Re: Normal

I’m challenged by this word right now. I’m looking for anchors as I am being swept into the whirlpool of opinion regarding the New Normal. My previous definitions are lacking the clarity they once had for me. I feel like my brain might be labelled Abby Normal as interpreted by Igor in the film Young Frankenstein. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9Pw0xX4DXI

Sometimes I surrender to the unknown cauldron of noxious bubbling stew that can be life, by placing it in a corner where I can keep an eye on it. On these days I’ll settle into a favourite chair with a book and a heating pad. As I reflect on written works presented by an array of authors, I lose my anxiety while a multitude of characters play out theirs. One magazine article recently suggested that PTSD sufferers most often complained that their life no longer had any semblance of normality. In all seriousness, I can relate.

Normally we go about our lives with a routine. Even if it’s an unhealthy routine it can have some satisfaction because the elements don’t stray far from the norm that we expect. That’s one of the reasons that change can be so frightening: Because it goes against the norm.

The question of what is normal can be as perplexing and profound as asking what is the meaning of life itself. These questions become more overwhelming when everyone is experiencing war, famine or pestilence. Under normal circumstances I’ve built my days around my comforts and my knowns. The current and inconvenient truth is that now I feel less comfortable and I find I know less than I thought I did. Searching for a state of normalcy is exhausting. It is not in my nature to go with the flow or leave things to others. I’m not one to fly by the seat of my pants. I resist the possibility that I might find out something later. I’m normally known by my loved ones as being the man with the plan. I don’t want to wait and see what might happen without considering all possibilities and probabilities, thereby establishing a normative approach to life. This makes me feel more confident when it comes time to take that next step, even if it is a baby one.

Maybe the so called ‘new normal’ is really a version of the paranormal. Funny how there is a resurgence of interest in UFOs and aliens. Real XFiles are being released from security vaults distracting us from the real horrors of our present; ie, Climate Crisis! The highest grossing films have fictional characters that are definitely super normal. These comic book super heroes are depicted as saviours. They may be bringing us more comfort than we like to admit. Establishing a feeling of normality can come after data collection. I like my experience being placed on a spectrum or a Bell Curve. I’m mathematically challenged so a graph brings me perspective on what is normal or what is fringe. My life, graphically, feels like that kind of wave.

Re: Bank

Where I spent my formative years there was a small river that wound its way to Lake Ontario. Its banks were muddy, with tangled roots grasping for water. I hid plastic toy soldiers amongst these fibrous tendrils, lit small red firecrackers to imitate war. It felt safe here, with my back against the wall of cool earth, watching the creek water smoothly trickle past my feet.

I have Scottish ancestry so I feel a yearning kinship while humming the lilt from ’On the Bonnie, Banks of Loch Lomond’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gb8AGuD2uOI

One of my favourite television shows from that time was the hypnotic black and white classic, ’Tales of the River Bank’. The creators seemed to imagine exactly what was on my mind as I used small toys to create a miniature world. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VTn6VlUXNA

I took to television with an eye for more than entertainment, like many in a previous generation had immersed themselves in books. While I did find comfort and escape in reading my mind quickly awoke to world issues. I chose stories that spoke of adventuring to different lands on the open sea. I could bank on authors like Farley Mowat to set a pleasing compass course by spinning tales of non or near fiction. His stories of man and nature contrived to inspire and are so relevant to today’s angst over the decline of Earth’s natural resources. In early adulthood, I wept through parts of ‘A Whale for a Killing’ and later gasped at the abundance that once was found off The Grand Banks off Newfoundland in ‘Sea of Slaughter’. In high school my Student Aptitude Test results indicated I was destined to be either a Banker or a Lighthouse Keeper. Hardly occupations for my adventurous spirit! When my mom found out I clearly remember her show of disappointment while my father made a joke of it by saying, “I wouldn’t bank on it son.”

In the northern Ontario town where I spent my career my neighbourhood bank had a history dating back to Gold Rush days. When I first strode in to open an account I was awed by how much it reminded me of the banks depicted in the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: Lots of wood, brass and a mammoth safe standing sentinel in a corner. It’s hard to believe that this was in the late nineteen seventies! Two tellers sat behind antique looking arched frames with vertical bars. There was a small safety deposit box room at the very back but the only other room was one accessed by a heavy oak door on which was carved the manager’s name.

