Re: Trigger

The word Trigger gets me thinking about guns. Don’t get me started on the 2nd Amendment of my basement neighbour’s Constitution! I’m triggered to think of the atrocities committed in the United States that are directly related to the insane belief that some Americans have regarding their right to bear arms. Of course, gun culture is not exclusive to the U.S.of A., but that nation sure knows how to promote it.

Most guys my age had a set of toy six shooters under the Christmas Tree. These faux firearms came with a roll of caps to create authentic sounds of engagement. As a nine year old I met up with my friends in a nearby ravine every weekend to play Cowboys and Indians. As well as my holstered cast aluminum pistols, I carried a replica carbine rifle and a derringer tucked into my sock. I was packin’!

Television at the time had role models to enhance your imagination. I could pretend to be Roy Rogers who had a dog named Bullet. I’d pretend to ride his horse named Trigger, chasing after bad guys who only understood justice from the point of a gun. Today you can view an endless stream of Netflix dramas that feature gun play. Violence is depicted as necessary, the weapon as an equalizer. Rarely is guilt factored into that fictional equation, since the end result justifies any and all means. So goes the script anyway.

What sets a person off can often be a good starting point to any discussion that requires resolution. I’ve been noticing lately that even a single word, misinterpreted, can incline the conversation in a surprising direction. Language can trigger memory and, like the speed of a bullet, the damage of that recollection pierces your heart as though the wound was occurring in real time. With feelings tightening, it’s very difficult to return to the onset: The flames of unresolved issues have been fanned into a firestorm of emotion. It’s a firefight.

I used to idolize the gunslingers I followed on my favourite tv westerns. They had a quick trigger finger and a focussed aim. I liked it when their precision shot would blast the gun out of the bad man’s hand, disarming the villain even while correspondingly shaming him for his intent to harm the innocent town folk. To this day incidents of bullying are most triggering for my childish mind. I picture myself as the sheriff walking about my village with a space gun (set to stun), or a rapid fire nerf shooter. I’ll be doing my rounds, ever watchful and fully prepared to immobilize the blaggards of my community. Thankfully, my adult sensibility has found ways to tap into a relevant response to current stressors.

I’m getting better at not letting triggers dictate my immediate action. I’ll review my past association with the words or behaviours I’m witnessing before going off half cocked. Metaphorically, for safety sake, I’ve put a lock on my triggers, to avoid any random violence. Peace and reconciliation are my aims.

Re: Clown

A Jack in the Box is a clown puppet on a spring. You turn a crank on the side of the metal box where he lives to make music (Pop! Goes the Weasel) until the door on the top opens randomly and out jumps Jack the Clown. If you can recover from the shock, then just push the clown back down, close the lid and relive the experience. Sorta like life.

The circus came to our city one late summer and I took my first born and his younger brother to catch some of the excitement that live theatre provides. After enjoying a few simple rides, some candy floss and a small petting zoo we went into a large tent and sat on chairs arranged around a single large ring. We got to be in the first row so everything was up close. There were horses and jugglers, acrobats and clowns. One clown, face pasty white and eyes ringed in red make-up came out of nowhere flashing his large gloved hands and startled me. My children crawled into the arms of my wife sitting next to me. Chaos ensued. The clown man moved on along the circle. We decided that we had had enough for the day.

Santa is really a clown, “Who’s got a big red cherry nose?” He could be referred to as the King of the Clowns. Every year someone pretending to be Santa volunteers to dress up and be part of parades and company parties. Every large shopping mall has a North Pole display complete with a throne for Santa. Children are encouraged to overcome their shyness, sit alone on the big man’s lap while telling him their secret wishes. Some kids are visibly shaken by the experience yet caregivers feel compelled to continue this odd cultural tradition. Pictures are taken to keep the moment memorable, smiles or no smiles.

