A Jack in the Box is a clown puppet on a spring. You turn a crank on the side of the metal box where he lives to make music (Pop! Goes the Weasel) until the door on the top opens randomly and out jumps Jack the Clown. If you can recover from the shock, then just push the clown back down, close the lid and relive the experience. Sorta like life.
The circus came to our city one late summer and I took my first born and his younger brother to catch some of the excitement that live theatre provides. After enjoying a few simple rides, some candy floss and a small petting zoo we went into a large tent and sat on chairs arranged around a single large ring. We got to be in the first row so everything was up close. There were horses and jugglers, acrobats and clowns. One clown, face pasty white and eyes ringed in red make-up came out of nowhere flashing his large gloved hands and startled me. My children crawled into the arms of my wife sitting next to me. Chaos ensued. The clown man moved on along the circle. We decided that we had had enough for the day.
Santa is really a clown, “Who’s got a big red cherry nose?” He could be referred to as the King of the Clowns. Every year someone pretending to be Santa volunteers to dress up and be part of parades and company parties. Every large shopping mall has a North Pole display complete with a throne for Santa. Children are encouraged to overcome their shyness, sit alone on the big man’s lap while telling him their secret wishes. Some kids are visibly shaken by the experience yet caregivers feel compelled to continue this odd cultural tradition. Pictures are taken to keep the moment memorable, smiles or no smiles.
The author Stephen King has added an extra level of fright to the way we view clowns. Pennywise, the character in his story of clowning mayhem called IT is not a dude you would like to bump into. Lurking in the gutters, leering through the drain ways,Robert Gray generates no laughter from me. Neither do clownish politicians who act one way and make policy decisions in another dimension of reality. There were times when court jesters were employed to divert the populace from unpleasant royal edicts. Comedy used this way could be risky. Several television & movie actors have toyed with the fine line between humour and pathos. Jack Lemmon, Norman Wisdom, Milton Berle, Red Skelton and Jim Carrey are among those successful with the transition between these emotional forms. Jerry Lewis was another who used his clown persona but not always with mass approval. Witness this questionable unreleased film; ‘The Day the Clown Cried’. Coming Soon! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Cv3-MCkX7U
Sometimes I enjoy clowning around. Being silly allows me to step outside of my normally serious personality. I don’t use scary makeup. If others in the room appear shocked, I’ll quickly let them in on the joke.
My mother-in-law has been giving some thought to what she might like to take with her when she moves one last time. When I asked her which of her keepsakes were most important to her she said immediately, “My pictures!” I could relate to that sentiment since I have been in charge of family photography. Recently I digitalized all of that wealth so that my next move will be easier.
The task of cleaning out storage lockers, cupboards, closets, attics or sheds can be onerous and honouring. Through the layers of dust, artifacts of a personal nature are revealed. Letters and journals can be examined to make a time stamp, like rings on a tree stump, showing what was going on in our past, in times passed. Sorting comes easy when items literally break apart in your hands. Things that someone once thought might retain value, are not even yard sale worthy. Then again the adage,’One man’s junk is another man’s treasure’ continues to contain a nugget of truth.
I met up with a fellow who ran a New Immigrant Fellowship based around learning how to use a bicycle. My in-laws created a new memory for themselves by donating the wheels they had used when they were still able to peddle. In my job as cleaner/sorter in this downsizing adventure it is helpful to work with someone who sees value in letting go. I believe some of our curios are meant to make someone else smile. Clothes can be laundered and given away. Garden tools can be offered up to create new gardens of earthly delights.
My special mom has treasures from her daughter and grandkids that help her remember things hard to recapture. She wants to pass on family heirlooms. She has a pottery figurine she likes to have right next to her bed. It’s curious what each of us counts as treasure. I used to wonder what my birth mother was thinking as she stroked an old deckle edged Kodak black&white photograph. It was one taken of her sister, its corners now softened to the consistency of linen.
What we keep may be ‘art-in-fact’. Respect must be shown to the original owner of the relic. Museums around the world are coming to terms with this truth; that their cultural artifacts (some involving human remains) may have been procured under false pretences. Governments are seeking to rectify and reconcile with Indigenous People who have had their heritage put on display. Justice for these situations may be found through repatriation; a giving back of what was not ours to begin with.
