Re: Character

Actors who play supportive roles in movies or plays are sometimes referred to as character actors. Even though Robin Williams has played the lead in films, I like the way he brings out the personality of the characters he plays. Mr. Williams is also adept at caricature. His imitation of cultural icons by vocal and physical impersonations is hilariously accurate. People who mime others surely must have great skill in observing a person’s characteristics, beyond the obvious ticks, accents and mannerisms.

I often wonder how we get our particular character traits. Some must come to us genetically, while others are likely crafted over time from our connection and responses to mentors, neighbours, coaches, teachers or friends. I have a quiet character. I am quite patient, faithful, persistent and optimistic. Those are some self-perceived personality traits of a positive nature that I hope others recognize in me. I don’t know if I’d be brave enough to ask someone how they might characterize me. I might not like an honest answer.

As an elementary school teacher, I have asked my students to choose an animal that has characteristics that might best match their personalities. I have also asked them to tell me their favourite comic book superhero. One autistic fellow refused to play this game of self identification unless he could choose a dinosaur that best represented him. This matchmaking with a safe non human character lead to some great lists of characteristics and of important values like courage, fairness, cooperation, kindness, honesty and determination.

Sometimes we recognize our character in another and rejoice in the knowing. I remember a conversation I had with a complete stranger that entered into this realm of soul connection. It struck both of us as profound and later he brought me a book called The Aquarian Conspiracy saying mystically, “You are one of us.” Much later I watched the film Avatar and relived this moment from my past when one of the animated characters said, “I see you.”

Sometimes I’ve wished that another person’s character would change so that I would find them more agreeable. With maturity I realized that I would have to change my ways or find a path of acceptance when it comes to individual differences. I still love stories where the central character sees the light and vows to behave in a more positive manner. I wish that this would happen with President Trump most days, but I’ve had to conclude that some characters are immutable.

The content of one’s character is an important matter in any historical age. Men and women of virtue, from all walks of life, have provided us examples of how to live productive and compassionate lives. Who hasn’t heard Martin Luther King Jr. speak these words on the significance of character. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wxc6iqRC-n8

We look to influencers who can show us the way to our best selves. Hopefully each of us can then model an example of exemplary character that ripples ever outward.

Re: Best

Those of us who are competitive or ambitious want to be more than better; we want to be Best. The urge to ‘Be Best’ would get the attention of the current First Lady of the United States of America. Ms. Trump is determined that her program, despite the poor grammar, will be valuable for child development. Comedian Randy Rainbow suggests a different conclusion.

I’ve never had the honour of being the best man at a wedding. Somedays I feel better than others. I’ve been told I am a good neighbour. I believe in the presumption that the best is yet to come yet I also realize that Good is often good enough. When I’m not feeling my best it’s usually best for me to meditate or take a nap rather than transfer my mood to someone else. I try to be better everyday but I know I’ll never be perfect ‘cause that would make me Best and who am I to say I’m better than you anyway.

Grammatically speaking I see the value of superlative and comparative adjectives. They aid the writer who’s into description. Philosophically however, I resist thinking in these terms. I don’t like the feeling of dominance that Super brings to Superlative. And without a clear criteria for comparative points of view how can you have a satisfying conversation? For example is it the Best Poutine Ever because of the crispness of the fries, the squeak of the cheese curds or the savouriness of the gravy? Just what are we arguing about here!

Discussing the qualities of film is always a lively debate in my family, especially when it comes to the Oscar pick for Best Picture in any given year. Here’s the top pick from 1946: The Best Years of Our Lives. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yc5PugV4mk . It’s not your average overacted late forties melodrama! When I revisit this film I’m stunned by these performances. Others may be stunned in another way by the slower story-telling pace of the film. Before an argument begins it’s probably best to say that choosing best of anything is subjective, at best.

Speaking of controversy, I had this jingle in my head as I shaved yesterday. “Gillette! The best a man can get.” The catchy tune came from this 1989 advertisement which seemed harmless for its time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThDBf14qPsc
Recently the same company got into hot water for attempting to send a message in this post #metoo age about how men could be better behaved.

The 45th President of the United States has been called many things. This sophomaniac continues to convince voters with his braggadocio attitude that he is the best choice for your vote in this election year. He has called himself the “Greatest president God ever created.” New red ball caps may need to be embroidered ‘God Knows Best’. My anxiety levels need lowering so I’m hoping that beastly Trump gets bested in November.

