Re: Sermon

I’m not threatened by people who pontificate as long as they aren’t fudging the truth. I enjoy hearing people’s points of view as long as they aren’t trying to push someone else’s agenda. In short; if you are giving me your thoughts of the day I’ll enjoy looking through your lens since it might give me a fresh perspective. And while we are at it, let’s agree that sermons can be found in many venues these days, not just in a church. I think that a sermon is not so much about advice, rather it’s an opening of a door or window. We may see what we already know yet have resisted acknowledging.

One of my friends enjoys what he calls ‘The Church of Bill Maher’. Each Friday he’ll watch Maher’s television show ‘Real Time’ to catch a dissection and analysis of the weekly news. The final segment ‘New Rules’ seems a lot like a sermon to me as the host preaches what he feels should become standard cultural practise. Tongue in cheek sarcasm is used while delivering his message. Similarly, Canadian comic Rick Mercer used rants, often delivered while walking alone in back alleys, about cultural conundrums or political missteps. He had this message to impart in the early Covid19 days and it’s still relevant today.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbZRo4pw63g

You don’t have to be a talkshow host to express an opinion. People from all sectors of society can be heard spouting their sermons while mounted on a soap box or an equivalent platform. TED talks are sermons for the business set. Government buildings are magnets for the protestor’s voice. I prefer the open air preachers who invite me in closer without the use of a megaphone. Some say the message must be amplified before it is recognized. I believe if the idea has value it will be heard. Some folk can con by sanitizing their ideas before they sermonize with smooth talk. Before you know it, you’re shouting agreement. There you go again, down that garden path. The morning after you might have a headache, regretting that you were so easily swayed. Self awareness is key to deciding if the message or the messenger is attracting your attention or motivating your behaviour.

I’ve given sermons in churches, declarations at protest marches, pronouncements at board meetings, speeches in school and admonishments to my children. I’ve had something to say in each case while easily admitting that I don’t know everything there is to know. I prefer to set a quiet example but I don’t mind rising to the occasion when the time for talk seems appropriate. When I’ve answered the call to speak I’ve felt most comfortable in the role of story teller. Greek philosopher/teacher Socrates suggested that posing a question was a better way to evoke thought, rather than providing a prescription for the right way to live.

If you wanted to start a principled movement what would your keynote address sound like? How would you persuade others to join you in your quest?

Re: Appropriate

Sometimes it is hard to find the appropriate word. I have to take into account the way language evolves over time. Add to that the changing societal norms of acceptable usage, then it takes courage to speak or write what might be on my mind. I believe that freedom of speech requires an appropriate filter if I wish to engage in meaningful conversation. Reading helps me stay on top of current language trends. Writers can suggest uses of words or phrases in ways that sometimes seriously startle me. A challenging author can get to the how of life rather than dwelling on the why.  That’s a grander exploration than the dead end annoyance of why someone did or said something controversial.

Cultural appropriation is in the news. Artists are currently frustrated by criticism when they explore features outside of their domain. I wonder how we can get to that place of cultural understanding if we do not pretend or act out roles that are unfamiliar to us. I think that it is part of the learning process to appropriate ways that may be foreign. Perhaps that can be a way to walk a while in the other’s shoes. If we hold too fast to notions of exclusivity we are in danger of discarding the concepts of openness and inclusivity.

I have often felt outside. Luckily, belonging to a dominant culture allows me more freedom to be an outsider than someone who is already on the fringe or part of a minority. I get that being marginalized would make you hold on to what you have with greater passion, especially when your culture is being appropriated. Historically, The Doctrine of Discovery was a document legitimizing theft. It was a rationale for displacement and slavery. No one has a justifiable right to have their cultures appropriated by another. The appropriate English name we have for that is genocide: The ultimate form of appropriation.

Jesse Wente is a respected thinker and film critic. He has published a memoir called Unreconciled. While reading this book, I felt as though he was in the room with me, challenging my perceptions of inclusivity, patriarchy and colonialism with the gentle persuasion of a man honestly examining his own role in the world. In spite of my white skin and ancestry I recognized the truth of his life experience when I could relate it to the truth of my own existence. I could find a commonality even though we are not of the same tribe. I believe we share and value the importance of story telling in our individual lives. I felt closest to his words when I allowed myself to respectfully, in thought, tread where he had tread.

My high school was full of extracurricular opportunities. The many different clubs I joined helped me to understand my identity. Sometimes I found the membership requirements to be inappropriate to my goals, so I quit. I could always try another club. Sometimes my application to join a group was rejected, then I felt crushed. Words can break bones.

