Re: Jim

I heard a knock on my front door. During Covid times contact with anyone is a rarity, so I answered, starving for connection. It was Jim Carrey standing there in living colour. He said, “Hi I’m Jim Carrey. I know it’s short notice but can I quarantine here?” He dropped his backpack in the hallway. “It’s a good thing you answered your door because I was just about to jimmy the lock.” My mouth was probably still open. “Just kidding!”he added.

I said I had a spare room, that he was welcome to stay since I was a big fan. I called him Mr. C. out of respect and a couple of times Captain Jim came out as I was jibber-jabbering wondering out loud why he would come here to the Saanich Peninsula. He told me a friend had said that Harry and Meaghan had spent time near here to get away from the paparazzi. I smiled at the way he contorted his face while saying, ‘paparazzi’.

I told him I had seen his last drawing posted on Twitter, Feb 11, 2021 and wondered if he was all right. I talked about being a fan, a fanboy, a Stan and the differences between the terms. My words were spilling out so fast, I began to wonder if he’d reconsider his request to stay. He pulled a Slim Jim from his jean jacket and asked, “You got anything to eat?” Luckily, I had been on a quick masked raid to my village grocer so I had plenty of food. I showed him the fridge. He grinned, “Alrighty then!”

Our time together went quickly. I told him my wife was away looking after her elder parents so I really appreciated having someone to talk to. We bonded like stereotypical Canadians, played crokinole, ate bacon and drank beer. He said it was good to be home. To celebrate Day Seven we ordered take-out food. Slurping udon noodles, Jimmy pretended to be a comically clichéd Asian woman. This made me cough and get red in the face.

One night we got into our jimmy jammies, watched a couple of old Star Trek episodes and got kind of drunk on craft beer. Jimbo started doing impersonations again. He’s silly that way. Famous characters named Jim appeared out of nowhere: Jimmy Durante, James Belushi, Jimmy Stewart, James T. Kirk, Jiminy Cricket, James Dean, James Coburn, Jimmy Cagney. He did a skit of Jimmy Carter on a roof hammering in shingles. I told him he nailed that one and we both rolled on the floor laughing.

On his last day with me, he told me how he had almost lost his sanity from the constant intrusion on his life. I shared how I had once suffered depression from trying to get things perfect. He said, “Life is hard man.” Before I was ready, Jim was at the front door. I stood feeling awed by the whole experience. He raised his arms in farewell, “In case I don’t see ya”.

And then he was gone.

Re: Heel

I like to keep one step ahead of things. This makes it hard on me when situations require that I heel, while others take the lead. I’m not saying I need a leash, but recent events surrounding Covid19 restrictions mean I have to hold back my urge to take charge. I like to be ahead of the pack, or at least off to the side minding my own business. These days I’m feeling I have to wait for my dinner, whine for a walk or watch expectantly by the front door. When I die, I’m not coming back as a dog.

Perhaps coincidentally, cracked heels run in my family. My nan’s chiropodist used to remove the callused skin on her heels with a device like a potato peeler. My mom would forecast, “So if you don’t wear socks more often, you’re going to end up just like her.” I was given many cautionary tales as a kid and sometimes I’d have to decipher the meanings. My mom would frequently bring me to heel. “Robert, come sit and talk with me.” She’d pronounce like a summons, while tempting me with a loaf of fresh baked bread. Our kitchen table was one of those chromed things with a stained formica top. Mom smoked while she talked, her monologues might last only one cigarette but sometimes she’d chain smoke, punctuating sentences by butting out into a perpetually dirty glass ashtray. I remember a story of a guy she used to work with being described as, ‘such a heel’. That’s the only part I remember; that he was a heel. The fun visual stuck, sort of like the image of a dickhead, with roughly the same connotation.

I’ve learned that heels can come in all shapes and sizes. Evangelical tent preachers can sometimes be heels, taking advantage of trusting people, as depicted in the great Burt Lancaster film Elmer Gantry. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z73HAUbQNp4

My dad liked imitating a crazed religious healer we occasionally saw on Sunday morning television. He would playfully slap the heels of his hands on my forehead or both sides of my head while crying out, “Now! Rise and be Healed!”

I’m married to a legitimate healer. She practised nursing and complementary medicine in her working years. Now she brings this experience to our friends and family. Besides reminding me to put cream on my rough heels, my wife has provided her healing arts to all manner of damage I have done to myself; from falling out of trees, to stubbing toes, to traffic accidents, to convalescence after minor surgery.

Once, a friend of mine tried to show me the healing art of bread making. He demonstrated the correct way to knead the dough using the heels of his hands. Later, kitchen filled with intoxicating aroma, bread warm from the oven, I would ask for the heel of the loaf, just as I had enjoyed as a boy. I’d slice hard butter on it, then add a daub of peanut butter. Comfort food for a weary pilgrim.

