Re: Hero

In a recent New York Times crossword I found the clue ‘Rescuer’ and it had me stumped for most of the puzzle. A four letter answer was required and it started with the letter H. Finally solving the other words forced me to see it was HERO. I spent the rest of that afternoon thinking about what a hero is to me.

Words are fascinating in that they require a definition. Discovering the meaning of a word can be tricky depending on context within a sentence, the tone of voice of the speaker, grammatical origins and even body language can be an important criterion for understanding. My first thought regarding the word Hero was not concerning rescuing, although I see it now. Perhaps it is because almost everyone these days is referred to as a hero. The term is so ubiquitous that it reminds me of the trend to present a Participation Award to anyone who shows up for an event.

If I was rescued from certain death I might refer to my saviour as a hero whether they be male or female (the feminized word heroine is simply awful). From childhood onward, people who have done heroic deeds have enthralled me. Boys of my age would have read tales of knights rescuing damsels, of sheriffs bringing justice to the American west, of explorers sailing the seven seas, or of ball players making baseball diamonds sparkle with their talent. As I got older my definition of an act of heroism became more philosophical and broader in scope to include those who challenged the status quo. These ‘idea heroes’ may not have been active in a physical sense, but their abstract thinking made them stand apart from the crowd.

Hero is an overused word and doesn’t belong with every expression of gratitude. Confusing fame or institutional power with heroism gets me in a bit of an anxious knot. Comic book heroes won’t save us. Some modern songs suggest we crave, even worship, the idea of a personal hero. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWcASV2sey0

Media personalities are often over quoted merely due to their celebrity. I wonder why the military profession is automatically tagged as being heroic. I’m not even sure bravery is a prerequisite for being a hero; determination certainly, and a sense of selflessness but most rescuers report they didn’t feel courageous at the time of the call for help.

I believe extraordinary constructive behaviour is heroic. Citizens who make an unselfish contribution to their communities are heroic. I would label some Olympic level athletes heroes just as I would someone who has devoted their life to an artistic passion. Folks might begin their personal list of heroes with Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Sylvia Pankhurst, or Linus Pauling. Pick a professional discipline, set some criteria, define parameters and let the list making begin! The debate might get heated determining which of those named are either Noteworthy, Great, or Truly Heroic. Be prepared to be convinced when someone asserts, “My dad is my hero.”

Re: Open

Like many folks, the Covid19 situation has often made me feel trapped. I have felt the need to close up rather than be open to the world. With my second dose of vaccine I’ll let myself be open for the excitement of adventuring, open to possibilities, open to the future again.

I like thinking about the future. Being open-minded can mean you don’t fear what may come. I eavesdropped on a conversation between two seemingly opposite souls on the beach the other day. One was opening up about fears of conspiracy regarding vaccine effectiveness while the other was open to the suggestion yet reluctant to conclude the malevolent intent espoused by her friend. While I’m looking forward to opening up a conversation with a complete stranger I suspect I won’t have much tolerance for the whiners or hate promoters found in any crowd.

Choosing to become a parent is one of the most openly futuristic things you can do. You never know what you sign up for as a parent. That amazing moment that comes after the announcement, “I’m pregnant.” is all about the future. I have only imagined what a woman must wonder as she opens herself to another human literally occupying her space. Pregnancy is a time when possibilities and probabilities merge in a confusing blend of ifs. Love, hope and patience are among traits most needed before the grand opening of the birth of a child.

Shirley Bassey captures what I’m trying to say in this version of ‘What I Did for Love’.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eml_XI7C69s

In adolescence I enjoyed books that opened my mind to ideas. Classic books about an imaginary future (that phrase seems like an oxymoron) inspired me to wonder. It didn’t matter if they were dystopian or utopian in their content, I opened the pages to find a possible world. I’ve added titles to my library as I’ve gotten older: Future Shock, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Oryx and Crake, No Logo.  Fiction or Non, even pseudo history propelled me into thoughts of what might be. For example, Chariots of the Gods once made my head swirl with imaginings of an alternative world.

When I owned my own little bit of suburban landscape my favourite thing to do in a gardening way was plant a tree or two. As I tamped down the ground around the roots of my sapling I opened my heart to the future. Logically I knew I wouldn’t be around to see this maple or that ash make it to full maturity, so I was literally giving a gift to those who might come after me.

Eager politicians and business folk talk of a great Reopening from the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. Many are discussing what a post covid19 world might look like. I hope we can point towards tomorrow with a determination to do some things differently. The future must always be open for discussion. I’ll kiss today goodbye hoping for an open hearted tomorrow.