Re: Convey

The other night I dreamt of being on an airport conveyor belt. I was the luggage moving on an endless carousel. It was nothing like a giggly ride with a grandchild on an amusement park merry-go-round either: No hurdy-gurdy music in this dream. No Sir! No one came to pick me up and take me home. Eventually I was consigned to the ‘Lost’ kiosk. Woe was me.

I’ve been on many a conveyance in my lifetime, some taking me places that were familiar, others thrilling me with adventure as I anticipated a new destination at the trip’s terminus. The mode of transportation from A to B sometimes is the trip itself. I liked ski hill tow ropes in that way, getting to the top was a challenge and half the fun. The moving sidewalks in airports make me feel like a kid again, as do escalators. I’ve felt the power of the wind, propelling me forward, on sailboats and sailboards. There is joy and companionship found while riding on a horse’s back. I once felt euphoria as I gripped the dorsal fin of a dolphin and was conveyed from one end of a pool to another. Street cars in San Fransisco and Oslo, a small gauge train in Peru and subways in London and Toronto have all filled me with awe and gratitude that such things exist, seemingly just for me.

I wonder what subconscious message, in that piece of lost luggage, is being conveyed to me. The way that I communicate is equally as important as the words that I choose to use. When I talk intimately to my partner I trust that the message I want to convey is never in doubt. Yet, most of us can name an occasion when our words have not measured up to the feelings we have wished to express. Sometimes we can’t be blamed completely for mixed messages. The listener is also responsible for checking to see if the topic is still on track. Relationships can get derailed even among the best travelling partners when one person takes the toll road while the other takes the road less travelled. I’ve met couples who seem unable to convey their feelings in words, much like the characters Tevye & Golde from the classic musical ‘Fiddler on the Roof’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_y9F5St4j0

Through word and especially action, we must convey to the people in our village what is most important to us. It’s risky business to let others see who we are. It may seem unnecessary to tell others how we feel about them. It’s easier to not engage,  But when I hold things in I don’t feel right. I feel like an opportunity to show who I am has been missed. Like that piece of luggage in my dream, I feel like I’m not being picked up, like I’m not important enough to matter.

When you share yourself with another, you are sharing a ride on a magic carpet. It’s a trip neither of you will ever forget.

Re: Media

The first time ever I thought deeply about this word was when my grade ten art teacher started a lesson by using a Marshal McLuhan quote: ‘The medium is the message.’ After the discussion, we chose the medium we felt was appropriate to a theme of our choosing. Back then I believed I was being clever by using plasticine. I wanted to give a cheeky message that media could be molded or manipulated to suit the situation. Today, as a writer, I’m using this blog as my medium of choice. Let me massage your thoughts.

Most people view media as the platform through which any information is delivered. In a free society this means that the message is rarely filtered and can get manipulated. Wars and governments are won or lost on how well the propaganda machine can spew out ‘alternative facts’. The messenger becomes very important when it comes to interpreting the barrage of information. As citizens we must take some time to discover what is believable and who to trust. It has become difficult to discern the truth, especially when we are in such a hurry, yet some subjects are just too important to rely on a swipe right or left methodology.

Courtroom decisions are being made based on media evidence of crimes committed. Darnella Frazier was recognized with a Pulitzer Prize for courageously recording the murder of George Floyd, a video that spurred protests against police brutality around the world, highlighting the crucial role of citizens in journalists’ quest for truth and justice.

Today the options for information and entertainment are vast. My blind mother-in-law is less alone because of the joy she finds in listening to her reliable radio. I cling to a traditional, home delivered newspaper in a similar way. I enjoy television too, perhaps too much, especially now that I can stream programming without the annoyance of commercials. I’ll confess that Twitter has been a remarkable addition to my life. I find this format of social media helps me to see interesting perspectives from all over the world.

Media and reality have never been so blurred. I’m respectful of journalists who sometimes risk their health and safety to bring us important stories. Cellphone technology can transport us live to scenes only passersby used to witness. Film can be uploaded to Facebook or Instagram for millions of users to take a collective gasp, then resent for political action. I remember being shocked by one-day-old film from the war in Vietnam. Now with the war in Ukraine, President Zelenskyy, pictured below, can bring a real time humanitarian message to viewers of the Grammy Awards show. Art imitating life imitating art, was never more true.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cG86Kezt0K0

I won’t take a medial position on this. A spiritual medium may mystically propose that my being and my message are essentially interconnected. I’ll interpret Mr.McLuhan by proffering that we are all, Media. I believe our thoughts/feelings/expressions can be connected to form a singular reliable understanding. Wow!

