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.

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.