Re: Park

A park is a lovely place to go on a summer’s day. In Canada we are blessed with policies that require governments to recognize the need for natural spaces and recreational parks where citizens can go to revitalize their tired urban spirits. Some neighbourhood parks are so small they are called parkettes. When I was raising a family my young boys would pace by the door asking to go to a small patch of grass containing one small climbing apparatus, directly across the street. It’s freeing to go to a park.

Now, finding a parking spot is a whole different scenario. How one word can carry two very different connotations is an example of the confusion found by some in the intricacies of the English language. And getting a parking ticket is the height of insult to me. My sister used to just stuff her parking tickets into her glovebox, avoiding paying until they came with additional fines. When I walk by a parked car with a ticket under its windshield wiper I always feel sorry for the owner. I’ve had so few I remember the circumstances in detail, but I’ll keep it short: One was in Toronto where I had parked on a street that was signed ambiguously (I almost got towed that time), another time in Toronto was on a quiet residential street where I had parked a large moving van, once in Vancouver’s Stanley Park I parked unknowingly in front of the  ticketing agent sitting in his unmarked vehicle and lastly in Victoria B.C. I had parked my tiny moped in what turned out to be a construction zone (I found the ticket neatly rolled and taped around my handlebar). Have a nice day!

Even when I am sure I am parked legally I am anxious until I can get back to my vehicle and gaze at the clear windshield. On street parking comes with the additional risk of being broken into. A city parkade with its multiple levels is also a source of stress for me. Even though I like the security and the friendly gate keeper the tight spaces make me fear scratches. And finding the car on return is easier than when you park at those huge Box Store parking lots. My wife is a whiz at navigating the tight corners of the ramps in downtown parkades and doesn’t seem at all concerned that the traffic control bar might come crashing down on the car’s hood before she has made it safely back onto the street. I find it best to close my eyes when I’m her passenger.

Once I tried to fight a parking ticket at city hall. I had to make an appointment with the mayor’s assistant. I came early and parked outside, near a municipal park, feeling calmed by three Garry Oak and a memorial fountain. I presented my evidence and supporting documentation, but the parking authority bureaucrats politely disagreed with my assessment of the situation. I drove home listening to Joni Mitchell. It helped.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWwUJH70ubM

Re: Library

I have temporarily relocated to come to the aid of family. My first consideration was finding a place to stay. My second; to get myself a library card. For me, books are a source of comfort and libraries are a hub for enquiring minds.

In grade three I was intimidated by Mrs.Powers, the Teacher Librarian at my school. It didn’t help that I committed a crime that year. I lost a book that I borrowed from one of her shelves. I  searched everywhere while reporting to Mrs.P.  each week about my lack of progress. She became a constant reminder of my shame. When I found the book, months later, I couldn’t bear to return it. I tossed it down my apartment incinerator chute.

Many years later Janice appeared. She was my first high school romance. She volunteered at our town library. I would meet her there to go on a date. She encouraged me to get a membership. I developed an association between my feelings for Janice, the other librarians I encountered while waiting and the overall atmosphere of calm found in this stone building filled with things to read.

Being a solitary sort of person I somehow feel less alone while searching the stacks in a library. In University I sometimes arranged to meet someone in a library rather than a campus pub. I filled my spare time between classes in Teacher’s College sitting in a comfy chair catching up on ‘classics’ I had missed through my youth. Later as an elementary school teacher and as writer for a newspaper I depended on my town library for research material. My wife and I took our children for library programs while they were still comfortable to sit on a lap for story time.

I came across a letter my son wrote to his grandparents regarding his love of books. While in high school he worked at a Coles book store where he had borrowing privileges. He reported, “I’m so in love with words right now that I feel I could easily make my life’s ambition to read until I’ve lived thousands of lives, in thousands of lands by merely turning the pages of worn out books that come alive by my active eyes.”

Last month I was in the branch of my local library picking up a hold I had requested. I overheard a lady struggling to describe a book to the librarian at the front desk. It sounded like the very book I was about to check out so I held it up, boldly calling, “You mean this one?” I could sense the half dozen bibliophiles presently among the shelves stop breathing. The lady turned to see me holding up the book. Her eyes widened. “That’s it!” she cried. Two librarians came from a back room to confront the ruckus. There was still a pause felt in the air. A voice said, “Now that’s serendipity.” Another, “It happens all the time. You just have to be alert.” I left smiling, happy to be part of such a splendid community.

