Re: Make

I think making things is the highest calling. Humans were created to create. When I talk to my grandchildren I ask them what they made today. I want to know what they’ve been up to, what they might have done or thought about doing, before I comment on their cuteness. When I was a teacher of elementary school students, making something was an important part of our day. During guidance talks we would discuss ways we could make things, rather than take things. And sometimes at the end of a day, the best thing we’ve made is someone smile.

My dad would often read me something he had just read from his newspaper, then he’d start a conversation by asking, “What do you make of that my son?” Making sense of the world was of paramount importance to my father. He practised several art forms, admitting that the act of making things from scratch helped him sort out his troubles. My first wife was a determined craftsperson whose skills in homemaking helped our family of five make ends meet.

When I start writing a think piece like this one I make it up as I go along, because it’s a work in progress. And sometimes the process of making things can be reason enough. There is an element of ‘fake it til ya make it’ like jello cooling in the fridge. A bit of writing can look like it’s complete but still not quite set. When I make dinner I rarely follow a recipe, trusting that when I get everything plated that it will be as tasty as I had imagined. Sometimes what we make is never as perfect as we would like it to be.

We say the word Make many times throughout our conversations: Make the most of it, make a mess of it, make sense of it, make a mountain out of a molehill, make hay while the sun shines, make war, make peace, make love, make out, make money, make do, make sure, make your mark, make the best of a bad situation, Make.Some.Noise!, make amends, make it happen, make your way in the world, make a promise, make light of a situation.

Globally we are in a climate crisis partly due to our productivity. We are making things that have  changed the health of our environment. Many modern day prophets have been warning us that we need to make up for our mistakes before it is too late. I continue to hope that humans have the capacity and creativity to remake the agenda of prosperity; to fashion it for all not the few, to take from nature only that which can be replaced, to think of needs more often than wants.

“What do you want to make of yourself?” Might be a question I pose as I’m gazing into the mirror of my thoughts. The answer changes with age and circumstance. Many things make us who we are in this present moment, yet life is truly what we make of it.

Re: Kid

While binge watching the television series The Office I had an awakening: The entire cast act as kids! The writers/creators show humans doing adult jobs, in an adult business, all trying to be adults but they are all just children playing in a sandbox. I kid you not, watching the show with this lens of kid-ness, gave me insight and joy in equal measure. Each actor shows their unique childish pleasure-seeking side: Michael wants attention, Dwight is a warrior knight, Kevin wants to eat, Creed steals, Andy sneaks, Jim teases. And, like kids, they all want to become. We are the camera, watching, judging, cringing at all the examples of how rude, obnoxious, hilarious and immature the characters are behaving. Sometimes I caught myself from wanting to discipline Michael, “Stop kidding around, that’s not how adults are supposed to behave! Be serious. You are supposed to be the Boss!” No wonder when any of the cast stops being selfish for a moment and acts like an adult, we are mystified: Where did that maturity come from?

This masterful work of television offers a chance to put all kidding aside for a moment so that you can recognize aspects of human nature. I don’t think we ever completely outgrow our kid stage. In my family both my dad, mom and sister all followed Peter Pan out the window. I was left to look after the house. I sensed the adult void and assumed the role. I lost out on some parts of being a kid because I had to come to the conclusion, as Wendy did, that we all have to take responsibility for our actions.

Perhaps we are not too different from some insects. We have a larval stage when we eat constantly. We pupate as adolescents going through fundamental chemical changes. Some of us come out of our chrysalides as adults, fully operational. Yet we all know folks who are just barely adults; those with low tolerance levels, still behaving in excess/access mode or perpetually afraid. That immaturity can make us an easy target for manipulation. The wolf in sheep’s clothing could just as easily be the parent poser in a cozy sweater.

As a kid we are used to following instructions as long as we get a treat. As a kid it’s natural to point to the other saying, “He/She did it!” I’m not kidding around if I suggest that maybe a dictator appeals to the kid in us. We expect leaders to show us a safer place. Dictators take care of things. Despots come up with easy answers that don’t need to involve us kids. A despot as a sibling can tempt us to do irresponsible things. Trump may have been an example of a dictator who failed because he was too much like a kid. The adult part of us finally caught on to his disguise. The fun stopped. Perhaps we finally grow up when we realize that truth is fundamental. I hope I’m not kidding myself.

