Re: Voice

Every artist has a desire to find their own authentic voice through their work. In song, the quality of the voice seems obvious, however it isn’t about technical ability alone. There is a craft to be learned with all art for sure, but one’s singular voice can only come from your soul. I believe the iconic image of the ‘struggling artist’ is a reference to this creative force willing itself alive. It’s hard to define or keep consistent. Often we sing a different tune. The voice one seeks is sometimes merely a whisper or an echo, or a memory. It needs to be heard, begs to be seen, desires to be applauded. When it doesn’t show itself, it’s frustrating. Writers call it a block, visual artists fear the blank canvas. Actors too, can draw a blank, freezing on stage. Sculptors agonize over quarried stone or soft clay, unable to hear what lies within. Dancers stiffen, singers go mute for lack of direction from their inner voice. Whether vocal or metaphorical, I believe your voice will eventually assert itself.

To be given a public voice through fame must feel intimidating. Celebrities experience this when suddenly their opinion matters. The microphone is poked at their face. The questions come fast and furious. When you’re famous everyone wants to know how you feel, where you stand, whose side you’re on: Give us your opinion please so we ordinary people know how to act. Under such pressure to be a role model, it’s no wonder to me that many simply crack. I worry for the pressures placed on Greta Thunberg in this regard. She is receiving good guidance to stay with the issue, diverting attention from herself by exhorting us to “Listen to the science.”This latest video shows Ms.T.’s familiar voice speaking for the planet.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7WvehTbuvIo

We all have degrees of difficulty when it comes to giving voice to our feelings and thoughts. We may be shy about speaking up, speaking out and making ourselves heard. Yet how else are we to be known by others. We show respect to people who give us their opinion even though we may not share it. We turn to some for advice, when they have earned our trust through their words and deeds. I remember, in late adolescence, telling my parents that I had changed career plans. I thought the news would disturb them. But they heard the passion in my voice and gave me their support. Coming out with any news can feel dangerous, especially if what you want to reveal is against a societal norm. For example, Ellen Page’s transition to Elliot Page has fascinated me. I can’t imagine what that’s like, yet through her journey, my own vocal notes have changed. I deeply respect those who use their voice to help redefine culture. Their story, their struggles, their desire to be understood, accepted and supported provide a new context in which we can all re-examine our own lives and our place on Earth.

Re: Make

I think making things is the highest calling. Humans were created to create. When I talk to my grandchildren I ask them what they made today. I want to know what they’ve been up to, what they might have done or thought about doing, before I comment on their cuteness. When I was a teacher of elementary school students, making something was an important part of our day. During guidance talks we would discuss ways we could make things, rather than take things. And sometimes at the end of a day, the best thing we’ve made is someone smile.

My dad would often read me something he had just read from his newspaper, then he’d start a conversation by asking, “What do you make of that my son?” Making sense of the world was of paramount importance to my father. He practised several art forms, admitting that the act of making things from scratch helped him sort out his troubles. My first wife was a determined craftsperson whose skills in homemaking helped our family of five make ends meet.

When I start writing a think piece like this one I make it up as I go along, because it’s a work in progress. And sometimes the process of making things can be reason enough. There is an element of ‘fake it til ya make it’ like jello cooling in the fridge. A bit of writing can look like it’s complete but still not quite set. When I make dinner I rarely follow a recipe, trusting that when I get everything plated that it will be as tasty as I had imagined. Sometimes what we make is never as perfect as we would like it to be.

We say the word Make many times throughout our conversations: Make the most of it, make a mess of it, make sense of it, make a mountain out of a molehill, make hay while the sun shines, make war, make peace, make love, make out, make money, make do, make sure, make your mark, make the best of a bad situation, Make.Some.Noise!, make amends, make it happen, make your way in the world, make a promise, make light of a situation.

Globally we are in a climate crisis partly due to our productivity. We are making things that have  changed the health of our environment. Many modern day prophets have been warning us that we need to make up for our mistakes before it is too late. I continue to hope that humans have the capacity and creativity to remake the agenda of prosperity; to fashion it for all not the few, to take from nature only that which can be replaced, to think of needs more often than wants.

“What do you want to make of yourself?” Might be a question I pose as I’m gazing into the mirror of my thoughts. The answer changes with age and circumstance. Many things make us who we are in this present moment, yet life is truly what we make of it.