Re: Treasure

I think of the word Treasure in an emotional fashion like Adventure. I can imagine going on a voyage and discovering, at the end of my quest, a treasure most spectacular: That’s the little boy inside me, treasuring a moment of imagination. I want to believe anything is possible. And treats are like treasure. Like pirate’s booty, often buried for later.

Financially speaking, my parents were lower class. When holidays or birthdays came around there was always a feeling of stress in the house. Once my folks actually told us not to expect anything under the tree that Christmas. I learned to treasure what I had. Sometimes our parents surprised us with treats, gifted just because they had extra money that week. I remember treasuring a chemistry set presented this way, right out of the blue, like magic. Much later I remember a trip to Canadian Tire with my dad. I was looking for a single drill bit for a project I was working on. He bought me a deluxe set which I still treasure as much as any legacy he may have left.

I follow a fellow on Twitter who has made it his mission to reduce litter in his neighbourhood. He posts photos of the haul from the walk around his block. On one excursion he picked up a plastic lid that may be one of the first Tupperware toppers. Someone’s garbage is another man’s treasure is a phrase that comes to mind. He finds value in his personal project and the community sometimes joins him in this unselfish voluntary labour. My Nanna would have called  this good citizen, David Boudinot, a treasure.

Some people rise to the status of ‘National Treasure’: Sort of like a popularity contest yet hopefully due to merit. Cirque du Soleil once had that label in Canada. Other groups and people of note have been recognized as being treasured by their fellow citizens. Not to be confused with a National Treasury, which is a place where gold used to be stored as a country’s monetary standard. The success of a country was often measured by wealth of this nature. I often wonder if some countries with fewer ‘material things’ feel impoverished. Or do they have another measure of treasures that would teach me something I don’t know about value.

As a retired person with a successful career behind me, I am treasuring the fruits of my labour. Financially I’ve been luckier than my parents. My eldest son and I got into a deep dialogue around the topic of success and how it is measured. I still treasure the moments I had with him as father to son and now I place great value on our adult friendship. His generation has not had the easiest road to career style employment as my generation. In my eyes he has succeeded, regardless, in finding treasures along the way.

When I downsized I gave away many things I once thought were treasures. Now I look to time as a treasured gift to spend freely.

Re: Private

When I first started writing this blog my only followers were my friends and family. I remember my niece asking; “How can you write about such personal things?” I told her that I didn’t think I was giving away any secrets. “But what about your privacy!” She countered. Well, I told her that there are some things I consider private and I guess it matters only to me what I might consider to be a secret. I honour the people in my life by never telling their private story, only mine. Their secret is safe with me.

Most cultures have body boundaries. Privacy comes with a perimeter. When there is little room for privacy, we may be cautioned not to look, out of respect. Children are taught early what parts of their body require coverage in public. Modesty is often determined by these early codes of conduct. An uncovered window is a privation for some and a source of liberation for others. In this way privacy suggests a space that surrounds us but it can also be within us; as in the privacy of our own thoughts, where no one may enter.

Comedians make a joke of this sort of conundrum by saying things like, ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.’ My mother warned me early in my life that what happened in our house was no one’s business but ours. She would often say things like, “This is a private matter between your father and me.” Keeping a secret involves information. Information that someone else might want. I never thought anything that happened in my family would be of interest to anyone, anyway.

Privacy is a big issue in the www. world. Our devices are becoming so linked that it is harder to police your own privacy. We are told that if we have nothing to hide then we have nothing to fear, yet our private stuff is entrusted to a Cloud.

There are many instances in life where the difference between private and secret gets fuzzy. For example, after a death you often hear family members requesting that they have privacy, out of respect for their grief. The death is likely known in the community, so that much isn’t a secret. Yet sometimes the circumstances surrounding the death may become a closely guarded secret by family members who feel that the cause of death itself is a private matter.

Many Canadians have kept the realities of the Indigenous Residential School System like a secret. Privately, many things were done in these state sanctioned institutions that have brought grave dishonour unto a people. Awful secrets cannot stay private for long. Secrets like these must be uncovered so that all may find healing. Original intention does not matter. Excuses don’t count. A healthy society is responsible for making amends. All citizens have a right to privacy and in that private space a determination must be found to eliminate secrets. For secrets are like lies, impossibly fragile and destructive even before they come to light.

Truth must come first.

