Re: Tolerance

I learned much from my dad when it came to tolerance. He had to put up with a lot from my mother. I watched as a child at the way he navigated his hurt feelings over accusations and recriminations delivered at random moments by his wife. When I was older I couldn’t help but feel he should have stood up for himself more often. Ironically my mom’s intolerance for him led to a temporary separation.

Much of my understanding of tolerance comes from my parents’ examples. How one lives with tolerance is instructive. I’ve learned to recognize differences, inconsistencies, strengths and weaknesses in others. That awareness has helped me feel tolerance, but for a healthy relationship you need a step further: If you want a relationship to last you have to accept the other, flaws and all.

My father worked at a ball bearing manufacturing plant. He used to amaze me with his precision drawings and schematics of all the individual working parts. He had a position in the quality control department towards the end of his career. Long before computer technology, he used specific tools to make the measurements. He talked about perfecting the tolerances so that wear and dysfunction was kept to a minimum. Engineers often worry about stresses on material so they work hard to create designs that increase the tolerance against environmental hazards like weather. The mechanics of anything we build must meet rigid standards to keep risks of injury at a low level. For example, the last condo building I lived in boasted of being erected on top of springs to reduce potential earthquake damage.

Humans can react to life’s challenges on a tolerance spectrum. I have a low tolerance for small talk. My wife can’t tolerate silliness. We all have our pet peeves. Some things can grate on our nerves while other stuff sheds our psyche like water off of a duck’s back. I tried to list my top ten non-tolerances but only got to eight: anger, gambling, tattoos, war, waste, heat, pets and stasis.

We sometimes judge others by their patience or lack thereof. Recently I squirmed along with others in a medical clinic waiting room while an anxious patient pulled a Karen on the receptionist. “I can’t tolerate this medication!” She shouted until the doctor came out to calm her fears. Meanwhile we sat with our own thoughts on how we might have managed such a crisis differently.

Perhaps our tolerance for people or situations mellows with age. Elders have gained wisdom from multiple trials enabling them to better tolerate the shocks of life. Getting older gives us a sense of a continuum more akin to a lazy river rather than a cloverleaf intersection on an interstate highway. A feeling of urgency or desperation can be part of youth which can lead to intolerance and dismissiveness. On the other hand being aged can make us cranky and view the world as something no longer recognizable.

My grandkids will likely have to learn to tolerate a robot’s view of things. Oh my!

Re: Transition

Death is a transition. I’m not about to suggest what might be found on the other side of life, but I do feel that anyone’s death causes a ripple in the cosmic fabric. My father-in-law died. His death caused his immediate family to pause and consider; “What comes next?” While he is in transit, who knows where, we living souls must decide how and where to continue our existence.

My wife’s mother, after 68 years with the same fella, after living almost 40 plus years in the same place, has decided she wants to come home with us to Victoria, BC. There will be many stages to this transition. As my special mom comes to terms with no longer being a wife she appears to be open to the probability of forming new relationships. There may be time for assisted living. Some of her friends have said they are enjoying the experience. Another scenario might be a new home to accommodate the three of us. We will have to tread slowly as we respectfully navigate each other’s preferences while adapting to any new possibilities. Decisions will have to be made with sometimes conflicting emotional interests: sentimentality, practicality, comfort, personalities, individual abilities and disabilities will all have to be balanced to find a new normal.

A physical move is often difficult: packing, a relocation road trip and unpacking! There’s an endless need to analyze information to determine the best course of action. Everyone has a moving story that fits somewhere on a spectrum of Hell to Mildly Annoying. Time can modify the worst of these experiences so they can eventually become humorous. The mental and emotional toll is never easy to cleanse. The psychological transition may require metaphorical bandaids to patch over ruffled feathers. Dismissive words that belittle real worries can add to the trauma of transit from point A to point B.

It is in this regard that I can find empathy with Transexual individuals. Their journey requires a movement of realms beyond my comprehension. It is a monumental transition, not entered into lightly. I have taken my sexuality for granted, yet I can empathize with the journey required to find peace within your own body. Elders, like me, can certainly relate to a body that changes with age. As our parts deteriorate we moan that we don’t like what we see. Those wealthy enough will choose surgery to pull their saggy bits back into place. We’ve all looked in the mirror and been judgemental: Society’s gaze can be crippling especially as you transition into a new you.

From birth to death we are constantly in a transitory state. There are times when we feel stagnant. In all the times of my life, I have hated stasis the most. Whether we are moving through time or space we can make our experience easier or harder. I’ve learned to seek people and advice like I would opening a book. Information assists me in making better decisions. Other’s stories can enable a smoother transition regardless of the nature of the change.