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: Stale

My son and I had a covid talk about feeling stale. It doesn’t help that we are both without a significant other right now for different reasons too lengthy to go into, however we both admitted that life in the pandemic is bland and tasteless. When waking in the morning there isn’t that pop of enthusiasm that makes you want to be up and get going on something. We wonder where the zest has gone as we return to bed at the end of a lacklustre day. If you took this feeling out of the global pandemic context, the symptoms would suggest we are both depressed. Indeed, reports of research on the psychological impact of the last year show evidence of widespread depressive illness, even among children.

One of the first signs of depression can be a change in your senses. I remember losing taste when it happened to me. Coincidentally it can also be one of the symptoms of the body’s response to the coronavirus. I find that circular connectivity to the covid19 virus interesting: you may not get the illness that causes a sensation of staleness but trying not to get the disease also makes your life exceedingly drab and boring. I wonder if a whole culture can go stale. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.

Things can grow stale in interpersonal relationships. Back when I paid attention to magazines at the grocery store check-out lane, Cosmopolitan magazine used to have front cover titles that claimed easy solutions to renew the romance in your life. In what is clearly a sexist approach to handling problems, I remember women were advised to be open to new sex positions. Men were supposed to show their softer side by bringing flowers or generally being more attentive. Both sexes were told to open metaphorical windows to banish staleness; bringing fresh air into their lives by being more spontaneous, by getting off on a secret rendezvous that often involved lots of lube.

I’m known in my family to love creating a meal from stale food. I enjoy making casseroles, chilis or soups from leftover fridge specimens. Heck, I’ve been chastised for plucking things from the trash bin under the sink. I come by the trait honestly, so they say, since my dad used to love telling stories of life in the North African WWII airbase where he was stationed. There was lots of weevil filled bread pudding, moldy cheese, and questionable beef stew. He would often be seen in our kitchen creating impromptu recipes from stuff my mom or sister had left on their plates, mumbling something about Louise Pasteur and penicillin.

The latest stat suggests Canadians throw out 79 kilograms of food waste each year. My penchant for using things up, repurposing or making the most out of every tiny morsel has a positive side. I also try not to buy into the ‘latest thing’ philosophy. I’ll choose consumer items that last, repair stuff and pass things on rather than trash them. I don’t think conservation should ever go stale.

Re: Question

Children can annoy us with their constant questions yet a teacher comes to value a student who shows curiosity. When interest to go deeper into a subject is shown, the answers desired will be close at hand. Questioning forms a basis from which we discover. A well thought out question opens doors to knowledge and understanding. The popular game show Jeopardy is a creative reversal of the question/answer format of dialogue.

Some people have bridled at my questioning ways. To some folk, my questions have aroused suspicions of ulterior motives. Indeed, the questioner can sometimes be viewed as an intrusive examiner or interrogator in the manner of a police officer or a court room lawyer. My sister and mother used to accuse me of giving them ‘the 3rd degree’ whilst all I was after was an opportunity to find out how they perceived an event. Unfortunately many feel that answering a direct question puts them in a position of potentially being judged. I dated someone for a while who grew annoyed with the level of intimacy that questions and answers provided in our relationship. She would qualify her answers by insisting that her words not be used against her during some later conversation. To her, any question was a potential trap.

I like being asked questions as much as I like giving answers. I’m a sucker for an online survey, somehow feeling honoured that someone or some organization values my opinion. In Canada we are currently undergoing a nationwide census. I felt a bit miffed that I got the short form questionnaire while some of my friends got the long form version. There is certainly controversy in this era of information technology. I fully appreciate how my eagerness to participate and share my thoughts could endanger my privacy. Yet my use of this blog site is a testament to my belief that sharing information can be a healthy way to show that I have feelings and valid thoughts that others might relate to or appreciate.

‘Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies’ is a phrase that has been around for more than a century. Here’s a charming musical admission from Bing Crosby who sings these words in an attempt to avoid a conflict of interest. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOABpY4PKko

In many current cultures it is still deemed rude to ask someone about their finances, religion, politics or sexual preferences yet these are all important topics that lead us to understand another person’s point of view. There is a diplomatic art to questioning so perhaps a tactful beginning is advisable: “Forgive the intrusion…” or the pre-question question, “May I ask you a question?”

I believe a questioner is making an offering. If there is curiosity of intent and good manners in the delivery then I say nothing ventured, nothing gained. I love it when people tell me that I ask good questions. I also enjoy broadening my understanding of people’s choices. I only wish there was more time to get around to everyone.