The author Stephen King has added an extra level of fright to the way we view clowns. Pennywise, the character in his story of clowning mayhem called IT is not a dude you would like to bump into. Lurking in the gutters, leering through the drain ways,  Robert Gray generates no laughter from me. Neither do clownish politicians who act one way and make policy decisions in another dimension of reality. There were times when court jesters were employed to divert the populace from unpleasant royal edicts. Comedy used this way could be risky. Several television & movie actors have toyed with the fine line between humour and pathos. Jack Lemmon, Norman Wisdom, Milton Berle, Red Skelton and Jim Carrey are among those successful with the transition between these emotional forms. Jerry Lewis was another who used his clown persona but not always with mass approval. Witness this questionable unreleased film; ‘The Day the Clown Cried’. Coming Soon! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Cv3-MCkX7U

Sometimes I enjoy clowning around. Being silly allows me to step outside of my normally serious personality. I don’t use scary makeup. If others in the room appear shocked, I’ll quickly let them in on the joke.

Re: Enough

“Enough!” Is a cry of exasperation. I’ve shouted ‘Stop’ using the same emotion. There is so much discord, trauma and catastrophe in the world right now that I’m surprised someone hasn’t used Enough as a label for a social activist, environmental justice or political reform movement. I picture vast numbers of people all wearing red Enough! T-shirts, faces boiling mad, voices yelling through loud speakers. That will fix things.

Enough is a word with a selfish root. We say it when things aren’t going our way. We say it to make bad things go away. We ask it when we are questioning our worthiness or competence: “Am I doing enough?” Or “Have I done enough?” Or “Am I enough for you?” In discussions we have with ourselves or with others we hopefully can reach a point to acknowledge our understanding by saying, “Fair Enough.”

I’ve rarely felt ambitious. A peaceful life of satisfying activity shared with others feels enough for me. I’ll admit there has been a few times when I have hung on tenaciously to a goal. The grasp of that brass ring might have been the only thing sufficient to get me off the scent. And yet I rarely have found myself so fixated that I refused to listen to another person’s counsel. I’ve met people who are always wondering if they will ever have enough material things, enough space or time or even enough peace of mind. The accumulation of things, medals, memories has never been an aim of mine. The journey is what counts. But some must continue to strive, to master, even to conquer, while missing out on what’s right in front of them. 

I usually feel uncomfortable in times when abundance is the focus: Decadence diminishes delight. Christmas particularly is a conflict of interest, especially being part of a collective family scene where wrapping paper is strewn about the floor as participants tear into their gifts with wild abandon. There is stress related to the value of the gift in the context of the giver. Thoughts of fairness, have I spent enough, or will the recipient feel the presents were adequate to the occasion, all do a balancing act in my mind. It’s a display of consumption that messes with the joy of giving and receiving for me and each time I hope that I can muster enough patience and grace to be present.

We do many things hoping they will be enough. On retirement, many wonder if they have left a legacy, if they accomplished what they had set out to do. My wife feels this everyday as she cares for her aging parents. I feel her actions are a reminder of the importance of sacrifice; ‘a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done before’. Charles Dickens often described his characters, young or old, as being in a state of grace when they put another’s needs ahead of their own. Oliver was clearly needy, while Scrooge was greedy.

Re: MAGA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Re: Tease

When I was a kid I thought Christmas Eve was such a tease. My mom would mention that times had been financially hard and that we mustn’t expect much under the tree. As an adult, I came to the conclusion that this was her way of reducing expectations so that when Christmas morning arrived we would all be awestruck that Santa had somehow pulled off one of his miracles. I think my mom’s approach to Christmas morning gift giving was the reason I often developed a stomach ache on December 24th.

This example also taught me about the larger pattern in my mom’s behaviour towards others: set them up with what seemed like the truth, orchestrate a reversal, say you were just having fun, accuse them of not being able to take a joke. Sadly, she lost many friends using this strategy of social engagement, including her own daughter.

My mom was a natural born teaser, yet she hated the comedy of Don Rickles; a man who made a career from taking the mickey out of people.