I can’t imagine what I might leave behind as an artifact. I’ve already discarded things I once thought useful but no longer found important enough to shelve or even seal in a box. I can be very sentimental when exposed to an idea. I can cry when I see an artist earnestly creating. Generally though, old things are just curiosities to me. I’m an old thing after all, and pretty curious to boot.
Some words like Grey get as much attention as a senior citizen waiting in line at a bank. The word Grey/Gray even comes with two spellings, which my computer doesn’t appreciate. I think that gray has more complexity than the colour tone it describes. I’m grey; of hair, of perspective and sometimes of mood. Let me explain.
My hair has grayed slowly. My mom predicted that I would be bald by age thirty, but my hair persisted. I went through a salt and pepper phase but now, at age seventy, there are very few dark strands left on my head. So I am officially a ‘Grey Hair’; a term I used to use with some disrespect when referring to members of committees who’s opinions I didn’t share. Now, I like the way my grey hair lends me the illusion of wisdom, like Gandalf the Grey. I won’t use a hair dye. I used to feel sad when I saw female church elders who had tinted their soft grey locks with a blueing agent. (I quietly nicknamed them Blue Belles to cheer myself up).
Life is filled with shades of grey. Many folk feel that the world is either black or white. Some actually prefer seeing things as either/or. I suppose it makes it easier to decide yes or no. But events or ideas are rarely as singular as that. Taking a hard line on a topic means that the soft fringy edges will get ignored. Darkness and light have spectrums of illumination, tone, and pastel perspective. To me, grey does not suggest mediocrity of opinion or design. I’m quite content to see issues as shades of grey.When I evaluate things I can sometimes rank them according to priorities, like selecting shades of colour when I am repainting my living spaces. I once painted all the walls in my home a light grey and was amazed how they took on a different colour as dawn moved into dusk. It reminded me of how my dad taught me to watch patiently for a rainbow to emerge through the greyness of a rainy day.
I admit that overcast days can make me moody, yet I tend to do my best writing on a grey cloudy day. In bright sunlight I have an urge to do silly things in a forest or on a beach, but on a hazy, darkened day I can somehow make better decisions. Where I live now, the skies are often tissue white, which is a remarkably happy, less stressful, contrast to the intensity of a cloudless stark blue sky. I remember being surprised when my wife and I previewed our wedding pictures; I hadn’t noticed that the skies were a light ash shade. When the sun set on our lengthy joyous pictorial, the sky behind and above us had exploded with a stunning pumpkin red wash that looked digitally manufactured.
The neutrality of grey can suggest a potential for inclusion. All colours are then complementary rather than competitive. Perhaps we can get to yes more effectively by starting with grey.
‘We all need some body to lean on.’ I’ve separated a compound word back there on purpose. If the great Bill Withers tune comes to mind that’s ok by me, just lean on me, while I try to amuse you with what the word Body brings to my mind. I promise I’ll stay away from bodily functions, body humour and noises a body might make.
When typing the word Body I must admit my first thoughts are sexy ones. A country song by The Bellamy Brothers plays now in my head; “If I said you have a beautiful body/Would you hold it against me?” That makes me think of times I’ve shared my body. I’ve been lucky that others have been attracted to me. I’ve been lucky to be fit without really trying. I’ve been in no major accidents and have few ailments. Like most people, I wish some parts of my body were better: longer, firmer, brawnier, hairier, or more flexible. Generally I think I’m presentable if not lovable.
Body talk is often frowned upon. Some folks are too quick to assume that the speaker/writer/painter/photographer is body shaming, or lascivious or sexist or objectifying. When the subject of bodies is portrayed within the context of communicating feeling or ideas more tolerance is needed. My overriding biased opinion is that, yes the human body is a thing (flesh, bones, blood & stuff), but always a beautiful one. I truly marvel at the variety and assortment of fleshy things that are in this big world. How wonderful it is when our soul gets to decide how to practise play while using a body full of movement, senses and expressions!
