heroes, black sheep, soldiers and farmers and many quirky characters who enlivened our understanding of our genetic predispositions. During my church years, my Sunday school students would move in close when I told them about the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life. They all agreed that Eve did the right thing to show Adam the wonders of that Apple of Knowledge. “How else would we learn!” Exclaimed one girl.

I’ve been lucky to see trees from several continents. I’ve watched my Mississauga maple for four seasons now. From its canopy to its strong trunk, I have gazed the middle distance into its structure searching for the meaning to my present uprootedness. There is more knowledge yet to be imparted These branches wave back to me offering reassurance that another season is yet to come. Time to be patient.

Re: Consent

I’ve had close-up visits from my grandchildren recently. Three dimensional interaction is so healthy and healing for all ages, especially after Covid19 quarantines. I loved being climbed upon and snuggled with, as I read stories or played with models of dinosaurs. It’s a treat for a grandparent to see how the next generational family dispenses their rules of engagement. I am always curious. I practise reserving judgement. I know when to keep my thoughts to myself.

Both Family and Societal laws are developed on a consensual basis. Before my first marriage I asked for my father-in-law’s consent to wed his daughter. I once nervously stood before city council to get a building permit. As a group we determine the answers to yes/no questions. It’s the maybes that give us the most trouble. Sometimes the shades of grey can only be worked out in court. Even then the verdict will be definitive and a side will be chosen. With a precedent set, we then try to get on with our lives.

Similarly it is with families; the heart of any society. When I was a child I didn’t have to look hard for direction on how to behave. My parents modelled respectful manners and I generally didn’t need admonishment. My sister was the rebel in the family, so I watched her for clues on what not to do. My father was non committal. I learned to avoid asking for consent because I generally didn’t get it from a mother who would rather be someone else.

I heard my grandson shout, “You made me do it!” He was being truthful. He felt coerced. Sometimes someone can manipulate you to do something. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, our personal autonomy does not remain inviolate. Becoming consenting adults takes a lot of negotiation, within ourselves and with others. Permission, when granted, can also be taken away. Some previously held rules of space and time may need to change as we travel through the gnarliest of intersections. Concessions may be required.

I think of a traffic light. People struggle with complexity. Life can be simpler for people when they know clearly when to stop or go. Societies navigate more easily if a red or green light is showing. But I’ve learned we also need the amber signal of Maybe. In that light, we must be cautious to proceed. Individually, we still seek safety, social acceptance, privacy, personal comfort, etc. That amber beacon slyly suggests we have choice as individuals to negotiate consent. A risk analysis may be required before we can carry on. Still we must pause to consider the pro and con of any situation. Certainly if another is travelling with us then there are matters of mutual consensus to be considered. Others must always be respected.

Teaching moments can present themselves if we are watchful. Observing my grandchildren provides me with a back-to school experience. Their proximity gives me an opportunity to search my life for those memorable intersections. They allow me to amend my map.

Re: Sprawl

In my present location I look out from a fifth floor balcony at many square miles of identical rooftops. Without a GPS to guide you, there is a real risk of getting lost when you go out for a walk in such a neighbourhood. This is referred to as urban sprawl, an expression coined in the 1930s to describe areas of aggressive, largely unrestricted housing development.

My posture can be considered urban sprawl since I’m citified and have been lounging a lot lately. I’ll blame Covid slowdown for the way my body has begun to sprawl. Parts of me are spreading out, boldly going where they’ve not ventured before. I admit, slothfulness has always been one of my characteristics, but in the morning, once I am vertical, I have a certain energy. When I walk I have been considered quite military in bearing. In fact some folk have pointed out that my body sort of slants backwards a few degrees even while I am strolling. It’s a different matter when I sit.

Lounging about may give me a bad reputation for seeming to not care or being unambitious. I do care. I can be active when the time is right. However, I’m not very flexible. I am uncomfortable sitting at ninety degrees to eat a meal at a table. But then again eating is not a favourite pastime. If you help me into and out of a beanbag chair I might be inclined to stay there all day. I like the current expression for lazing about as ‘just chilling’. Breathing is easier in this position. I can do my best crossword puzzle solving while sprawled across a comfy couch.

