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: Fish

I like the non gendered word Fisher; someone who fishes for their livelihood. Even Jesus must have preferred it to Fisherman/Fisherwoman since he extolled his disciples, “I will make you fishers of men.” I have been interested in fish for as long as I can remember.  My favourite bedtime story was McElligot’s Pool by Dr. Seuss. Pretend you’re a kid again, listen with wonder and you’ll see why I got hooked.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNH6i3KSYsk

When I got older, the first novel I read was about an old man who went out to sea and caught a fish as big as his boat. Once, when asked what super power I would like, I said I wanted gills like Aquaman. I kept several aquariums in my bedroom during adolescence. I have visited many large city aquariums including a beautiful one in Lisbon, Portugal. I learned how to use SCUBA gear so I could join my finned friends in their own habitat. I studied Ichthyology in university as part of my Bachelor’s Degree in Fish and Wildlife Biology. I spent one summer surveying lakes in Northern Ontario to help the government determine if there were viable areas to develop for a fishing tourism industry.

The watery world we live on fascinates me. I’m not alone, as a book by Laura Trethewey called ‘The Imperilled Ocean’ attests. I could find myself in these chapters devoted to how we all are personally linked to the ocean and its creatures. It brought back memories of idle summer holidays immersing myself in the tidal zones along Wells Beach, Maine. Now living in British Columbia I am very aware of the impact of the salmon fishery. I’ve just finished a great book about salmon by Mark Kurlanski. The controversies of salmon farming, hatcheries, fish ladders, commercial fishing, fish cannons, river habitat are discussed. When greed, politics and climate realities merge it’s clear something fishy is going on.

I remember the first fish I caught, a Sunfish, was barely bigger than my hand. It’s scales were coloured like a rainbow. I won’t forget it’s perfectly round eye, staring back at me. Everyone near me shouted congratulations yet I felt sad. I was surprised how its brilliant colours faded as its gills stopped moving.

Philosophically, I like using fishing as an analogy for life. I used to encourage my children to go out into life as though they were going fishing: “Cast your line son. You never know what might come to your bait.” Fishing in this broader sense requires amounts of patience, perseverance, courage and curiosity. When looking for a mate or a date it’s important to keep trying. My mom once tried to console me when I was crushed by an adolescent breakup, “There are plenty of fish in the sea.” Whether applying for a job, signing up for a course of studies, deciding on a purchase or looking for a new friend, fish around until satisfied. You never know, what you might catch could just be a new way of thinking.

Re: Teeter-totter

Playgrounds are a big part of children’s lives. When my boys were small we lived in a house directly across from a small parkette. It had a teeter-totter, slide and sand area. As the boundaries for their play expanded from their own front yard, crossing the street, all by themselves, was a longed for objective. I have fond memories of setting up a camp chair on my lawn and witnessing this early bit of boyhood adventure, just across the divide of our quiet residential street. Curiously, my sons’ favourite activity was transporting handfuls of sand to the top of the slide, giggling as the grains slid down the slippery slope. Once I watched my eldest try to walk up and over the teeter-totter. He made it up to the centre point and then, all wobbly (and with my heart racing) he jumped to safer ground.

Rarely seen in playgrounds anymore, the seesaw or teeter-totter has always seemed a strange choice for a kids’ park. It’s a dangerous piece of equipment! It’s made of hard materials. A certain level of balance is required while sitting in the tiny seat and holding the pokey handlebars. It’s one piece of playground equipment that requires another person in order to have productive fun. The choice of partner may also be a challenge since size, agility and communication skills are important considerations. Trust is also a big factor as you must have confidence that your teeter buddy will know the right time to get off their end, slowly, preventing the one in the air from crashing to the ground.

Seesaw is derived from the French ci-ca, meaning this or that. I love the broader philosophical view here: either this or that, up or down, here or there, you or me. A teeter-totter has a fulcrum like a set of scales. In order for this equipment to work properly a degree of justice must prevail so that one person isn’t forever stranded in the air, awaiting a fateful decision. In practise, this machine is a type of lever (one of humankind’s first tools) and yet metaphorically a seesaw has the potential to pry you out of your comfort zone, enabling you to gain a different perspective. The ride can be a thrill as you may pretend to be part of a circus act of tumblers, jugglers and acrobats. Add danger at your pleasure, equivalent to your level of imagination.

Certainly cheaper and with fewer moving parts than a roller coaster, a teeter-totter is also a handy metaphor for mood. Your state of being may fluctuate: ‘I’m feeling down today.’ Or ‘Hey my prospects are looking up for a change.’ Or ‘I think I need more balance in my life.’ I have often seesawed my way through life. I’ve been grateful for the partners I’ve had, on the other end, lifting me up, then with a push getting me grounded again.

Recognizing the value others bring to my play has not always been easy for me. Achieving balance is a knack that takes practise.

Re: Need

I recently pleaded to a nurse, “I need to be rescued!” Needless to say she paid attention to this call to action and found a way to get me the help I needed. Bless her heart. Most times I think we are individually reluctant to say we need something. We like to be independent in our quest for the things we require. We don’t want to appear as whiners or be left feeling bitter because someone else got what we were needing, so generally we are quiet searchers for the things that will make us healthy, happy and whole.

We can all agree that for mere survival we need air & water. We often band together and demand needs as our rights: affordable housing, a clean environment, education, equal pay. When our side seems abandoned we protest, we argue and literally stomp our feet and bang our drums to right the injustice over the distribution of these human needs. How we define a need from a want can lead to further discord until a unified consensus is found.

Parents have to be wise in differentiating between needs and wants so their children can grow to understand. Very young children may have tantrums when they want something. In the film The Jerk, Steve Martin’s character finds out the differences between needs and wants through a humorous journey. In this scene I laugh at the childlike way he adds to his list of what he “really needs”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSWBuZws30g

Is emotion to want, as survival is to need? I’ve had some insightful conversations with my academic activist son on this topic. He easily lists Education, Housing, Employment, Food, Health Care as needs. He argues these needs must be supported by governments and to a larger or smaller degree they all are. Being a Star Trek fan, I would agree these five primary needs to be free for all, supported by tax dollars. Far from being utopian in scope, once these needs are met then we can tackle other areas of life with full bellies, open hearts and keen minds.

Trouble is, some of us think waging war is needed. Some think we need massive amounts of wealth. Others think education is only for boys or the rich or the white. Still others think the food that we grow, the water we drink must be managed for maximum profit. Information is even being commodified. “That’s for me to know and you to find out.” used to be a boast, a school yard taunt or a military pronouncement. Now, in the search for basic facts, the information you need may end up costing you.

My personal needs for optimum emotional health include safety and love. Sometimes what you need has to actively pursued. Sometimes it’s a matter of seeing what has been there all along. The song, ‘Without You’ written by Pete Ham & Tom Evans of Welsh rock group Badfinger plaintively captures the universal need for love. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPco24LS31A

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