Re: Anecdote

My dad was a great story teller. It took patience to listen to his picturesque anecdotes about his day at work, his thoughts on clover, his belief that we all mattered. He rarely repeated a story. Each new day brought new material for him to wonder over. Each tale was embellished beyond practicality. For my father, the act of storytelling was the most important thing. He once held my sister and me captive as he dramatized his amazement over the amount of condensation he had had to wipe from a bathroom window after he had taken a shower.

His presence in my life was undervalued when I was young. His legacy remains however, as I have recorded that joy of the awesomeness of life by journaling. I have kept anecdotal thoughts on the events of my life in diaries, on note pads, in newspaper columns and internet blogs. I’m not alone, nor unique really, since anecdotes are the history of humankind.

Society can dismiss information that comes from others as not being accurate or not science based. Yet we do love to gossip. Often evidence in a trial is invalidated if it is anecdotal but get a large enough group to say they believe in something then fiction becomes truth. Old wives have been shamed for hundreds of years just because their tales were considered suspiciously held. Stories that are passed down from one generation to another may lack documentation but that doesn’t necessarily make them untrue. An oral history can indeed be worthy of note.

Indigenous peoples of the world have taught us colonizers that stories from our elders can be genuine. We can trust what our mom or dad or grandparents tell us. Take the recent discovery of the two ships from the Franklin expedition in 1813 as an example of the value of anecdotal evidence. Searches using various scientific methods were conducted on many occasions but it wasn’t until oral heritage descriptions from Inuit stories were analyzed that the search narrowed to the location of discovery. Now the area is a Parks Canada Historic sight.

https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/lhn-nhs/nu/epaveswrecks

Speaking or writing anecdotally is sort of an analogue version of history. We may not need to gather around the tribal campfire anymore but family gatherings always enable experiences to be shared in an informal way. At the family level or nationally this is heritage talk. Inevitably there are paper trails to be followed when one is researching antiquity. There are legal documents, court reports, death notices, registries of births. The pages will sit in some file, or listed in a computer data base, maybe even laminated and framed for posterity.  My eldest son is a historian. He does painstaking research through various archival sources but the final product he creates reads like one of my dad’s stories.

Tales of where we have come from or who we were can act as a guide for us to discover our own lost wrecks.

Re: Scene

My wife and I have been talking about scenarios on a daily basis. We both like to have some grasp of the future so we plot out possible scenes as a playwright might. Shepherding two seniors through end of life stages is no easy task, especially when they have so little intention to be part of the present scene. One will say it is too early for such talk while the other will prefer to listen to audio books. Both of them effectively leaving it to us to write what could happen next. Hard to make any headway when some of the players don’t even want to read the script, let alone help to write it.

Children are often being told not to make a scene. Parents hate to have attention drawn to them in a public place. My first wife had the effective strategy of scooping up our toddlers the second they misbehaved in a store. Into the car they would go for a chilly drive home where they would be confined to their room. Sounds harsh, yet it would always be followed up with a conversation on how the scene was seen by all of the actors involved. Kids are predisposed to act out their frustrations, fears and wants, yet they must learn the consequences and be guided towards solutions.

I used to accompany my artistic father on sketching walks. Rather than take a polaroid shot of a scenic view, he would sit for a bit on a small canvas foldable chair and focus his attention on picturesque details. He would make notes of colours so when he returned to his apartment he could use his pastels or oil paint to best affect. As a result, I fell in love with scenery in general and landscapes in particular. Even when I have been in a confined space I have tried to trick my mind into seeing a vista. I’ve found that even in a small backyard or on an apartment balcony I could visualize elements of a grand canyon just by narrowing my view to marvel at the details of the scene.

Nothing makes my emotions tingle so quickly as a well acted scene in a stage play, television serial or big screen film. When a scene can include the expanse of magnificent scenery, well, that memory forms a bond in my brain that forever informs the scenes of my own life. For example, I can recall the intricately placed scenery from a production of La Boheme my wife and I viewed at the Opera House in Oslo, Norway. This magnificent piece of architecture was a treat for the senses both inside and outside. My favourite film of all time, Lawrence of Arabia, has so many scenic scenes that I am awestruck by the planning it must have taken to make this masterwork of cinemascope.