Re: Location

Location, location, location is a classic real estate slogan designed, I think, to make you feel lucky about the prospect of buying an over priced house that still need lots of remediation. I can’t complain since each time I have relocated in my life I have been fortunate to have initiated the move and I’ve found the resources to be satisfied with the result. I ache for those who are forced from their homes due to poverty, war or other threats. Globally we are seeing a rise in mass migrations. Some of our cities are having difficulty finding positive solutions for a homeless crisis. Choosing one’s own location, geographically or metaphorically is healthier for all concerned if you can have options available to you.

As a child I was fascinated with stories of wandering animals: Mammals that magically find their way to feeding grounds. Butterflies that spend months flying to seasonal homes. Birds that navigate huge distances to locate their nesting sites. The life cycles of eels and salmon over generations that necessitate unimaginable journeys to sometimes secret locations. Dolphins and other whales that use echo-location to maintain their position within their pods and their bearings on where they are headed.

My eldest son brought me news about a day trip that had him slightly flustered. Finding himself located at the end of a rural road, he admitted he wished he had a map: The paper foldable kind that was always in the glove compartment of a car. (I can hear someone asking, “What’s a glove compartment?”). Anyway, number one son was temporarily lost, without a GPS signal and no way of locating his position on this remote country road. He eventually got some bars showing on his phone, downloaded a map and figured out his way. As he told me his story I thought of learning how to use a compass as a Boy Scout. The leader advised us earnestly that with this device in our pocket we would never, ever, be lost.

Philosophically speaking, knowing one’s place in time and space brings confidence and comfort. That’s how we get the feeling of Home. As life ticks along, that original location where we were born, where we grew up, where we had our first experiences provide a mark on the map of our life. Many conversations start with, “So, where are you from?”, for good reason. Those we meet feel less lost when they hear the answer to that question. It helps to know where we are in relation to others we meet. Societal relationships depend on this orientation of its citizens as needfully as some animals need the stars to navigate home.

I feel discomfort when I can’t locate my needful things. As I age my memory helps me recall where I’ve been so I can make sense of my present circumstances. I can be less concerned with the future when I know where I am in the present. Life is a constant journey of finding yourself in relation to your surroundings and yes, sometimes a map helps.

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: Story

I’m thrilled that my three grandchildren are being read stories to. I have yet to have that task assigned to me, what with COVID19 keeping my little ones from scrambling up on Grandpa’s lap. For now I have enjoyed the sight of them tumbling for access beside their parents while we long distance chat though the magic of the internet. The young ones’ smiles and squeaks of glee fill my ears and heart as cardboard pages are turned beyond the screen that separates us.

My father, who loved to create his own stories, once had to work night shift when my younger sister was in her prime bedtime story time. Unable to share tales with her to settle her to sleep, he crafted yarns on a reel to reel tape recorder. He left the cumbersome machine on a stool by her bed, asking me to press the start button. His voice would quickly work its magic spell on her anxious soul. Once down, she was a deep sleeper. I sometimes surrendered to sleep, as I sat on my bed nearby, only to be jolted awake by the flap, flap, flap of the tape’s end. 

Stories have always bound us together. Ancient ancestors recited tales around the campfire. Today we create blogs. When we travel and meet others we might share a meal together and ask, “So, what’s your story?” Our stories are our lives: Interpreted so that we may understand ourselves. Told, so that others may know us. The character Tyrion Lannister in this scene from The Game of Thrones speaks well of the power of stories. 

History is really a series of stories, retold, written down, debated and repeated. Unfortunately, men have generally been the arbiters of HIStory, with women’s roles often being left as footnotes. Societies are slowly coming to realize that the truths of our lives have only been half told and that HERStories cannot be left unrecorded. A woman is not the ‘better half’ of a partnership story anymore than her past can be lewdly considered ‘storied’ as in pulp fiction novels. All human beings contribute to the narrative that is OURStory.

When I witness a large crowd of people I’m overwhelmed by the thought of all those stories: Globally almost 8 billion! The story of one can seem as simple as choosing yes or no. Now I add an extra to my circle. Then I add those who are close to me, then those who I work with and others I’m only vaguely familiar with. Like rain drops on a quiet pond, I picture a vast collection of Venn diagrams; spaces where stories overlap, large arcs where stories are still unfolding, and along the edges there are stories I can only imagine. My story is only complete when it’s placed within the context of this vast community.