I have a stepson who likes to say, “If you are not living on the edge you are taking up too much space.” My need for comfort is not about entitlement, however in public I try to be respectful. The municipal government of Madrid takes sprawling on public transport very seriously. Manspreading is rude. There are signs and fines for validating your manliness over more than your share of seat. In Canada there is debate about the space men command to be comfortable. https://torontosun.com/2014/12/29/anti-manspreading-campaign-called-sexist

Hands behind my head, back angled at least 110 degrees to my thighs, legs splayed and feet supported by a stool. This is my characteristic configuration as I read, type these words or watch television. My body was meant for a Lazy-Boy recliner, but I don’t have one so I improvise. With the right number of cushions I can be comfortable sprawling on the floor, up against a wall. I can hear people telling me not to slouch, it’s bad for your back, you look sloppy, even slovenly. I can’t argue with that.

I’ll conclude by agreeing that municipal sprawl is the antithesis of edgy and personal sprawl in public lacks grace. Meanwhile, I have a foldable chaise lounge perfect for sprawl worthy moments. I’ll be outside with a magazine if you need me.

Re: Appropriate

Sometimes it is hard to find the appropriate word. I have to take into account the way language evolves over time. Add to that the changing societal norms of acceptable usage, then it takes courage to speak or write what might be on my mind. I believe that freedom of speech requires an appropriate filter if I wish to engage in meaningful conversation. Reading helps me stay on top of current language trends. Writers can suggest uses of words or phrases in ways that sometimes seriously startle me. A challenging author can get to the how of life rather than dwelling on the why.  That’s a grander exploration than the dead end annoyance of why someone did or said something controversial.

Cultural appropriation is in the news. Artists are currently frustrated by criticism when they explore features outside of their domain. I wonder how we can get to that place of cultural understanding if we do not pretend or act out roles that are unfamiliar to us. I think that it is part of the learning process to appropriate ways that may be foreign. Perhaps that can be a way to walk a while in the other’s shoes. If we hold too fast to notions of exclusivity we are in danger of discarding the concepts of openness and inclusivity.

I have often felt outside. Luckily, belonging to a dominant culture allows me more freedom to be an outsider than someone who is already on the fringe or part of a minority. I get that being marginalized would make you hold on to what you have with greater passion, especially when your culture is being appropriated. Historically, The Doctrine of Discovery was a document legitimizing theft. It was a rationale for displacement and slavery. No one has a justifiable right to have their cultures appropriated by another. The appropriate English name we have for that is genocide: The ultimate form of appropriation.

Jesse Wente is a respected thinker and film critic. He has published a memoir called Unreconciled. While reading this book, I felt as though he was in the room with me, challenging my perceptions of inclusivity, patriarchy and colonialism with the gentle persuasion of a man honestly examining his own role in the world. In spite of my white skin and ancestry I recognized the truth of his life experience when I could relate it to the truth of my own existence. I could find a commonality even though we are not of the same tribe. I believe we share and value the importance of story telling in our individual lives. I felt closest to his words when I allowed myself to respectfully, in thought, tread where he had tread.

My high school was full of extracurricular opportunities. The many different clubs I joined helped me to understand my identity. Sometimes I found the membership requirements to be inappropriate to my goals, so I quit. I could always try another club. Sometimes my application to join a group was rejected, then I felt crushed. Words can break bones.

Re: Reciprocity

Finding equivalency in a relationship can be frustrating. It’s not like you want metaphorical cash back in your daily exchanges. Yet without a consistent feeling that your love is being reciprocated, I believe it is doomed to fail. We’ve all heard of partnerships where one side feels used or taken advantage of because of their easy going personality. I feel carrying a cross is the quickest way to get crucified.

No one should be a door mat to another. It’s true that getting along with someone requires patience and a mature recognition that no one can be exactly like you. And deeper, longer lasting alliances with someone require a mutual commitment to give and take. I hang a lot of my thoughts regarding my bonds with others on the word Reciprocity; 5 syllables, that’s a mouthful yet there is so much here philosophically to work with when you are figuring out matters of the heart.

