Re: Service

Service can ‘be’ something and it can relate to ‘doing’ something. As a noun: Before I married my first wife it was de rigueur to register at a china shop so you had fancy plates and a proper tea service. A service starts a tennis rally. As a verb: My dad serviced aircraft while in the armed forces during WWII.

Recently I’ve been exposed to different levels of service from various workers who have been part of a renovation in my home. I was aggravated by a salesperson when purchasing a washer/dryer combo who wanted to push the sale of an extra service contract rather than attend to my need for a quality product. My wife and I chose a contractor for the job carefully. We wanted to forecast a high level of quality service to take away the anxiety that comes from a remodelling job. My opinion of tradespeople has always been high. Plumbing and electrical work takes knowledge, skill and care. Some workers at our reno provided service with a smile yet lacked attention to detail. Others have been so proud of their occupation that their service to their task and to their client has been exceptional.

I take my car in for regular servicing. I used to do oil changes and other upkeep stuff myself, but now I wouldn’t know how to do a good job with a modern vehicle. There is a maintenance schedule to follow and I stick to it in order to validate my warrantee. Before I bought the car I checked out their service department. I chose well. Every time I go in I feel like someone who owns Downton Abbey.

We live in a self-serve era yet we still depend on the service of others. Many service jobs are considered too menial. Some service jobs have been eliminated by computer robotics and others have shifted to higher tech. Where would most offices be these days without their IT department? Rarely do we see ‘full-service’ gas stations. As a kid I remember getting a free balloon every time I went with my dad to his favourite petrol pit stop.

Community service has always been important to me. We often hear the phrase, “I want to give back…” when someone feels grateful. I’m part of that club since I wish to pay it forward by volunteering or serving on committees. Many still have the weekly habit of attending a religious service. I used to spend a lot of time helping out at my community church. That was a case of serving at a service. I’m proud to say that sometimes others trusted me to such a degree that I conducted the entire service.

Some say that providing service to others is our highest calling. To be a servant need not suggest being below another. Perhaps the act of serving has more to do with taking the focus off ourselves and applying effort towards the greater whole. Even the powerful and mighty can learn this lesson. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVjE99phqYk

Re: Friend

‘A friend in need is a friend indeed’ is the first proverb that comes to mind when I think of the word Friend. It relates to my belief that friendship is important when a person can’t go it alone because of current circumstances. I admit to being a DIY person in the general sense: I get satisfaction from doing it (life) myself. I also recognize that being an individualist can make me appear unfriendly.

I had a best friend. Through grades 7&8 my mom described us as ‘thick as thieves’. I thought he was going to be my BFF but I moved to another city for high school and saw him rarely. We planned a trip to Europe for our gap year but he pulled out at the last minute. Later I reached out to him to be my best man at my first wedding and he declined. My sons still tease me about my lack of friends with, “Whatever happened to Horst?”.

I appreciate this song by James Taylor because it was on my playlist during my only summer romance. She was a friend from far away that got away, despite my willing her to be nearer. I used to sit in my used VW beetle to read her letters then go home and play my Tapestry album. The poignant lyric, “they’ll take your soul if you let them.” still haunts when I hear it.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xEkIou3WFnM

The best advise I ever got was to be my own best friend. Friendship comes with expectations that others can’t necessarily fill. I can count on myself. I rarely have let myself down. I don’t say that because I feel superior. Friendship requires a lot of trust and effort. Alas, I am wary and lazy. My two beautiful wives have been my bestest of friends. I am an exclusive friend because it brings me security. Seems I haven’t got the energy that some have to spread their love around. I actually admire people who need people or can love the one they’re with. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeTGln5XGTE

On film it appears as though women set the bar for friendliness. I tend to enjoy conversations with women over men because we are more likely to seek similarities than differences. To me the friendliest and most stimulating conversations are about ideas. The people I would call my friends value the positive in life. I recognized myself in the character Sandra Oh played on Grey’s Anatomy with this scene where she admits she needs someone.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DN4Dw3tyLY

My niece recently reached out to me. She said someone told her she needed a ‘rock’. I was flattered, humbled and frightened at the same time. Could I fulfill her expectations? The request required the elements I consider part of friendship: empathy, kindness, discretion, availability, resources. You can deliver some of these qualities to an acquaintance, but a friend, a true blue friend, will need them in abundance. That can be exhausting.