Re: Listen

It can sound like a quibble when someone points out that there’s a difference between hearing something and listening. Damn semantics! But there’s truth to that separation. Listening requires purposeful attention. Perhaps that’s why a leader of a group will shout, “Listen up!” before beginning an address. In arguments we sometimes can be accused of selective hearing or be told, “You only hear what you want to hear.” Tinnitus gets in the way of my hearing sometimes, perhaps that’s why I make a point of concentrating when someone is talking. I actually like moments when I can provide a listening ear to bring comfort. Regrettably, my sister used to think that the focus I brought to a conversation made me seem too intense for her liking. 

My grade six teacher would challenge us to listen for specific changes in a piece of music to better understand what emotion the composer was trying to convey. Like my dad, he was very dramatic when he read us stories, lowering his voice so we would lean in to pick up his change of accent, or a whisper to invite suspense. He was definitely my favourite of all of my school teachers. As part of English studies, Mr. Stroud twinned us with a classroom in Newfoundland. We each had a pen pal, who we wrote to every second week. When their letters came back to us, we would learn to listen to the printed word and ‘read between the lines’ to find meaning. I think of Mr. S., whenever I watch the awesome teacher film ‘Conrack’, starring Jon Voight.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTePeZag_yI

Being a good listener takes discipline and practise. Some have called it an art form. We’ve all been in a situation where someone has accused us of not listening, when really what happened was we failed to understand. I took courses in listening attentively during my training to be a Guidance Counsellor. In class sessions, we would pair up and role play scenarios. The goal was not just to gather the facts of the problem but also to relay to the other that we really understood what they were trying to say. 

I have been challenged during COVID19 with my listening skills. It’s very clear to me that I listen to people with more than my ears. As I age my hearing has weakened. With mask wearing, I’ve realized how much I’ve depended on lip reading to bridge the gap of missed vowel sounds. I’ve watched more closely for changes in body language. All this attentive listening requires keen eyesight too, “Hold on I’ll get my glasses.” These Covid realities have made communicating more like work. It doesn’t help when my inner voice is sounding negative either. For stress relief I’ve been reminded that listening to nature breeds a calmer attitude. The breeze through the trees, a bird on a branch, waves on the shore or rain on the window will bring my focus back to what matters most. This moment can have healing sounds worth listening to.

Re: Stimulate

I can confess to being consistently stimulated by only three things; Coffee, sunshine and women. I have to be careful of too much caffeine as it makes me bobbly eyed. I once had an espresso to which I added a few tubs of caffeine concentrate at a roadside diner. I thought I was hallucinating! With sunshine I used to get nasty sunburns but now have developed the good sense to seek shade before I regret the exposure. My fascination with women however, continues to confound me. Visually beautiful and behaviourally unique, the female sex will forever stimulate my imagination. Fortunately my parents taught me the advantages of willpower. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uc0x7xOap4I

Our economy sometimes needs to be stimulated with various banking or government initiatives. I know nothing of finance at this global level. Whenever I hear economists talk about a stimulus package I can’t help but think of the macabre experiments we students did on frogs, using electric impulses to get their wee legs to spasm. I saw an infomercial the other day that promoted a product that stimulated your leg muscles so you could improve circulation, get out more, and, as the visuals showed (wink, wink), maybe walk your dog with that fine looking neighbour you’ve seen pass by your front porch.

Many video games I find overstimulating. I remember the first time my son asked me to try Tetris. Wow! The music, the colours, the pace put me into a hyper state and I never played again. That was back in the early days of computer graphics, now the virtual reality simulators can allow you to feel like you are actually climbing a mountain or racing a car! Interesting word, Simulator: It is Stimulator without the T. Perhaps a definition of simulate could be: lacking the truth.

I have read there is such a thing as an addictive personality. I suspect it is in your body’s chemistry and I’m glad I don’t have it. During my time in university there were many drug temptations, but I  eschewed stimulants as my thoughts were always busy anyway. My desire was to be in control, so I was afraid to get high on artificial substances. I was called a Square for not doing drugs, but I learned to live with the label. Instead of chemical tripping, I got off on the variety of dating choices on campus.

In my career as a special education teacher I often had students labelled as ADD/ADHD. These children would sometimes take medications like Ritalin to give their particular brain chemistry a stimulus. In the right dosage this drug made a huge difference to the success levels of many in my classes. I have to shake my head though when I read stories of university students who take non prescribed methylphenidate  along with caffeinated beverages to be ‘up’ for exams.

