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.

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=4r3KlDamA3U

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.