I enjoyed having my bank book stamped and updated while chatting with the tellers. When a new bank branch of chrome and glass was built into a modern mall nearby, some new fangled ATMs were installed. My sons taught me how to use them. It took time for me to feel safe along the walls of this bank.

Re: Sense

With the luck of my second marriage, I acquired a ‘Special Mom’. She has a quiet, accepting presence that I appreciate whenever I get the chance to be with her. I watch her and discover nuggets of wisdom. She has lived long enough to share many treasures, among them, common sense.

Many might agree with the notion regarding ‘common sense’ as being anything but common. It’s a sense that seems to grow as the traditional senses diminish. Caution is part of this sense as well as patience. I feel for those who have lost one or more of the tradition five: Taste, Sight, Sound, Touch, Smell. Losing one of these gems will necessitate adjustments I don’t know if I’m brave enough to face. But age does create new challenges to overcome.

I remember a childhood talking game that proffered which sense you could manage without. In order to help us decide, we might playact with a blindfold, stuff Kleenex up our noses, plug up our ears, or wear thick gloves. We were young scientists and needed props to facilitate our silly investigation. I felt that being blind would create the greatest amount of trauma. I’m mildly claustrophobic and being without vision added to that closed in feeling. In fact I remember feeling fear the first time I saw someone walking on the street with a cane.

In that way I think Emotion is a sense. It comes from the heart. When we speak of feeling something, it is beyond our physical senses. I feel that Emotion is the sixth sense that is so often stated in fiction. If it is suggested you are using your sixth sense you are likely tapped into something you can’t quite explain yet you know there is truth to what you are experiencing. You are engaging with intuition, such a misunderstood sense. Like an ‘Empath’ in some space SciFi story you are sensing something ‘out beyond’ even though others can’t detect it with their lesser senses. Spiderman would know what I’m talking about.

We link our senses to our emotions with our language choices. We might have a ‘Bad taste in our mouth’ after an uncomfortable event. We could be ‘blinded’ by love. Perhaps we feel that we are ‘out of touch’ with a current reality. Someone’s idea may illicit, “That smells fishy to me.” At the end of a tiring experience we can feel we have ‘carried the weight of the world’ on our shoulders. Western medicine is slowly becoming aware of what Eastern practitioners have know all along: our sensual experience can focus attention where it is needed.

We know we are alive when our senses are engaged. Depression is often characterized as a state where senses were numbed. Depression is the closest we get to death while still breathing. I think the experience of the senses is the whole reason for living.

My mother-in-law has poor vision and weak hearing yet I haven’t sensed that her reality has got her down. That’s a comforting thing for me to witness.

Re: Open

Like many folks, the Covid19 situation has often made me feel trapped. I have felt the need to close up rather than be open to the world. With my second dose of vaccine I’ll let myself be open for the excitement of adventuring, open to possibilities, open to the future again.

I like thinking about the future. Being open-minded can mean you don’t fear what may come. I eavesdropped on a conversation between two seemingly opposite souls on the beach the other day. One was opening up about fears of conspiracy regarding vaccine effectiveness while the other was open to the suggestion yet reluctant to conclude the malevolent intent espoused by her friend. While I’m looking forward to opening up a conversation with a complete stranger I suspect I won’t have much tolerance for the whiners or hate promoters found in any crowd.

Choosing to become a parent is one of the most openly futuristic things you can do. You never know what you sign up for as a parent. That amazing moment that comes after the announcement, “I’m pregnant.” is all about the future. I have only imagined what a woman must wonder as she opens herself to another human literally occupying her space. Pregnancy is a time when possibilities and probabilities merge in a confusing blend of ifs. Love, hope and patience are among traits most needed before the grand opening of the birth of a child.