Some feel their body gets in the way. I was surprised by a comment Melanie Safka made recently in an interview about impediments to her musical career. I naively thought that all men and women had the ability to shape their lives equally. Boy! Girl! Was I wrong! Melanie said,”I kind of wished I didn’t have a body.” That statement made me ponder the male/female divide when it comes to how we view our bodies. As a young adult I was very attracted to her bodacious body and also to her body of work. I memorized the lyrics to ‘Brand New Key’ and I empathized along with her when she sang, ‘What Have They Done To My Song Ma.’
During award shows my favourite category is Lifetime Achievement. A human is being recognized for the work they’ve done using their body, mind and spirit over the course of a majestic period of time. Pity the person who didn’t appreciate the award winner in the early days. Prejudice may start when a body meets a body and the impression is only skin deep. Snap decisions based on looks can affect a career or a relationship. Judging a book by its cover can inhibit you from discovering a story that may change your life.
My wife and I have been talking about scenarios on a daily basis. We both like to have some grasp of the future so we plot out possible scenes as a playwright might. Shepherding two seniors through end of life stages is no easy task, especially when they have so little intention to be part of the present scene. One will say it is too early for such talk while the other will prefer to listen to audio books. Both of them effectively leaving it to us to write what could happen next. Hard to make any headway when some of the players don’t even want to read the script, let alone help to write it.
Children are often being told not to make a scene. Parents hate to have attention drawn to them in a public place. My first wife had the effective strategy of scooping up our toddlers the second they misbehaved in a store. Into the car they would go for a chilly drive home where they would be confined to their room. Sounds harsh, yet it would always be followed up with a conversation on how the scene was seen by all of the actors involved. Kids are predisposed to act out their frustrations, fears and wants, yet they must learn the consequences and be guided towards solutions.
I used to accompany my artistic father on sketching walks. Rather than take a polaroid shot of a scenic view, he would sit for a bit on a small canvas foldable chair and focus his attention on picturesque details. He would make notes of colours so when he returned to his apartment he could use his pastels or oil paint to best affect. As a result, I fell in love with scenery in general and landscapes in particular. Even when I have been in a confined space I have tried to trick my mind into seeing a vista. I’ve found that even in a small backyard or on an apartment balcony I could visualize elements of a grand canyon just by narrowing my view to marvel at the details of the scene.
Nothing makes my emotions tingle so quickly as a well acted scene in a stage play, television serial or big screen film. When a scene can include the expanse of magnificent scenery, well, that memory forms a bond in my brain that forever informs the scenes of my own life. For example, I can recall the intricately placed scenery from a production of La Boheme my wife and I viewed at the Opera House in Oslo, Norway. This magnificent piece of architecture was a treat for the senses both inside and outside. My favourite film of all time, Lawrence of Arabia, has so many scenic scenes that I am awestruck by the planning it must have taken to make this masterwork of cinemascope.
Moments in time can be scenes from which lifetime memories are built. From birth to deaththere are opportunities to wonder. The more involved we are, the more vivid the scenery.
Early every New Year media sources look for seers who are willing to share their predictions. I didn’t see many prophecies this year. Maybe Covid19 trauma has dulled our sense of tomorrow. In many art forms, visions of the future still abound. For example, from an episode of the viral apocalypse TV series ‘Station Eleven’ a character in an airport makes a speech to calm the crowd “There is no future!” the soothsayer declares. With that, those assembled begin talking about what they can do with the frightening realities of the moment. Living in the present is hard. I prefer the hopefulness of the future, while other souls cling to the past for comfort.
World religions have a bazillion prophets. Characteristically men dominate the list. I have a sweet spot for Sarah, a woman more legend than fact, who lived to be 107 years of age. There is that guy named Joseph Smith, the Mormon founder and follower Brigham Young whose visions led to the deaths of many. In principle and for my tastes, prophets must lead by example, must not profit, nor advocate for exclusivity, status or ethnic cleansing. I have inwardly gasped when I have caught the holiness within others whom I have met. The thought that God might walk amongst us intrigues me.
