Re: Usual

I’ve often thought it would be cool to have a place in the community where you could walk in and say, “I’ll have my usual.” Someplace where everyone knows your name. A casual place where things usually just flow, where you can expect to drink from the cup of kindness.

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

Usual is a cousin of Normal. There is a calm we get from familiar situations. My middle son and his lovely wife are building a beautiful life with my grandson. Before they were married, their relationship was stressed by long distance realities. Both had busy lives in two different countries. An ocean separated them! There were Skype calls and flight arrangements to be made. Even a language barrier to overcome. Their love grew despite all the challenges. When talk turned to choosing Canada as their place to live together, I remember asking them what they were looking forward to about their decision. They answered simultaneously, “Just to feel normal!”

A usual existence isn’t necessarily boring. The regular parts of your life can be anticipated with excitement, especially when you get to choose what those parts contain. Some couples thrive on weekly date nights for instance. Any routine that you can look forward to will add spice to your life. Several teachers I worked with in my career in education actually looked forward to September when they could ‘get back to normal’. I didn’t share that perspective but as a planner, I could appreciate the need for a structured lifestyle after the randomness of the summer months.

My sister often lived on the edge of chaos. Her unpredictable nature often made me nervous, but even her active personality needed times of surety. Like her mother before her, my sister counted on holidays to be just perfect. Perfection in this case meant that Christmas, for example, had to be exactly the same as last year. Variation would ruin the expectation and the expectation became the reason for the season. After my sister’s death, her only child made a wonderful decision on the following Christmas. My niece went on a trip to Thailand. From my viewpoint it was a reset: A very unusual and courageous way to declare her independence.

We all need our touch points of normalcy. My mother-in-law, at 94, cannot envision a week ending without her Fish Friday meal. She hasn’t worked for decades, and she is not a devout Catholic yet a dinner without fish as the main course on a Friday would throw her equilibrium out of whack. Likewise, James Bond must have his martini shaken, not stirred.

Thankfully, I don’t need a bar to go to at the end of a hectic day. I’ve enjoyed the regularity of family life despite those times when I would have liked to get away. When my existence gets too ‘same old, same old’ I count on my wife to suggest something that might mix it up a bit. I have found that contentment lies in the natural rhythms of being. Cheers!

Re: Free

I was born into a white British family, so I kind of had priority boarding from my very first breath. Coming from that place of privilege makes it hard for me to write about freedom because I’ve never felt unfree. There has been only a few times in my life where access has been denied. I’ve never had to struggle for my freedom. Lucky me!

My whiteness sometimes makes me feel hypocritical when I gather with others to protest. My maleness, my skin colour and my affluence have made me shy about saying, in one way or another, “Life is not equitable!” It’s a moral conundrum, yet I delight in being free to join others to speak against injustice. Just because I have it good doesn’t absolve me from defending the rights of others. I believe we have a collective responsibility to make freedom ring true for all.

Freedom isn’t limited to what you can get out of life: It’s about how you can be. I enjoyed listening to an album called ‘Free To Be’ with my kids when they were young.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_26FOHoaC78

We would sing along and talk about what made us feel free to be ourselves. The LP promoted inclusion, acceptance and compassion for others. We discussed how freedom and responsibility must be linked if we cherish being together in community. Without a mutual understanding of freedom, souls do not flourish and life can feel like a cage. Our world is literally a zoo of our own making: It can be Eden or Hell. Our current climate crisis can attest to how humans have squandered their heritage through selfishness. When our individual freedoms become exclusive to our collective interests, we risk our ultimate freedom: To live.

The strangely titled Freedom Convoy that took over the downtown streets of Ottawa in 2022 has puzzled me. The very ability to protest is an indication that we live in a free society yet these truck weaponizing individuals promoted the notion that we were giving over our freedoms by wearing Covid masks. Nightly news showed folks bathing in a hot tub on a city street, police passing by, letting them off scot-free. That was amusing, but for me, they abused their right to free speech by screaming and cursing at their fellow Canadians. Our government created an inquiry into this whole sordid event to answer questions about its use of the Emergency Measures Act. My hope is not so much for retribution on these rowdy protesters but that Justice Paul Rouleau will outline a definition of freedom that we can all file for future reference.

Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years. The society he lived in had deadly ideas about what it means to be free. The white folk of South Africa enforced the rule of birth entitlement as the key to freedom. Mr. Mandela felt differently: ”For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

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: Sermon

I’m not threatened by people who pontificate as long as they aren’t fudging the truth. I enjoy hearing people’s points of view as long as they aren’t trying to push someone else’s agenda. In short; if you are giving me your thoughts of the day I’ll enjoy looking through your lens since it might give me a fresh perspective. And while we are at it, let’s agree that sermons can be found in many venues these days, not just in a church. I think that a sermon is not so much about advice, rather it’s an opening of a door or window. We may see what we already know yet have resisted acknowledging.

One of my friends enjoys what he calls ‘The Church of Bill Maher’. Each Friday he’ll watch Maher’s television show ‘Real Time’ to catch a dissection and analysis of the weekly news. The final segment ‘New Rules’ seems a lot like a sermon to me as the host preaches what he feels should become standard cultural practise. Tongue in cheek sarcasm is used while delivering his message. Similarly, Canadian comic Rick Mercer used rants, often delivered while walking alone in back alleys, about cultural conundrums or political missteps. He had this message to impart in the early Covid19 days and it’s still relevant today.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbZRo4pw63g

You don’t have to be a talkshow host to express an opinion. People from all sectors of society can be heard spouting their sermons while mounted on a soap box or an equivalent platform. TED talks are sermons for the business set. Government buildings are magnets for the protestor’s voice. I prefer the open air preachers who invite me in closer without the use of a megaphone. Some say the message must be amplified before it is recognized. I believe if the idea has value it will be heard. Some folk can con by sanitizing their ideas before they sermonize with smooth talk. Before you know it, you’re shouting agreement. There you go again, down that garden path. The morning after you might have a headache, regretting that you were so easily swayed. Self awareness is key to deciding if the message or the messenger is attracting your attention or motivating your behaviour.

I’ve given sermons in churches, declarations at protest marches, pronouncements at board meetings, speeches in school and admonishments to my children. I’ve had something to say in each case while easily admitting that I don’t know everything there is to know. I prefer to set a quiet example but I don’t mind rising to the occasion when the time for talk seems appropriate. When I’ve answered the call to speak I’ve felt most comfortable in the role of story teller. Greek philosopher/teacher Socrates suggested that posing a question was a better way to evoke thought, rather than providing a prescription for the right way to live.

If you wanted to start a principled movement what would your keynote address sound like? How would you persuade others to join you in your quest?

Re: Power

When I think of the word Power I hope the word Responsibility is closely following. Power is linked to energy in my thoughts; energy needs to be channeled to be an effective source of power. Uncontrolled power is dangerous; think of yourself trapped in a vehicle with a hydro line dancing on the surfaces around you. Unregulated power is a threat to life and limb. Unchecked power can evaporate entire cultures.

Some thirst for power. I used to ask people at gatherings what they most desired. The words Fame and Fortune often came up. I remember one such discussion in a university seminar when a student concluded that any 3 wishes granted by a Genie would ultimately reveal a quest for Power. If this fellow was right, that life is always about acquiring power, I wonder if it matters more what we do with the power we have collected. Our energy and influence is required if we are to flourish. Planet Earth has suffered from our search for power through extracting energy from decayed matter. This has been a conquest with end-of-days consequences. Our choices regarding power can rectify and renew.

Everyone must have authority over their personhood. This is at the core of ideas of Freedom. Yet I am also a person through other people, so I must have responsibility towards them as I do for myself. I can’t say I have ever wished for authority over another. Power over others actually frightens me. I once had a meeting with a school principal concerning what he saw in me, a beginning teacher, about my leadership qualities. I was appalled when he suggested that he first learned to exercise power over others by controlling his wife, then he felt he could extend this to his dealings with other teachers, and so eventually became a head of a school. He delivered a power point that didn’t sell me.

One unique individual can inspire. We’ve read of religious prophets, noble knights, lone western gunslingers, and inspiring artists. We don’t need to sift through history to find examples of extraordinarily gifted individuals. They are in your neighbourhood, living right now, practising their skills. All members of a community have a responsibility to share their power. Sometimes we enable others to expand their influence. We may elect them to represent us on a larger stage. We must take care who we anoint with political power, then it is up to us to remind them of their vow of service. Abuse of trust often comes when a person in authority convinces themselves and us that the end will justify the means. Tragedy, of the individual and societal sort, often follows.

It’s never easy judging when to step aside, when to chime in, when to take charge or when to turn your back. My greatest rewards have been from empowering others to achieve their goals. Working with shared agency is an energizing experience. Being involved means hooking up to a people power grid. Tears of joy will come from proclaiming, “I/We did it!”.