I never want to be assimilated by a fictional Borg. Resistance to stimulation is never futile since it keeps me from being manipulated. A pretty woman however, is another story.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3KFvoDDs0XM

Re: Analogy

I enjoy analogy talk. It is so much more interesting than the weather. Some analogies are cliches and ultimately boring. Others are simply outrageous, like always comparing people or situations to Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Most things can be compared to something else. You could put yourself in a potentially tricky situation if you say you understand how someone is feeling by following up with an analogous experience. For example you might show empathy for your friend who has just lost his job due to COVID19 by saying, “That’s just like the movie I saw last night!” Somethings are just not analogous. Using analogies, while dangerous, can bring us closer to meaning without the true experience.

In high school I had a group of nerdy English major friends who used to play the simile game; ex. Life is like a locker (opening, closing, smelly, contains our records and necessities). I remember one of our teachers telling us budding poets that metaphors were better than similes. He didn’t enjoy using the words like or as and thought that a metaphoric expression was more direct. He wished us to declare that Life is a highway.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-fPe6EVeYE

Being young sometimes equates to searching for the meaning of life. As an elementary teacher I was often careful not to assume my students knew what I was talking about by saying, “It is kind of like…” to bring them to understanding. For example, how can you explain snow, to someone who’s never seen, or felt it? Without ever really having the full experience it’s tricky getting a concept across. As a student of life, when you are observant, you quickly catch on that life can be ‘like’ so many things. I studied Science in school because I enjoyed how scientific principles could define things around me. Shapes and behaviours in the natural world are amazingly similar. Physics and Chemistry can be applied to solve problems. Now that we know more about DNA we can confirm that many aspects of Biology are analogous and therefore relatable.

Metaphorically and anthropomorphically, if Science wants to define you, Art seeks to have a relationship with you, By it’s very nature, Art is a representation of someone’s experience, which can magically illuminate your own. Art is like a relationship; messy, never perfect but wow! When it works it works! Art is the exclamation of life. Sometimes it is merely tolerated (graffiti), while elsewhere or by a different artist, it may be admired. However, Art is more than a matter of taste, since it requires you to bring your personal experiences to the canvas, or the stage or to the printed page. A sculptor, weaver, dancer or cellist will use different analogies than an accountant, restaurant owner, police officer or sailor. 

I’m prone to analyzing the heck out of a topic. I love a conversation that explores all facets of a subject. It can be exhausting trying to get to the heart of the matter yet, according to Sigmund Freud, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

Re: Important

At the beginning of every decision making process I ask myself a question: What’s important? Those who wish to defund the police have likely asked that question. If they have, I hope their answer is less about police and more about the wider desire for more appropriate care for the members of the community. I believe policing is important in a community yet so is adequate mental health services, affordable housing and well funded schools. When it comes to a healthy world many things are important.

Everyone believes in causes. We feel it is socially important to give to something. Sometimes we don’t think of ourselves as a good cause. Deciding what’s important is really personal; requiring observation, a solid evaluation and then judgement. We can agree that human lives are important. But which lives? Here is the question for our age and every other through history. BLM highlights not just the importance of one race of people, just as Feminism is not only about the importance of one gender. During COVD19 times some politicians have actually decided that the economy is more important than the lives of a ‘few’ elderly folks. We all are important, to the economy, to our community, to our families, to ourselves.

I’m cursed with these thoughts that everything is important, when sometimes nothing really matters. Aristotle once commented; “Poetry is something more philosophic and of graver import than history.” In my philosophy I’m a forest person so every tree matters. A range of people; Ani DiFranco, Oscar Wilde, artists mostly, have a history of promoting equality in their work. A view that all people and things have import to the world at large is gaining strength, particularly as societies navigate a climate crisis. There is some truth to the poetic notion that a butterfly’s behaviour has consequences far beyond a flight to find nectar. More importantly, human’s must be earnest about their impact on the environment. The question of what’s important doesn’t have to be an either/or listing. Individually and collectively we can create priorities, then set a timeline for action that can have a graded outcome. 

The heading for a series of columns I once wrote for a daily newspaper was called ‘Just Because’. The title came to me when I was walking for no real reason on a circular nature trail.  William James, sometimes referred to as the Father of American Psychology, once said,”We never fully grasp the import of any true statement until we have a clear notion of what the opposite untrue statement would be.” At the time of my short hike, stuck in the mire of self importance, I surprisingly needed to find out what wasn’t important, before I could see what was. I could write, for ‘no real reason’ because sometimes it feels important to write without any expectation of outcome. Sometimes the importance of things can only be determined after the event. 

