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.

Re: Protest

I live in a community where people come out to protest on a regular basis. I join in because I naively see it as a sign of democratic action. Based on the signs people carry to support their outrage/concern, there may be other motivations for their presence in the crowd. For example, at a recent climate change rally, I saw one overweight man sporting a T-shirt that read ‘I love CO2’ while waving another ‘I love fossil fuels’. Was he after sales or just being contrary?

Being somewhat afraid of large crowds and a functional introvert to boot, you can often find me at rallies like this leaning against a tree where I can appreciate the shade or gain some shelter from the drizzle. An activist I’m not. Rather a cheerleader/witness. My sign would probably read; ‘I see what you mean’ or ‘I’m here for you.’ Some protest signs written by a more anarchistic sort can seem like manifestos: small print on corrugated cardboard, begging to be read, to acknowledge the effort that it took to pour out such passionate thoughts. Short form declaration: ‘Pay attention! I mean it!’

Protests I’ve attended clearly allow folk to vent. Quiet self expression is as evident as a collective shout of alarm. At a recent Fridays For Future congregation I was impressed how Greta Thunberg’s leadership had encouraged a diversity of ages, backgrounds and emotions to come together in a harmonious demonstration of concern over the climate crisis. Amidst the speeches, music and cheering a small hole opened in a part of the crowd as a lone middle-aged male removed his clothes and poured a bottle of motor oil over his body, miming his anguish over pipeline leaks. He wasn’t arrested. People gave him space.

In our city protests tend to be peaceful. Marches and rallies offer up chants, poems, speeches and slogans. Some who line the streets join in if they find a friend or are moved by the cause. Sometimes it seems counterproductive to see smiles on the protesters’ faces while they’re shouting to end war. It makes me wonder about the line between protest and carnival. But in Canada it’s true we are polite and, for better or worse, we work hard at trying not to offend others, even those with whom we disagree.

Art lives and thrives in protest settings. Feelings pour out in creative ways. I always feel grateful for the civility expressed at protest gatherings I’ve been to in Canada. I’ve heard bystanders thank the calm looking police officers for just being there. My sons, in contrast, have been witness to protests that have started out civil but have turned violent, often as a result of police being instructed to clamp down on demonstrators.

There is much injustice in our current world. Perhaps there always has been, yet now it’s easier to see. It’s easier to name the wrongs. It’s easier to find something or someone specific to blame. At the same time it seems harder to find someone who will listen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHN6AViJAvI

Re: Protocol

I’ve self declared that I’m a formal type fellow so I will also admit that I easily sense the importance of protocol. I need to have a system before I can proceed. I can adopt a protocol that is already there and I enjoy developing my own set of rules to fit the occasion. In politics I prefer a party or candidate with a platform that articulates a clear path. I like to volunteer for an organization that can fill me with confidence with their policies.

I had a woodworking phase in my life. I assembled hand-made picture frames and built original furniture items. Towards the end of this pastime I manufactured bookends. To weight the bookends I used various found objects, sometimes according to a buyer’s particular specifications, thereby creating unique pieces. This artistic ‘bookend period’ was back in the day when everyone I knew had a bookshelf in their home. My dream home still has one room (Library? Den? Study? Conservatory?)that has a full wall of books on display. My most requested bookends were made of mining drill cores. It was a mass-produced gift for family and friends one Christmas. I arranged one side to have a neatly stacked grouping, on the other I glued broken cores arranged all higgledy-piggledy. My statement was that between life’s bookends there is Order and Chaos.