Clairvoyants fascinate me. They’re often referred to as people ‘ahead of their time’. A list of my personal oracles can include folks from many walks of life: Jacques Cousteau, Isaac Asimov, Rachel Carson, H.G. Wells, Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King Jr., George Carlin, Peter Weir, Maude Barlow, Greta Thunberg are examples. From people like these I have felt subtly directed on a path to a full and responsible life.
I like a map to ease my wandering ways. I look for wake up signs everywhere I go: Indications of what might be in store for me. Sometimes these signals can be found in nature, other times I might be viewing a piece of art. Prophecy can be disguised in a time loop. I may not know if I am looking back from my older self or gazing through the bars of my crib. I’ll get a feeling that I’ve been here before. A familiar sense, a deja vu perhaps, comes over me telling me to pay attention. I’ve had some prophetic moments like this. I may not remember what I ate or wore that day but I’ll still recall the sense of being out of time. I’m learning to use this information.
When I began writing these entries I had several objectives, but I couldn’t have predicted that I would complete this one; my 200th personal essay. With humility I see myself following a wondering path similar to premier essayist and diviner Michel de Montaigne. Recording one’s passage is a bit like making a time capsule for the future. I won’t pretend to have a crystal ball. I can’t foresee what will become of me or others. I’m content being my own light. I’ll continue to let it shine.
Sometimes when I’m starting a blog idea I can’t decide which word I’ll use as a guide. This one started as Re: Wheel then it morphed to Re: Significance before finally settling on Re: Myth. Read with me while I try to spin these all together.
The Greeks, Romans, Norse had gods, goddesses and fringe idols. All aboriginal cultures have creation stories to aid in understanding how we got here on this solitary planet. We need to feel that gods/goddesses/saints and other mythical creatures in whatever pantheon have our backs in times of trouble. Ancient peoples used the language of their time to elicit a response from their mythological buddy and voila, prayers/wishes were answered. Advice was sometimes given by earthy middlemen. Modern books have suggested we have these archetypes within us, empowering us to define ourselves as creators of our own destiny. I like the notion that I can be sailing my own ship, using the wheel to steer clear of hazards, avoiding the trap that I am open to the whims of the gods. I don’t want to feel as though someone is spinning the wheel of fortune for me, especially if I come up short. Yet myths are sometimes like maps giving us direction signs, even on the straight or narrow highways.
Millions of television viewers wrapped themselves up in the mythology of The Game of Thrones, beautifully produced by D.B. Weiss and David Benioff. Inspired by fantasy writer George R.R. Martin and elements of British history, this enthralling series reinvented mythic characters. To paraphrase Daenerys, sometimesthe wheel of tradition has to be broken. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-rxmk6zPxA
Some generations grew up with Aesop fables or Grimm’s fairy tales, now with thesagas of Harry Potter, Star Wars, Star Trek and Game of Thrones we have recycled legends of old and new. These imaginative mythological characters may very well be the stories we tell to bring significance to a future beyond anything we can currently believe possible. Watch how these young minds revel in the telling of legendary Luke Skywalker meeting his father.
Current ticket sales for Marvel or DC ‘comic book’ films are likely inversely proportional to the number of bodies sitting in church pews every Sunday. Intellectually I’m convinced that all religions are myths. Every individual and every society tells tales in order to make sense of the unknowns in life. We seek order to overcome our feelings of randomness. We want the intangible to feel tangible. Our religions help us to feel significant amidst the spinning wheels of space and time. And significance is what we are after. As the wheel of our life spins its way to the inevitable end. I am a central figure in my own play. I may not be the hero, and yet, I want to be able to conclude that my life story had substance, was not a myth of my own creation.
Kite flying is an analog pastime. As an activity it fits in a category with old timey games involving hoops, skittles, wooden balls or pegs. It’s been a long time since I felt like I wanted to play a game of croquet, yet when I found out that my son had bought a kite for his son, I wanted one too. My wife encouraged me to follow my desire. She has the sweetest heart.