Like in the film Groundhog Day, perhaps history must repeat before we discover what’s  important. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GncQtURdcE4

Re: Levidrome

During COVD19 lockdown I became one of those people who relearned the joy of jigsaw puzzles. In fact puzzles of any kind are great for stimulating the mind and distracting you from dark or worrying thoughts. A Levidrome is one such puzzle that I came across while tweeting on social media. Levidrome is a new word that is reminiscent of the word Palindrome. We know a palindrome is a word that can be spelled the same backwards or forwards: Anna, Otto, toot and sees are palindromic words. But what happens when a word is spelled backwards creating an amusingly different word? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpZ3bh1R6Kk

This boy named Levi figured out that stop spells pots in reverse. He asked his dad why there wasn’t an English word for this phenomenon and the word Levidrome was invented to fill the void. From then a movement grew to get this word in the dictionary, any dictionary. Connections were formed on social media and elsewhere. Folks from all walks of life (even the multi talented William Shatner) joined the campaign. Oxford Dictionaries had this to say: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJkV9HwtM4k

School teachers from various world locations have reported that they are using Levidromes in classrooms. Creativity is stimulated when playing with words and much has been learned from these activities. A song has been composed by Lola Parks to entertain, simplify and enlighten. 

To date I have been unsuccessful in getting this new word and its concept accepted by the people at Wikipedia (apparently something about promotional restrictions which somehow does not conform to their policies). Maybe someone else with more experience on that platform will have better luck. Being a cheerleading kind of guy I’ve been  levidroming with other levidromers to keep the word in the public eye and to have fun coming up with new Levidrome pairs. It’s a truism that when you discover something new, it makes an appearance in unexpected places. The 1994 film Reality Bites contains a scene where one of the cast humourously discovers a Levidrome pair. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQVw58aDt3Y .

Some puzzlers have invented crafty clues to challenge the search for Levidrome answers. Some have found ways to use other languages to expand the reach of young Levi’s idea. These riddles sometimes take the form of poems or narratives. For example this riddle sounds like an opening to a short story: In the kitchen Amy was in charge, the celery was not cut small enough so she chopped it again.’ The Levidrome answer is: Decider/Rediced. Someone has made a list of Levidrome pairs and posted it online at https://www.levidromelist.com/. There are more than 500 English words that have been discovered so far.

Who knows what new forms levidroming might take? Even ale drinkers are getting in on the Levidrome action. A local brewery appropriately named a special batch of beer, ‘Regal Lager’. I enjoyed this review of the brew by a frosty imbiber. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRjD8OZJnr8

Re: Character

Actors who play supportive roles in movies or plays are sometimes referred to as character actors. Even though Robin Williams has played the lead in films, I like the way he brings out the personality of the characters he plays. Mr. Williams is also adept at caricature. His imitation of cultural icons by vocal and physical impersonations is hilariously accurate. People who mime others surely must have great skill in observing a person’s characteristics, beyond the obvious ticks, accents and mannerisms.

I often wonder how we get our particular character traits. Some must come to us genetically, while others are likely crafted over time from our connection and responses to mentors, neighbours, coaches, teachers or friends. I have a quiet character. I am quite patient, faithful, persistent and optimistic. Those are some self-perceived personality traits of a positive nature that I hope others recognize in me. I don’t know if I’d be brave enough to ask someone how they might characterize me. I might not like an honest answer.

As an elementary school teacher, I have asked my students to choose an animal that has characteristics that might best match their personalities. I have also asked them to tell me their favourite comic book superhero. One autistic fellow refused to play this game of self identification unless he could choose a dinosaur that best represented him. This matchmaking with a safe non human character lead to some great lists of characteristics and of important values like courage, fairness, cooperation, kindness, honesty and determination.

Sometimes we recognize our character in another and rejoice in the knowing. I remember a conversation I had with a complete stranger that entered into this realm of soul connection. It struck both of us as profound and later he brought me a book called The Aquarian Conspiracy saying mystically, “You are one of us.” Much later I watched the film Avatar and relived this moment from my past when one of the animated characters said, “I see you.”

Sometimes I’ve wished that another person’s character would change so that I would find them more agreeable. With maturity I realized that I would have to change my ways or find a path of acceptance when it comes to individual differences. I still love stories where the central character sees the light and vows to behave in a more positive manner. I wish that this would happen with President Trump most days, but I’ve had to conclude that some characters are immutable.

The content of one’s character is an important matter in any historical age. Men and women of virtue, from all walks of life, have provided us examples of how to live productive and compassionate lives. Who hasn’t heard Martin Luther King Jr. speak these words on the significance of character. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wxc6iqRC-n8

We look to influencers who can show us the way to our best selves. Hopefully each of us can then model an example of exemplary character that ripples ever outward.