I don’t know how to comprehend the many stories of humanity but sometimes I have a Eureka moment when I experience poetry. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ws5klxbI87I

Re: Life

The virus COVID-19, like others of its kind, is not a living thing. It can’t respire. It can’t metabolize nor can it make other viruses. One of several key elements to life is being able to replicate. Since a virus has limited genetic material it requires a host to reproduce. Humans can be that host. Our cells take what is lifeless, replicating new specimens that can be transmitted to other living things through our mucus: A case of deadly biological complicity. Yuck!

In these days of pandemic we are searching for a lifeline. It’s frustrating to think that the best an average citizen can do is to stay home, thereby avoiding the infection and the consequences of spreading the contagion. Our lifestyles have drastically changed, even as we count ourselves lucky if we haven’t contracted the virus. Worldwide, medical professionals labour to bring life giving care to those who are stricken. We see the lifeless bodies of those mortals who have succumbed to the infection being taken from the chaos of underfunded, understaffed and underprepared hospital emergency spaces in increasing numbers and we wonder if there will be life after this Coronavirus. We wonder if life can ever be liveable again.

My parents used to subscribe to Life magazine. Pictorially and textually I learned much from leafing through those pages. As a teen I started collecting Time/Life books; thin well bound volumes on a multitude of subjects in history, science and nature. I used the books for research and for wonder. Like all who are youthful I believed that there were keys to bringing justice and harmony to the world. Just as the periodic table of chemical elements has order, I figured once humankind came up with a plan that worked for all then we would experience heaven on earth. I have always felt lucky that I haven’t had to personally experience the effects of war. In my lifetime I haven’t had to adapt to massive change; until now.

We say that we make or earn a living when we refer to going to work. It’s a financial context that doesn’t include other aspects of life. I prefer the rarely used word, Livelihood, to describe all of the things we do as we build our unique existence. In the presence of the economic shutdown that is one result of the pandemic, survival is paramount. After the crisis I hope our society takes a hard look at what matters most in life. We must eat. We must be housed. Our planet must be clean. We must have equity. We must know joy. We must feel peace and purpose. We’ve been taught that life is what you make it. It’s up to us to create a life worth living. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBNChSa-rkA

Confronting death can make you hyper aware of life. Those who climb mountains often site that as a reason for the risks they take on the edge of things. Perhaps now, humans throughout the world will unite in a common definition of what constitutes a life well lived.

Re: Shame

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

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

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

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

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

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

Re: System

I find comfort in rules. Rules are part of systems. Systems attempt to address randomness. Right now the systems that have been a large part of my life are breaking down. I welcome the possibility that with this breakdown will come new systems that better serve those who have so often been marginalized in society.

Natural systems are based on science and the physical order of things. For example our bodies have a circulatory system that makes sure our cells are fed and waste products are removed. Photosynthesis is a system in nature whereby plants use carbon dioxide to produce oxygen. Our planet is part of a Solar System that exists as a result of a systematic progression from events beginning with the theorized Big Bang. We are in a climate emergency right now. Humans have interfered to such an extent with natural systems, that problems around the world have become systemic. Radical change in our cultural and governmental systems is required for our planet’s very survival

Human constructed systems are created to keep things moving. They are often based on what is considered the norm. Human behaviour is often considered when constructing systems: Picture a Bell Curve. The majority of the population will be in the middle hump of 80%. Some of the best systems are the ones that have a plan for the fringe elements of the ten percent on either side of the hump. Rules must be kept flexible if the outliers are to survive. This group of people suffer the most when human systems break down. There’s irony here since economically the richest one percent is technically in a fringe zone. The obscenely wealthy hardly need protection from the slanted economic system from which they profit. These folks own and control so much that I would argue that some sort of equalization rules need to be established. Let’s call these rules, fair taxation.

My local hospital recently initiated a system to deal with people entering their emergency wing. They called it a Rapid Assessment and Discharge Unit. This particular system, as in many others, relies on professionals being efficient. My recent experience proved the opposite of the Unit’s intent as the rules were so strict that my assessment depended on a cavalier doctor. My recovery ended up taking longer as a direct result of this medical system failing me.

I once volunteered with my wife as a coat check for a local charity event. We arrived early to the function only to find no system in place to accurately account for the coats. Quickly we made up duplicate tickets from a wheel of paper stubs, organized the coat racks to visually track times of entry, found more hangers and created a secure perimeter. We were ready! We had systematically created and ticked off all the required boxes to success.

We are all responsible to some degree for system failure so we must all find a role to play in resolving issues before they become systemic. That can mean speaking up, acting out or voting in. It’s our world too and we have a part in protecting it and defining it for ourselves and for future generations.