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.

Re: Compromise

I can look at the word Compromise from a negative or a positive perspective. When I’m feeling personally compromised I can feel defensive. I’m backed into a corner. My values, principles, even my character is being tested. Someone, (maybe me) has drawn a line in the sand and won’t back down from their position. Chances are this will end badly, unless a middle ground can be found.

Compromise is sometimes making the best of a bad situation. But the work must continue: One must not be resigned to one’s fate. Plans can be made to rectify hurt feelings and reconcile past wrongs. This is true on a personal scale as well as in the public arena. Leanne B. Simpson writes in her book ‘As We Have Always Done’ that relationships (of any kind) are based on consent, reciprocity, respect, and empathy. To my way of thinking reciprocity contains opportunities for finding a non-compromising solution.

It seems quite clear that our planet has been dominated, harvested, polluted and abused to the point where compromising is futile. Leaders gather at multi country conferences like COP26, held in Glasgow, Scotland last year, to attempt a negotiated consensus. It is maddening that while the intent to address climate change seems honest, financial interests time and time  again trump the agenda. The health of all humanity seems beyond our collective will. There is no room for compromise if it means our planet will continue to die. There is no middle ground here, not when that very ground is drying up, flooding and burning. It is really a time for action, not words.

In my life I’ve had to let go of notions that no longer served a purpose. For example, when I was twenty I wanted to be a husband and father within a strong family dynamic. I also wanted to sail the seven seas with Jacques Cousteau. Surprisingly, that great ocean explorer managed both and had two separate, secret concurrent families. I can only imagine the concessions involved for Papa Jacques. My choice was a compromise in the best way possible; I had a successful career, teaching many elementary students the wonders of life, along with abundant time to fill my cup with warm, expansive family memories.

I’ve learned that sometimes it’s ok to let others lead, while I provide a response as a supporting partner. It’s also ok to test out newness, owning the change that comes, making it less about compromising your character and more about celebrating your evolution. My growth as an individual has not been perfect, yet I’ve tried to find something close to perfection in all that I have done. Even my mediocrity has had its moments of splendour. In short, I don’t believe you have to lower your standards to make the concessions that are necessary in life. Maybe you adjust your expectations a bit. Marvel at the way others have found success, rather than feeling gypped about your existence. It’s more about finding the best way forward, seeking the best possible answer to the present question.

Re: Enough

“Enough!” Is a cry of exasperation. I’ve shouted ‘Stop’ using the same emotion. There is so much discord, trauma and catastrophe in the world right now that I’m surprised someone hasn’t used Enough as a label for a social activist, environmental justice or political reform movement. I picture vast numbers of people all wearing red Enough! T-shirts, faces boiling mad, voices yelling through loud speakers. That will fix things.

Enough is a word with a selfish root. We say it when things aren’t going our way. We say it to make bad things go away. We ask it when we are questioning our worthiness or competence: “Am I doing enough?” Or “Have I done enough?” Or “Am I enough for you?” In discussions we have with ourselves or with others we hopefully can reach a point to acknowledge our understanding by saying, “Fair Enough.”

I’ve rarely felt ambitious. A peaceful life of satisfying activity shared with others feels enough for me. I’ll admit there has been a few times when I have hung on tenaciously to a goal. The grasp of that brass ring might have been the only thing sufficient to get me off the scent. And yet I rarely have found myself so fixated that I refused to listen to another person’s counsel. I’ve met people who are always wondering if they will ever have enough material things, enough space or time or even enough peace of mind. The accumulation of things, medals, memories has never been an aim of mine. The journey is what counts. But some must continue to strive, to master, even to conquer, while missing out on what’s right in front of them. 

I usually feel uncomfortable in times when abundance is the focus: Decadence diminishes delight. Christmas particularly is a conflict of interest, especially being part of a collective family scene where wrapping paper is strewn about the floor as participants tear into their gifts with wild abandon. There is stress related to the value of the gift in the context of the giver. Thoughts of fairness, have I spent enough, or will the recipient feel the presents were adequate to the occasion, all do a balancing act in my mind. It’s a display of consumption that messes with the joy of giving and receiving for me and each time I hope that I can muster enough patience and grace to be present.

We do many things hoping they will be enough. On retirement, many wonder if they have left a legacy, if they accomplished what they had set out to do. My wife feels this everyday as she cares for her aging parents. I feel her actions are a reminder of the importance of sacrifice; ‘a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done before’. Charles Dickens often described his characters, young or old, as being in a state of grace when they put another’s needs ahead of their own. Oliver was clearly needy, while Scrooge was greedy.

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: 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.