Re: Million

The word Million has lost its financial lustre. I was standing behind a customer who was taking far too long at a drug store cash out. I was trying to keep my patience, peering over his shoulder, watching him buy a bunch of colourful coupons promising instant millions. The cashier wished him luck and he grunted in response, “Can’t even buy a house for a million these days eh!”

‘If I had a Million Dollars’ was a song written in 1992 (another millennium ago) when a million in cash really meant something. Overnight, it seems, we have people who can call themselves billionaires. If Robertson/Page were to rewrite the song today I wonder how their lyrics might go (They’d eat more Kraft Dinner I guess).  Here is an amateur video of a performance by that beautifully Canadian band Bare Naked Ladies when Steven Page was till a member.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06OowJl1J_k

I can honestly say I’ve never wished for money nor have I bought many lottery tickets. That probably says something about how lucky I have been in life. Or perhaps I’m just content to be content. Through no great skill or effort I am a co-owner of a property that keeps edging towards a million bucks in equity. In spite of this possession, I still consider myself part of the vast 99% and can easily rant about the rich not being taxed equitably.

One thing the pandemic has taught me is that death is awesome and unrelenting. I’ve experienced the shock of several people dying in my lifetime. On a personal scale every death is tragic. I remember the first Covid reports in my home province of British Columbia when Dr. Bonnie Henry had a hard time keeping her composure over early deaths. Things have changed. For more than two years now, the daily tally of viral deaths is recorded on websites like some kind of global score card. Our nearest neighbour, the U.S.of A. will soon reach the one million deaths milestone.

In the current age about 50 million people die each year from various causes. Match that with approximately 140 million births and it’s clear that population worldwide is increasing. In 1968, Paul Erhlich warned in his book The Population Bomb that such growth was unsustainable. We see now what a mathematical prophet he was, as the effects of so many, crowded into a finite space, can cause political, health and environmental chaos.

I know my significance is small. On the world scale I’m merely one in several billion. When I think of those numerical values in terms of people my mind is blown. I can visualize a safe with a million dollars but a million souls boggles me. I’ve seen photographs of crowds of folks yet still can’t fathom the sheer extent of humanity captured as a planetary population of 7.9 Billion! I can be histrionic; I was born when the world held a mere 2.6 Billion humans on its surface.

We are fast approaching a new Big Bang.

Re: Prophet

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

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

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

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

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

Re: Hope

Hope is one of those words we hear all the time and never get tired of hearing. Hope is like the word Love: It’s easy to insert it into a conversation but difficult to explain. Hope is everywhere, except when it’s not. Hope, it’s been said, is the only thing that can’t be taken away from you. 

I’ve felt hopeless. I have hoped someone would die even though I never wished them dead. I try to live hopefully, especially when cynicism comes a calling. Living in a temporary, wait and see environment is difficult for me. It’s not about remaining positive; I can do sunshine and lollipops. Currently, Hope has become the catchword of my days. It is something I hang onto when I’m down and something I use as a planning tool when my mood shifts to building a better day. According to suggestions from environmental activist Greta Thunberg, hope must be equated with action. We can’t just hope that things will turn out all right, we must all be involved in the journey to find solutions.

It’s a good thing that Pandora, of Greek myth, closed the box before Hope escaped. Alexander Pope suggested that, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” Elton John contended that, “When all hope is gone/Sad songs say so much.” Paul the Apostle summarized a letter to the Corinthians, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.” There are many references to hope in art and culture. This song has always been an ‘in the shower solo’ favourite of mine.

Hope, Honor, Grace, Charity and Prudence are five human qualities that are sometimes used as names for girls. My mother’s name was Joy. If my mom was any example, I suspect it is very hard to perform in life if a virtue is your name. To hear Mom tell it she was always hoping to please her father. Her dad expressed disappointment that she wasn’t a boy. Joy never brought her own mom any happiness either because of her willfulness. Perhaps Wilhelmina would have been a better moniker for this feisty, self absorbed lady. 

We try to define hope by matching it with something we can see, even though it is something we only feel. Hope and light are often referred to in the same sentence. Rainbows signify hope as they come after the darkness of a storm. Hope can be the light at the end of the tunnel. Conversely, hopelessness feels like darkness or a void, a pit where despair and bitterness can grow. We can wallow, but not for long. We must hope that the sun will come out tomorrow. 

My niece thoughtfully created a symbol of hopefulness which is hanging in our apartment. It is a painting of a lighthouse, casting a beam into the unknown. It reminds me to be patient as my wife assists her parents over hurdles of declining health. Hope will see us through.