Re: News

“No news is good news” is a popular phrase attributed to the English King James around 1616. In the present day context the phrase might be distorted as: “All news is fake news.”, “Good news is suspect.“, “Bad news is everywhere.” As a person who needs to know, a day without news of some kind presents a dilemma of sorts.

Newspapers, of the actual made with paper kind, have been an important part of my life. Growing up in Toronto, I was used to the Telegram which was my father’s choice for print news. I loved the comic section on weekends and they had great coupons for use at the Toronto Exhibition (The Ex) every summer. I delivered the Toronto Star as a teen, snagging the occasional copy for free and enjoyed debating the different editorial points of view with my dad. When I went to train as a teacher, the Globe and Mail became essential to me for the job postings. Previously, Dad would have referred to the Globe as “that rag!” because of its editorial tone against workers and its support of business before people. In truth, I did snag my first job interview thanks to the Globe.

I encouraged all my sons to have a paper route. It may seem old fashioned but I still maintain that this early job helped them build personal qualities of orderliness, perseverance, responsibility and tolerance. They osmotically became curious about what they were carrying each day, and how the task exposed them to their community, their village members, and a wider world.

Digital media now takes centre stage for news delivery. Some content remains faithful to the journalistic standard of daily print newspapers around the globe. For example, I enjoy The Guardian being dropped off in my virtual mail box every morning, like the ‘Hear Ye, Hear Ye’ of old England, bringing me a non-North American perspective on stories of the day.

I recently had a brief Twitter exchange with a member of The National, CBC’s nightly news platform. I have some issues with television as a news source: the commercials, the sensationalism, the growing folksiness, the ‘team’ approach. I dislike turning a news broadcast into entertainment. I want nightly news to be delivered with a serious tone by someone who takes the day’s events as seriously as I do. Later, I can enjoy Stephen Colbert helping me look at the absurdity of some news items, he’s amusing and provocative, but he’s no Walter Cronkite, Ed Murrow or Diana Swain.

I would much rather know than not know. Gathering news from a variety of sources brings me peace, even if the news is bad. From the information I have gathered I can make a plan, formulate an idea, or resolve a conundrum. No news is definitely NOT good news for me. I wouldn’t call myself a ‘news junkie’. This is a harsh interpretation of the need for facts and indicates a compulsion. I resist feeling compelled by anything, but I do get a bit twitchy when my morning paper doesn’t arrive on time.

Re: Stubborn

This word’s structure is smile worthy. Two syllables; stub and born. In a quick dictionary search I found the word is listed as having no origin. I take this to mean that someone blindly made it up during a swearing tirade after having born the pain of a stubbed toe. Anyways, that’s what I would go with, if it came up while playing Balderdash.

I’m a person who admires perseverance, the sweet cousin of stubbornness, even if I lack it in some situations. I once quit a Bronze Level Red Cross swimming program after the first session. I neither had the mental stick-to-it-ness nor the physical stamina required to be a life guard-in-training. An Olympic level athlete has to be gold medal stubborn. Just like striving for the podium however, an unbending position comes at a cost, or at least a consequence. I try to take my time developing an opinion. Once it is set in stone it’s more difficult to retract. Most often in a conflict of interest situation, when my idea isn’t part of the groupthink, I will retreat and find my own ship to captain. Passive/aggressive stubbornness?

