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.
Sometimes it is hard to find the appropriate word. I have to take into account the way language evolves over time. Add to that the changing societal norms of acceptable usage, then it takes courage to speak or write what might be on my mind. I believe that freedom of speech requires an appropriate filter if I wish to engage in meaningful conversation. Reading helps me stay on top of current language trends. Writers can suggest uses of words or phrases in ways that sometimes seriously startle me. A challenging author can get to the how of life rather than dwelling on the why.That’s a grander exploration than the dead end annoyance of why someone did or said something controversial.
Cultural appropriation is in the news. Artists are currently frustrated by criticism when they explore features outside of their domain. I wonder how we can get to that place of cultural understanding if we do not pretend or act out roles that are unfamiliar to us. I think that it is part of the learning process to appropriate ways that may be foreign. Perhaps that can be a way to walk a while in the other’s shoes. If we hold too fast to notions of exclusivity we are in danger of discarding the concepts of openness and inclusivity.
I have often felt outside. Luckily, belonging to a dominant culture allows me more freedom to be an outsider than someone who is already on the fringe or part of a minority. I get that being marginalized would make you hold on to what you have with greater passion, especially when your culture is being appropriated. Historically, The Doctrine of Discovery was a document legitimizing theft. It was a rationale for displacement and slavery. No one has a justifiable right to have their cultures appropriated by another. The appropriate English name we have for that is genocide: The ultimate form of appropriation.
Jesse Wente is a respected thinker and film critic. He has published a memoir called Unreconciled. While reading this book, I felt as though he was in the room with me, challenging my perceptions of inclusivity, patriarchy and colonialism with the gentle persuasion of a man honestly examining his own role in the world. In spite of my white skin and ancestry I recognized the truth of his life experience when I could relate it to the truth of my own existence. I could find a commonality even though we are not of the same tribe. I believe we share and value the importance of story telling in our individual lives. I felt closest to his words when I allowed myself to respectfully, in thought, tread where he had tread.
My high school was full of extracurricular opportunities. The many different clubs I joined helped me to understand my identity. Sometimes I found the membership requirements to be inappropriate to my goals, so I quit. I could always try another club. Sometimes my application to join a group was rejected, then I felt crushed. Words can break bones.
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.
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.
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?
The first time ever I thought deeply about this word was when my grade ten art teacher started a lesson by using a Marshal McLuhan quote: ‘The medium is the message.’ After the discussion, we chose the medium we felt was appropriate to a theme of our choosing. Back then I believed I was being clever by using plasticine. I wanted to give a cheeky message that media could be molded or manipulated to suit the situation. Today, as a writer, I’m using this blog as my medium of choice. Let me massage your thoughts.
Most people view media as the platform through which any information is delivered. In a free society this means that the message is rarely filtered and can get manipulated. Wars and governments are won or lost on how well the propaganda machine can spew out ‘alternative facts’. The messenger becomes very important when it comes to interpreting the barrage of information. As citizens we must take some time to discover what is believable and who to trust. It has become difficult to discern the truth, especially when we are in such a hurry, yet some subjects are just too important to rely on a swipe right or left methodology.
Courtroom decisions are being made based on media evidence of crimes committed. Darnella Frazier was recognized with a Pulitzer Prize for courageously recording the murder of George Floyd, a video that spurred protests against police brutality around the world, highlighting the crucial role of citizens in journalists’ quest for truth and justice.
Today the options for information and entertainment are vast. My blind mother-in-law is less alone because of the joy she finds in listening to her reliable radio. I cling to a traditional, home delivered newspaper in a similar way. I enjoy television too, perhaps too much, especially now that I can stream programming without the annoyance of commercials. I’ll confess that Twitter has been a remarkable addition to my life. I find this format of social media helps me to see interesting perspectives from all over the world.
