Re: Consent

I’ve had close-up visits from my grandchildren recently. Three dimensional interaction is so healthy and healing for all ages, especially after Covid19 quarantines. I loved being climbed upon and snuggled with, as I read stories or played with models of dinosaurs. It’s a treat for a grandparent to see how the next generational family dispenses their rules of engagement. I am always curious. I practise reserving judgement. I know when to keep my thoughts to myself.

Both Family and Societal laws are developed on a consensual basis. Before my first marriage I asked for my father-in-law’s consent to wed his daughter. I once nervously stood before city council to get a building permit. As a group we determine the answers to yes/no questions. It’s the maybes that give us the most trouble. Sometimes the shades of grey can only be worked out in court. Even then the verdict will be definitive and a side will be chosen. With a precedent set, we then try to get on with our lives.

Similarly it is with families; the heart of any society. When I was a child I didn’t have to look hard for direction on how to behave. My parents modelled respectful manners and I generally didn’t need admonishment. My sister was the rebel in the family, so I watched her for clues on what not to do. My father was non committal. I learned to avoid asking for consent because I generally didn’t get it from a mother who would rather be someone else.

I heard my grandson shout, “You made me do it!” He was being truthful. He felt coerced. Sometimes someone can manipulate you to do something. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, our personal autonomy does not remain inviolate. Becoming consenting adults takes a lot of negotiation, within ourselves and with others. Permission, when granted, can also be taken away. Some previously held rules of space and time may need to change as we travel through the gnarliest of intersections. Concessions may be required.

I think of a traffic light. People struggle with complexity. Life can be simpler for people when they know clearly when to stop or go. Societies navigate more easily if a red or green light is showing. But I’ve learned we also need the amber signal of Maybe. In that light, we must be cautious to proceed. Individually, we still seek safety, social acceptance, privacy, personal comfort, etc. That amber beacon slyly suggests we have choice as individuals to negotiate consent. A risk analysis may be required before we can carry on. Still we must pause to consider the pro and con of any situation. Certainly if another is travelling with us then there are matters of mutual consensus to be considered. Others must always be respected.

Teaching moments can present themselves if we are watchful. Observing my grandchildren provides me with a back-to school experience. Their proximity gives me an opportunity to search my life for those memorable intersections. They allow me to amend my map.

Re: Monitor

I was a high school hall monitor. I actually enjoyed being that nerd with a cardigan. I didn’t feel like an officer of the law, merely an advisor. I had answers to questions that other students didn’t even know they were asking. I felt important. I was part of a smoothly functioning institution called Education. Through several twists and turns after grade thirteen I chose to go to Teacher’s College where I was taught how to monitor elementary students.

Someone is always calling me at dinner, concerned that there has been some suspicious activity on my credit card. An ad in the paper says that I can sign up for some company to monitor those people and stop the calls before they even arrive. Seems there are watchdogs everywhere these days. People who say they work for my government are often suggesting I’ve underpaid my taxes. I’m not to worry about the inevitable fine because they’re on top of it and they can remedy everything for a small fee. I suppose I should feel a sense of peace with so many looking out for me. Not!

Law breakers sometimes wear ankle monitors. They can’t be comfortable. How does one put on their socks? Is the alarm component silently monitoring your whereabouts to some tech team in Dubai? Perhaps an ear piercing beep is all that happens if you stray from your perimeter. Surely they don’t explode, taking your foot off, like I’ve seen suggested in dystopian world movies. Speaking of security; Am I the only one bothered by the announcements in airports reminding you to keep your luggage in view? You’d think there would be enough cameras on walls and ceilings to help you out, while you are put through another snooze inducing flight delay.

Currently the medical profession is monitoring my heart. It had been skipping beats but now it’s calmed by medication. I’ve been checked with a Holter Monitor which gave me the appearance of being bionic. Nothing fancy though, call me the 60 Dollar Man. I also walked around with a blood pressure monitor for a couple of days during this nervous time. The cuff around my bicep squeezed every half hour, reminding me of the way my dad used to hold my arm when I needed reassurance.

My most unsatisfying duty as a teacher was as a lunch time monitor. I felt like Mr. Bumble, patrolling rows and rows of unfortunate children. One Principal I worked with instructed me to keep them quiet and encourage fast eating, else they take too long to get into the schoolyard. At every meal there was someone upset over their food, who they were sitting beside or the way someone was looking at them. A kid once smashed his sandwich with his fist while laughing hysterically. I took the remains of the meal away. The boy’s mother came to the school the next day asking why her son had come home hungry. CAS was consulted. A disciplinary note was put on my permanent professional record. I wonder if anyone still monitors that file.