Re: Normal

I’m challenged by this word right now. I’m looking for anchors as I am being swept into the whirlpool of opinion regarding the New Normal. My previous definitions are lacking the clarity they once had for me. I feel like my brain might be labelled Abby Normal as interpreted by Igor in the film Young Frankenstein. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9Pw0xX4DXI

Sometimes I surrender to the unknown cauldron of noxious bubbling stew that can be life, by placing it in a corner where I can keep an eye on it. On these days I’ll settle into a favourite chair with a book and a heating pad. As I reflect on written works presented by an array of authors, I lose my anxiety while a multitude of characters play out theirs. One magazine article recently suggested that PTSD sufferers most often complained that their life no longer had any semblance of normality. In all seriousness, I can relate.

Normally we go about our lives with a routine. Even if it’s an unhealthy routine it can have some satisfaction because the elements don’t stray far from the norm that we expect. That’s one of the reasons that change can be so frightening: Because it goes against the norm.

The question of what is normal can be as perplexing and profound as asking what is the meaning of life itself. These questions become more overwhelming when everyone is experiencing war, famine or pestilence. Under normal circumstances I’ve built my days around my comforts and my knowns. The current and inconvenient truth is that now I feel less comfortable and I find I know less than I thought I did. Searching for a state of normalcy is exhausting. It is not in my nature to go with the flow or leave things to others. I’m not one to fly by the seat of my pants. I resist the possibility that I might find out something later. I’m normally known by my loved ones as being the man with the plan. I don’t want to wait and see what might happen without considering all possibilities and probabilities, thereby establishing a normative approach to life. This makes me feel more confident when it comes time to take that next step, even if it is a baby one.

Maybe the so called ‘new normal’ is really a version of the paranormal. Funny how there is a resurgence of interest in UFOs and aliens. Real XFiles are being released from security vaults distracting us from the real horrors of our present; ie, Climate Crisis! The highest grossing films have fictional characters that are definitely super normal. These comic book super heroes are depicted as saviours. They may be bringing us more comfort than we like to admit. Establishing a feeling of normality can come after data collection. I like my experience being placed on a spectrum or a Bell Curve. I’m mathematically challenged so a graph brings me perspective on what is normal or what is fringe. My life, graphically, feels like that kind of wave.

Re: Prime

Any Star Trek fan will tell you that The Prime Directive is the primary consideration whenever contact is made with another life. I’m priming the metaphorical pump here, when I suggest that this fictional Star Fleet Regulation is relevant to current discussions surrounding colonialism. In our real world of the late 15th century, explorers were faced with similar moral dilemmas yet were emboldened by The Doctrine of Discovery to claim whatever land was found for God and Crown. Aboriginal land was considered prime real estate by powerful naval nations. The expectation was to expand the Empire, fully sanctioned by the powers of the day. Living things, including fellow humans, were either considered in the way or resources to be used by the conquerors. Settlement and extraction of wealth was the prime directive. Throughout the world there is currently a renewed accounting of the results of this maniacal arrogance.

It’s enough to make anyone want to give a Primal Scream. Countless millions of lives lost like so much prime beef: Disregarding, dismissing and debasing fellow humans by renaming them as Primitive. Disgusting! Impossible to escape from the reality of man’s inhumanity to man. Seemingly impossible to reconcile the idea of human progress with all that degradation. Information we were fed in schools is sanitized through the lens of the victor. In my experience, public schools in the 1950s and sixties did not promote diverse historical viewpoints. In the countries affiliated with the British Empire, the pink area on old maps, we were taught to honour the establishment of the colonies. We traced maps and learned of benevolent conquest. We wrote essays about the captains of tiny ships who sailed through impossibly vast seas. Between the lines researchers can reveal grasping power hungry individuals, corrupt systems, antithetical religions and evil societies. The injustice has always been there and new evidence of it is being brought to light everyday. Truth is being spoken. Secrets are being exposed. Lies are being challenged. Apologies are being made. There is a demand to have these errors acknowledged by current governments.

And still the primal patterns of power and racism continue.

I dream of a world where we are united by discovery and share what we find. Our planet suffers due to our selfishness. As shepherds of the Earth we are failing to unite around a common healthy cause. Primarily we seek to serve our own needs regardless of the consequence to others. It seems a grim reality, an inconvenient truth even, that our primary function is to satisfy our urges. I’d like to believe that science has the answer: a Unified Theory of Everything as envisioned by the likes of Stephen Hawking. I wonder if there is a place of thought where it’s understood that individuals are like prime numbers sometimes and composite numbers at other times. Yet it’s impossible to dream up an appropriate metaphor for what it means to be human. We don’t fit into Number Theory. We have names. We are far from being mathematically perfect. We are all united by life.