Re: Shame

Shouting “Shame” at a protest rally on the steps of the Provincial Legislature building felt shameful. Yet I was drawn in by the pulse of those assembled as the speakers called out the injustices of previous governments. We were attempting to make ourselves heard and to hold those currently in power to account. Yet as I walked away from the demonstration, I felt slightly ashamed by my vocal use of that word. I felt embarrassed that I had lost some control over myself for the sake of joining in this act of public shaming.

I spoke with a friend about the meaning of shame and guilt within our personal narratives. She asked if I had experienced any shaming as a child. I told her one of my first memories, sitting with my parents at our dinner table, wanting to join in on the adult conversation. My mother loudly admonished me for barging in. “Shut your face!” she shamelessly shouted. I had been excited but now I was ashamed. I remember the blush of embarrassment, resisting tears yet fully shocked. What did I do? I was too young to analyze all the meaningful particulars, but now as an adult I can say to myself, I am not a bad person for interrupting my mother.

I can even say I bare no feelings of guilt, yet by telling this story I still feel the flush of shame coming to my cheeks. I was brought up in an age where parents and teachers might regularly say things like, “How dare you?” or “Shame on you!” to drive home their point of knowing one’s place in the world. Some old school teachers might send kids to the corner, or even get them to wear a dunce cap. My mom would give me the silent treatment when I had misbehaved. I wonder if shunning is a form of shaming.

The novel ‘The Scarlet Letter’ was one of several books I read in high school English class that had a lasting impact on me. In this moving story of shame, Religious zealots (Puritans) force the character, Hester Prynne, to wear a red letter A to atone for her sins. What astonished me was her grace in protecting those who had brought her this embarrassment. I learned that guilt is put onto us by others while shame is generated from within. She refused to be ashamed of herself. We too, can refuse to be ashamed of ourselves.

I don’t believe it was right then, anymore than it is now, to belittle someone. There are other ways to register disapproval of our elected officials or anyone who might offend our view of things. Questions can be posed, opinions shared, without pushing guilt on to the other. We don’t have to make others feel unworthy to satisfy our own sense of righteousness.

By the same token we have every right to shamelessly go about the business of our lives, looking for ways to express ourselves and be fully human without owning the knitted brows of disapproval that sometimes are directed at us.

Re: Sort

Carl Linnaeus, considered the Father of Taxonomy, developed a system of sorting plants and animals in the mid-eighteenth century. In university, I enjoyed an Entomology course where 50% of the final mark was to sort hundreds of varieties of insect specimens found mounted and stored in dozens of drawers in the lab. Many features on each specimen needed examining before it could be assigned its proper Order, Family, Genus then Species names. I got my highest mark in this course, where order took precedence over randomness.

Not without coincidence perhaps, my favourite candy as a boy was Liquorice All Sorts. When we first came to Canada they were hard to find in stores. Sometimes my grandmother would send a package from England at Christmas. My sister and I had different favourites which luckily avoided conflict; she liked the black tubes filled with white sugar paste and I loved the coconut wheels with the liquorice centre. I still enjoy them as a treat, my wife loving the colourful beaded ones that look like buttons. No arguments here: Harmony reigns.

An English phrase I recall my parents using was, “Let’s get you sorted.” I’d have a problem with my bike, or something troubling happened at school or sibling rivalry reared its head and Mom or Dad would sit us down to get to the bottom of it. We were encouraged to sort through our problems in a structured way by examining ourselves first.

What sort are I? Like my fellow human, I am a person wanting to be able to express free will. The more you put me in a box with a singular definition the less I will feel free to be me. In the documentary film, ‘Ask Dr Ruth’, Ms. Westheimer rejected being classified by her daughter and granddaughter as a feminist. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkZ8Kn3xVO8
I thought about this scene in the movie for days afterward since it seemed obvious to me that she represented in word and deed what a feminist would stand for. She later accepted the label saying she wasn’t ‘radical’. I wondered if her reluctance had anything to do with being sorted, as so many of her generation had been, in the methodical terrorist manner that was the Nazi Germany of her youth. Under Adolf Hitler, people were identified and classified. Once labelled, a person could be discriminated against, legislated against and potentially exterminated.

None of us want to be put in boxes. We are much more than one aspect of ourselves. We are many facetted. We are all a unique combination of our skin colour, our beliefs, our upbringing, our occupation, our thoughts, our daily activities. We are complicated. We are right to reject being classified. We must shout loudly if necessary, that we are a member of the human race. We can say this with certainty, objectivity and truthfulness in our hearts and minds. History tells us that this fact needs to be declared repeatedly so that we remember our common natural classification as Homo sapiens. No further discussion needed. What else needs sorting?