Re: Moral

A society’s culture is rooted in morals. What we think is proper etiquette or acceptable behaviour is a guide for how we spend our time as citizens. Over a lifetime, some things that may have been considered immoral are found to be, by consensus, quite acceptable. Governments are elected on the basis of these perceived morals. When I vote I mark the ballot thinking, “This is the way I wish my culture to be.” That vote comes with trust that the politician will live up to the platform that was presented. I look for leaders who exhibit moral behaviour. I’m wary of crafty candidates who can sound like a moralist, spouting the short-comings of his/her opponent, then once in office backtrack on some of those do-rights.

I grew up enjoying Aesop’s Fables. Usually these tales told of animals or humans learning or teaching lessons of life by their actions or misadventures. My memory of these stories is like a warming blanket. I hear patient voices describing the scenes and questioning me about the outcome. Sometimes I recall being asked if I could guess the moral of the story. The fable that has been most influential for me is what I call the ‘sour grapes’ story. It quickly comes to mind when I have a desire, like the fox, that cannot be fulfilled.

Speaking of stories: ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ has a female protagonist who grows up in a marsh. She is a natural part of the marsh, as though the biome was her mother. In the story a death occurs. Murder is suspected. One of my moral principles is that murder is wrong, yet in nature we see examples of it all the time. This beautifully written novel compelled me to examine this particular aspect of morality. I found myself wondering about the difference between immorality and amorality. Does a soldier have to suspend his/her morality when they go to war? Is war itself an immoral act of desperation to protect one’s home or culture? Is a suicide bomber or kamikaze pilot justified if it’s for a moral cause?

Talking about or teaching morals is not exclusive to educators, elders or religious folk. Most of us shy away from sounding preachy when in public. Sometimes the Letters to the Editor section of magazines and newspapers reveal moralists who are primarily making themselves feel virtuous by calling out others for impropriety. Michelle Obama, referring to the slanderous nature of political rhetoric, famously said, “When they go low, we go high.”

A strange burst of behaviour was noted recently in some countries near the Red Sea. Adults there were choosing to drink beverages out of baby bottles, perhaps seeking comfort in unsettling Covid times.  Authorities throughout the region quickly used vague laws to stamp out what they referred to as public immorality and indecency. It was said that these practises “violate Bahraini customs and traditions.” Cultures are dependant, it would seem, on the principle that what is acceptable for one, must be considered moral for all.

Re: Guide

Influencers are big news. High profile people are courted by business, advertisers and social media sites to guide opinion or spark controversy. Guidance sells. Having a blue checkmark on your Twitter profile or thousands of followers on Facebook, you become worthy of attention. Providing guidance in a social media setting is increasingly problematic however, since users equate celebrity with credibility. This may be a new kind of going with the flow.

The mania and methods of social media sites have us following trendy others too easily. The best advice I ever got from my mother was not to be a sheep. Listening to alternative voices is important yet we must be guided by more than the flavour of the week. Fashionable morals need not dictate central principles and values. I’m conflicted by the conversations over ‘Cancel Culture’.  Guiding principles and societal values are no excuse for shunning individuals or ruining careers. Surely we can parse an offensive singular statement from general behaviours or opinions that are consistently abusive or prejudiced. We can stand for something by standing up. Censorship misses the point of the importance of active listening. Without an open conversation to guide us, there is no satisfactory conclusion. 

Our guidance can still come from the usual places. I was thinking recently how I’ve been guided in my life. I attempted a ‘top five’ list of influential forces. While some were people, some circumstances provided me with guidance. In review form, here’s what I came up with to describe how I came to this place called me.

Television: This device became my message, to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, from my earliest days. The glowing eye has had a watchful presence over me from my fifth birthday onward. Even now, I reference TV programs when I am thinking/writing/conversing. One of my chores from an early age was to go to the grocery store to pick up a TV Guide. Using it as an early reader, I learned about schedules, film, advertising and media culture.

Scouting: Through several formative years with the Boy Scout movement I learned what perseverance and goal setting meant, how to stand up for myself and prepare for a rainy day.

My mother: She was a stronger personality than my father by far. I was lucky to be favoured by her over my sister, yet her manipulation of the family dynamic left lasting scars. 

My sister: Taking care of my younger sister was a regular activity of my childhood. I was held responsible for her whereabouts and missed out on the freedom of childhood.

Being alone: Hard to know whether my nature is to be an introvert or whether my early life trained me for solitude. I had one solid friend in early adolescence. While most of my life has been guided by turning inward, I have been blessed by the love and guidance provided by two wonderful wives.

With my advancing age I find myself trusting more. I look to my children for guidance regarding new technologies and societal shifts; for new ways to love and contribute.

Re: Dignity

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

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

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

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

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

We must do better.