Re: Convention

I liked going to conventions when I was a teacher. Before the money for such things vanished, each of my colleagues would have a chance to go to an out of town event about once every other year. Living in a remote community like we did, this was a boon for our professional development and an opportunity to share our experiences with educators from across the province or across the nation. My specialty was elementary school guidance which was unconventional, providing me with several opportunities to make presentations to School Boards that didn’t have that educational service.

Conventional wisdom comes from the collective. It can be generated in a local coffee shop or it can be fostered on social media. When the mob controls the agenda there is often not much wisdom, conventional or otherwise. I tend to be unconventional in that I don’t care if others think I am not a team player. I don’t wish to buy into groupthink, however I will follow convention when rules or common practise make sense or appear reasonable. Our system of government is conventional, plodding along on some matters, by definition and design resistant to change. Yet some very rigid systems have responded better to the Covid pandemic due to their citizenry being willing to follow directives. The Pacific Dental Conference, held March 5-7, 2020 at the Vancouver Convention Centre was a major source of coronavirus infections in British Columbia. To convene or not to convene and under what conditions has been a debate ever since.

On my wish list is a trip to a ComicCon convention. I have a particular yearning to mingle with other Star Trek geeks. In my fantasy I can see myself dressing in a Star Trek uniform, perhaps going as my favourite character Data. I wish I could do cosplay. I’ve over-analyzed my desire to go by making charts in my head. In the ‘Don’t Do It’ column my reasons are: aversion to crowds, reluctance to spend flagrantly, fear of being ridiculed. On the ‘Just Do It’ side my kid voice can be heard saying, “But I wanna!” Maybe I could go as the Invisible Man, then I could take in all the excitement without being noticed. I was the same way about Burning Man until I mentioned to a Burner that it was on my bucket list. He snapped, “Tell me what you’ve already ticked off your list!” That unconventional response made me realize the importance of not dreaming my life away.

‘Well, that’s the way it’s always been.’ Is a bit of conventional wisdom that dismisses innovation. I wonder if unconventionality could be a synonym for inventiveness. Sometimes an entire system must be cleansed for health to be restored. Police departments, in the United States particularly, have faced criticism for systemic racism and misuse of force. Conventional ideas of police funding and militarism are being challenged. We are no longer ruled by kings or queens. We only have ourselves to blame if we let convention dominate the discussion when change is clearly in order.

Re: Spy

When is a spy different from a whistle blower? Or an investigative journalist for that matter. When we think of spies we think of deviousness, subterfuge, plotting and secrets to be discovered. There’s irony here: A spy is asked to uncover things whilst doing undercover work. A spy has to keep a secret in order to unearth one. The side that has the spy network is happy when results are obtained, the other side shows disgust that their privacy has been invaded. Spying rarely produces the win-win scenario much sought after in modern international politics.

The Cold War, begun in 1947 and not really over until the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., was originally about maintaining a balance of power between potentially warring nations. In order to achieve that, everyone had to be on an equal footing so espionage was an accepted practise. Some spies were imprisoned, if caught. Some disappeared. Many, like Sir Anthony Blunt, despite being considered a traitor by his countrymen, was not prosecuted due to the sensitivity of his proximity to the British Royal Family. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFl7NdzOOZg&list=PLkmRedTjok3Sfpkq9AhhCXHr675gI9RJd&index=52

As a young fellow I loved reading the short graphic tales in MAD Magazine called Spy vs Spy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onR7PD3Grc0. The cute characters, one white and one black, would basically chase after each other, laying traps, throwing cherry bombs while neither came out the clear winner. When I was older, my dad introduced me to Ian Fleming’s pulp fiction tales of James Bond. When the film franchise began I knew from the start I would be a life long fan. My mother relished being a sort of spy. She enjoyed ferreting out weaknesses in people and then holding the information, ‘over their heads’. She was once a personal assistant to a private investigator and went on stake-outs that my father frowned upon, until he was needed to pose as an ‘Englishman’; a role he played during a tense weekend in Hell’s Kitchen, a sketchy part of New York City.

We live in a time where security cameras are common. Privacy is hard to find, yet we expect transparency in government and business. Corporations might lose their new product’s edge if a design secret or release date becomes common knowledge. A brave few who work in industry, the military or in politics feel it is socially responsible to reveal insider information. Jeffrey Wigand may have singlehandedly changed the way North Americans thought of cigarettes. Journalists Woodward & Bernstein told Mark Felt’s Watergate story, which brought down a U.S. President. Daniel Ellsberg, Karen Silkwood, Juliann Assuage, Bradley(Chelsea)Manning, Edward Snowden are familiar names of people who have revealed truth to the public.