Re: Mission

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it.” Says the self-destructing audio tape given to agent Jim Phelps at the beginning of the television show, Mission Impossible. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0TiqXFssKMY. It was one of my favourite shows as a kid. I loved all things relating to adventure. I loved drawing detailed maps in elementary school of early explorers: Magellan, Vasco de Gama, Shackleton, Cook. I remember being fascinated by the twin tales of Stanley and Livingston: Reporter Henry Stanley was sent on a mission by his newspaper, The New York Herald in 1871, to find the presumed missing missionary David Livingston.

In the Kama Sutra of sexual positions, ‘missionary style’ (male dominant facing female) is reported to have been promoted by white African missionaries as the acceptable way for natives to procreate. This sexual act offers the promise of creation; a mission by two people to provide an individual to further the continuation of humanity. A lofty mission that has had many motives and several potential outcomes.

Most corporations, of the business sort, have well defined mission statements. The intention of the mission mantra is to focus investor imagination and provide a set of achievable goals. I worked with school principals in the eighties when societal managers were hungry to adopt a business model of operations. We were advised to see an educated student as our product so therefore could create a mission document focussed on that outcome. I fear our children’s education will become even more like an assembly line process as we move ever closer to the merging of biology with AI technology

During my career, I met many colleagues who considered education as their mission in life. For me, however, my job was not the singularity of my life. I would never have referred to my work in schools as a calling. Some people do seem born to do what they do. Recent films about Fred Rogers suggest that his teaching about love and acceptance rose to the level of a mission. In the final scene of A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood, Mr. Rogers is shown at a piano while other crew members of his children’s show are packing up to go home, their job finished.

Missionaries bring a message to the world. Their prophet-like work needs support and accommodation from the rest of us. Many individuals throughout history have been heralded as innovators; their missions lauded yet doomed to fail when public opinion has swung the other way. I don’t believe that any individual with a creative vision can succeed alone. I’ve been supported when I’ve had an idea. I suspect those who support great leaders feel their role is to enable the mission: They become Sanchos to their Don Quixottes.

A timeless film, The Mission, tells the story of several characters on personal, political, military, corporate and religious quests in eighteenth century South America. Their chosen missions come into serious conflict. They discover for themselves how missions are huge burdens that come at great cost. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ui91q7Y9xPk

Re: Cast

The toys I remember having the most fun with as a child were die cast. I had trucks, cars, army guys, planes. I have kept one: A wheelbarrow. Go figure. When I was eight I broke some bones in my foot. Back then the affected parts were encased in a plaster cast to immobilize the area. Suddenly I was famous! My schoolmates had heroic sympathy for me. I was cast in a whole new light. Children who I thought hadn’t even noticed me before, were happy to write funny sayings or well wishes on my cast.

In my adolescence there was nothing I liked better to do than to go fishing. With little allowance, I considered the purchase of my equipment carefully. I had a Mitchell 300 spinning reel, not a baitcast nor a spincast variety. My friend and I would spend many a lazy summer on a river or creek casting into small pools and eddies, hoping for a strike. During those blissful moments of singular concentration all other thoughts of teenaged angst were cast aside.

My parents cast my sister’s baby shoes in bronze. This was my mom’s idea as she was trying, I’m casting about for a reason here, to shed her lower class English roots. WWII had cast a long dark shadow over her adolescent experience. She refused to believe her die was cast so , while my sister was yet to be born, she persuaded my dad to immigrate to Canada. People of the Downton Abbey set will appreciate how the British Empire spread this idea of your place in society. Consider the Caste system which still exists in India. It is as if Shakespeare’s pronouncement ‘All the world’s a stage…’ was taken so seriously by government that each citizen was given a clearly defined role to play. Peace, Order and Good Government eh what?

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to go to a casting call to audition for a part in a play or film. My favourite stage or television productions are always ones with a varied cast of characters. Due to the technological advance of green screen computer enhancement, you don’t get too many movies these days advertising a ‘cast of thousands’, but for my Sunday matinee viewing pleasure as a kid, there was nothing to compare to Ben Hur or Around the World in Eighty Days. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjiCO8k6Jhg

During Shakespeare’s time, ruling British monarchs waffled over rules regarding the casting of female roles. The underrated film ‘Stage Beauty’ examines this political dilemma. One of the best lines in the film is, “Who are you now?”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLlKmqH_5ak. This film alludes to the challenges of defining oneself. A current phrase used in self exploration is, “I identify as…”. Part of becoming mature is being able to be comfortable with your individual nature. Looking into that metaphorical mirror we must be able to see ourselves as the one who will play the most important role within that play of a lifetime.