Re: Teach

The last autumn that I entered a school to teach young children was in 2006. Sixteen years ago I rebooted the computers, put the chalk along the ledge, arranged the desks, tacked up some motivational posters, checked my lesson plans and put a new bulb in the overhead projector. I was teaching special needs students, elementary level, when I retired my career to pursue other interests. I am many things and I’m still a teacher.

As all serious parents do, I enjoyed quizzing my sons on how their school day went. I was curious to be at a certain distance from their experience even though in some cases I worked at the same school they attended. I would guard myself not to uncover their private feelings of being in so and so’s class, while knowing their teacher from another perspective. One teacher that I once worked with, a Mr.Novotny, had all three of my children in his grade five classroom. I felt this was worthy of celebration so I made a pair of bookends and asked my boys to pick their favourite book. I purchased them, along with a copy of Old Man and the Sea (the only book I’ve read multiple times). We four arranged to meet Mr.N. after my youngest had graduated from his class. Together we presented the gift. In his amazement he couldn’t stop saying he was flabbergasted. My sons still talk about this event. As a parent I was happy to use this teachable moment to build on what my lads had already been taught.

Parents are their children’s first teachers. Kids can learn negative and positive aspects of life from these dominant adults. I have always believed that it is a good thing that there is no manual for parenting. I like the idea that everyone in a family learns as they go along. That way everyone gets a chance to contribute in their own special way. Read several biographies and you’ll discover that adults have survived or thrived through all sorts of family drama, dysfunction or inspiration. My first memorable lessons outside of my family were provided by my baseball coach. He taught me that tasks are rarely DIY and not to fret about losing. Which we did do. A lot. In that same year I was influenced by my Akela in Boy Scouts. In one long memorable canoe trip I learned how to take things one step at a time.

All told, I have spent most of my life either learning or teaching. 18 years of formal education plus 31 years of working in schools is a significant amount of time being affiliated with a single institution. In my last year of teaching I made parents and colleagues laugh by telling them that I was finally being allowed to graduate from school. After retirement, folks would ask me, “Do you miss teaching?” I would answer that I missed the kids, but not the job.

These days I look for lessons from life, from art, from books. I’m still learning.

Re: Trip

My generation has tons of musical references to trips of the psychedelic sort. We were advised to ‘tune in, turn on and drop out’ by LSD guru Timothy Leary. Author Aldous Huxley advocated for altered states. Television and movies at that time proliferated the conflicting ideas that getting high was either fun, instructive or a slippery slope to mania. In the United States the establishment (The Man) got so worked up about dope fiends and acid freaks that they encouraged their government to wage a war on drugs. In my dorm at Guelph University, drugs were easy to obtain in the early seventies. A fellow nicknamed Blackie was a familiar face at parties, offering a tempting collection of pretty coloured pills. My roommate partook, I resisted. The whole scene frightened me. I have a curious mind and an adventurous spirit yet turning myself over to tripping went against my need for personal control over my behaviour.

Until recently.

Growing up, the highlight of my summer was a camping trip to the beachfront of Maine. This vacation was from one to three weeks long and it marked me for life. My first fish caught with a rod, first kiss, first brush with death, first big purchase, first independent road trip and first long distance girlfriend all happened in this State. My experiences each summer welded together the things I had learned back home. Those trips contributed to my maturation process. I have magnified the importance of these holidays to such an extent that I brought my first wife and three boys to camp in the very spots I had enjoyed. When my current wife and I were planning for retirement, seeing Maine as part of an east coast residency possibility seemed like a natural trip to take.

Now I suddenly find myself at age seventy. I have travelled to many places I had only dreamed of as a youngster. Writing stories and typing pages for this blog is an intellectual trip of sorts. I continue to enjoy armchair travel with the help of film, books and magazines. Several years ago I turned on to ethnobotanist Wade Davis, whose adventurous writing captivates me. His creative reflections made me curious about Psilocybin. Likewise, Michael Pollan and Paul Stamets have added to my understanding of the regrowth of interest in tripping as a therapeutic tool.

Very interesting.

When my eldest son told me he had tried magic mushrooms. I asked if he would go on a trip with me for my 70th birthday. Quite coincidentally I discovered that Johns Hopkins University was conducting research on psychotropic medications. I signed up as a long distance participant. I felt I was ready. We chewed our dried ‘shrooms. My wife checked in on us during our journey. I tuned in, dropping out occasionally by closing my eyes to restore a sense of inner safety. I used a feather as a talisman on my vision quest. It showed me wondrous animations. I got in touch with my dead mother & sister. Why not? Who knew?