Moments in time can be scenes from which lifetime memories are built. From birth to death  there are opportunities to wonder. The more involved we are, the more vivid the scenery.

Re: Prophet

Early every New Year media sources look for seers who are willing to share their predictions. I didn’t see many prophecies this year. Maybe Covid19 trauma has dulled our sense of tomorrow. In many art forms, visions of the future still abound. For example, from an episode of the viral apocalypse TV series ‘Station Eleven’ a character in an airport makes a speech to calm the crowd “There is no future!” the soothsayer declares. With that, those assembled begin talking about what they can do with the frightening realities of the moment. Living in the present is hard. I prefer the hopefulness of the future, while other souls cling to the past for comfort. 

World religions have a bazillion prophets. Characteristically men dominate the list. I have a sweet spot for Sarah, a woman more legend than fact, who lived to be 107 years of age. There is that guy named Joseph Smith, the Mormon founder and follower Brigham Young whose visions led to the deaths of many. In principle and for my tastes, prophets must lead by example, must not profit, nor advocate for exclusivity, status or ethnic cleansing. I have inwardly gasped when I have caught the holiness within others whom I have met. The thought that God might walk amongst us intrigues me. 

Clairvoyants fascinate me. They’re often referred to as people ‘ahead of their time’. A list of my personal oracles can include folks from many walks of life: Jacques Cousteau, Isaac Asimov, Rachel Carson, H.G. Wells, Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King Jr., George Carlin, Peter Weir, Maude Barlow, Greta Thunberg are examples. From people like these I have felt subtly directed on a path to a full and responsible life.

I like a map to ease my wandering ways. I look for wake up signs everywhere I go: Indications of what might be in store for me. Sometimes these signals can be found in nature, other times I might be viewing a piece of art. Prophecy can be disguised in a time loop. I may not know if I am looking back from my older self or gazing through the bars of my crib. I’ll get a feeling that I’ve been here before. A familiar sense, a deja vu perhaps, comes over me telling me to pay attention. I’ve had some prophetic moments like this. I may not remember what I ate or wore that day but I’ll still recall the sense of being out of time. I’m learning to use this information.

When I began writing these entries I had several objectives, but I couldn’t have predicted that I would complete this one; my 200th personal essay. With humility I see myself following a wondering path similar to premier essayist and diviner Michel de Montaigne. Recording one’s passage is a bit like making a time capsule for the future. I won’t pretend to have a crystal ball. I can’t foresee what will become of me or others. I’m content being my own light.  I’ll continue to let it shine.

Re: Intent

Intention is not everything, but it’s a start. It has been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I don’t believe in an afterlife so I prefer to do what I can while I have breath in me. Heaven can be found by following through. There are shelves filled with self help books that show examples of how we can move from the idea to execution. The best advise I’ve read is pick a method to accomplish your goals then stick with it until you fail. Then try again.

I remember a clever comic strip that showed a boy scout helping an elder across a busy street. When he got her to the other side she said, “Thanks sonny but I didn’t want to cross”. I’ve been that scout, trying to do the right thing but unintentionally screwing up. Having good intent will not mitigate a misguided decision. Sometimes all it takes is asking first, acting next. Resolving to do the right thing by others takes practise. As a parent I bought all of the books by Barbara Coloroso, a well known child behaviour expert. She came to visit our community on a promotional tour for her work, my wife and I sat in the audience taking notes. I am still guided in everyday life by her quote; “Say what you mean, Mean what you say, and Do what you say you will do.”

I can relate to finding the right mood/moment/headspace to start or complete a task. Certain inexplicable things sometimes have to be just right before I can proceed with an intention. It is hard to create a balance between the aphorisms, ‘He who hesitates is lost’ and ‘Look before you leap’. Sometimes I relish a day spent procrastinating. Other days I will rejoice that I have tackled those things that have nagged at me. I often start the day with intention, in the form of a list on paper or in my head. If I don’t always accomplish what I set out to do, I forgive myself.

A child may react to being caught in a misdeed by saying that they didn’t mean it or they didn’t know any harm would come. Parents may allow some wiggle room in the name of learning. However, intention in a courtroom setting must be critically judged. Murders are classified as to the level of intentionality. If the accused is found to have malicious intent then judgement will be harsh.

Jean Talon is a character in early French Canadian history who may hold a key to viewing intent in a positive light. His title was as the first Intendant of New France; a CAO of the colonies. The translation of Intendant to English is Steward. I love the thought that an intention can be something we have a responsibility to see to fruition. If our intent is worthwhile it must not be squandered but put on the first available To Do list. A hopeful idea has little meaning without practical application. We must do what we intend.

