Re: Artifact

My mother-in-law has been giving some thought to what she might like to take with her when she moves one last time. When I asked her which of her keepsakes were most important to her she said immediately, “My pictures!” I could relate to that sentiment since I have been in charge of family photography. Recently I digitalized all of that wealth so that my next move will be easier.

The task of cleaning out storage lockers, cupboards, closets, attics or sheds can be onerous and honouring. Through the layers of dust, artifacts of a personal nature are revealed. Letters and journals can be examined to make a time stamp, like rings on a tree stump, showing what was going on in our past, in times passed. Sorting comes easy when items literally break apart in your hands. Things that someone once thought might retain value, are not even yard sale worthy. Then again the adage,’One man’s junk is another man’s treasure’ continues to contain a nugget of truth.

I met up with a fellow who ran a New Immigrant Fellowship based around learning how to use a bicycle. My in-laws created a new memory for themselves by donating the wheels they had used when they were still able to peddle. In my job as cleaner/sorter in this downsizing adventure it is helpful to work with someone who sees value in letting go. I believe some of our curios are meant to make someone else smile. Clothes can be laundered and given away. Garden tools can be offered up to create new gardens of earthly delights.

My special mom has treasures from her daughter and grandkids that help her remember things hard to recapture. She wants to pass on family heirlooms. She has a pottery figurine she likes to have right next to her bed. It’s curious what each of us counts as treasure. I used to wonder what my birth mother was thinking as she stroked an old deckle edged Kodak black&white photograph. It was one taken of her sister, its corners now softened to the consistency of linen.

What we keep may be ‘art-in-fact’. Respect must be shown to the original owner of the relic. Museums around the world are coming to terms with this truth; that their cultural artifacts (some involving human remains) may have been procured under false pretences. Governments are seeking to rectify and reconcile with Indigenous People who have had their heritage put on display. Justice for these situations may be found through repatriation; a giving back of what was not ours to begin with.

I can’t imagine what I might leave behind as an artifact. I’ve already discarded things I once thought useful but no longer found important enough to shelve or even seal in a box. I can be very sentimental when exposed to an idea. I can cry when I see an artist earnestly creating. Generally though, old things are just curiosities to me. I’m an old thing after all, and pretty curious to boot.

Re: Spectacle

Being a follower of the philosophy of awesomeness I’m naturally drawn to anything spectacular. Occurrences in the sky can make me gasp with pleasure. I love double rainbows. A bright full moon with a three dimensional texture will knock my socks off. While travelling on the prairies I’ve been awed by the spectacle of distant cloud formations slowly approaching my position then dropping rain in great curtains, quenching the arid landscape.

I can be gobsmacked by human feats of invention. I love a grand fireworks display as though I’m seeing it for the first time. Uniformed marching members of parades don’t turn me on like they did when I was a kid. Back then my mom would warn me not to make a spectacle of myself. Her admonishments made me shy, but maybe I’m just naturally introverted so I mustn’t blame her for my lack of desire to seek the spotlight. I had to get a pair of glasses (horrible cheap black rimmed ones) in grade eight which caused me a bit of teen angst. You could say I felt a spectacle due to my spectacles!

In adult situations, I prefer to be a shadow assistant or second-in-command. Once, a Chairperson of a Board, on which I served, called me a ‘stealth director’ which underscored my wish to be seen and not heard. I like to be judged by my actions. I am surprisingly happy when I find out someone has been talking about me. Some have said it is better to be gossiped about, rather than being the one to spread rumours. Balcony seats in opera houses were designed to show off patrons, much as scandal sheets, like the National Enquirer, serve the purpose of getting celebrities the notice desired. Can you be humble and not wish to attract attention, all at the same time? I seriously don’t recall an occasion when I’ve purposefully made a spectacle of myself. Whether that is because I’m not very daring in social situations or that I’m just not easily embarrassed, I haven’t figured that out yet.

A spectacle can draw us together. The lustre of pomp and ceremony has somewhat dimmed for me as I age. Staged events, particularly political ones, can make me feel less than impressed when I think the money could be better spent elsewhere. However, I still feel attached to the culture surrounding the Olympics: the intent to showcase human excellence, the effort to break down borders and barriers through sport is inspiring to witness. It’s a reminder of how far we have come from the days of the Roman Colosseum where human life was treated with such disregard.

We see what we want to see. We hear what pleases us. I confess to filtering life through rose coloured glasses when the landscape surrounding me presents discord. It can be a matter of survival to change focus when my emotional resources are low. But I do have a special pair of spectacles for when it’s important to see as clearly and as far ahead as possible.

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: Skirt

I’ve wanted a kilt, made in my family tartan for a while now. I won’t skirt the issue regarding why I haven’t bought one: I predict I will feel shy wearing it. There are some ways that I wish I were more daring. Wearing a plaid skirt would certainly be bold for me. I just don’t think I could pull it off yet I continue to fantasize. The thing is I don’t think I present as a manly man like Sean Connery or even Jamie, The Outlander dude. I’m not a man of fashion either; sweats, T-shirts, blue jeans suit me just fine. I prefer to blend in rather than stand out.

The kilt was banned in Scotland for a long time because it was seen by the dominating Brits as a sign of dissent. The word Skirt itself carries much baggage: Not kindly for females. Skirt was a derisive term for women of weak morals. Boys who cried got called Skirts. Canadian girls weren’t allowed to wear pants while at public school even into the early 1970s. Looking at the issue of gender identity, the role of the skirt as a definition of femininity is obvious: Most restrooms still use the skirted woman. I’m thinking spontaneously and perhaps outrageously that the skirt is likely a clothing item seen as an example of male oppression of women.