Re: Trip

My generation has tons of musical references to trips of the psychedelic sort. We were advised to ‘tune in, turn on and drop out’ by LSD guru Timothy Leary. Author Aldous Huxley advocated for altered states. Television and movies at that time proliferated the conflicting ideas that getting high was either fun, instructive or a slippery slope to mania. In the United States the establishment (The Man) got so worked up about dope fiends and acid freaks that they encouraged their government to wage a war on drugs. In my dorm at Guelph University, drugs were easy to obtain in the early seventies. A fellow nicknamed Blackie was a familiar face at parties, offering a tempting collection of pretty coloured pills. My roommate partook, I resisted. The whole scene frightened me. I have a curious mind and an adventurous spirit yet turning myself over to tripping went against my need for personal control over my behaviour.

Until recently.

Growing up, the highlight of my summer was a camping trip to the beachfront of Maine. This vacation was from one to three weeks long and it marked me for life. My first fish caught with a rod, first kiss, first brush with death, first big purchase, first independent road trip and first long distance girlfriend all happened in this State. My experiences each summer welded together the things I had learned back home. Those trips contributed to my maturation process. I have magnified the importance of these holidays to such an extent that I brought my first wife and three boys to camp in the very spots I had enjoyed. When my current wife and I were planning for retirement, seeing Maine as part of an east coast residency possibility seemed like a natural trip to take.

Now I suddenly find myself at age seventy. I have travelled to many places I had only dreamed of as a youngster. Writing stories and typing pages for this blog is an intellectual trip of sorts. I continue to enjoy armchair travel with the help of film, books and magazines. Several years ago I turned on to ethnobotanist Wade Davis, whose adventurous writing captivates me. His creative reflections made me curious about Psilocybin. Likewise, Michael Pollan and Paul Stamets have added to my understanding of the regrowth of interest in tripping as a therapeutic tool.

Very interesting.

When my eldest son told me he had tried magic mushrooms. I asked if he would go on a trip with me for my 70th birthday. Quite coincidentally I discovered that Johns Hopkins University was conducting research on psychotropic medications. I signed up as a long distance participant. I felt I was ready. We chewed our dried ‘shrooms. My wife checked in on us during our journey. I tuned in, dropping out occasionally by closing my eyes to restore a sense of inner safety. I used a feather as a talisman on my vision quest. It showed me wondrous animations. I got in touch with my dead mother & sister. Why not? Who knew?

This boy will never stop learning.

Re: Murder

The board game called Clue invites players to find out who committed murder. The box says it is a family game for ages 8 or older. My sister sent a colour videotape version of the game to my family of three boys years ago. I had just purchased a modern VHS player but still owned an old black and white television set. Colonel Mustard was hard to identify.

Killing someone is deadly business and sometimes grotesquely profitable, yet we are fascinated by tales of murder and mayhem. I grew up watching The Three Stooges swearing they’ll murder someone, “I’ll moidelize ya!” ‘Murdelize’ comes up in old cartoons too. It was all just meant to get a laugh from a five year old, I guess.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xsch0xj7lU

During my last years of high school I chummed around with a fellow who introduced me to CO2 gas pistols. They were loaded with harmless metal pellets. We used to walk the creek in our neighbourhood aiming at signs and stray tin cans. Pop bottles were best to hit because of the shattering glass special effect. On one of these ramblings my buddy aimed at, and killed, a pigeon that he spied innocently cooing at a railway crossing. Later the next year when I was away at university I learned that he was in a bar fight, murdered a guy and went to prison.

As an adult I wonder how there are classifications for murder. Surely there isn’t a rational reason for creating a spectrum for murderous intent. It’s one of the few areas in my personal philosophy when I won’t accept a shade of grey. I guess you have to be a lawyer to understand the degrees between accidental homicide and mass murder. In between those two extremes I could put manslaughter (the strangest of terms), but where would institutional execution fit, or war even? I don’t distinguish a difference between war and murder on a massive scale. War is murder. And murder is war at the personal level.

In the U.S.of A., we read of people getting away with murder on a regular basis. From my bench it appears as if money, connections or a crack legal team can get you off from pretty much any crime. White folk seem to win their case in court a greater percentage of the time. In the city where I live there is a fellow, by my reckoning, who has got away with two murders. Both of his victims were fringe members of society. A blind eye was turned.

‘Thou shalt not kill’ is only in the middle of the list that Moses reported was important to God. Those holy tablets rank kicking a ball on Sunday as being more consequential. I bring up God since he/she is often used as justification for state sanctioned killing. Yes, I get that sometimes you must defend yourself but the whole ‘God is on our side’ is used to rationalize even Genocide!