Protocol is designed to maintain order and reduce risk. Protocol suggests consistency through proven success. I can’t imagine enjoying an air flight without the confidence of knowing that the crew follows an exacting procedure. There are protocols in medicine that must be followed for good health; the simplest being, “Wash your hands”. Adjustments have to be made in any system and are certainly required if something within the system breaks down. Normally if protocols are tried and true, their value lies in efficiency. Along with that, a good protocol provides a feeling of security. However, all protocols must be used with underlying compassion. Without kindness in the mix, rules can crush. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLUZ0Nv7UH4

If protocols break down, confidence flags, confusion and chaos follows. When we no longer count on the protocols we have become used to, then the doors open to pirates, snake-oil pedlars, and other multitudinous conmen. Today we use the word Disrupter in place of my grandmother’s word; Conman. This person, usually male, or corporation, comes into your life for one purpose: To persuade you to buy something. I’m convinced that Trump’s legacy is to be the character in the warning fairytale for our future generation’s bedtime story. Trump is the shyster of our age and he may be used as the very definition of Chaos.

This is not to say that randomness is not important, even welcomed! The great Charles Darwin recognized it was critical for the survival of the species, any species. Yet a measure of consistency is critical for short or longterm protocols. We can accept randomness, even plan for it, as long as the benefits we’ve learned and earned aren’t disregarded.

The basic meal of life comes first, then variety adds the spice.

Re: Tease

When I was a kid I thought Christmas Eve was such a tease. My mom would mention that times had been financially hard and that we mustn’t expect much under the tree. As an adult, I came to the conclusion that this was her way of reducing expectations so that when Christmas morning arrived we would all be awestruck that Santa had somehow pulled off one of his miracles. I think my mom’s approach to Christmas morning gift giving was the reason I often developed a stomach ache on December 24th.

This example also taught me about the larger pattern in my mom’s behaviour towards others: set them up with what seemed like the truth, orchestrate a reversal, say you were just having fun, accuse them of not being able to take a joke. Sadly, she lost many friends using this strategy of social engagement, including her own daughter.

My mom was a natural born teaser, yet she hated the comedy of Don Rickles; a man who made a career from taking the mickey out of people.

His use of mockery and ridicule at an audience member’s expense disturbed me. While I recognize that many people think teasing is all in good sport, my experience with my mom, taught me that teasing someone, like in any sport, produces winners and losers. Maybe my mom thought that teasing me early would give me character, or thicken my skin. I would say it made me shy with people. A former girlfriend, early in our relationship, said she wouldn’t ‘joke with me’ until she knew me better. A pretty accurate comment, I felt at the time, since teasing can bore into your heart if you don’t ‘get the joke’.

Teasing was not promoted as a form of humour when I became a father. My wife and I agreed that making fun of someone would not be something we modelled to our sons. She was a fibre artist and was very practised at teasing out particles from animal fur. For example, raw sheep wool, even after it has been washed, has much debris embedded in the fibre. Deft fingers are required to remove tiny seeds or vegetable filaments. Bits of straw, dung, dead insects and such can be picked from the fleece using a carder. A hand carder has many rows of fine metal spikes. A carding machine looks like an instrument of torture. When the fibre has been processed in this way, you can roll a clean roving that can be spun into yarn.

Christmas is a time of yarns. Sometimes we have to tease apart the truth from the stories before we can spin the best yarns. I guess in this sense finding the truth requires some teasing. Perhaps that’s what we do when we are poking fun; trying to provoke a reaction that will tell us something more about the person who is the butt of our joke.

Life can be messy, especially when we aren’t sure how to separate the drama from the comedy.

Re: War

I had a conversation with my dad yesterday. In my day dream, we were both in our sixties and reflecting on our youth. Chewing the fat, as two old codgers are want to do. My dad was in his prime during the war years. By comparison I had privilege in my youth, my hay day, my halcyon years. From the age of 19-23, I was in university.

University! That time when many lucky ones are allowed to think of nothing more than sex and study. We expanded our mind and body in glorious ways in a cloistered environment. I recalled a walk back from the nearby city centre, measurably drunk and talking with a friend about how the university campus is so different from the real world. Indeed! It was engineered that way so we could concern ourselves with the importance of learning and not be caught up in the machinations of the ‘outside’.