Media and reality have never been so blurred. I’m respectful of journalists who sometimes risk their health and safety to bring us important stories. Cellphone technology can transport us live to scenes only passersby used to witness. Film can be uploaded to Facebook or Instagram for millions of users to take a collective gasp, then resent for political action. I remember being shocked by one-day-old film from the war in Vietnam. Now with the war in Ukraine, President Zelenskyy, pictured below, can bring a real time humanitarian message to viewers of the Grammy Awards show. Art imitating life imitating art, was never more true.
I won’t take a medial position on this. A spiritual medium may mystically propose that my being and my message are essentially interconnected. I’ll interpret Mr.McLuhan by proffering that we are all, Media. I believe our thoughts/feelings/expressions can be connected to form a singular reliable understanding. Wow!
People asked me when I first retired what I missed most about teaching. I have had several responses but the one that is most frequently observed is seeing the potential in my students’ faces. I loved watching my kids light up with a new idea. The fire in their eyes set me going kinetically: Together we would make a plan. Together we got energized. Together we set a course of action. Together we reached for a goal.
I’ve never liked the expression, ‘Those who can DO, Those who can’t teach’. It suggests that teaching is passive, somehow lacking in the energy to actually DO something. But the process of education is so kinetic any teacher will tell you how exhausted they are by the end of their workday. Especially at the Elementary school level, educators have to be on their toes to catch as many bursting buds as possible, then steering them in positive directions.
Spring is my favourite season. Pushing through melting snow is all that stored energy becoming kinetic. Life lies dormant through winter months then suddenly: Buds burst. Leaves unroll. Colours explode. Spring is the life giving, expressively active time of year. Birth happens! It’s a season for plans and ideas to express themselves. A single seed is pulsating with stored potential. The right combinations of nutrient, water, warmth and light will bring forth a display of wondrous kinetic energy. I love watching time lapse photography of plants sending searching roots and prayer-like shoots in all directions. Spring is the season of Joy.
My grandkids are sprouting. Covid reality has made it hard to be an active part of their early years. Children under five practise Kineticism everyday. From the time their little toes touch the floor in the morning to nighttime’s bedtime stories, action is in order. It’s wild enough watching them dance and run around kinetically over FaceTime or from a short video sent over email, yet something is missing when you can’t do yoga right beside them, or play pirates bouncing off the couch, or running and giggling together across a field while holding a kite. On these virtual Skype sessions, my wife and I feel like we are in perpetual winter, storing up our energy so we’ll have lots to give physically, once we are reunited. Then we might go mountaineering or horseback riding together. For now, dreaming will have to do.
Currently, as a society, we are hungry for examples of Newton’s First, Second and Third Laws of Motion. We want helpful forces to act upon us to get us moving again. Energetically engaging in social issues, collectively gathering for arts and sports events. Being locked down and vigilant in our habits to avoid spreading the pandemic has been a worthy goal.No doubt we are all tired of not being able to be kinetic in our pursuits. However, I don’t want to die in my favourite chair, long before my time. I want to keep doing what I love. That requires human contact.
I feel like a spoiled child when I am denied access. I want to kick and scream until I’m sent to my bedroom without any tv or supper. I scream, “I Don’t Care. It’s Not Fair!” I’ve got conflicted emotions while I’m holding my selfish ground. Thx Icona Pop.
When the child in me quiets down I can be rational. I can better see my place in the grand scheme of things when temper has cooled. I might still complain about the many gatekeepers at work to keep order in society. I might still rail against those who make money by keeping essential commodities inaccessible for the many in need, but I can put my selfish desires aside when I’m calm because my adult mind can remind me that I can’t always get what I want. I can believe for a moment that all good things will come to those who wait. Thx Rolling Stones.
I have given access a priority whenever I have made a move in my life. I want to be near the things I need for satisfaction. As much as my budget will allow, I figure closer is better; to beautiful spaces, to artistic opportunities, to healthy communities. There is nothing quite like caring for an elder to remind me of how lucky I am to be able bodied. Chaperoning someone in a wheelchair shows me how accessibility issues prevail. A simple grocery run is more difficult. A nature outing stops short when trails are not fit for wheels. Access points need to be evaluated for navigation hazards. And mobility concerns are not the least of the worries when dealing with sight or hearing deficits.