The value of stubbornness and its costs is depicted well in the film, ‘Sometimes a Great Notion’. Here, a hard scrabble west coast family owns a logging operation during a state wide strike. In a gasping portrayal of our environmental times we see several scenes of the rape of the planet for profit. Lives are altered, even extinguished in the dogged quest to fulfill a contract. The family motto is; “Never Give a (sic) Inch”. There is added tension when the prodigal son, a hippy, returns home. We watch and wonder if he will bring change. Alas he joins the foolishness of exploitation. The final scene gives us a literal middle finger from the patriarchal arm raised as the family’s tugboat pulls logs to market. The human multitude, following on the banks of the river, only shout and wave their fists at the injustice. I saw a parallel to today’s industrial titans, continuing their wasteful and polluting ways in the name of profit, stubbornly never giving an inch.

Being bull headed or stubborn as a mule can make you as immovable as a rock. Yet a rock can be covered in Rock,Paper,Scissors. A rock can erode over time. A rock can even be sold as a pet. To some, stubbornness is a manly virtue, where you stand tall, face to the wind, unbending until you crack, never backing down. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvlTJrNJ5lA

Being a stubborn force in the world can make you an oak, a rock, an island or a wall. There’s unfairness here in amongst the stubborn, foolish pride of going it alone. The barriers you put up may close in on you as readily as they keep others out. Paradoxically, in my own stubbornness, I feel the greatest need to touch and be touched. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKlSVNxLB-A

Re: Style

Like everyone, I have a personal style that is hard to label. I am clean-shaven and my wife generously cuts my curly head of hair when it gets unruly. I have clothes from Mark’s Work Wearhouse in my closet (like blue jeans, some things never go out of style). I don’t wear a watch and I have two special rings on my hands. My lifestyle does not include regular exercise yet I choose to walk when practical. I eat to live and choose quickly heated processed foods when I feed myself. Unlike my father, I doubt anyone would call me stylish although I believe I have a certain captivating charm.

Style is really about how we define ourselves. It may be the most important part of our adolescence. We may not wish to be a fashion trend-setter, or even to be noticed at all but coming of age requires we have a definition, at least one that we can be satisfied with for the moment. I was a loner in high school. Most of the time I wore twill cotton white pants with five copies of the same shirt; a different colour for each day of the week. Oh boy!

I recently enjoyed the Amazon Prime television series called ‘The Collection’. It got me thinking about the reasons people choose to dress the way they do. In post WWII Paris, style was equated with beauty. If you had a stylish designer outfit you got noticed. Sometimes this attention was unwanted or even dangerous. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsmJ5-LgiZ0

Perhaps we go for a certain style because we just want to belong, not to stand out. My late wife got a chance to have a classic ‘bob’ hairstyle back in the early 1970s by Vidal Sassoon himself. Being a modest person and certainly not flashy in her choices this surprised me at the time. I remember her saying that it was a brief opportunity for her to be part of the ‘In Crowd’.

When I was in my early 30s and still boyish looking I felt the need to grow a beard. I had the impression that a bearded man got more respect.
It didn’t work. It made me wonder if some get a tattoo to change how they are perceived. Do we adorn ourselves for another’s sake or for our own
amusement/security/satisfaction? Once a family member was noticed wearing two unmatched socks. When it was remarked on she said, “That’s my style.” Perhaps her response deflected unwanted attention or perhaps she was happy someone noticed.

That’s the thing about stylistic choices. How we decorate ourselves, what music we listen to, what food we eat is revealing, whether we like it or not. Our personal style gives others clues as to our identity. Unless we try to be anonymous, to fly under the radar or to keep a low profile, we will be noticed. It’s risky broadcasting who we are, but worth it. Be loud, proud and beautiful!
Go full Gangnam style. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMFt1yW7_wA

Re: Content

Content is a word that can change in meaning depending on whether the first or last syllable is stressed. When I write I always try to be content with my content. The English language is a delight for authors yet for ESL students it’s a source of confusion. Let’s explore.