Re: Yes

The YES/NO binary fascinates me. When I went to university computers were a becoming thing. Beginning science students at my college had to take a basic programming course. We used punch cards, stacks of them. We talked Fortran to a whirligig machine the size of a classroom. The best thing I got out of the course was learning Flow Chart methodology. I still use this principle to make personal decisions.

Life is not always a matter of a yes or no decision. A yes answer to a question can mean you agree, and when it comes to a contractual understanding I believe it shows strong character to commit to the outcome. On the other hand, saying yes can also be a process to finding out. I always told my young sons when they were out with others that if things went south and they started to feel uncomfortable, they could always call me for a pick up. Deciding yes doesn’t mean there is no turning back, yes doesn’t mean you are stuck. There is always something else you can do; it’s quite fine to change your mind.

When we are in autopilot we probably don’t think too much about our Yes/No response rate. Most of our lives we just flow along. I’ve said a resounding Yes to marriage twice in my life. Choosing teaching as a career was a fateful Yes. I’ve chosen affirmative responses to life changing questions when folks have shown confidence in me even when I have doubted my own ability. I once chose to question the YES of life in the midst of some dark days.

Back when I was coding those punch cards, the computer could only determine between one and zero. Like an On/Off switch the pathway to an answer flowed like an electrical current until a solution was found. As we move closer to AI robotics I wonder if we’ll be able to program something like a shrug into a SimBot. A simple yes or no is restrictive to creativity. A Maybe thrown in, once in a while, can stimulate imagination.

I love saying Yes. But it’s not always a practical answer. My wife says I’m a very emphatic person. I joke with her sometimes that life would be more fun if there was a limit to the negatives; Don’t, Not now, Not really, Never! M’Eh is the worst: That response combines a dismissive attitude with an apathetic outlook. Nothing is ever accomplished with a M’Eh. Unfortunately my reflex response, whenever we are out shopping, is No! I hate being a spoilsport. I can make firm and relatively quick decisions because I know myself well but my mind is not suited for a black or white rigid existence either.

My mother-in-law showed me her wedding pictures yesterday. She’s been saying her final goodbyes to her husband of 68 years. It took him nine years before he agreed to the union. I watched her smile like Mona Lisa as these memories played about in her head. Her lifetime started with a Yes.

Re: When

I hate waiting in line. It takes patience to wait for anything. The child in me wants to ask, “When?” Hell for me is the same as stasis. I’m not an antsy person, most people think of me as calm. I can be calm, tranquil even. I’ve been known to bask in the serenity that comes from doing absolutely nothing.  When I have a choice, being still is an easy option, yet I do not like to feel becalmed, beached or otherwise adrift in the Sargasso Sea waiting for a satisfactory trade wind. Under constricting circumstances, the Then part of my life story seems to never come, so I’m stuck crying out, “When!”

There are six great journalistic questions: Who, what, when, where, why, and how. The third in the list was the question I most asked as a kid. Learning patience is hard for anyone, especially when you are four or 94. As a kid whining to my mother I would hear, “If you ask again we won’t be going!” I wouldn’t be getting, having, or knowing either, depending upon the context. When my elderly mother-in-law asks ‘When’ I stay quiet, figuring I’ll have a while before she asks again. She may even forget the whole thing as she listens to her radio. When my own children asked ‘When’ I would say, ‘In twenty minutes.’ This arbitrary amount of time never satisfied them since it could end up meaning sometime next week for all they knew. Sometimes I’m not very helpful.

One of my grandkids loves watching for the garbage truck coming down the street. In his city, the sanitation drivers/workers are very predictable. I saw my little DNA carrier run to the window one morning for no apparent reason. Moments later I realized his little ears had picked up the characteristic screechy sound of the vehicle because there was the workman lifting the cans into the back hopper. My grandchild turned back to his living room play looking satisfied that his world was in order. He was learning to trust that sometimes the Whens of life fit into a schedule that can be planned for and predicted.

I don’t think we can blame technology on our lack of patience. Even as grown-ups we want our stuff now, not tomorrow. Putting in a call to get service for a broken appliance or delivery information can be problematic. We are usually given a window of time when an agent will arrive. Recently for me that ‘window’ was “Between 9am and 5pm on Tuesday” and I paced the day away.

Perhaps adults’ patience level has been eroded lately with all our systems, simply because we are frustrated by the slow approach of getting to that question of when. Confidence in necessary change is enhanced if the public can have a predictable timeline of action. As a citizen I don’t want to be told it will take a metaphorical twenty minutes if it really isn’t going to happen during this business/tourist/health/government cycle.

Then my trust goes in the garbage

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.