Shirley Bassey captures what I’m trying to say in this version of ‘What I Did for Love’.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eml_XI7C69s

In adolescence I enjoyed books that opened my mind to ideas. Classic books about an imaginary future (that phrase seems like an oxymoron) inspired me to wonder. It didn’t matter if they were dystopian or utopian in their content, I opened the pages to find a possible world. I’ve added titles to my library as I’ve gotten older: Future Shock, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Oryx and Crake, No Logo.  Fiction or Non, even pseudo history propelled me into thoughts of what might be. For example, Chariots of the Gods once made my head swirl with imaginings of an alternative world.

When I owned my own little bit of suburban landscape my favourite thing to do in a gardening way was plant a tree or two. As I tamped down the ground around the roots of my sapling I opened my heart to the future. Logically I knew I wouldn’t be around to see this maple or that ash make it to full maturity, so I was literally giving a gift to those who might come after me.

Eager politicians and business folk talk of a great Reopening from the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Many are discussing what a post covid19 world might look like. I hope we can point towards tomorrow with a determination to do some things differently. The future must always be open for discussion. I’ll kiss today goodbye hoping for an open hearted tomorrow.

Re: MAGA

Make America Great Again. As acronyms go, this one will certainly go down in history. I imagine the famous Pearl Harbour speech by FDR, paraphrased in my head; “This policy slogan will live in infamy!” The directive MAGA, in reality, may also win a prize for best example of irony as the USA’s reputation as a great compassionate country is in tatters across the globe and its people have never been more divided in purpose.

The acronym will always be associated with that single term US President, Donald J. Trump. MAGA was borrowed from his predecessor Ronald Reagan whose phrase was less demanding and more invitational in tone, “Let’s MAGA!” Both of these jingoisms are representations of the idea that the ‘good old days’ were better than what we have now and ‘by golly by gum we’re gunna make them happen agin, dagnabbit!’ In fact, the thought went that if you were not in favour of getting back to the way we were, then you were un-American.

Trouble is the present day flows by like that River Zen, where you can’t possibly sample the same water once it has passed you by. As that theory continues; You aren’t even the same person! But try telling that to someone who thinks everything is turning out all wrong. At this point I’m wondering where all the visionaries have gone. Maybe I’m not facing in the right direction. I need a hat!

Campaign slogans aside, the wearing of baseball caps can be an identifier; of a favourite team, a philosophy of life or just a cheeky observance. I don’t have a head for hats but I would wear a cap with YOLO on it if I was invited to a Wear a Cap party. Since I don’t believe in an afterlife it’s important that I observe a ‘you only live once’ philosophy. I don’t have FOMO because I am one of the lucky ones while the majority of the world’s people are, in fact, missing out on a lot of basic things.

In our family, my sister and I were expected to act in a certain way every December 25th. It was a Make Christmas Great Again effort so that our mom could ‘get that feeling’. The stress was intense. Every detail had to be acted out. I have mixed emotions when I watch the film Christmas Vacation because of the prescribed nature of the holiday. It scarred us as kids. I believe it was a factor in my sister’s untimely death.

Personal memory plays a big part in our belief that life was better before: Before cars, before computers, before contraception, before electricity, before appliances, before feminism, before guns, before stand-up comedy, before plastic, before welfare cheques, before oil. We filter out what interferes with our conception of the facts. Sometimes the filter is so fine only a few things stay relevant and our point of reference gets permanently clogged.

Psychologists may do well to advise us to get a filter change every two years or 10,000 thoughts.

Re: One

I never thought I would admit this in public, but I’ve been lonely. I have been separated from my one and only, my best friend, my lover, my wife for more than 200 days now. She is on an important mission and I am supporting her as best I can from afar. The oneness that I have experienced with her is not one sided as she too feels the great chasm that comes about when you are not with the one you love. We both endeavour to be strong while acknowledging that One is clearly the loneliest number. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYzY7-V5vxY

There are so many individual ones in the world: Close to 8 billion singular human entities. On the spectrum of ‘personalities who need another in their lives’ the range might be from hermit types to polyamorous groupies. I have felt more in common with the hermit; sequestering myself from the massive throngs of civilization. That is one of the reasons why my recent feelings of loneliness are somewhat confusing. I do really appreciate my own company, that was tested in me as a child. I know I can confidently go it alone but I also know I don’t want to. I am Stoic. I am Vulcan. I take pride in the notion that I can control my desire to be one with the collective. I am Adam yet I must have my Eve.