“Sorry, your request to be verified has been denied.” A Twitter message I received recently. It bothered me for a while. It was a cold ‘Access Denied’ sign that made me feel less than. I had not wanted the blue checkmark for status, but for clarity of identification: There are a lot of people with my name in this world. I soothed my sour grapes mood by realizing that I am among the many nearly anonymous, hardly influential and unheralded folk in this world.
It’s true that status often defines access. Consider William Shatner who was able, at 90, to take his Star Trek persona on a space joy ride. I have enjoyed the perks of going to events in my home towns as a result of a Press pass or Board membership. I may not be rich or powerful, yet I have felt the joys of entitlement enough to wish that everyone could be so blessed. So many humans on this Earth are denied the most essential of items: fresh water, food, housing, education, health care. My baby rants of ‘poor me’ make me feel embarrassed. For the vast majority there is a gate (virtual or otherwise) keeping them out of pleasures and processes that I too often take for granted. I must work harder to champion equity.
When I first started writing this blog my only followers were my friends and family. I remember my niece asking; “How can you write about such personal things?” I told her that I didn’t think I was giving away any secrets. “But what about your privacy!” She countered. Well, I told her that there are some things I consider private and I guess it matters only to me what I might consider to be a secret. I honour the people in my life by never telling their private story, only mine. Their secret is safe with me.
Most cultures have body boundaries. Privacy comes with a perimeter. When there is little room for privacy, we may be cautioned not to look, out of respect. Children are taught early what parts of their body require coverage in public. Modesty is often determined by these early codes of conduct. An uncovered window is a privation for some and a source of liberation for others. In this way privacy suggests a space that surrounds us but it can also be within us; as in the privacy of our own thoughts, where no one may enter.
Comedians make a joke of this sort of conundrum by saying things like, ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.’ My mother warned me early in my life that what happened in our house was no one’s business but ours. She would often say things like, “This is a private matter between your father and me.” Keeping a secret involves information. Information that someone else might want. I never thought anything that happened in my family would be of interest to anyone, anyway.
Privacy is a big issue in the www. world. Our devices are becoming so linked that it is harder to police your own privacy. We are told that if we have nothing to hide then we have nothing to fear, yet our private stuff is entrusted to a Cloud.
There are many instances in life where the difference between private and secret gets fuzzy. For example, after a death you often hear family members requesting that they have privacy, out of respect for their grief. The death is likely known in the community, so that much isn’t a secret. Yet sometimes the circumstances surrounding the death may become a closely guarded secret by family members who feel that the cause of death itself is a private matter.
Many Canadians have kept the realities of the Indigenous Residential School System like a secret. Privately, many things were done in these state sanctioned institutions that have brought grave dishonour unto a people. Awful secrets cannot stay private for long. Secrets like these must be uncovered so that all may find healing. Original intention does not matter. Excuses don’t count. A healthy society is responsible for making amends. All citizens have a right to privacy and in that private space a determination must be found to eliminate secrets. For secrets are like lies, impossibly fragile and destructive even before they come to light.
Location, location, location is a classic real estate slogan designed, I think, to make you feel lucky about the prospect of buying an over priced house that still need lots of remediation. I can’t complain since each time I have relocated in my life I have been fortunate to have initiated the move and I’ve found the resources to be satisfied with the result. I ache for those who are forced from their homes due to poverty, war or other threats. Globally we are seeing a rise in mass migrations. Some of our cities are having difficulty finding positive solutions for a homeless crisis. Choosing one’s own location, geographically or metaphorically is healthier for all concerned if you can have options available to you.