“Why?” you may ask. Now, I haven’t got a clue.

Re: Violence

The Oscars Slap. The Slap that was heard around the world. The outrage over this one violent act, even amidst conflict in locations throughout the globe, came as more of a shock to me than the slap itself. By the time this page is posted there will have been lots of sincere discussion and whataboutery on social media, in print and in coffee shop gatherings. Conversation is a good thing. This incident produced an excellent exchange with my eldest son.

Together we identified the issues that this act of violence highlighted: female agency, male power, comedic intent, manners, and personal illness were among the many relevant points. For me the central issue was society’s tolerance of violence. I told my son that I could not condone any form of violent action against another. I see many challenges in life in a spectral way. With respect to violence I might place a hurtful comment on one side of a continuum and an act of war on the other extreme. The point I was making with my son was that I believed that emotion drives the violence and regardless of the degree, we are responsible as individuals to control our responses to anger, hate, or other feelings that would fuel hurting others. “You’re more of a pacifist than I am.” said my son. I’ll take the label.

The Covid-19 reality has made death a counting game. I fear that it has produced a tolerance among us to loss. Likewise with the war in Ukraine, in the early days we have argued against helping for fear the conflict will escalate. Meanwhile people are hurt from disease and the feeling that they are struggling alone. Essentially we are alone, yet we help our neighbour. We are individuals, yet under normal circumstances we resist using violence to solve our problems. When collectively we act emotionally we can advance civilization. The opposite can also be true; when we are pushed we want to push back.

Looking back through my life I recalled two people who have faced my violent response: One was a bully at school when I was twelve, the other was a student who was swinging a ruler at me in my early days as a teacher. He had cornered another student and I stepped in to protect, slapping the aggressor in the process. I’ll put the former down to youthful indulgence but the latter I felt instant regret. I apologized and wished I could have thought of a better way to defuse the situation. Most schools now have a zero tolerance policy to violence and bullies are called out, even when the behaviour is passive/aggressive.

I find it surprising that we tolerate violence in some sports and not in others. I look at the Will Smith/Chris Rock altercation and wonder why that awards show went on at all. I thought of movie westerns where one punch leads to a wrecked saloon. Simply put, maybe saner heads prevailed on Oscar night. Everyone assembled took a breath and carried on. More violence would have been wrong.

Re: Family

I sit perplexed, thinking I have taken up residence in a snow globe. Flakes of white float about me while I remain, a tiny plastic figure, securely fastened. Presently, I feel like life is swirling around me. There are few familiar things to remind me of time or space. My extended family is scattered and I am tethered to a temporary existence that seems destined to be permanent.

Elders in my family are approaching death. At a time when a shared experience is almost mandatory these two souls are turning their backs on reality. We have an apartment nearby the care giving scene. Younger members of the fam have come to visit and offer their unique words of kindness, understanding and support. Friends too, have offered grace, humour and encouragement. These are the times we all look for signs of familiarity.

Family is defined differently from person to person. The word conjures up feelings of warmth and harmony for some, discord and coldness for others. Family was so rigidly defined by my first set of parental in-laws that, when their daughter died, I was written out of the will. Some families have members referred to as black sheep. My mother once wrote off several in her clan, vowing never to have them darken her door again. My father, in contrast, welcomed all as if they were blood relations. My sister and I were bonded only through our DNA. Our characters were as different as night and day, therefore I find the term family is best defined by closeness to another rather than genetic similarities. Blood is thicker than water but so what?

I have felt a soul connection with many, yet my reserved nature holds me back from collecting friends as family. I bristle when a boss in a work environment encourages us all to be like a family. Surprisingly, I can tear up when witnessing signs of a universal family yet it has to be at a certain remove. For example I love marching with crowds committed to a cause yet intimate Christmas gatherings of ‘the whole fam damnly’ put me on edge. On those occasions I keep looking for a singleton to share some meaningful thoughts of quiet reflection. In certain contexts the family collective can generate within me a sense of claustrophobia.

During a recent conversation with my stepson, I remarked how I envied his ability to maintain friendships. Unlike me, he seems able to spread his familial energy to help others feel included. In his company you feel his empathy and willingness to be a part of your life. I am unable to spread myself that thinly. My emotional capacity appears limited to one key person. My head puts Love and Family in the same mental box so I have trouble sorting out the contents. I feel stressed dividing my attention between multiple individuals while reciprocity is paramount in my relationship guidebook. In truth I am a son, father, uncle, nephew, husband and reluctant friend.

My wife understands all this about me and I am blessed.