Often, the expectation of a ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ arrangement can be distorted into a tit for tat exchange. Someone might even venture, “What’s in this for me?”. That phrase sounds callous, however, it’s true that at any point in a relationship one of you’ll wonder what you’re personally getting out of the union. When my partner tells me she loves me I sometimes say, “I love you more.” Even while thinking I do, truly, want to love her more. I know I can’t realistically match every one of her overtures of caring, in breadth or depth.

When I can’t be reciprocal it’s usually because I’m not well. That’s when I count on others going beyond their normal quota of caring. I’ll make an effort to show reciprocation when the shoe is on the other foot. It sounds like I’m making my behaviour conditional and I guess I am in an unspoken way. We have to be careful in our expectation of others while at the same time recognizing a one sided arrangement when we see it.

There are stages and occasions in a lifetime where reciprocity will never be realized. In my book of love, a child must never feel that payback is a requirement of their familial arrangement. Likewise when we contribute to someone’s wellness after an accident/illness, we know our effort can never be matched.

Think of a time when you might have said, “The next one’s on me.” You recognize a gift, want to return the favour, perhaps even work out a repayment plan. Many gifts can’t be repaid in kind. Many favours can’t be replicated. I warmed to the notion of ‘paying it forward’ as represented in a film of the same name. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfW0wCV9iFI

Here, the desire for reciprocity is found in spreading the love. Each caring act builds on the one before it. Here we are, trying to give our 100% knowing full well we can’t sustain that level of mutuality. Thus when we can’t, our mates are there to top us up to wholeness.

Re: Attachment

My son watched aghast as Prince Harry was asked yet again if he misses his mother. I understood how he could relate to the royal, having lost his own mom to cancer twenty years ago. We both wondered why some people maintain such strong attachments.

“Hang on tightly, let go lightly” is a wonderful line from the film ‘The Croupier’. I’m proud that my sons and I have found ways to detach ourselves from events that have caused us sorrow. We have learned to say goodbye without forgetting. In our own ways we continue to practise the meaning of living in the present. I love my sons not because they are mine, but because of who they are. When I learned the value of loving detachment I made a committed step towards a more mature attitude to life in general and other people in particular. I feel safer knowing I can detach from my own ego, from unhealthy situations, from the pressures of conformity. I will not blindly wave a flag nor join a parade.

I’m learning late in life not to be attached to an outcome. I wished I had had a clearer sense of this when I had sought out opportunities in the past. Perhaps a desire for something is closely linked to our wish for attachment. Sometimes our singularity compels us to seek the security of group membership. Even a kite needs to be tethered by guiding hands before it can soar. Admittedly, this analogy falls down when you consider that your individuality risks being constrained by an idea, a process or a brand. An obligation can also be an attachment that holds you back from discovering what’s best for all concerned. Truth can be the scissors that cut through those tethers that prevent us from experiencing a healthier personal reality.

Getting over ourselves can often mean stepping from the centre of our web of connections. Detaching from some filaments and letting go of the security of the collective is frightening but necessary to growth. I was clinically depressed five years before the death of my wife. I look back in gratitude that I had that span of time to sort myself out. In hindsight, I needed those years to be a better person for my dying spouse. I found ways to be more responsible for myself so I could be of greater assistance to my loving partner.

It isn’t an easy journey but I believe it begins with the cutting of the umbilical cord. To me that marks the start of one’s life, when you know you are truly alone. From that moment there are varying degrees of dependency, agency, and clarity regarding who is really in charge of your existence. Calling the shots means knowing when to seek help, receive help and provide help.

These days I’m attaching myself to the joys of life using a lighter thread enabling me to feel less bound by convention: More tuned in to the slightest breeze of welcoming change. I wish to fly higher and see further.

Re: Kinetic

People asked me when I first retired what I missed most about teaching. I have had several responses but the one that is most frequently observed is seeing the potential in my students’ faces. I loved watching my kids light up with a new idea. The fire in their eyes set me going kinetically: Together we would make a plan. Together we got energized. Together we set a course of action. Together we reached for a goal.