His use of mockery and ridicule at an audience member’s expense disturbed me. While I recognize that many people think teasing is all in good sport, my experience with my mom, taught me that teasing someone, like in any sport, produces winners and losers. Maybe my mom thought that teasing me early would give me character, or thicken my skin. I would say it made me shy with people. A former girlfriend, early in our relationship, said she wouldn’t ‘joke with me’ until she knew me better. A pretty accurate comment, I felt at the time, since teasing can bore into your heart if you don’t ‘get the joke’.

Teasing was not promoted as a form of humour when I became a father. My wife and I agreed that making fun of someone would not be something we modelled to our sons. She was a fibre artist and was very practised at teasing out particles from animal fur. For example, raw sheep wool, even after it has been washed, has much debris embedded in the fibre. Deft fingers are required to remove tiny seeds or vegetable filaments. Bits of straw, dung, dead insects and such can be picked from the fleece using a carder. A hand carder has many rows of fine metal spikes. A carding machine looks like an instrument of torture. When the fibre has been processed in this way, you can roll a clean roving that can be spun into yarn.

Christmas is a time of yarns. Sometimes we have to tease apart the truth from the stories before we can spin the best yarns. I guess in this sense finding the truth requires some teasing. Perhaps that’s what we do when we are poking fun; trying to provoke a reaction that will tell us something more about the person who is the butt of our joke.

Life can be messy, especially when we aren’t sure how to separate the drama from the comedy.

Re: Memory

My first thought when I think of this word is the song Memory from the hit Broadway musical Cats. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-L6rEm0rnY
I haven’t seen the staged play, yet the song haunts. I feel a yearning upon hearing the opening chords. The words in the verses take me on tangents as I relate them to moments in my life. I wonder if the tug of emotion comes from my own memories and the sentimentality that comes from travelling to my past. Christmas with all its familiarities makes it easy to stroll down memory lane. There are musical triggers, baking triggers, alcohol triggers, shopping triggers; all can lead you down a dark alley. Thank goodness for fairy lights to guide us safely home again!

The busy activity of holiday preparation acts to keep us cheerful. We can’t help but anticipate joyful reunions. Yet the temporal reality can get us feeling a bit maudlin can’t it? Some days seem so short that it feels like the sun has hardly made any effort to rise. On those occasions I have a struggle getting out of my bathrobe; morning coffee turns to breakfast, early lunch, supper feels right at 4pm and gosh it is night again. It’s easy to retreat to the comfort of bed, wishing some happy memory replays through REM sleep.

My memory confounds me. Sometimes while working on a crossword I’ll remember an answer from a clue, baffling myself as to how I could possibly recall something so obscure. Later I might forget where I set down my glasses. I dread the thought that dementia may come calling as I advance in years, erasing some of the memories that I cherish.

Yet sometimes there is joy in rediscovery.
As a youngster I was gripped by the brief television series about amnesia called Coronet Blue. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghkOAZjNFEU
Other films like Groundhog Day and Fifty First Dates have captured memory loss in a humorous way. Currently I chuckle at the JIF peanut butter ads. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LjnM7PWQ-YE

Memory connects us to time. We take selfies with our mind’s eye every single second. Some shots are quickly discarded, some become blurred with time, while the best of the best are kept safe, like that Kodak or Polaroid snap from our youth. We bring these memories out when we need reminding of how much we have to be thankful for. The Christmas of 2006 contains some of my fondest remembrances: I had just retired from a career in teaching, extended family gathered for one last big hurrah at the homestead, stories of past and present were blended with hopes for the future.

I’ve just read an excellent biography of Buffy Saint Marie by Andrea Warner emphasizing Buffy ‘The Philosopher’. The author allows us to listen as this talented song writer and activist crystallizes her memories down to two personal keys of life: Gratitude and Wonder.

Your memoir, created from words and experiences only you know, awaits publication.