Re: Amuse

I was musing over U.S. election news telling me how a new ‘soulful’ White House might respond to the crises of our time. Blessedly, without The Donald in charge, there will be less amusement.  Much of the world was certainly not amused by Trump’s selfish antics. He was a president who’s only muse was power. He showed no sign of comprehending the Arts as described in Greek Mythology. That ancient culture appointed nine Muses to watch over artistic pursuits: Three styles of poetry were inspired by Calliope, Erato and Polyhymnia, In theatre Melpomene and Thalia teamed up, Euterpe brought music when Terpsichore danced, and Clio kept a record of it all (hopefully an accurate one) for posterity’s sake. 

I feel that government’s responsibility is not to entertain the masses. Those we elect are not there for our amusement. By voting we have entered into a contract with our representatives to do good by all. This is so different from what you expect when you purchase an amusement park ticket. You step right up for the greatest show on earth. You come along for the ride. You strap yourself in. You are entertained by the unexpected extravagances. You will be thrilled. You choose to be thrilled! I have fond boyhood memories of going to Toronto’s C.N.E. at the end of every summer. Another more permanent amusement park nearby is called Canada’s Wonderland, once boasting the longest roller coaster in the land while promising to lift all of your adventures to ‘new heights’!

If life is like a circus, relationships can offer these kinds of random experiences too. We may try out a different personality, against our ‘type’. I did that once, anticipating an adventure. Turned out it was not the ride I had imagined. She felt that way too. When your situation is no longer amusing it is time to look elsewhere, maybe try something or someone, who is tamer, more your speed. No shame in choosing a roller coaster or some such gravity defying device that makes us dizzy, it’s how we learn. Just be realistic to the truth that what goes up will at some point come down. It’s inevitable. When we get to the end of the attraction we can choose to move on to something else or ‘go round again’. I’m not a thrill seeker so you’ll find me at the Bumper Cars or maybe if I’m really brave, The Fun House. I’m not entertained by captive animals either. If I want a wild experience I’ll go for a hike in nature.

How we amuse or entertain ourselves can make a difference to our well being. I’ve enjoyed the cotton candy of a carnival yet I prefer to be edified through the study of Art and Science. I’m so lucky since my food, housing and relationship needs are all being met during these Pandemic times. I am sheltering in place with someone whom I refer to as my muse. We currently work on jigsaw puzzles while inspiring each other to know.

Re: Right

I’m right handed so that means my left brain is dominant too. Left brainers are logical and enjoy using language to solve problems. Our left brain also holds the controlling functions, which drives my family crazy since I am constantly weighing the odds, reducing the risk and planning strategies for comfort and continuity. I do however, feel the rightness of this approach.

Yet, I encourage my right brain. The right hemisphere thinks spatially and is usually not aware of the passage of time. This side sometimes corresponds to left handedness and is therefore often associated with artists. I once purchased a workbook to tease this creative side; Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Written, a while back, by Betty Edwards, this book is a classic treatise that unlocks this poorly used hemisphere while helping many people to draw and think in a right-sided way. I believe there is an artist in all of us and sometimes we have to tell our left brain to stop being so bossy.

It may seem contradictory but you can be left handed and still have a right wing ideology. This notion of politically being left or right came about after the French Revolution, when the more conservative thinkers (think aristocrats) sat on the right side of the appointed leader of the assembly. Left wing thinkers are generally considered to be more inclusive and progressive when assessing policy. I feel sort of strangled when simplistic labels are tossed about. We can hinder dialogue and even promote division when rushing to call someone out, purely based on their political position. Folks on either side of this dividing line can spout self-righteous dogma. Everyone wants to feel like they are on the right side of an argument. Trouble is, we are rarely right all of the time. 

Currently the United States of America is locked in a right/left ideological campaign that will be tested, thankfully, hopefully, by an election. I don’t quite understand how the Republican Party has become synonymous with Right Wing Rednecks any more than I fathom how some think all Democrats are Tree Hugging Commies. Voices on both sides have shouted over each other claiming Constitutional priority. It’s been astonishing to watch so much pain and passion literally spilling out onto the streets. All the world over is tense about the outcome of who will be in charge of the planet’s most powerful country, once this extraordinary year is over.

I admit that I am left leaning yet I can appreciate that, logically, a bird needs both wings to fly straight. My conservative nature used to drive my sister nuts. I can thank my love of the arts for bringing me to mental landscapes of inclusivity often enough to be able to empathize with leftist behaviour. I feel anger when conservative governments claim they have the answers. A government is not a business. Jobs are not the most important thing. I look forward to a time when our society recognizes the value of each individual life. It’s the right thing to do.