I have used the power of oneness many times in my life and have discovered that being One doesn’t necessarily mean that you are alone. I have had many glimpses of what it means to be one in the spirit. I have learned to trust. Those 8 billion collective consciouses can be a powerful support mechanism when most needed, like after trauma. Some believe that even dead souls can act as guides. So while loneliness may occasionally tear at my heart, I remind myself that I am never really alone.

I admit also to being a romantic and a great believer in finding ‘the one’. I was lucky to find my Juliet in university. She accepted my formal proposal of marriage. Her family gave their blessing. We had the wedding service where two candles were extinguished and one candle was lit. We had many adventures, raised three boys together and approached middle age with confidence in our bond. When she died I felt lost and alone. I was now one, where I had been two and I wondered just what I might do with the rest of my life. Imagine how blessed I felt when I found my Anne. She too had known loneliness and found ways to appreciate being alone. Our meeting was one for the ages. We couldn’t believe our luck. Now we two could design our own Green Gables.

My wife and I celebrate in the oneness of our combined families. Our grandchildren are learning to count and always start with One. It is the first number. It’s where we all begin and where we all end.

Re: Age

The view that age is a state of mind sells anti-aging products and makes seniors feel better about themselves but perhaps we are just kidding ourselves. Some may look good for their age, while others must surrender to the inevitable sag and wrinkle. If you have the means for a little cosmetic enhancement then I guess age is relative. I enjoyed a second look at The Curious Case of Benjamin Button which is a film that oddly turns the aging process upside down. Benjamin returns to baby-like form as some of his senses get shuffled out of play. Similarly, as I age, my sense of caution, for example, is winning out over my sense of adventure. If I’m honest with myself, my body has been aging steadily since I passed sixty. My hands mark me; I see my father’s tanned oniony skin when I pause from this typing.

Parents love to report how their baby is a day old, a week old, then a month old. The age of the newly born is so precious it must be clearly defined in celebration of its existence. Children sometimes correct you if you guess their age wrong. A ‘Four’ is adjusted to ‘Four and a half!’ because at that tender age 6 months carries great significance to their rank in the world. On the other side of the age specific spectrum, a decade may seem a brief span of time to a septuagenarian.

While I was paying attention to other things, The Age of Aquarius, morphed into New Age practises, to the Age of Entitlement, which was part of the Consumer Age before being summarized as the Anthropocene. Ironically we may be facing a global environment catastrophe equivalent to the Dark Ages because our leaders maintain Stone Age regressive thinking. It’s the age old story of greed, immediate gratification and wishful thinking. We aren’t getting any wiser.

We lost many aged folk through Covid19 pandemic missteps. Strange that we can value vintage automobiles, aged cheddar or cellar casked wine more than we do our grandparents. Our standards around assisted living facilities (barely sanitized old age homes) must change to reflect a greater respect for what elders can provide in a wholesome, healthy society. Wisdom, like beauty and love is ageless in a way. When our terms of reference for Age become so narrow that we begin labelling people dismissively as Boomers, GenXers, Millennials, we are in danger of demonstrating ageism, as restrictive a label as all the other forms of prejudice.

Mature First Nations individuals I have know have often been referred to as Elders and I’d like to follow the path of humility, wisdom and patience that comes with that territory. In correspondence with the younger members of my family I have self identified and signed off on notes as West Coast Elder. This WCE moniker helps distinguish me geographically and it’s also how I’d like to be perceived as a senior member of the collective.

I’ll take that as a respectful salute to my agedness.

Re: Voice

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

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

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

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

Re: Convention

I liked going to conventions when I was a teacher. Before the money for such things vanished, each of my colleagues would have a chance to go to an out of town event about once every other year. Living in a remote community like we did, this was a boon for our professional development and an opportunity to share our experiences with educators from across the province or across the nation. My specialty was elementary school guidance which was unconventional, providing me with several opportunities to make presentations to School Boards that didn’t have that educational service.