Re: Fame

A nerdy game I used to enjoy playing in high school started with the question, ‘Would you rather have fame, fortune or power when you grow up?’ It wasn’t really a game, more like a continuation of the more childish Aladdin’s magic lamp suggestion, ‘If you had three wishes…’.

I loved camping with my parents (I had my own ‘Famous’ brand rucksack and cooking equipment). I enjoyed learning about the woods and the ways of the world as a boy scout. I got into scraps while in uniform and one time I remember shouting as I got pummelled, “I’m going to be famous!” The bully just laughed, but I felt buoyed by my hopeful prediction. Even when I was older I felt that youthful sense of optimism when I saw myself through the eyes of the characters in the musical Fame. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqMmquNLnHg

In my youth, I thought it would be way cool to be famous. I saw only positives to being recognized wherever I went. The other two options didn’t appeal. I was actually frightened by the prospect of having more money than I thought I could handle. Likewise with power, I couldn’t see having dominance over another. I never felt my influence extended any further than the tip of my nose. But fame! Now that would give me access: Right this way sir. Of course we have room for you. Follow me I’ll show you to your table. Certainly we can make that happen.

There used to be a common saying, Big Fish in a Small Pond, that indicated you could be well known in your small community while no one in the wider world would have heard of you. Today I’m wondering if the reverse is true, due to social media. The potential for a small voice to be amplified through Twitter or Facebook can potentially enable a metaphorical small fish to make a big splash in the world’s ocean of varied opinions. I suspect that is why online platforms are so popular. I enjoy giving my opinion, whether it leads to nods or shakes of the head. The possibility is there to get more than just the 15 minutes of fame that Andy Warhol prophesied. The internet has expanded the idea of the nineteenth century speakers’ corner in Hyde Park, England for good and for ill. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4yHwCaptL0

I remember one of my elementary school teachers often using the proverb, “Oh how the mighty have fallen.” I can’t quite figure out why some people enjoy seeing celebrities come down a notch or two. But I guess fame is currency so if you feel you have been de-famed, you can seek restitution from your detractors in court by suing for defamation of character. If you fail in your suit, your reputation will live on in infamy, like those who bombed Pearl Harbour.

Everything has a down side. For instance, being famous would make it hard to find privacy. Achieving balance on the FAME spectrum from anonymity to renown may be difficult. I shall ponder further.

Re: Lone

There is a difference between being alone and being lonely. I was taught early on, by circumstance and by design, to enjoy my own company so I rarely feel lonely as a result. As a young boy, I spent a lot of time going on imaginary adventures while roaming the neighbourhood creeks and woods. I’d be Robin Hood in the summer and in winter, when the plow made snow mountains in our parking lot, I would pretend to be George Mallory or Sir Edmund Hillary scaling those impossible peaks.

One of my early favourite comic books was about Lancelot. When I wasn’t head first into tales of the Knights of the Round Table, the television was a third parent. I was enamoured with the exploits of The Lone Ranger. He was my first TV hero. I loved running around the house yelling, “Hi Ho Silver! Away!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxIuIxqo2So
I usually enjoyed serious stuff over comedy. I recall being drawn to an angst ridden film starring Tom Courtenay called ‘Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXMS5ZXKvYA .
‘Then Came Bronson’, a short lived series based on a man traveling around on a motorcycle all by himself, also captured my attention. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYsztoaU9Ls
Later I enjoyed novels and short stories that contained characters who defined the theme: one person facing challenges alone or, at the very least, on their own terms.

Having such a childhood pattern of being on my own naturally led to me being perceived as a loner in high school. I had a group of friends during those years but I was never a part of that IN crowd that many aspire to during adolescence. I hear my mom’s voice when I reflect on those days. “Don’t be a sheep.” she would say. My classmates never treated me with suspicion for my lone wolf status. One year I was valedictorian for my cohort and I often won public speaking contests, so I wouldn’t call myself shy.

Solitary figures in history cast their spell on me as I grew older. The imposter story of Archie Delaney, or Grey Owl as he wanted to be known, fascinated me as I was reaching into adolescence. The exploits of solo sailors Robin Knox-Johnson and Robin Lee Graham enthralled me. I wanted to have an occupation like Jane Goodall where I could be left alone in the jungle interpreting my own wonderings about the world around me.

Texas calls itself the Lone Star State, perhaps because collectively the settlers there wished to distinguish themselves from Mexico or even the rest of the United States. Likewise, I was never frightened by my inherent separateness. I have used my independence to define myself, while still valuing those I let close to me. After reading the book Quiet by Susan Cain it became clear to me that introverts have a role to play. ‘One’ doesn’t have to be the loneliest number after all. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5ab8BOu4LE

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.