Re: Kind

I’ve heard many authors at signing events respond to someone’s gushing praise of their work with a rote rendition of, “You are very kind.” The use of the word kind, in this context, devalues it. We are not being kind when we show someone how much they are appreciated, we are being grateful. I wish we could see acts of kindness more often. It is not something that is regularly practised, yet when we see someone helping another who has stumbled we recognize a kind heart. I believe in kindness as a form of love. If more readily applied in our behaviour it can improve life on earth. 

In University I studied Life Sciences, particularly wildlife biology. I became familiar with the work of Carl Linnaeus, a scientist who developed a system of classification of living things based on precise particulars of biological design. I had fun sorting specimens into well defined categories by kind, using observable physical characteristics. These days it is much easier and more conclusive to use DNA to sort living things. Consequently we have discovered that some species are closer kin than we could ever have imagined.

Some people say they have a kindred spirit, someone so close to their kind of thinking/feeling that they form a bond. The fictional character Anne Shirley, of Green Gables fame, talked a lot about this kind of friendship. While she gathered kindling for the wood stove she had thoughts of becoming less isolated as an orphan and more kin to the kindhearted community that would become her home. Author Lucy Maude Montgomery writes beautifully of a time where manners and kindness abound yet her stories are not all sweetness. She doesn’t shy away from issues found in a closed society. For example, she exposes Avonlea villagers who could be quick to tell outsiders to “Go home to your own kind!” Since the first printing of Ms. Montgomery’s widely popular stories, there has been numerous interpretations. The latest in Canada is ‘Anne with an E’. This television series is so charmingly sweet it could kill you with its kindness.

Babies, like birds, quickly show they prefer to flock together. Kiley Hamelin has done research work at the University of British Columbia showing that even young babies can sort puppet identifiers according to whether they are helpful or not. They can determine the kindness in others at a very early age, suggesting that figuring out who is kind among us may be a matter of survival and integral to forming bonds of friendship and family.

In British Columbia, Canada, residents have been lucky to have a Provincial Health Officer named Dr. Bonnie Henry. She is held in high regard for the work she is doing to control the spread of the COVID19 virus. At news briefings she is not afraid to show her humanity, often crying over grim news,. Her advisories and updates on the pandemic usually end with a familiar mantra, “Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe.” Indeed: Kindness comes first.

Re: Dignity

One of my Twitter friends, who uses the handle Black Mamba, posted a query about ‘Quiet dignity’ recently. That got me thinking about my dad. He was a fellow with a dignified bearing and when he went out wearing his heavy black camel hair coat he cut an impressive figure. Yet he was working class all the way, earning less annual salary when he retired than what I received in my first year of teaching. He valued honesty, harmony and quiet. He showed it in his behaviour. He did not aspire to dignity, but from my observations, he personified it. 

Some see the characteristics of dignity in a negative way equating it with arrogance, pomposity, prudery, and indifference to others. My father was often quick to make himself secondary in a gathering at his home in an effort to let his guests shine. Never hoity-toity and also never afraid to be the clown, I once saw him dress in an outlandish costume for a municipal function. It puzzled me that he would put himself out there in such a manner when it wasn’t even Halloween. One of my few regrets is feeling embarrassed by my father at that moment.

I think dignity is one of those things we are taught. Early on I was told to stand up straight and speak only when spoken to. The outfit I chose to wear was judged before I left for school. I was asked if I had clean underwear lest I be involved in an accident and had to be undressed in hospital. I recall hearing folks indicate that some behaviours or occupations were beneath their dignity. Others have told me that they would never dignify certain remarks with a comment of their own.

Some, like my dad, taught me the importance of giving others dignity by showing respect. I once sang in a choir with an elderly gentleman who had an air about him that I came to believe was a state of grace. Some church people called him refined. When he interacted socially I never saw him belittle anyone for a point of view, even if he disagreed with their perspective. Donald Trump is the antithesis of men such as these. His indignations abound and are public record. Heads of state can be faulted for false displays of dignity; that’s where pomposity is found. Yet The Donald seems to flaunt his indignity, even as he struts royally with tissues stuck to the heel of his shoe. My grandmother would have been mortified.

Dignity is not confined to nobility, though it is often equated to it. All humans deserve to be treated with dignity. All life is worthy. Animal activists claim that we must look harder at the way we treat other living things since they suffer huge indignities under our watch, as permitted by biblical edict,”…they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

We must do better.