Re: Understand

I took a two hour road trip with someone several years ago. Please understand that I zone out after a few minutes as a passenger in any vehicle. I’m not much better at conversation if I’m driving the car. Then I put myself on auto pilot as my mind numbs to anything but safety on the highway. On this particular trip though, the time sped by because we were dissecting the phrase, “I can dig it.” 

We both got the reference to the sixties, back when the phrase was popularized. We were of a similar age to appreciate the context behind ‘getting it’ but wondered if there was a difference between relating and understanding. Today when we say,”I can relate” after a friend has told us a story we want to convey that we understand as well as feel empathy. While in the car, that division between mind and heart kept us alert as we gave examples of understanding someone’s point of view while not necessarily relating to their situation.

For example, I understand why a person may choose to own a pet. I confess that I don’t prefer animals in the home, even though I have shared space with dogs, cats, a rabbit, a lizard and tropical fish at various times in my life. My sister and her daughter have both been pet lovers. When my niece said goodbye to her latest dog I asked if she would get another animal. She knows I would have a hard time relating to her decision if she did. Perhaps we can relate to our next of kin or loved ones because it is easier to empathize. They are relatives after all, so understanding their behaviour is not always conditional for our love. 

If I want to understand something or someone I take steps to evaluate the information provided. I’ll listen, observe, compare and contrast in a genuine effort to see the facts. This is head space work, scientific even. I don’t relate to the desire to go jogging. I understand the joy of fresh air, wind in my hair and using physical, not fossilized, energy. But would I make going for a daily run a lifestyle choice? Nope!

Back in the Trump days it was understandable to me how his brand could be seen as commercially appealing. I also ‘got’ the hatred for Hillary. And yet I could not relate to those who chose to vote for someone with so many obvious flaws. The division I see amongst the population of the United States today is a result of one side ignoring the work that is required to understand. In interviews these folks will actually be heard saying, “I don’t need to know.” 

Understanding certainly helps you to ‘get’ another person. When I am in conversation with someone, I like it when they check in with a phrase or comment which suggests they want to confirm what they just heard. They may not ‘dig’ my point of view but it’s wonderful to find out that they want to understand me.

Re: Cable

The first transatlantic communications cable was completed in 1858. It was telegraph back then; dots and dashes pulsing under the waves. Now we have similar cables of fibre optic material. I’m sometimes not sure if we have come very far when is comes to cable technology. Full disclosure: I’m going to sound old-timey in this blog so laugh away if you could use some chuckle therapy. I wish I could laugh, and maybe I’ll get there but the wounds are still fresh. I’ve had two chats with two different cable companies in the space of a month and “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” (Network 1976) 

Incident #1: My WIFI receiver was getting hotter than usual. I went to Shaw Cable’s website and initiated a Live Chat. 37 minutes of soul sucking chatting later, it dawned on me (chuckle here) that I was discussing my problem with an algorithm (new word meaning Robot). I finally asked the robot if I could have a technician come and replace the old device. I got an appointment booked and was told they would mail me the equipment. Two deliveries of tech stuff arrive. The cable guy arrives. He shakes his head as I relate the story. 

Incident #2: After setting up cable & WIFI in a rental in Ontario I was contacted on the phone by Bell Communications, at dinner and on weekends, for a total of five calls. They wanted to know if I was pleased with the service and if I wanted to upgrade any features. I said it was too early to say, but I would call them if I needed any help and please don’t interrupt me again. When I did call them (at least this time I got a real service agent) about a question regarding service irregularities due to jet flight over the building, I was told they could do nothing. When I pointed out my parents-in-law, five floors up, didn’t have the problem, the fellow got defensive. When I asked for a cable guy to come check the installation he said that everything looks good from his end and he couldn’t authorize it. I asked to speak to a manager and was told I would receive a follow-up chat (again with the chatting). All I got was an email telling me I might want to change the location of my connection.

There was a lot of chattering going on. I should mention that I’m triggered by the word Chat. I used to work with a school Principal who used the phrase, “Let’s have a chat,” whenever he wanted to stress a point of discipline. Every time I Skype I see dozens of avatars who just can’t wait to have a live chat with me. On the one hand I’m grateful we have cables (chuckle again, as you do your Wireless Age type thinking). On the other hand I sometimes feel the cable community is manipulating me. Chipmunk chatter, is what this is. Forgive me for being such a chatterbox.

I’m only human.