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.

Re: Resilience

If I am resilient I can survive change. I may not completely bounce back from the trauma nor will I necessarily become stronger simply by dodging a proverbial bullet. My experiences may make me better able to cope the next time a challenge arises. Trouble is, there may be enough difference in the new situation as to make my response difficult. I must rely on my belief that, given time and adequate support, things will get better.

One of the best things teachers, parents and coaches help us discover is our personal resilience. I can credit my years as a Boy Scout with teaching me a lot about resilience. I was instructed to hope for the best and prepare for the worst, to seek shelter when confronted with a storm, and to try one more time. I remember one portage in particular during a canoe trip through Algonquin Provincial Park. I had felt a head cold starting the morning of the third day into the trip. The paddling part was a blessing as the breeze cooled the fever my body was developing. Once out on the land and weighed down by packsack and canoe the going got tough. Biting insects could not be swatted and our path was through boot sucking mud. Each step was agony. I was young and wanted to cry. I faltered briefly and looked up as my Akela now stood near me. Quietly he asked, “Can you go to the next tree?” I repositioned my load and said yes I could. He walked beside me until the tree and said, “Can you make it to the next hill?” Somehow I could and just past the hill was the location of our camp for the night.

I recall having my meal that night in one metal bowl; a ground beef mixture, cookies and chocolate pudding. I tagged out of the next activity to get some rest in my tent, quickly falling asleep. Much to my surprise, my Sixer came to wake me for Mug-Up. My body still aching, I was persuaded by this familiar before-bedtime tradition of a warming tin mug of hot chocolate, so I rallied myself. The next morning I felt like I could canoe forever, no matter what might lay ahead on the trail. I was a modern day voyageur. I was invincible!

A resilient attitude is elastic. It bends like the marsh reed to the wind’s insistence. Rigidity can cause us to snap under pressure. Sometimes we can only respond to the change that blows our way. Other times we can make a change that will bring us closer to who we want to be. We can build resilience in mind, body and spirit by being watchful for opportunities that test us to be better.

What Akela had taught me that day was that I had more resilience than I ever imagined. By shrinking my goal I could continue. By sometimes taking baby steps I wasn’t diminishing myself. By trying one-more-time I found I could discover something new about the person I was becoming.

Re: Principle

In grade school I remember being taught how to distinguish between the words principle and principal as a spelling lesson. Your school principal, presumably, was your ‘pal’. The other word was never clearly defined. Like so many things that one comes to learn, the use of the word Principle and its practical applications, depended on my gathering experience.

I remember being advised early on that to be ‘a man of principle’ was something to work towards. My mother would note when I was being ‘too wishy washy’ and suggest that I select a priority and ‘stick to it’. My father would provide examples of principled behaviour by focussing on completing a task before starting another. Coaches would intone that, ‘winning wasn’t everything’ and you must show good sportsmanship above all else. Teachers would insist on adherence to the principles of hard work, determination and following your dream.

My formal education regularly consisted of studying examples of individuals who never gave up no matter how hard the challenge. I was taught to show admiration for these achievers from history: The explorers who set forth to map our globe. The generals who vanquished the enemy. The politicians who created great nations. The scientists who unlocked the mysteries of our physical world. The artists who challenged our perceptions. The philosophers who provided the keys to help us understand ourselves.

It was only as I matured that I realized many of these men and women of principle had personal flaws. It was a jolt to my psyche to find out they were drinkers, womanizers, gamblers, racists, or just people with terrible party manners. Norman Bethune, as one example, has been revered as a man who followed his principles of justice, peace & unity for humanity. His personal life however was a shambles of sexual affairs, rude social scenes and arrogant social discourse. The authors of the biography ‘Phoenix’ suggest that Dr. Bethune’s ‘black sheep’ persona was politically manipulated on his death to create a ‘white knight’ iconography.

“It’s the Principle of the thing” is something I’ve often said or thought as I have waded into an argument. I’ve found that sticking exclusively to a principle can restrict my ability to listen effectively and yet I still feel the need to ‘stick to my guns’; which is a violently dramatic and threatening representation of what being rigid with principles might lead one to.

One of my favourite principled individuals of modern times is Noam Chomsky. He’s one of few people who dare to venture into the land of principles/morals/values these days. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-OEEC5FpJ0

When I listen to the wisdom of his words I feel anchored by the truth. I saw this request from his wife Valeria on my Twitter feed and will pass it on: 
@johannhari101 -It’s Noam Chomsky’s 90th birthday soon (Dec 7). I’m helping his wife, Valeria, gather tributes to him for a birthday book. If Chomsky’s work has affected you, pls write a message addressed to him explaining how & send to chasingthescream@gmail.com

Re: Tear

In the inner city elementary school where I was hired to provide Guidance programming there were many children with mental health issues. In one case, a grade two classroom teacher asked me if I would help reduce the amount of bullying that she had observed. I began by building awareness amongst the students by asking them to wear a tag, during recess, fastened to a chord around their necks. Every time they felt they were being bullied they were to tear a little piece off of their tag. When we met at the end of the first day we talked about the damage that had been done to their tags. Some students hadn’t torn any pieces off their tag. Others had a few pieces missing, while a few had most of the tag gone.

The focus throughout this exercise was not on the bully but on the response to a feeling of being torn.I recorded these results, using the data to design an appropriate program. By the end of the month the majority of the students were talking freely about their feelings and were sharing with their teacher how they were standing up for themselves.

Every teacher will tell you that they learn from their students. In this particular case I was shocked to learn how many people (young or old) can feel that pieces of themselves are lost by the end of each and every day. As we tear around trying; to get what we need, to satisfy our wants, to please others whom we love, it’s no wonder we can feel shredded.

The youngsters in my school setting would often tear up as they told me their stories of being pushed around. At that age emotions rule. Everything HAS to be fair. Crying helped to a degree but then the tears would dry and a more constructive solution had to be found. I was pleased to see that, over time, many students understood that there were things they could do as individuals to protect their ‘tag’. If they didn’t reduce the tears, at least they could find ways to repair themselves to face another day.

Much later in my life, a friend of my wife introduced me to this wonderfully poignant song by Peter Mayer called Japanese Bowls. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOAzobTIGr8
The imagery is outstanding and relevant to the notion of our amazing ability to be resilient to the soul tears each life can experience. As I have come to feel the full understanding of this song I often cry. The tears that fall are from the joy of my personal healing.

Whether in early stages of personality development, in relationships that fall apart or in end of life considerations, assessing our tears helps us to decide what to do next. The data we have collected on ourselves is not always pretty. Our experiences may have left scars.

But I believe we can always come around again to the beauty of life.