Re: Guilt

“I don’t do guilt.” John, a teacher colleague of mine, said long ago. I can still picture his face as we discussed heaven knows what. I remember wishing that I could be so cavalier. The way the word ‘guilt’ came out of his mouth made me want to shed the strong feelings of responsibility that weighed on me at the time. I wondered how someone could honour their responsibilities to others and not feel guilty when they inevitably let another down. While I envied John for his stance I also felt such a position could only be held by someone selfish. After all, guilt came easily and could not be ignored by a stalwart individual such as myself. I still wish that I might find an easy way to let myself off the hook.

Feeling guilty is not a disease but unless it’s resolved it can make you feel sick. I have had periods where I have been rendered guilt-ridden. At the other end of this spectrum we have a label for people who don’t express remorse: Sociopath. Perhaps these individuals never resolved early feelings of guilt and so chose to tuck them away in the recesses of their mind.

These days, others named John may use a different word or phrase to easily absolve themselves of remorse: They might stand straight and utter, “Guilty as charged.” They may choose to feign humour, “Ooops! My bad.” Some may intellectualize their dilemma with the words, “Mea Culpa.” Saying sorry is difficult. Courts provide an opportunity to get things off your chest. An admission of guilt is often a precursor to a more lenient sentence after a verdict is passed. Witness impact statements can move those involved in a criminal act to feel remorse. In a perfect world, offenders and those offended can find ways of reconciliation beyond guilty/not-guilty definitions in order to create justice that lingers.

I always thought going to a Catholic confessional was an easy way out of dealing with the reality of guilty feelings. A few Hail Marys strikes me as not getting to the heart of why bad thoughts remain after committing an offence. Guilt thrives in the absence of forgiveness yet telling ourselves that it’s all right can be a hard thing to do. When my children made a mistake they were encouraged to apologize with an explanation of why they were sorry. The resulting dialogue helped everyone feel better because the act itself was acknowledged, feelings shared and understood, forgiveness provided. An emotional drive-thru experience: A happy meal.

I feel guilt just like I feel regret. There are times I say things that are unwarranted or do things I don’t really feel comfortable doing. I can’t blithely state that guilt doesn’t affect me. I’ve known some people who have responded to guilty feelings by seeking revenge on the very person who made them feel remorse. Deep feelings can be frightening. When I hurt someone else I feel the hurt too. Stopping the cycle of hurt is not easy, like most things in life, it starts with patient understanding.

Re: Legacy

I’ve had some amazing students in my classrooms. Some children have burned so brightly I’ve wondered at the time if this moment in their lives would eclipse all other accomplishments. Collectively, what they have left to me, is an affective legacy. Just as I have been part of my students’ lives they have shared themselves in ways that have influenced who I am today. 

Lately the term ‘Legacy’ has come up in news reports to describe what a particular politician might leave behind as they vacate their office. Lessons may have been learned from their tenure in government. If the leader was of great stature they may have created change that will live on in national policies and the consciousness of the citizenry. Hopefully these achievements will be referred to before the death of the individual. Contributions are worthy of repeating long before funeral speeches are written. 

While some wealthy people have used philanthropy to improve their social legacy, only history will say whether their overall impact as human beings will be revered or frowned upon. Gaining inheritance money or being a child of a celebrity can often be viewed as riding on someone else’s coat tails. Children of parents who have gone to prestigious universities in the United States are able to get Legacy Status for admission and thereby skipping the line. Recently people of privilege went a step further using bribery to receive bogus scholarships for their children.

Every Canadian knows of the legacy of Terry Fox, a one legged runner who attempted to cross our giant country to raise money for cancer research. His achievement and humility are factors that make his name appear on lists of top ten important Canadians, something he hadn’t envisioned or desired when he began the straightforward act of running. His legacy inspired Steve Fonyo to continue his run of a lifetime. Each year many run in Terry’s honour and hundreds of thousands contribute to boost this financial legacy. Individuals are often praised for what they leave behind. Groups of individuals can also be recognized for making a lasting contribution. Banners in stadiums attest to past achievements in sport. Plaques, stars in pavements or statues we erect can’t tell the whole story behind the individual honoured for their legacy.

Like the over used word ‘Hero’ we may be in a time when we hunger for an example of greatness so much that we might use ‘Legacy’ too easily. And yet no other word can be relevant to describe Captain Tom Moore as an example of a person’s actions leaving behind an imprint for the ages. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPxOjHgqFrY . Capt. Tom’s example inspired others, such as John Hillman of Oak Bay, to add to his own personal legacy by raising money for a cause by the simple act of walking. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T7s4JshbjUA .

Sir Isaac Newton once wrote, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”. Ultimately we increase the value of any legacy by continuing the work that has been started. 

Re: Spy

When is a spy different from a whistle blower? Or an investigative journalist for that matter. When we think of spies we think of deviousness, subterfuge, plotting and secrets to be discovered. There’s irony here: A spy is asked to uncover things whilst doing undercover work. A spy has to keep a secret in order to unearth one. The side that has the spy network is happy when results are obtained, the other side shows disgust that their privacy has been invaded. Spying rarely produces the win-win scenario much sought after in modern international politics.

