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. 

Re: Intent

Intention is not everything, but it’s a start. It has been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I don’t believe in an afterlife so I prefer to do what I can while I have breath in me. Heaven can be found by following through. There are shelves filled with self help books that show examples of how we can move from the idea to execution. The best advise I’ve read is pick a method to accomplish your goals then stick with it until you fail. Then try again.

I remember a clever comic strip that showed a boy scout helping an elder across a busy street. When he got her to the other side she said, “Thanks sonny but I didn’t want to cross”. I’ve been that scout, trying to do the right thing but unintentionally screwing up. Having good intent will not mitigate a misguided decision. Sometimes all it takes is asking first, acting next. Resolving to do the right thing by others takes practise. As a parent I bought all of the books by Barbara Coloroso, a well known child behaviour expert. She came to visit our community on a promotional tour for her work, my wife and I sat in the audience taking notes. I am still guided in everyday life by her quote; “Say what you mean, Mean what you say, and Do what you say you will do.”

I can relate to finding the right mood/moment/headspace to start or complete a task. Certain inexplicable things sometimes have to be just right before I can proceed with an intention. It is hard to create a balance between the aphorisms, ‘He who hesitates is lost’ and ‘Look before you leap’. Sometimes I relish a day spent procrastinating. Other days I will rejoice that I have tackled those things that have nagged at me. I often start the day with intention, in the form of a list on paper or in my head. If I don’t always accomplish what I set out to do, I forgive myself.

A child may react to being caught in a misdeed by saying that they didn’t mean it or they didn’t know any harm would come. Parents may allow some wiggle room in the name of learning. However, intention in a courtroom setting must be critically judged. Murders are classified as to the level of intentionality. If the accused is found to have malicious intent then judgement will be harsh.

Jean Talon is a character in early French Canadian history who may hold a key to viewing intent in a positive light. His title was as the first Intendant of New France; a CAO of the colonies. The translation of Intendant to English is Steward. I love the thought that an intention can be something we have a responsibility to see to fruition. If our intent is worthwhile it must not be squandered but put on the first available To Do list. A hopeful idea has little meaning without practical application. We must do what we intend.

Re: Skirt

I’ve wanted a kilt, made in my family tartan for a while now. I won’t skirt the issue regarding why I haven’t bought one: I predict I will feel shy wearing it. There are some ways that I wish I were more daring. Wearing a plaid skirt would certainly be bold for me. I just don’t think I could pull it off yet I continue to fantasize. The thing is I don’t think I present as a manly man like Sean Connery or even Jamie, The Outlander dude. I’m not a man of fashion either; sweats, T-shirts, blue jeans suit me just fine. I prefer to blend in rather than stand out.

The kilt was banned in Scotland for a long time because it was seen by the dominating Brits as a sign of dissent. The word Skirt itself carries much baggage: Not kindly for females. Skirt was a derisive term for women of weak morals. Boys who cried got called Skirts. Canadian girls weren’t allowed to wear pants while at public school even into the early 1970s. Looking at the issue of gender identity, the role of the skirt as a definition of femininity is obvious: Most restrooms still use the skirted woman. I’m thinking spontaneously and perhaps outrageously that the skirt is likely a clothing item seen as an example of male oppression of women.

Part of me wants to raise my Jacobite sword in defence of this free type of covering for all people. By wearing a kilt, or an izaar, I could join other males in discovering the benefits of a breezeway. Or perhaps, in the smallest of ways, I can get a step closer to understanding a woman’s experience. For example, I wonder what it would feel like to stand over a subway grate like Marilyn Monroe once did. Wearing a kilted skirt, I would not be trying to make a statement, just find out how it feels to be so easily accessible and vulnerable.

Exceptions have been made to my normally drab wardrobe. There has been occasions where what I have worn has made me feel on the outskirts of reality. I have been called classy while wearing a crested blue blazer at juvenile team sport banquets. One full year in high school I wore only white pants with corduroy shirts (a different colour for each day of the week). I had a brief fling with the Sonny Crockett ’T-shirt and dinner jacket look’ in my fifties. I can rock a wool turtleneck while practising my seafaring brogue. Once, for a wedding on a paddle wheel boat, I purchased a dark blue, double breasted jacket to go with grey pants and a light grey mock turtleneck. A guest told me I looked familiar, sincerely asking if I had served on a ship out of Whitehorse. I was flattered and wished I could have continued the deception.

Perhaps I’ll buy a kilt for my granddaughter’s wedding. Dinna fash, I’ll ask her first. It’s probably two decades from now so I’ll have plenty of linear time to dither.

Re: Panic

I have a panic room in my head and it works the opposite of a safe haven. I’ve never seen a film style panic room; where actors portraying people victimized by home invaders find sanctuary. My panic room is a room in my mind. My panic room must have doors and windows to let fresh air in. I’m only there because I have been stifled by repeating thoughts that whirl me into a panic response. My panic room door must not be locked for then a key may be lost, the key to understanding how I got there in the first place, even if the key is found the latch may be corroded, the knob broken, a sealed room of past hurts will continue to mildew with dark mold teeming with disease. No confidence can be regained whilst in the panic room of my mind.

I once helped a student take the moment necessary to come out of his panic room. Something triggered him to rise beside his desk. I called his name. He had the posture of a cornered animal. He started towards the door, tripping and falling to the floor. Students quieted as he lay there, eyes darting. It was not a seizure but some strange force had seized him. Taking advantage of his stillness I moved beside him and placed my palm lightly over his heart. His breathing calmed and his classmates remained breathless. He looked at me. He sat up. I asked his friend to accompany him to the office so the secretary could call his parents. He left for the day. It wasn’t until year’s end that he mentioned the incident and thanked me. I told him I would always remember what happened as though I had been guided: The right person, in the right place, at the right time.

I most feel panic when things seem out of order. My way seems barred. Access is being denied. I feel trapped, painted into corner, claustrophobic, breathless, suffocated. In the midst of this anxiety attack I feel there is no way out, yet why I enter there in the first place is always a mystery to me. I don’t know the why of panic’s approach, yet I’m getting better at the how of waving it goodbye.

A Yoga instructor once advised me to see disagreeable thoughts as flowing through and not lingering. Deep breathing helps. Calm may be the opposite of panic. I like the way some pronounce calm with a noticeable ‘l’. When stressed I will linger with the middle section of the word repeatedly sounding it out as ‘c-ah-m’. I’ve developed strategies as I’ve aged to minimize the risk of entering into a panic response. I have medicine that brings comfort when needed. Just knowing it’s there in the cabinet is often enough for relief. I’ve learned to visualize safe places; like a verandah with a swing. Peace is found there, sitting for a spell with a cooling lemonade, taking time to gather my thoughts, settling me into a fresh perspective.