Part of me wants to raise my Jacobite sword in defence of this free type of covering for all people. By wearing a kilt, or an izaar, I could join other males in discovering the benefits of a breezeway. Or perhaps, in the smallest of ways, I can get a step closer to understanding a woman’s experience. For example, I wonder what it would feel like to stand over a subway grate like Marilyn Monroe once did. Wearing a kilted skirt, I would not be trying to make a statement, just find out how it feels to be so easily accessible and vulnerable.

Exceptions have been made to my normally drab wardrobe. There has been occasions where what I have worn has made me feel on the outskirts of reality. I have been called classy while wearing a crested blue blazer at juvenile team sport banquets. One full year in high school I wore only white pants with corduroy shirts (a different colour for each day of the week). I had a brief fling with the Sonny Crockett ’T-shirt and dinner jacket look’ in my fifties. I can rock a wool turtleneck while practising my seafaring brogue. Once, for a wedding on a paddle wheel boat, I purchased a dark blue, double breasted jacket to go with grey pants and a light grey mock turtleneck. A guest told me I looked familiar, sincerely asking if I had served on a ship out of Whitehorse. I was flattered and wished I could have continued the deception.

Perhaps I’ll buy a kilt for my granddaughter’s wedding. Dinna fash, I’ll ask her first. It’s probably two decades from now so I’ll have plenty of linear time to dither.

Re: Watch

Long ago, in a land far away, some shepherds stood watch over their flocks by night. Others watched for a light in the distance. Some are watching still; for a saviour, an answer, a way out, a bit of truth at least. We all get comfort from a good story. We watch for ways that the story can help us in our fragile existence.

Many years ago I watched over my wife who was dying of cancer. I wasn’t the only one. Palliative care is a draining exercise. During the hours that I set off to work I had asked several friends to spend some time caring for my bride’s needs. One member of this collective took charge and organized a weekly calendar of visitations. I dubbed the 12 member group, ‘The Watchers’. A month after her death, we all gathered to reflect on our experience. We ate cake and posed for pictures. Many voiced that the job of being an active witness during a chapter of life was profoundly moving. 

Yesterday I was standing outside a store waiting for it to open. Two others of my age were also watching to see if anyone was coming to open the door. I commented, “It must be close to ten.” “Sorry, I don’t have a watch,” came a synchronous, stereophonic reply. We three wise men chuckled. We collectively wondered if anyone owned a timepiece anymore. I haven’t worn a wristwatch for years. I have a fake Rolex that my wife found for me in a rummage box. I’ve worn it a few times feeling expansive. I took it on a cruise holiday once and I felt overly watchful of it. Regardless of my attention, I dropped it, cracking the crystal dial. It became a heavy burden on my wrist and my mind. I resigned myself to fixing it, now I keep it in a bedside drawer. I don’t want to watch the watch any longer.

Today I talked to my son who reported he had just bought a Fitbit. He wears it on his wrist so he can monitor his health. He can program the device to watch his heart rate, his REM sleep patterns, his daily steps and to remind him when it is time to get up from his chair. He feels it’s helping him to be more active. I felt comforted by the news of this purchase. Perhaps I was pleased that the digital device was watching over him, since I no longer can with such regularity.

Watching signs of the passage of time is a very watchable activity. I like looking out windows. I can be transfixed by the slow lengthening of shadows as time moves towards dusk. The sight of logs bobbing in rounded waves, then getting beached by the receding tide can tell me it is time to go home. The slow rise of an orange moon makes me wonder how many times I have witnessed the fullness of a complete day with someone I love.

Re: Visit

I just had a visit from my son, his wife and our grandchild. With Covid concerns and all that going on it’s been a while since we have seen each other. Their stay reminded me of the twice yearly visits to grand folks that my first wife and I undertook. And it was always an undertaking; packing the right toys, snacks for the trip, clothing for outdoor activities, allowing time to visit the loo. Road trips to family always gave me mixed feelings. Regardless of how much I might have enjoyed the company, expectations always hitched a ride along with the luggage. 

“Come on in, welcome, how long can you stay, what brings you this way, make yourself at home, what can I get you, it’s been too long, how was your trip, remember the time when…” Phrases spill out during the first moments of greeting of the visitor, often in a tumble of words and feelings. The excitement makes me breathless. Perhaps that’s why the first question to a visitor will often be, “Can I get you a drink?”

Next to visits to the zoo my mom’s favourite activity on Sundays was popping by to see friends of the family. As a kid I felt the awkwardness of tagging along as many of these visits were unannounced and without invitation. Much later in her life, I saw my mom squirm when she had to accommodate well meaning drop-in visitations at her nursing home residence. She once shooed out a ‘man of the cloth’ with the shouted words, “What makes you think I need saving?” 

One sided visits can end badly. I have been on the receiving end of a final visit that put an end to our relationship. She just dropped in to say goodbye. The outcome, in hindsight, was appropriate. Yet those visitor’s words still sting. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rETA22Z_a9g

Some visitations, like death-bed rites, are formal. Hospitals recognize the limits of a visit by posting visiting hours. Visitors bring joy and assist in healing yet they can overstay their welcome. The phrase ‘pay someone a visit’ suggests a transaction of sorts. Your mere presence can be a gift and therefore requires a ‘thank you’ at least. Many cultures have an unwritten rule that guests cannot be turned away without offering food, drink or lodging. Countries value dignitaries who come to meet and greet; photo-ops are important to diplomacy. Ask any waiter how thin the line is between hospitality and wanting the table cleared for the next customer. 

Currently I am on an extended visit. I am sharing a palliative care mission with my wife. We have endeavoured to create for each other an environment that provides some comforts of home while recognizing the temporary nature of the stay. My son’s visit did a lot to make a bad situation seem more normal. Another son has planned a weekend with us to bring us some laughter. In the big picture, Life itself can be described as a visit. And we only have one.

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.