I’ve never liked the expression, ‘Those who can DO, Those who can’t teach’. It suggests that teaching is passive, somehow lacking in the energy to actually DO something. But the process of education is so kinetic any teacher will tell you how exhausted they are by the end of their workday. Especially at the Elementary school level, educators have to be on their toes to catch as many bursting buds as possible, then steering them in positive directions.

Spring is my favourite season. Pushing through melting snow is all that stored energy becoming kinetic. Life lies dormant through winter months then suddenly: Buds burst. Leaves unroll. Colours explode. Spring is the life giving, expressively active time of year. Birth happens! It’s a season for plans and ideas to express themselves. A single seed is pulsating with stored potential. The right combinations of nutrient, water, warmth and light will bring forth a display of wondrous kinetic energy. I love watching time lapse photography of plants sending searching roots and prayer-like shoots in all directions. Spring is the season of Joy.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECibetK2EYI

My grandkids are sprouting. Covid reality has made it hard to be an active part of their early years. Children under five practise Kineticism everyday. From the time their little toes touch the floor in the morning to nighttime’s bedtime stories, action is in order. It’s wild enough watching them dance and run around kinetically over FaceTime or from a short video sent over email, yet something is missing when you can’t do yoga right beside them, or play pirates bouncing off the couch, or running and giggling together across a field while holding a kite. On these virtual Skype sessions, my wife and I feel like we are in perpetual winter, storing up our energy so we’ll have lots to give physically, once we are reunited. Then we might go mountaineering or horseback riding together. For now, dreaming will have to do.

Currently, as a society, we are hungry for examples of Newton’s First, Second and Third Laws of Motion. We want helpful forces to act upon us to get us moving again. Energetically engaging in social issues, collectively gathering for arts and sports events. Being locked down and vigilant in our habits to avoid spreading the pandemic has been a worthy goal.  No doubt we are all tired of not being able to be kinetic in our pursuits. However, I don’t want to die in my favourite chair, long before my time. I want to keep doing what I love. That requires human contact.

Re: Million

The word Million has lost its financial lustre. I was standing behind a customer who was taking far too long at a drug store cash out. I was trying to keep my patience, peering over his shoulder, watching him buy a bunch of colourful coupons promising instant millions. The cashier wished him luck and he grunted in response, “Can’t even buy a house for a million these days eh!”

‘If I had a Million Dollars’ was a song written in 1992 (another millennium ago) when a million in cash really meant something. Overnight, it seems, we have people who can call themselves billionaires. If Robertson/Page were to rewrite the song today I wonder how their lyrics might go (They’d eat more Kraft Dinner I guess).  Here is an amateur video of a performance by that beautifully Canadian band Bare Naked Ladies when Steven Page was till a member.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06OowJl1J_k

I can honestly say I’ve never wished for money nor have I bought many lottery tickets. That probably says something about how lucky I have been in life. Or perhaps I’m just content to be content. Through no great skill or effort I am a co-owner of a property that keeps edging towards a million bucks in equity. In spite of this possession, I still consider myself part of the vast 99% and can easily rant about the rich not being taxed equitably.

One thing the pandemic has taught me is that death is awesome and unrelenting. I’ve experienced the shock of several people dying in my lifetime. On a personal scale every death is tragic. I remember the first Covid reports in my home province of British Columbia when Dr. Bonnie Henry had a hard time keeping her composure over early deaths. Things have changed. For more than two years now, the daily tally of viral deaths is recorded on websites like some kind of global score card. Our nearest neighbour, the U.S.of A. will soon reach the one million deaths milestone.

In the current age about 50 million people die each year from various causes. Match that with approximately 140 million births and it’s clear that population worldwide is increasing. In 1968, Paul Erhlich warned in his book The Population Bomb that such growth was unsustainable. We see now what a mathematical prophet he was, as the effects of so many, crowded into a finite space, can cause political, health and environmental chaos.

I know my significance is small. On the world scale I’m merely one in several billion. When I think of those numerical values in terms of people my mind is blown. I can visualize a safe with a million dollars but a million souls boggles me. I’ve seen photographs of crowds of folks yet still can’t fathom the sheer extent of humanity captured as a planetary population of 7.9 Billion! I can be histrionic; I was born when the world held a mere 2.6 Billion humans on its surface.

We are fast approaching a new Big Bang.