Re: Sandbox

For part of my childhood I lived with my parents and sister in a small two bedroom apartment. I spent a lot of time outside. In winter I would pretend to be Ernest Shackleton trekking across the vastness of Antarctica. In summer I would kill ants in the community rock garden or hang out at the large sandbox nearby.

With just two Dinky cars and a few plastic army men, I could occupy myself for hours sitting in that pile of sand. There were often several children playing in this simple rectangular structure. As I remember the apartment’s sandbox had four partially buried perimeter walls made of 2X10 lumber. Each corner was topped with a small triangle of plywood providing support for the structure and handy as a seat. To have a corner spot was a coveted position in what I came to learn as the hierarchy of the sandbox.

First child to arrive could claim a corner seat. If a parent came with their child, the adult got a seat. The centre of the sandbox usually had a small hill that kids who liked to play together occupied. If a parent was present things were quiet and order existed. I clearly recall being banished from the sandbox one day because I loudly said that a new kid had ‘big ears’ before realizing her mother was sitting nearby.

Without an adult, any group larger than two children required negotiations. Lines were drawn in the sand. What was learned in the sandbox never just stayed in the sandbox because the lessons remained with you for a lifetime. Allies were made. Bullies had to be dealt with. I learned kindness when someone uncovered one of my favourite Tonka trucks which I thought I had lost forever. I learned to share space with complete strangers. When no one was around I learned how to enjoy my own company.

When I bought my first house and was expecting my second child, I built a sandbox in anticipation. I chose a square shape to suggest the closeness I wished for my children. My wife insisted that I make a cover for it so that the neighbour’s cat wouldn’t think it was for his use only. I made the corner triangles a bit larger than I remembered to better accommodate my larger size. I loaded beach sand, which I raided from a nearby lake, into the back of my Chevy Blazer, making several trips before I was satisfied I had enough for my boys’ sandbox.

I became the father of three boys who, like their dad, learned how to take care of their toys, look after each other, use their imagination and value time alone. Eventually they helped me add to their backyard play area by constructing a ramshackle collection of wood bits, bicycle parts and lengths of rope they called ‘The Climbing Thing’. Jumping off the top of the structure into the soft security of the sandbox became their funnest activity.

Re: Expectations

My wife and I made our first Airbnb booking recently. We researched various sites on the internet, jotting down pros and cons as we went along. We had booked through VRBO before and were impressed with their consistent standard, but they had no properties listed in the travel area. The other option of a hotel just proved too costly for our length of stay. Knowing we would be doing some family entertaining we needed space so we picked a property listed as ‘An entire house!’ We had an expectation based on it being ‘An entire house!’

I find that people who say they never have expectations are lying. Everyone has expectations for themselves: Not many people refer to themselves as a total screw-up. Everybody expects to move through their day with most of their needs being met. We may not get all that we want but we expect we will not die trying. When someone tells us something, at first at least, we believe them. We expect that they are telling us the truth. Having an expectation for ourselves and of others leads to trust when that expectation is fulfilled on a consistent basis. For example when I visit a friend I have a simple expectation that I will be greeted with a welcoming gesture. If that is not forthcoming, over time, I will cease to visit.

A worry free philosophy isn’t realistic. If we say we don’t expect anything from anyone I wonder where that leads us as a community. I suspect a period of reduced expectations leads to stifling disappointment and chronic despair. At the other end of that spectrum is an obsession with fulfilling an expectation we have for ourselves. That can also be crippling: We must face each day feeling that we can ‘measure up’.

When we hear the declaration, “I’m expecting!”, all manner of expectant thoughts start to percolate. Hope is never greater than when we hear news of an impending birth. We wish the parent-to-be the very best because we expect the outcome will be practically perfect in every way. We want to believe in great expectations. Every life deserves an existence set to the highest standard. I’ve never heard a teacher say to her students on opening day, “I don’t expect much from you this year.” When I don’t live up to the expectations I have for myself, I let myself down and I feel I disappoint others around me. Having an expectation means you’re looking for the best.

Just as we have been instructed by our parents, we expect our children will behave for good reasons. We all have felt the sting of an elder suggesting that they felt disappointment in us after we had made a poor decision. The positive message being; I understand the value of standards.

Honesty is a value I hold to a high standard. The Airbnb ad was not accurate: It wasn’t a whole house. It wasn’t clean. It only had one closet! I was disappointed. I will learn from it.