I have a small shed just outside my front door which is part of a carport. The contents of the shed include tools, old paint tins, recycling totes, and stuff. The stuff is hard to classify and hard to remove. Being a clutter-free kind of person I am not content with the state my shed is in. On recycling day I pull out the totes filled with other waste I’ve produced. I mutter internally about doing something about the contents of this space. It’s a useful space, if managed properly. I tell myself: Why do I have three boxes of rocks and shells from past holidays? What is the use of three paint trays? When was the last time I used two golf putters? How can I ever part with my childhood fishing rod?

Just try removing or resolving the contents of your thoughts when it comes to assessing what you really need in life, as opposed to what you think you need. This exercise can be very contentious. It’s an ongoing internal struggle to justify what amounts to the content of your life. Your brain must sort things out before you can do any external sorting. My contention is that people like Marie Kondo make this process look easy, while for most it’s not that simple.

Those who can’t cope with the reality of their stuff end up being labelled hoarders. When this happens family and friends may not be content to let the situation go by without an intervention. We are so fascinated with how we stuff our stuff that a reality television series called ‘Hoarders’ has been broadcast for a decade on various networks.

While some seem content to live amongst the contents of their mess, others are more interested in examining themselves. Part of the famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech by Martin Luther King Jr. comes to mind; “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

The content of one’s life is hard to determine. Most of the time I feel a sense of contentment. As much as I can bring order to my world, I feel generally contented. Sometimes that feeling crosses the border into happiness; an upgrade if you like. When I take into account my relationships, my history, my personal successes, I feel contentment. It often comes out as a deep sigh, sometimes audible, as I lay my head down on my pillow and wait for sleep each night. It’s a pleasing moment. The shed can wait.

Re: Do

“What do you do for a living?” Is a question that can make me feel like running out of the room while screaming. You might as well talk to me about the weather if it makes you more comfortable. I don’t wish to be misconstrued, it’s not that I don’t mind describing my job. It’s just that my job doesn’t define me. If the rote questioner hears that I’m retired they will usually follow with, “What DID you do?” Oh brother! How about asking me about my hairdo?

What I do is actually not necessarily my job (or what it used to be). What I do is really the central reason for living. Doing things is the whole point to life. One of the best corporate slogans in the last century is Nike’s ‘Just Do It’. In three words the shoe company captured the essence of the Stoic philosophy. Many millennia ago western philosophy grew out of a Greek idea called Stoicism. This was a school of thought that proposed that the best indication of an individual’s philosophy was not what a person said, but how a person behaved. When considering the subject of Philosophy I find it mind blowing that so many ideas could percolate in what today we might call parallel worlds. I smile when I consider if there is significance to the founder of Stoicism being named ZENO and my interpretation of Eastern ZEN philosophy as being (doing) in the moment. Coincidence? I wonder eh?

I’d like to change the famous line in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, where the title character is examining his way forward, into “To DO, or not to DO, that is the question’. I believe that it is by doing that we become ourselves. Our doing shows us what works and what doesn’t. And it is perfectly all right to redo if the first try doesn’t meet your expectations. Life is certainly about picking yourself up after a fall. In the film City Slickers, Billy Crystal’s character tells a story about being a kid playing sandlot baseball and how in his rules you could have another try at bat if the ball went over the fence. He called it a ‘Do-Over’.

Musically, Cat Stevens is famous for his meaningful songs. A lesser known one is called ‘You Can Do, Whatever’. He sings of all the possibilities before us. A veritable smorgasbord of things to do. In our choices we become that which we have chosen to do. This wonderful poem, put to melody, is one I plan on singing/reciting to my grandchildren.

Part of my job as an elementary school teacher was to recite all the DOs and DON’T’s of the society my students were going to inherit. Unavoidable in a way, and necessary I suppose. Yet I feel my best lessons in class treated the DOs as WHAT IFs. When we start with who we want to be, even just for a day, then what we decide to do feels just right.