Whistleblowers, like spies, are frequently vilified yet they report they are acting according to their conscience. Even though the ‘top secrets’ exposed are shocking/dangerous/controversial, the informers feel they are acting in the public interest and fulfilling a personal directive that supersedes conventional authority. History may reveal the rightness of their tales, but at the very least we can be grateful for their courage.

Re: Change

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” is a quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. When I think of the word Change the most available quote that comes to my mind is one my mother used to say often; “A change is as good as a rest.” She was referring to getting yourself out of a routine. Being in a rut is not a helpful place to be when you are on the road of life. I believe my mom was right; choosing a different path can bring refreshment, even enlightenment.

Not all change is welcome. In these changing times brought on by COVD-19 we can feel that change to our very livelihood has been inflicted upon us. Change is easier to handle when you are the creator of it or even if you have a stake in it. When someone else brings change there is a tendency to grumble. In our community we have a Grumpy Taxpayers Association who regularly criticize any change that our elected municipal officials legislate. Specifically they are concerned about the cost of things. In that regard I can relate. I often find myself gazing at the loose change in my hand and wondering how quickly it loses its worth.

Like cities throughout time, our downtown has its share of panhandlers. One fellow in particular gained some notoriety by the manner of his shout to passersby. “Spare a little change.” was his plea. You could hear the long drawn out word ‘Cha-i-n-ge’ a block before nearing him and for blocks further along. He was a veritable institution on one corner and when he relocated it caused a buzz in the community until word got out that he was working a corner closer to his new home. Throughout his time collecting coin he saw an abundance of pennies and nickels, then dimes and quarters. Regardless of the amount his cadence was never changeable.

Our change has changed. Inflation is ever changing the value of change in everyone’s pockets and purses. Where I used to keep a jar for quarters, I now have a plastic tub for loonies and toonies. I haven’t changed how I process my change even though the worth of it has declined. I still feel a childlike thrill when I save enough change to roll into a special paper sleeve designed for its respective denomination. A cylinder of nickels will total two whole dollars, a roll of quarters will create the equivalent of ten bucks and, hold your breath, a single tube of toonies amounts to $50! I’m old enough to remember my excitement as I walked to my corner candy store with a roll of pennies quickly growing warm in the grip of my tight little fist. A large bag of jujubes, caramels, liquorice and jawbreakers would soon be mine.

Change in the 21st century happens faster than it takes for a soft caramel to melt in your mouth. As always, there will be things we can change and things out of our control. Peace will come from knowing the difference.

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: Separation

“Break it up!” is something you might hear a police officer or a school principal say, when they are trying to separate a pair of combatants. “Get a room!” could be shouted when two romantic individuals are getting closer than others wish to see them, in public. Violence and sex can be motivators for opinion regarding how closely joined we wish to be in society. I recently heard the term ‘joined at the hip’ when someone suggested that Canadian males are more likely to be closer to their partners than in other countries. There is a parallel disgusting phrase that involves being whipped, used in judgement against these considerate husbands. I enjoy the cartoon comic strip called Zits by Jerry Scott & Jim Borgman. Their characters RichandAmy delightfully examine this idea that two can be inseparable and not necessarily insufferable.

Examples from television and film history can inform, as to how we view the separation as a societal norm. The Dick Van Dyke Show is often dated to its era for the way the matrimonial lead actors slept in separate beds. Ahead of its time, All in the Family demonstrated issues of racial separation. Segregation is institutionalized forced separation as sanctioned at various times around the world: the southern U.S., Northern Ireland and South Africa are but three recent examples where governments have divided people based on race, colour or religion. LL Cool J has a great scene in the film Toys where he explains his military perspective on plated food. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLQxAvy66NM

My middle son and his present wife had to find ways to cope with their undesired separation while they were dating. A Canadian, he met his bride-to-be in Poland, and they both underwent a long distance romance while paperwork was completed for permanent residency in Canada. I often commented on their emotional stamina. I recently had to navigate a similar mine field as I endured prolonged separation from my wife as she tended to her ailing parents in another province. My output of angst ridden poems would verify the extent of my unrest. Bill Withers captured my mood perfectly. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tIdIqbv7SPo

In Canada there’s been a historical divide between Quebec and TROC
(therestofcanada), yet despite numerous referenda we continue our association as a collective of diverse provinces (ten) and territories (three). I like to think it’s because we, as a nation, prefer to congregate rather than separate. That could be an election slogan or at least a cute bumper sticker. I have relatives in the U.K. who are still shaking their heads over the mess that was created by the referendum to separate from the European Union.

The current mess that is the presidency of Donald Trump came about as a result of a great political divide within the United States of America. When feelings of separation become so heated that walls are built, you know there is trouble at the core. Canadians, being so close are not immune to this hateful ideology. I’m hopeful we can see the benefits of solidarity.