Re: Analogy

I enjoy analogy talk. It is so much more interesting than the weather. Some analogies are cliches and ultimately boring. Others are simply outrageous, like always comparing people or situations to Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Most things can be compared to something else. You could put yourself in a potentially tricky situation if you say you understand how someone is feeling by following up with an analogous experience. For example you might show empathy for your friend who has just lost his job due to COVID19 by saying, “That’s just like the movie I saw last night!” Somethings are just not analogous. Using analogies, while dangerous, can bring us closer to meaning without the true experience.

In high school I had a group of nerdy English major friends who used to play the simile game; ex. Life is like a locker (opening, closing, smelly, contains our records and necessities). I remember one of our teachers telling us budding poets that metaphors were better than similes. He didn’t enjoy using the words like or as and thought that a metaphoric expression was more direct. He wished us to declare that Life is a highway.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-fPe6EVeYE

Being young sometimes equates to searching for the meaning of life. As an elementary teacher I was often careful not to assume my students knew what I was talking about by saying, “It is kind of like…” to bring them to understanding. For example, how can you explain snow, to someone who’s never seen, or felt it? Without ever really having the full experience it’s tricky getting a concept across. As a student of life, when you are observant, you quickly catch on that life can be ‘like’ so many things. I studied Science in school because I enjoyed how scientific principles could define things around me. Shapes and behaviours in the natural world are amazingly similar. Physics and Chemistry can be applied to solve problems. Now that we know more about DNA we can confirm that many aspects of Biology are analogous and therefore relatable.

Metaphorically and anthropomorphically, if Science wants to define you, Art seeks to have a relationship with you, By it’s very nature, Art is a representation of someone’s experience, which can magically illuminate your own. Art is like a relationship; messy, never perfect but wow! When it works it works! Art is the exclamation of life. Sometimes it is merely tolerated (graffiti), while elsewhere or by a different artist, it may be admired. However, Art is more than a matter of taste, since it requires you to bring your personal experiences to the canvas, or the stage or to the printed page. A sculptor, weaver, dancer or cellist will use different analogies than an accountant, restaurant owner, police officer or sailor. 

I’m prone to analyzing the heck out of a topic. I love a conversation that explores all facets of a subject. It can be exhausting trying to get to the heart of the matter yet, according to Sigmund Freud, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

Re: Preserve

Preserve and Conserve are words often used interchangeably, yet each will evoke a different feeling within the spoken or written context. As a result, their subtle separate meanings can feel rather jammy in your head. When I’m writing, sometimes I want the exact word that will deliver my point, other times it’s just fun to mess with all available synonyms to create a mood rather than a message.

My former wife was into preservation, of fruit, of vegetables, of well used bits of fabric which she turned into kid’s clothing and patchwork blankets. She loved the process of conservation. She maintained detailed genealogical records and worked hard to sustain the values she found in her local church. She was proud of her choice to be a modern example of a Homemaker. I built a cold room space that was stocked with the many varieties of her jams, jellies, pickles. I made my own wine from berries picked from our yard, preserving their goodness in a different way. We both worked at preserving the culture of family mealtime.

Human communities value conservation efforts so we set up wildlife preserves. A conservative thinker will often choose the preservation of jobs over the conservation of natural resources. Often we work hard to maintain an institution because we want to preserve a way of life that has become our very identity as a society. Here is Old Fezziwig in a scene from A Christmas Carol, asserting his believe in the ways of old. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qy_G0wvlJXU

Planting a tree is an act of preservation and conservation. We are sequestering carbon dioxide, creating habitat, and providing shade for future generations. We can’t know what the future holds but we know trees are an important part of the picture. Doing art is conservational and the results may be found in a conservatory. Taking aspects of our culture and portraying it in any artistic form is a statement about our present reality and a message for our future unknown selves.

If preserving history means never updating our understanding of its context, then I’m with the people who are currently tearing down the statues of former slave owners. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVELtGOaqxY. I’m into sculptures as an art form but not to iconify individuals. Death belongs in the past and must be documented within the past: Not as a roadmap for the future, but as a story book of how things were.

As a society we sometimes hold on too tightly to outdated things. We give too much credence to conserving tradition when considering how we want our future to look. I believe there is no truth to the phrase; “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” We humans just keep being human regardless of our memory of history. Unfortunately, our nature drives our actions more than our intellect.

Preserves come with an expiry date. If used beyond that point we risk our health. Our current climate crisis suggests we have failed to conserve our valuable resources. Our pantry is being depleted of the things we need and poisoned for lack of stewardship. We are losing sight of the garden.