Re: Woke

Perhaps it’s my need for light at this time of year that makes me feel hyper-vigilant. I joke that I’m afraid of the dark and that has a certain memory of childhood truth to it. I really appreciate the observance by many to string lights around their buildings since it makes it more easily enjoyable for me to get out for a nighttime ramble. In our community we have an annual lighted truck parade that helps to celebrate the light. The swift moving caravan of dozens of vehicles honks its way throughout our streets, piercing the darkness and our eardrums while making crowds of people smile. https://www.ieoa.ca/

The African American word Woke comes to mind and is useful to me as I come to understand our requirement to be alert to life. I feel that being awake to the world around us is a responsibility of citizens. The poet, Ivan Brooks Sr. starts his piece ‘Reasons I Woke Up’: I woke up very happy/This joy isn’t for me alone/But for nearly everybody/Who calls this world home. https://hellopoetry.com/words/woke/

The joy of being Woke is energizing. I love those mornings when I can rise confidently from slumber and just know in my heart that it is going to be a good day. At times like that a song comes easily to my lips, as this one from the film The Sound of Music.

Lit is another word that can be used to express awareness to the joys that life may bring if we are paying attention. I’ve never felt the need to take drugs to get Lit, but I’ve been known to get a buzz from a happy-hour drink or two. When I am Lit I am also Woke to all possibilities. The world is out there for me to explore and I wish to bring it! I suspect that the Three Wise Men of myth and legend woke one morning and got lit by a passionate desire to seek the reason for the star in the West. My favourite carol as a child was We Three Kings. I could picture their quest easily: Three souls, all wise, yet still they searched. They rode with gravitas, perhaps hoping that their gifts would be enough for what they imagined they would behold.

Being Woke or Lit can prove that you are alive. Someone once said: “If Death comes a knocking just hope he finds you living.” We are often in a wakeful, yet numbed state. What a pity, since soon enough our days of consciousness will end. To be alive is to be fully awake, with our light shining brightly, clearing away the darkness. We must be wise to ourselves. We must look for the wisdom, the wakefulness of others who might act as our guides.
We can be turned on, only after we have tuned in.

Re: Carols

It’s that time of year for Christmas music. The jing-a-ling loop heard in stores and on most radio station playlists may make people get Ebenezer Scrooge grumpy or it may start their yuletide engines. I usually like the first few weeks of this sound and then I start wishing that the season would just hurry itself along. A pun is called for: I’m a Bad-Humming Bug!

For convenience I call all christmasy songs Carols. I’ve sung many Christmas hymns in church choirs and once joined a regional choir that performed favourites in a Holiday Extravaganza! During my elementary teaching days, I even wrote an original song for a play written and performed by my whip-smart fifth graders: “…Don’t be a grump/Get off the couch and don’t be a lump/Share your feelings/Share your life/It all comes true on Christmas night!” The play was way better than my song but a deal was a deal.

I had a short term relationship one Christmas holiday. Her name was Carol. I didn’t tease her. Maybe that was the reason it ended before the new year. In general maybe that is why many people don’t like songs about Christmas; because it reminds them of past loves, broken promises, expectations about presents or turkey dinners gone terribly, horribly bad. Some Carols can certainly stick in your mind. Likely because of the constant airtime during December, one tune or another will bore its way into your head. Earworm is such an appropriate word isn’t it?

That critter can often get lodged in my brain deeply enough that I can find myself belting out Baby It’s Cold Outside while enjoying a hot shower in February, half expecting to be joined by Will Ferrell’s Elf. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7RMy7Vg0LU
This duet is one of my favourites in the Christmas songbook. I find it to be playfully seductive but some have criticized its lyrics as being inappropriate as we examine what it means to be sexually active in a #metoo atmosphere. This version by Idina Menzel & Michael Bublé from a few years back, featuring child actors, may cause outrage; but it’s so cute!

Still another version of this song that came from a GLEE episode. It appears light hearted yet at the time it aired on television the context seemed so groundbreaking.

Quite a while ago, when my tenor voice was reasonably under control, I got paid to sing for a Worthy Matron of the Order of the Eastern Star. Her choice was The Christmas Song.

Its long sustained notes and lower register were a challenge for me but I pulled it off. Afterwards, one gentleman in the audience sought me out. With a tear in his eye, he told me that my performance reminded him of a fellow soldier who sang this very song at dockside while he and his buddies were boarding transport to return to Canada after WWII.

Some carols never leave us.