The Cold War, begun in 1947 and not really over until the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., was originally about maintaining a balance of power between potentially warring nations. In order to achieve that, everyone had to be on an equal footing so espionage was an accepted practise. Some spies were imprisoned, if caught. Some disappeared. Many, like Sir Anthony Blunt, despite being considered a traitor by his countrymen, was not prosecuted due to the sensitivity of his proximity to the British Royal Family. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFl7NdzOOZg&list=PLkmRedTjok3Sfpkq9AhhCXHr675gI9RJd&index=52

As a young fellow I loved reading the short graphic tales in MAD Magazine called Spy vs Spy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onR7PD3Grc0. The cute characters, one white and one black, would basically chase after each other, laying traps, throwing cherry bombs while neither came out the clear winner. When I was older, my dad introduced me to Ian Fleming’s pulp fiction tales of James Bond. When the film franchise began I knew from the start I would be a life long fan. My mother relished being a sort of spy. She enjoyed ferreting out weaknesses in people and then holding the information, ‘over their heads’. She was once a personal assistant to a private investigator and went on stake-outs that my father frowned upon, until he was needed to pose as an ‘Englishman’; a role he played during a tense weekend in Hell’s Kitchen, a sketchy part of New York City.

We live in a time where security cameras are common. Privacy is hard to find, yet we expect transparency in government and business. Corporations might lose their new product’s edge if a design secret or release date becomes common knowledge. A brave few who work in industry, the military or in politics feel it is socially responsible to reveal insider information. Jeffrey Wigand may have singlehandedly changed the way North Americans thought of cigarettes. Journalists Woodward & Bernstein told Mark Felt’s Watergate story, which brought down a U.S. President. Daniel Ellsberg, Karen Silkwood, Juliann Assuage, Bradley(Chelsea)Manning, Edward Snowden are familiar names of people who have revealed truth to the public.

Whistleblowers, like spies, are frequently vilified yet they report they are acting according to their conscience. Even though the ‘top secrets’ exposed are shocking/dangerous/controversial, the informers feel they are acting in the public interest and fulfilling a personal directive that supersedes conventional authority. History may reveal the rightness of their tales, but at the very least we can be grateful for their courage.

Re: Privilege

COVID continues and I’m binge watching the television series The Crown. Talk about privilege eh? I feel lucky to have something to occupy my thoughts amidst the luxury of NOT having coronavirus. The portrayal of the British Royal Family shows characters who are the epitome of privilege. Setting aside their vast wealth for a moment (and I don’t do that lightly), I ranted privately on how someone could be given the right to rule simply because of the circumstance of their birth. The reign of Queen Elizabeth II parallels my time in history since she ascended to the throne the year I was born. My British parents were working class and yet still had an affection for the “goings-on” at Buckingham Palace. My mom thought that Edward VIII did the right thing by abdicating and “leaving all that nonsense behind.” As the episodes of The Crown unfolded I often shook my head in a socially egalitarian way, yet before I got too judgemental about the Windsors I couldn’t help but take stock of the ways I have been privileged.

Firstly, I’m born a white skinned male. Enough said? I’ve had the privilege of a solid education. I held a career with public status and enjoyed an income healthy enough to support a family of five. I can’t help but wonder how others may see what I’ve done with my privileges. I do believe with privilege comes responsibility yet I recognize I have been selfish at times with my talents, my resources and my energy. Someone once told me that I “present well.” I’m sometimes embarrassed by the privileges I have not earned, however it’s been a privilege to help maintain the society within which I have been able to thrive. I try not to abuse the gifts that have been bestowed on me. I sincerely feel that privilege never gives me licence to be rude or disrespectful.

Birthright does not always enter into the success of an individual’s life, hard work and talent can place you in a privileged, enviable position. It’s true, those who work hard deserve something special for their efforts. However I also judge the way the wealthy few exercise their privilege. When I think of today’s 0.1%: Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, for example, it’s clear they represent the new royalty. Their individual wealth gives them privileges far beyond anyone currently entitled to a crown.

When dog walker Amy Cooper famously ranted in Central Park she abused her privilege. When Ted Yoho swore at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez he assumed his privilege would protect him. Ms. Cortez later stood in Congress on a ‘point of personal privilege’, and gave a moving speech related to human rights.

Sometimes it is clear where the line between privilege and right is drawn. The United Nation Declaration of Human Rights includes 30 rights felt to be essential to human life. They are often disregarded, usurped or dismissed by those who claim privilege, however these rights are inclusive, irremovable and do not depend on where, how or to whom you were entrusted at birth.

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.