Conventional wisdom comes from the collective. It can be generated in a local coffee shop or it can be fostered on social media. When the mob controls the agenda there is often not much wisdom, conventional or otherwise. I tend to be unconventional in that I don’t care if others think I am not a team player. I don’t wish to buy into groupthink, however I will follow convention when rules or common practise make sense or appear reasonable. Our system of government is conventional, plodding along on some matters, by definition and design resistant to change. Yet some very rigid systems have responded better to the Covid pandemic due to their citizenry being willing to follow directives. The Pacific Dental Conference, held March 5-7, 2020 at the Vancouver Convention Centre was a major source of coronavirus infections in British Columbia. To convene or not to convene and under what conditions has been a debate ever since.

On my wish list is a trip to a ComicCon convention. I have a particular yearning to mingle with other Star Trek geeks. In my fantasy I can see myself dressing in a Star Trek uniform, perhaps going as my favourite character Data. I wish I could do cosplay. I’ve over-analyzed my desire to go by making charts in my head. In the ‘Don’t Do It’ column my reasons are: aversion to crowds, reluctance to spend flagrantly, fear of being ridiculed. On the ‘Just Do It’ side my kid voice can be heard saying, “But I wanna!” Maybe I could go as the Invisible Man, then I could take in all the excitement without being noticed. I was the same way about Burning Man until I mentioned to a Burner that it was on my bucket list. He snapped, “Tell me what you’ve already ticked off your list!” That unconventional response made me realize the importance of not dreaming my life away.

‘Well, that’s the way it’s always been.’ Is a bit of conventional wisdom that dismisses innovation. I wonder if unconventionality could be a synonym for inventiveness. Sometimes an entire system must be cleansed for health to be restored. Police departments, in the United States particularly, have faced criticism for systemic racism and misuse of force. Conventional ideas of police funding and militarism are being challenged. We are no longer ruled by kings or queens. We only have ourselves to blame if we let convention dominate the discussion when change is clearly in order.

Re: Birth

Spring is a time for rebirth. It’s the season for positive change. A birth heralds new possibilities. A new generation can now lead us to a better way, a better life, a better world. After our mothers bore us, we must now bear the responsibility of making our lives count for something. That is the challenge inherent in our birth. Maybe that is part of the meaning of birthright: each of us has a chance, a right and a responsibility to use our lives well and to leave a worthy legacy. When I experienced the births of my own three boys, I remember being awed by the process itself. Now as I watch my grandchildren, I am enjoying their eager minds birthing new ideas, new games to play, new imaginings that sparkle out when they awake to greet a fresh day. I love being surprised by their behaviours.

Recently my wife told me a story of how her mother responded to her gift of Easter treats. Chocolate eggs had been placed for easy finding to accommodate tired elderly eyes. On this particular spring morning, my mother-in-law got up early with laser vision gathering up a feast of sweets, filling her pockets and quickly going back to bed. When she arose for a second time that same morning, she seemed petulant that she hadn’t got as many treats as her husband. The trail of foil wrapping, brown chocolatey smudges on her bedsheets and breast pocket attested to her haul, yet still she doubted the accounting. Endearingly, Mom asked her daughter to help tie the Lindt bunny’s bell ribbon necklace around her frail wrist. At 92 she allowed her 2 year old soul to shine through.

Our personal birthday, the anniversary of our beginning, can be a time to reflect on how far we’ve come and where we want to go. I am getting old enough to not think back to count my age, but rather to see how many more years until 100. I’m closer to that date than I am to the year of my birth. Age doesn’t scare me too much at this point. Luckily I have been able to witness the experience of others born before me. My elders have taught me much about patience and other important values. What I am most charmed by is the way the seniors in my life have returned to their childlike selves in response to events in their lives. 

My fondest and most frustrating memories of my sister often revolved around her gathering the treats of life too fast for me to catch up, leaving me wondering if I had got my share. I need not have fretted. Judging by my mother-in-law’s Easter egg experience, I’ll have a chance to be a kid again. Life viewed this way surely eliminates the fear of death. Maybe this is a signal that life is a never ending circle. Death, as we call it, is just another sort of birth. With patience, we’ll soon discover what’s next and find happiness there.