Re: Levidrome

During COVD19 lockdown I became one of those people who relearned the joy of jigsaw puzzles. In fact puzzles of any kind are great for stimulating the mind and distracting you from dark or worrying thoughts. A Levidrome is one such puzzle that I came across while tweeting on social media. Levidrome is a new word that is reminiscent of the word Palindrome. We know a palindrome is a word that can be spelled the same backwards or forwards: Anna, Otto, toot and sees are palindromic words. But what happens when a word is spelled backwards creating an amusingly different word? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpZ3bh1R6Kk

This boy named Levi figured out that stop spells pots in reverse. He asked his dad why there wasn’t an English word for this phenomenon and the word Levidrome was invented to fill the void. From then a movement grew to get this word in the dictionary, any dictionary. Connections were formed on social media and elsewhere. Folks from all walks of life (even the multi talented William Shatner) joined the campaign. Oxford Dictionaries had this to say: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJkV9HwtM4k

School teachers from various world locations have reported that they are using Levidromes in classrooms. Creativity is stimulated when playing with words and much has been learned from these activities. A song has been composed by Lola Parks to entertain, simplify and enlighten. 

To date I have been unsuccessful in getting this new word and its concept accepted by the people at Wikipedia (apparently something about promotional restrictions which somehow does not conform to their policies). Maybe someone else with more experience on that platform will have better luck. Being a cheerleading kind of guy I’ve been  levidroming with other levidromers to keep the word in the public eye and to have fun coming up with new Levidrome pairs. It’s a truism that when you discover something new, it makes an appearance in unexpected places. The 1994 film Reality Bites contains a scene where one of the cast humourously discovers a Levidrome pair. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQVw58aDt3Y .

Some puzzlers have invented crafty clues to challenge the search for Levidrome answers. Some have found ways to use other languages to expand the reach of young Levi’s idea. These riddles sometimes take the form of poems or narratives. For example this riddle sounds like an opening to a short story: In the kitchen Amy was in charge, the celery was not cut small enough so she chopped it again.’ The Levidrome answer is: Decider/Rediced. Someone has made a list of Levidrome pairs and posted it online at https://www.levidromelist.com/. There are more than 500 English words that have been discovered so far.

Who knows what new forms levidroming might take? Even ale drinkers are getting in on the Levidrome action. A local brewery appropriately named a special batch of beer, ‘Regal Lager’. I enjoyed this review of the brew by a frosty imbiber. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRjD8OZJnr8

Re: Performance

I miss performances. The COVID19 pandemic has created an environment where culture has been a victim. China’s lunar new year holiday celebrations were affected. Italy and Spain curtailed their street cafe traditions. European countries lost their football community. I have a friend who lives for sports and he mourns the absence of watching a high performance team. He and I were both shocked when the summer Olympics in Japan had to be cancelled. What a blow to all the athletes who were robbed of the chance to perform, after years of practise, for a coveted medal of Gold, Silver or Bronze.

A large part of my enjoyment in life comes from attending a play, a dance or musical performance. I’m always awed at the work it takes to bring a piece of art to the stage. It’s thrilling to witness a one of a kind performance. I take great delight in watching young artists get their first taste at a role. When I was in elementary school I took part in public speaking competitions and my sister excelled at baton twirling. Together we once auditioned for a youth talent competition at our local television station. Our parents would admit, after we came off the stage, that they experienced sheer terror over a potentially bad outcome. We were just delighted it was over so we could go to the promised dinner and movie.

We have a performing arts college in our community and many theatre companies ask the students to perform with more veteran actors as part of their course work. These shows validate the effort it takes to make a performance count for something special. I wonder how these student actors will realize their dream of performing in front of a large audience, when large crowds are scary places to be, even while a death dealing virus is on the loose. 

The most uncomfortable times in my teaching career were when I had to undergo a mandatory performance review. Working with senior teachers during the practice teaching sessions at Teacher’s College was tense enough, but being under the watchful gaze of a principal for a week created performance anxiety. Even when I felt I performed well it was hard to deflect the feeling of judgement. Performing artists must have very thick skins.

Television can fill the need to watch performers showing their skills. There is a plethora of talent shows on all major networks right now. The monotonous commercials get in the way of me engaging with the backstory behind each performer. Sometimes I tire of the need producers feel is necessary for me to know the details of each of the artist’s lives. Like a magic trick, sometimes I just want to be amazed by the performance, without knowing the details of how, why or what came before it. 

I was recently moved to tears by this work from the genius of Lars Von Trier. The power of performance is breathtaking, the magic of creativity is spellbinding, the result is inspiring.

Re: Olympics

Coronavirus disruption has meant cancelling the summer Olympics. To some it was inevitable, though the International Olympic Committee held back their decision until the situation became impossible to ignore. Canadian athletes were first to boldly state that they would not participate. Officially the 2020 event has been postponed yet will still keep the brand of this year as a message of hope.