This boy will never stop learning.

Re: Symbol

Symbols must change or perish. I worked in elementary school education, an institution remarkably slow to change. In policy and practise, the methodology of teaching has not changed significantly either. From slate to iPad our technology has advanced but the symbolism of students being given information by teachers is still with us.

Our country’s flag is a symbol. I can remember when the Red Ensign flew in the school yards of my youth. In the classroom it hung beside a picture of Queen Elizabeth, symbolic of her reign over us all. In 1965, when our flag became the familiar red maple leaf it symbolized our emergence as an independent nation; even though Governors General still symbolically stand in for Her Majesty in our government. My country’s flag currently is misrepresented to promote Freedom by truck driving convoy members bent on overthrowing parliament.

As I watched the visit of Prince William and his wife Kate to various Caribbean Islands, I grieved for our inability to create new symbols of service instead of perpetuating signs of servitude. A member of England’s royalty providing blessings is old news that holds us back from the challenges of working together. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDCQUPEiqmA

Statues of once revered politicians and conquerors are being torn down throughout the world in what might be described as a mass awakening to the lack of relevant symbolism. A common wealth of nations is what the United Nations was set up to accomplish without irrelevant figureheads.

Around the world Wealth has become symbolic of power. Those who have fortunes are allowed to judge those who don’t. Television programs Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank ask participants to come before a court of Oligarchs to plead their case. Billionaires like Elon Musk are permitted to manipulate entire industries with their fearsome purchasing might. Few societies, past or present, have been successful in limiting the power of the wealthy. I live in a province where First Nation potlatches were once banned by governing white colonists because they couldn’t understand the symbolism behind a ceremony where the rich gave away their possessions. 

For something to be symbolic it must have a strong link to Value. Corporations try to sell their products as symbols of something we care about. If the company logo can be imprinted on our collective psyche then it’s easy for us not to question how the plastic wrapped item got into our hands or homes. Watch closely the next time a commercial interrupts your baseball game. The ads are all about symbolism, not about the substance of what is being offered for sale. Gambling (particularly on-line sports betting) is being strongly promoted as a citizen’s right. The dollar sign is a dominant symbol in our capitalistic world.

I’ll join others who are sounding their cymbals in the world symphony of warning. An awareness of the role symbolism plays in our lives is critical. To my ears the music of money is not sustainable. The cries of those suffering are falling on deaf ears.

Re: Covid

Covid is a word that was not part of my vocabulary way back in December 2019. My blog postings are all about words that matter to me; words that create a thousand and one visuals in my brain; words that conjure up emotions and memories; words that have become as much a part of me as the bologna sandwiches I love to eat.

The word Covid has quickly found its way into dictionaries. Some may stick a number 19 onto it when they are speaking but I think the single C-word will persist throughout history. English language speakers regularly use about 20,000 words. Since December 2019, I suspect I’ve said Covid out loud every other day. Somedays I can’t stop talking about it. Here I’m writing  about my thoughts using Covid as a subject heading. Some English words come and go depending on relevance I guess. My wife sometimes teases me when I use a word like Trousers. She’ll say, with her eyebrows raised up to her hair line, “What century are you from?” I’m not anywhere near fluent in other languages, so I’ll try to do justice to my birth tongue, I’ll tell her. I can also baffle my bride with future words like Levidrome. I’m part of a growing group who is promoting its inclusion in the dictionary. It has been a fun pastime during Covid to share puzzles online as a way to maintain a semblance of social contact. I wrote a whole blog page on Levidrome. https://catchmydrift.blog/2020/06/22/re-levidrome/

Language changes with the times. Those born with a cell phone in their hands may shake their heads in disbelief when reading about someone using a phone booth. My grandfather used to love to entertain my children with tales of when his farmhouse got a wall phone that had to be cranked by hand in order to get the switchboard operator. Covid life has quickly become a before/after experience for many people in a similar way that people talk of life before/after computers or other profound moments in history.

Due to Covid, I’m beginning to forget how it felt to be in a crowd, in a restaurant, on a plane. I’m imagining my sons trying to explain the differences between then/now to my wee grandchildren. Questions of what it was like ‘before’ are no doubt becoming something that teachers must anticipate. Lesson plans involving how to keep Covid exposure to a minimum will be padded with discussions of the way it used to be when we crammed into a classroom. As a career teacher many of my happiest moments were when I planned a school wide assembly with guest actors, speakers or for awards ceremonies where three hundred or more squirmy bodies experienced each other in the gym for an hour of collective fun. The thought of that now makes me gasp at the risk for viral exposure. We didn’t think twice about it then.