Then I heard my dad’s story. Born in 1920, he entered his glorious early twenties ducking bullets instead of making discoveries in the lab or reading the classics of literature. From my current vantage point I could see my university days with gratitude, as part of my growing up. My dad must have mused over his emergence into adulthood as a trial by fire. I saw much to love in my life’s remembrance while he was talking stoically about soldiering on, in the face of it all. When he paused, I recalled this scene in ‘The War’ and I felt affection for all that he had meant to me.

In 1961,U.S. President Eisenhower, a former General in WWII, warned of a threat to governments. He named it the “Military-Industrial Complex.” A film, ‘Wag The Dog’ showed how easy this warped, corporate idea can take root. We have seen since then, that the business of war makes some people very rich while many, many more die.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNDmDZi05dY .

What word would you pick as the opposite of war? Peace? Ghandi was a model for passive resistance and he was a creative thinker. War suggests aggressive action so I believe an active word is required to counter it. War is destructive so its opposite must be creation. Others have written about the power that creativity has to reduce the risk of war. I am starting to think that art can be taken as an antidote to war.

In Boy Scouts I learned about fire safety. To start a fire you need three things: heat, fuel and oxygen. To have war you must have fear, social division and lies. Like a fire, war cannot exist without its three elements. Remove fear and you breed peace, create an atmosphere of social tolerance and you have no oxygen for hatred. Without lies there is no reason to doubt.

War, what is it good for? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01-2pNCZiNk

War is over. If you want it.

Re: Disruption

Most people can handle being interrupted. Perhaps you’re a shift worker trying to sleep and a neighbour starts mowing the lawn. You’re on the freeway and your progress is interrupted by some construction. Disruption, however, is another matter. It means your world is turned upside down and will never be the same. We have been faced with this disorientation for several decades as the world of politics, communication, finance, transportation and commerce appear to be working to a different beat, perhaps even a different standard.

Trump was voted in because he promised to “drain the swamp”. As a disruptive force he has few peers. In my lifetime I have no one to compare to his total disrespect for convention. His campaign slogan ‘Make America Great Again’ can be ironic in this context. Comfort can be found in old ways of doing things, even when it’s not healthy. I don’t think of myself as an old fogey, prone to complaining about the way things used to be. I can embrace change and enjoy looking towards the future with hope not trepidation. I think most people can handle change well, especially if they are invited to be part of the change process.

Change makers were once referred to as innovators. Existing technology or infrastructure was modified, not razed. A societal advancement or some new product became brighter, faster, stronger, longer lasting but not foreign to our senses. Now change can be so dramatic it startles. No human cashiers at the 24hr store, what are you talking about? A phone that can take a picture, are you nuts? A transport truck without a driver, are you kidding me? Paying to sleep in someone’s house, you’re joking right? I text for transport to the airport and my neighbour arrives, for a fee, it’s Uber easy! Yet, when the motivation behind disruption appears to be all about the money, cynicism grows while the potential enthusiasm for something new diminishes.

Disruption is like exponential change, like having a baby, like a forest fire that clears acreage making way for fresh growth. Disruption can be beneficial. It can be revolutionary! Yet too much fire can seem apocalyptic, immobilizing and devastating. With manufactured change, those born before this new millennium knew another way, so some of us may feel out of touch.

Power comes from feeling part of the revolution. Hope is knowing in our hearts and minds that things will work out eventually. Humour allows us to all catch a breath from the stress of it all. Poetry has always been a people’s choice and voice when times get messy. I like to be silly with my poems so I’m going to be disruptive and suggest a whole new literary genre: Non-Fiction Poetry. In our present push to challenge existing structures, we must not lose sight of facts. So my poems will be purely factual; not opinions, neither musings nor reflections. Joe Friday used to say: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4LPkmGO5Cc

Here’s my first, titled, “100%”.

A slice of pie
Is 100%
Pie.