The Olympics captures the value of sport in our lives. As a part of worldwide culture it is equal to artistic pursuits. Humans become more complete when they compete, using their bodies to go higher, get stronger and go faster. This reality of humanity is expressed so well in the symbols of the Olympics, for example the rings of the five colours found in the flags of the nations of the world. We speak of gold medal performances. We give tribute to those in other areas of life who make olympian contributions. We encourage children to have olympic-sized dreams.

I had dreams of attending the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972 with a German born friend. A short four years later I was employed and married, with my first child on the way when the Olympics came to Montreal in 1976. I remember some company producing a series of small guidebooks which I bound and kept for a while as a keepsake. They contained records of all the Olympic games and some cool individual profiles of several remarkable athletes. It was handy on my bookshelf to use when I watched subsequent games on television with my three young boys. I love how art and sport can mingle at these events. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CAFhNobJABU. Devotion, obsession, desire, compulsion, commitment; these are some words that might be used to express the sense of calling one must have to rise to Olympian stature. I admire that quest to the extent that I can tear up while watching a record breaking performance during summer or winter Olympic telecasts.

Controversies attached to the Olympic system due to the imbalance of power, the IOC structure, financial inequities or political manipulations can result in games being criticized. I grew up learning of the ideals of ancient Greece and Mount Olympus where the first athletes were awarded laurel wreaths in honour of their victories. I love the spiritual intent to support friendship, respect and excellence and the motto Citius, Altius, Fortius, proposed by Pierre de Coubertin upon the creation of the IOC and the modern games in 1894. A strong message of peace can be found in the doctrines of Olympism. So it is more than sport. It is a way of thinking and acting. I choose to follow that dream.

The Olympics will be missed in the summer of 2020. Athletes will continue to work toward personal goals. Qualifying events will be staged. Once the threat of Corvid19 has passed we will again congregate in stadiums and arenas to cheer for our favourite heroes. We will share in the realization of impossible dreams. We humans will continue to strive to be the best we can be.

Re: Inspire

We have the Creator in all of us. My interpretation of those pointy church spires has a creative inspiration. Perhaps they were designed to be the highest point in a village so that the citizens would forever be reminded of their own creation and by extension their inherent creativity. Think of these spires as antennae, reaching out and drawing in all manner of information. If inspiration comes from some mystical place, who is to say that those who are inspired are not just tuned into the correct frequency to receive the message. Imagine a writer working on a play, walking through cobble streets when suddenly catching sight of a pigeon lifting into the air. As the bird is followed, our artist spies the steeple and inhales as if struck by an inspired idea. Perhaps a church spire, with a God’s help or not, can be a conductor of what is sometimes called the collective consciousness. Ideas are out there, nothing is really new, thoughts hang in the air like fruit waiting to be picked.

While some inspirations may come from tall manmade structures, artists and scientists are forever having inspiring thoughts in all sorts of locations. One wonders where that inspirational signal comes from to create that seed of an idea. We’ve all experienced, to a greater or lesser degree, that magic moment when you feel as though all your previous ideas and thoughts congeal into a coherent whole. It’s the ‘Aha!’ Or ‘Eureka’ moment that drives the engine of change. It can be an expression of joy for a new way of doing things.

First we are curious: “How is this done?” We look through the cutouts at a construction site and stand transfixed at what is being created. We marvel at the birth of an animal in a farm setting. Lots of experiences inspire us to reach for our own goals. Once creativity starts, it rarely stops. The members of the band RUSH, like other artists, seem to be constantly inspired to do art in different ways. Here they are being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Watch for the inspired way that member Alex Lifeson (who is the last to speak) accepts his award. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7M7AEi68a20

We can watch moments such as this and be inspired. At other times we may stare blankly out the window or at a proverbial blank canvas and wonder how to find a way to express what we are feeling or thinking. I’ve been stuck like this many times in my life. Sometimes the best thing is just to wallow and wait. Find a place of safety until something colourful flits across your field of vision. Rekindle the ember that was, and still is, the child within. A child is rarely without inspiration. Is that called innocence?

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the Roman God Cupid is a wee babe with a skill to inspire love in those it pricks with its arrows. Once inspired, all negative thoughts subside, our eyes are opened to a fresh day, and a new way.

Re: Write

I am a writer. It took me a while to say that, to myself, before I could proclaim it to the world. I grew up with the notion you had to BE, before you could claim to be. There was something in my mother’s teaching that made me reluctant to attest to something about myself unless someone else, officially, had acknowledged it first. Even when I became an adult and wrote for my daily newspaper, my mother continued to think; ‘a Writer is someone who writes Books.’