Five years from now how will we talk about Covid?

Re: Practice

I was taught in grade school that if Practice was spelled with an ‘ice’ ending then it was a noun, otherwise it was okay to use the spelling Practise in any situation. For all spelling rules and forms I now count on my wife who has a phenomenal memory for such things. She is also practised in the healing arts so when I get a headache from too much wordplay I have access to a nurse and a quick soothing remedy.

Sometimes I need to go to a medical clinic. Nowadays I might be checked over by a Nurse Practitioner and she might tell me that my issue isn’t within her scope of practice so I’ll be referred to a specialist. The medical profession offers a wide variety of practices which have, in Canada at least, taken over the almost heritage realm of General Practitioners. Seems like everyone practises something these days, which is a good thing if viewed through the lens of life long learning. Meanwhile I continue to practise being patient.

One of my deficiencies is that I abhor repetition. I was one of those irritating students who picked up things quickly enough to be at a B level most of the time. I was content when one teacher referred to me as a Jack of All Trades. Never too good at anything, that way I could just blend in, go unnoticed, especially in high school. Practise is all about repeating the task until it becomes second nature yet I still can’t persevere. It’s an area in life where boredom wins out. I’ll try almost anything, but briefly; until I feel I’ve got the taste of it. My history is littered with “That’s enough” decisions: only two week’s of lifeguard training, one week of violin lessons, barbells that collect dust in my closet, a Polish dictionary with an uncracked spine and a forehead sweatband for jogging that was used once. Give me a New York Times crossword however, and I’ll bend over it until it’s filled.

Practise makes perfect is a cliché that never grows old. It’s one of the few expressions that I don’t yawn over because it is so relevant to anything that requires effort. I’m amazed at the amount of practise it takes to go beyond acceptable. Levels of human accomplishment in sport, art, science don’t happen overnight. I believe those folks we call genius types have raw talent for sure, but that gift is only fully realized through practise. All three of my sons practised piano. Neither wanted to be a concert pianist but their parents both thought that music experience was a good thing for general proficiency: We wanted our children to practise what we preached. Practically speaking it was an effort for all concerned; the student was often reluctant, the parent was sometimes annoyed, finances were definitely drained. However the practising resulted in a lifetime love and understanding of music. And the youngest son has been a member of several bands and is a practised song writer. I’m allowed to be proud.

Re: I

I is a word and a single letter that carries a lot of punch. I is declarative: I was! I am! I will be! Translated to Latin: Ego eram, ego sum, I erit. Whenever bullying teachers asked rhetorically, “Just who do you think you are?” I always wanted, but lacked the courage, to respond with a preteen snarl, “Me, myself and I!”

There is a certain trinity to who we are. Christians are taught that Jesus was the father, son and holy ghost all rolled into one being. Sigmund Freud contended that all individuals are psychologically composed of an Id, an Ego and a Superego. I especially like the last term because it sounds and looks like a comic book hero. When I think of my responses to people and events I often consider whether it’s my inner child, my parent voice or my authentic adult self that is creating my thoughts.

In the context of the power of the word I, its homonyms are cool to think about too. Aye is something you shout with positivity when you are casting an oral vote or voicing agreement with your pirate captain.  Eye is the centre of things, as in a storm, calming, focussed. An eye is a body’s tool to gather information. William Shakespeare wrote that the eye is the window to the soul.

A single letter as a word with meaning is startling to ESL students. Only one other letter in our 26 word alphabet is a word unto itself. The letter A is what I used to call a helper when I taught early readers. Officially referred to as an indefinite article, the word A is important when distinguishing the difference between say, A baby and THE baby. Watching an episode of the British television series Call The Midwife, I was amused to hear the nurses refer to the newborns with the single word ‘Baby’. What a lovely declaration to start a wee one’s life!

During classes that I took to prepare myself for working as a Guidance Counsellor, I learned a lot about using the word I and I encouraged the students I worked with to use it when they started a sentence: ‘I don’t like what Johnny’s doing at recess.” “I feel bad when Jenny says that to me.” During these dialogues it became chaotic if most of the sentences began with the word You: “Ah, you said!” “You took my things!”

In previous generations talking about yourself was discouraged, even frowned upon. It was thought that if you proclaimed that you were good at something then your head might swell. Whenever my mom thought I was getting too big for my britches she used the Biblical quote, ‘Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.’  She didn’t think a person could be an I, without being selfish.

Sir Paul McCartney, here in an interview with Stephen Colbert, speaks well about the reality of his fame while being aware of his kid self and the lazy adult persona, Paul. Let it be.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdGlGwlgxTk

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.