My memories of kites are fulsome and fun. When I was a kid we would get a new kite every summer, while camping on the coast of Maine. There was a tiny store next to the shore that sold beachy things and they always stocked the latest kite designs. My sister would get an inflatable mattress or colourful beachball while the kite was my thing. It pleased me that my kite took a bit of assembly, some skill to get it aloft all the while staying tethered and in my control. Long after my little sister’s newly purchased toys had blown away or been punctured, my kite remained airborne.
A kite can be a collectible as well as a momentary source of pleasure. Throughout Canada I have witnessed several festivals where kites have been a prominent feature. An enthusiastic citizen named John Vickers organized community gatherings where these aerodynamic toys took centre stage in Victoria, British Columbia. It was fun to wander down to Clover Point at the end of the day’s kite building to see what everyone had accomplished. Dozens of kites made of paper, plastic, foil, garbage bags, even hair nets were tossed into the air with wild delight. I once attended a kite battle at the CNE grounds in Toronto. Razor blades were attached to a part of the kite string. Handlers aimed their kites so as to cross paths with someone else’s line, slicing their opponent’s mooring to obtain victory. This Youtube clip is way more dramatic than what I saw but it gives you an idea. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTL6B9PbqIU
Variations of kite technology can be found everywhere these days. Along Victoria’s Juan De Fuca shoreline on most windy days you will find kitesurfing or kiteboarding taking place. Using the forces of nature to leap and skim over the ocean waves, athletes hold on to large plumes of silk or poly, their feet attached to a surfboard. In my day I used a sailboard, not really kite-like but a much quieter ride for my liking. Along this same coast and often on the same day you can see paragliders suspended twenty or thirty feet overhead, following the bluff line, imitating the soaring seagulls. It’s quite a sight, watching all these kites, and so pollution free!
I’m looking forward to spring and another opportunity to build and/or fly kites with my grandchildren. When I’m holding my kite, there is a reset going on. It feels healthy. “With tuppence for paper and strings/You can have your own set of wings.”
I was taught in grade school that if Practice was spelled with an ‘ice’ ending then it was a noun, otherwise it was okay to use the spelling Practise in any situation. For all spelling rules and forms I now count on my wife who has a phenomenal memory for such things. She is also practised in the healing arts so when I get a headache from too much wordplay I have access to a nurse and a quick soothing remedy.
Sometimes I need to go to a medical clinic. Nowadays I might be checked over by a Nurse Practitioner and she might tell me that my issue isn’t within her scope of practice so I’ll be referred to a specialist. The medical profession offers a wide variety of practices which have, in Canada at least, taken over the almost heritage realm of General Practitioners. Seems like everyone practises something these days, which is a good thing if viewed through the lens of life long learning. Meanwhile I continue to practise being patient.
One of my deficiencies is that I abhor repetition. I was one of those irritating students who picked up things quickly enough to be at a B level most of the time. I was content when one teacher referred to me as a Jack of All Trades. Never too good at anything, that way I could just blend in, go unnoticed, especially in high school. Practise is all about repeating the task until it becomes second nature yet I still can’t persevere. It’s an area in life where boredom wins out. I’ll try almost anything, but briefly; until I feel I’ve got the taste of it. My history is littered with “That’s enough” decisions: only two week’s of lifeguard training, one week of violin lessons, barbells that collect dust in my closet, a Polish dictionary with an uncracked spine and a forehead sweatband for jogging that was used once. Give me a New York Times crossword however, and I’ll bend over it until it’s filled.
Practise makes perfect is a cliché that never grows old. It’s one of the few expressions that I don’t yawn over because it is so relevant to anything that requires effort. I’m amazed at the amount of practise it takes to go beyond acceptable. Levels of human accomplishment in sport, art, science don’t happen overnight. I believe those folks we call genius types have raw talent for sure, but that gift is only fully realized through practise. All three of my sons practised piano. Neither wanted to be a concert pianist but their parents both thought that music experience was a good thing for general proficiency: We wanted our children to practise what we preached. Practically speaking it was an effort for all concerned; the student was often reluctant, the parent was sometimes annoyed, finances were definitely drained. However the practising resulted in a lifetime love and understanding of music. And the youngest son has been a member of several bands and is a practised song writer. I’m allowed to be proud.
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.
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.