As a child I was fascinated with stories of wandering animals: Mammals that magically find their way to feeding grounds. Butterflies that spend months flying to seasonal homes. Birds that navigate huge distances to locate their nesting sites. The life cycles of eels and salmon over generations that necessitate unimaginable journeys to sometimes secret locations. Dolphins and other whales that use echo-location to maintain their position within their pods and their bearings on where they are headed.
My eldest son brought me news about a day trip that had him slightly flustered. Finding himself located at the end of a rural road, he admitted he wished he had a map: The paper foldable kind that was always in the glove compartment of a car. (I can hear someone asking, “What’s a glove compartment?”). Anyway, number one son was temporarily lost, without a GPS signal and no way of locating his position on this remote country road. He eventually got some bars showing on his phone, downloaded a map and figured out his way. As he told me his story I thought of learning how to use a compass as a Boy Scout. The leader advised us earnestly that with this device in our pocket we would never, ever, be lost.
Philosophically speaking, knowing one’s place in time and space brings confidence and comfort. That’s how we get the feeling of Home. As life ticks along, that original location where we were born, where we grew up, where we had our first experiences provide a mark on the map of our life. Many conversations start with, “So, where are you from?”, for good reason. Those we meet feel less lost when they hear the answer to that question. It helps to know where we are in relation to others we meet. Societal relationships depend on this orientation of its citizens as needfully as some animals need the stars to navigate home.
I feel discomfort when I can’t locate my needful things. As I age my memory helps me recall where I’ve been so I can make sense of my present circumstances. I can be less concerned with the future when I know where I am in the present. Life is a constant journey of finding yourself in relation to your surroundings and yes, sometimes a map helps.
An argument I had with someone long ago involved the use of this question, delivered at maximum volume, “Whose side are you on anyway?” It was really a one sided yelling match with someone who felt unsupported. I didn’t know how to answer the question. I still don’t because choosing sides makes me uncomfortable. Waging war is all about picking sides. Wayne Dyer once said, “When you live on a round planet, there’s no choosing sides.”
As a young boy I enjoyed the mythic stories of King Arthur and his Round Table. By definition the table lacked sides; no left, no right, no head, no foot. Political equality in theory and practise. Every knight’s opinion counted and there was no need to forge allegiances. There I go being naive again. Every kid learns early how to choose a member for his/her side or team and often it has less to do with talent and more about hard to define things like loyalty, friendship, or expectations. The business of Sides usually is about favours earned or collected: You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.
And that’s when things can go sideways since one side often perceives that they are not getting an equivalency. Strong emotion then comes into play as the one on the other side feels let down, “I thought you had my back!” There may be good reason for someone to be construed as a turncoat. Sometimes a person’s principles dictate a different path from their usual comrades. Friendships aside, there are times when it’s important to diverge due to conscience.
Imagine being a staunch Trump supporter because you’ve always been a Republican in the United States. Perhaps your view of things from his side is now starting to unravel. Perhaps The Donald is making you question your loyalty to the Party of your ancestors. You may be virtually beside yourself with the dilemma of how to vote this November. Your country’s core values are being questioned at an international level. This particular decision to choose sides is way more crucial than what side of the bed you might prefer.
Heads or tails. The coin is tossed in the air. It has two sides and you are encouraged to choose. Yet often in life things can seem like two sides of the same coin. Environmental concerns and the use of fossil fuels are linked. In Canada we feel that Peace, Order and Good Government are not mutually exclusive.
A celebrity’s fan base can have members that vary from mild appreciation to rabid exclusivity. A Fan is often called on to take sides based on their celebrity’s announcements or positions on things unrelated to their particular talent. A celebrity may ‘go too far’ and alienate previous followers. Taking sides is serious business. Taking sides can sometimes involve an oath, of love or of fealty. Promises made aren’t necessarily kept for all time. Circumstances change, new data disturbs the parameters from which the original decision was made. An awakening!
Siding with truth, is something with which I can find fidelity.
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.