I have mixed feelings about the drive to be a writer as my father spent almost every spare moment during my pre-teen years clacking on his Underwood. Having gone through my own mid-life crisis I can recognize now, what was going on with my dad. He was at a crossroads and he thought sending off manuscripts, with rejection slips inevitable, just might bring him the fame he was after. My mom kicked him out of the apartment for his ‘writing obsession’ and only let him back after he promised to write no more. These were very stressful days for me. The house was suddenly very quiet after he took his typewriter and left. To this day I will feel heartache whenever I see one of these antique word processing machines. The departure scene became forever connected to WRITING. To venture into the land of career writing became filled with the prospect of following in my father’s failed footsteps. Nothing pleasing to picture with that scenario; move along please.

What a negative space I occupied; Being unable to write because it didn’t feel right. Thankfully I recognized that this attitude was largely self-imposed. As my teaching career wound down I approached our local daily newspaper with an idea for a weekly column. It felt like a rite of passage when I got hired. The Daily Press even used me as a roving reporter covering the arts scene on the weekends. I tapped away on the keyboard of a new Bondi Blue iMac (much quieter than my dad’s machine). I discovered that the more I wrote the more I wanted to write. I had tapped into an artistic side of me that had been hungering for release. I wrote editorials. I wanted to be a righter of wrongs. I kept poetry diaries and trip journals. During my last few years of teaching everyone in my classroom wrote lots of stuff. We shared the results together with delight. We played with homonyms, synonyms and antonyms. We made up nonsense words and made them into cartoon characters. Sometimes it only takes one person to read your work to make you feel accomplished.

One year, to honour the passing into the new millennium, I wrote a full page of thoughts for each day of 2000 thinking it would be a curiosity for my grandkids someday. My wife was diagnosed with stage four cancer in January 2001. For the next 288 nights she asked for a bedtime story; either Winnie the Pooh or a page from my Millennial Journal.

Re: Polyglot

Some words are so weird you don’t know what you are hearing. When I first heard this one I thought someone had made it up just to be funny. And silly is my favourite style of humour. In the tradition of the party game Balderdash, let’s do some guessing. Polyglot is: A) a rare breed of goat, B) a bunch of discarded plastic, or C) someone who knows three or more languages. Who knew that C was the right answer? I didn’t when it first came to my attention so I did some research and voila!

To my ears Polyglot still sounds like something you might read in a Dr. Seuss children’s book. That aside, I have an enormous amount of respect for someone who has mastered a poly amount of anything. I may aspire to the notion of being a Jack of All Trades, but that generally signifies I’m a master of none.
A dentist I saw for regular checkups told me all about his life while I was wired, probed, drilled, filled and/or dental dammed. My teeth may be in good shape but I couldn’t help but feel diminished by this one man’s list of supplementary skills acquired over his lifetime; Orchestral Trombonist, Black Belt Karate, World Bridge Federation Member. Not to mention, he was also a Polyglot; fluent in Polish, German and English.

Hanging out with members of my home town symphony orchestra made me very aware of people who exist in a multi-hyphenate world. Many of these highly talented individuals work as doctors, lawyers, accountants or professors during the day and compose or interpret music in their off hours. As a teacher I was familiar with research that suggests there are many examples of areas where a crossover of skills is complementary and not necessarily layered. The music-math crossover is often touted as an example in people who may be considered of genius intellect. Einstein comes quickly to mind, yet so does Steve Martin the comedian/banjo picker/writer/director/actor/producer/magician.
Is Mr. Martin a genius or a polymath? Phewff! Take a bow already.

I enjoy watching artists challenge themselves in different media or venues. You must have talent to skip around artistic disciplines for sure. You also have to make the time to do it. Imagine being able to say you have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award. Only fifteen multitalented artists have been able to accomplish that laudable goal. As of the posting of this blog page the following are in the esteemed EGOT Club: Richard Rogers, Helen Hayes, Rita Moreno, John Gielgud, Audrey Hepburn, Marvin Hamlisch, Jonathan Tucker, Mel Brooks, Mike Nichols, Whoopi Goldberg, Scott Rudin, Robert Lopez, Andrew Lloyd Webber, John Legend, Tim Rice.

Someone once flattered me by calling me a Renaissance Man. That compliment as much as I loved the taste of it, made me embarrassed. If I cut out television, reading the newspaper, tweeting about stuff and staring lazily out the window I may discover the time I need to be better. Another Leonardo Da Vinci, I’m not.