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: Stubborn

This word’s structure is smile worthy. Two syllables; stub and born. In a quick dictionary search I found the word is listed as having no origin. I take this to mean that someone blindly made it up during a swearing tirade after having born the pain of a stubbed toe. Anyways, that’s what I would go with, if it came up while playing Balderdash.

I’m a person who admires perseverance, the sweet cousin of stubbornness, even if I lack it in some situations. I once quit a Bronze Level Red Cross swimming program after the first session. I neither had the mental stick-to-it-ness nor the physical stamina required to be a life guard-in-training. An Olympic level athlete has to be gold medal stubborn. Just like striving for the podium however, an unbending position comes at a cost, or at least a consequence. I try to take my time developing an opinion. Once it is set in stone it’s more difficult to retract. Most often in a conflict of interest situation, when my idea isn’t part of the groupthink, I will retreat and find my own ship to captain. Passive/aggressive stubbornness?

The value of stubbornness and its costs is depicted well in the film, ‘Sometimes a Great Notion’. Here, a hard scrabble west coast family owns a logging operation during a state wide strike. In a gasping portrayal of our environmental times we see several scenes of the rape of the planet for profit. Lives are altered, even extinguished in the dogged quest to fulfill a contract. The family motto is; “Never Give a (sic) Inch”. There is added tension when the prodigal son, a hippy, returns home. We watch and wonder if he will bring change. Alas he joins the foolishness of exploitation. The final scene gives us a literal middle finger from the patriarchal arm raised as the family’s tugboat pulls logs to market. The human multitude, following on the banks of the river, only shout and wave their fists at the injustice. I saw a parallel to today’s industrial titans, continuing their wasteful and polluting ways in the name of profit, stubbornly never giving an inch.

Being bull headed or stubborn as a mule can make you as immovable as a rock. Yet a rock can be covered in Rock,Paper,Scissors. A rock can erode over time. A rock can even be sold as a pet. To some, stubbornness is a manly virtue, where you stand tall, face to the wind, unbending until you crack, never backing down. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvlTJrNJ5lA

Being a stubborn force in the world can make you an oak, a rock, an island or a wall. There’s unfairness here in amongst the stubborn, foolish pride of going it alone. The barriers you put up may close in on you as readily as they keep others out. Paradoxically, in my own stubbornness, I feel the greatest need to touch and be touched. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKlSVNxLB-A

Re: Excuse

English language words can be hard to teach. Some words may be spelled the same yet have different meanings depending on pronunciation. Take Excuse for example: I may be excused for certain behaviour yet I may decide to make no excuses. In the former there is the Canadian zed sound for the letter s and in the latter Excuse you hear the es sound clearly.

The mental shift that comes about as one hears the word in context can be confusing for an ESL student. I somewhat shamefully admit that the challenges inherent in learning another language frighten me. My other excuse, lame though it may be, is that I am lazy. Language, of course, is more than just vocabulary. Language is a force in communicating culture.

When I was growing up it would be pretty common for someone to say, ‘Excuse my French’. Maybe this xenophobic phrase is still used as someone’s less than polite way of excusing the four letter swear word that had just come out of their mouth. When we endeavour to excuse ourselves it is a way to rationalize our way of thinking and/or to seek forgiveness. There are some among us who would never consider the need to make an excuse, much less an apology. The current President of the United States, Donald Trump, is a daily example of inexcusable behaviour. He once infamously said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters”. Many would say he is just speaking his mind. But that, in itself, is another excuse.

Dinnertime, when I was a young father, was pretty formal (for the mores of the 1980’s anyway). We observed as much as possible the 50’s Canadian tradition of all gathering around the table for a meal and conversation. Our excuse was that my wife and I wanted to hang on to customs that we thought were important for raising children. As my boys got older I remember giving permission for them to leave the table if they had finished and had an important place to go by saying, “You’re excused.” I wonder if anyone says that anymore. Reading this over makes me sound so nineteenth century!

Canadians are often dubbed as being over-the-top polite. We are branded as always saying such things as ‘excuse me’ in front of almost anything: Is that seat taken? Are you reading that? Would you pass the salt? I was here first! Often we ask, in our embarrassment, to be excused for sneezes, farts or burps. I haven’t met too many Canadians who wish to make excuses for poor behaviour. Generally we try to own up to our mistakes.

“Excuses, Excuses.” Would be an admonishment from one of my teachers for not following through on a project. If I failed to live up to my parents expectations I would be asked, “What’s your excuse?” My childhood explanations would rarely pass muster. In those cases, I was likely excused to go to my room.

Re: Thought

Choosing a name for a newborn takes a lot of thought. You are considering family tradition, links to ancestors and meaning. You want the name to stand for something, maybe even be an influence on your child’s behaviour. I heard a story once that some North American indigenous tribes wait until their young ones have developed a personality before using that information to guide them to the best name.

I’ve often wondered if we grow into the name given us or does our name actually determine who we become. Chicken or egg? If I had a child now I think I would use Keagan (somewhat gender neutral). It is Irish for Thinker. If a name makes the person then I would like my son or daughter to be thoughtful. I would like them to aspire to grow up to be one of the world’s great thinkers: another Plato, Da Vinci, Galileo, Darwin, Einstein, Hawking. Philosophy, at its heart, is the science of thinking and I think the world is in need of more philosophers right now.

Ideology has been given a bad name. Ideologists are considered to be rigid and narrow minded. Ideology has merged with dogma or doctrine and in the minds of many the term suggests a political platform. Too bad really, because if philosophy is all about thinking then ideology is more rightfully described as the science of ideas. And what’s not to like about ideas?

My father loved ideas and one of the most fun things we would do together was play variations of “What if?”. Nothing was out of bounds in this game of suppose. My dad encouraged me to think for myself in an imaginative way. He loved reading to me excerpts from Plato’s Republic. Looking back, I imagine myself as Aristotle on my father’s Plato-like lap. He would often remind me by words and action of Socrates, the founder of Philosophy who suggested that; “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Parallel to this thought based strategy of child rearing, my more practical mom would be forever watchful to see if I was using me noggin. One of the worst things I could do as a child, in my mom’s eyes, would be a result of a thoughtless action. “What were you thinking?” I can still hear her saying as she rained disappointment down on me. If she caught me in the process of carrying out something suspicious she might warn/advise/rebuke, “If that’s your plan, then you’ve got another think coming.” Building yet another layer of responsibility onto the skin of her son, my mom would insist that whatever I intended; “It must be the thought that counts.”

I maintain that erring on the side of sharing a thought is my best bet. Yet sometimes it is wise to keep a thought to myself at least until I’ve had those all important second thoughts. I believe thinking before an event creates well conceived plans. Sharing my thoughts with someone is the greatest gift I can give. Only listening ranks higher as an offering.

Re: Birthday

Since I don’t like drawing attention to myself, I’m bashful about my birthday. How I feel about my age has nothing to do with the annual day, although I do appreciate the reminder of these milestones of life. The actual day when we are born is so momentous that it does deserve a retelling in whatever context.

Recently I became a grandparent for a third time. This birth had the usual moments of concern, drama and anxiety, all in the context of love. There were hospital worries and some recovery is required. Friends of the parents, two sets of grandparents, co-workers and many acquaintances all were involved in some way as the ripple effect of a new life spread. This little guy had to elbow his way into the world and that may become the favourite anecdote to his life as his future unfolds. Life is about the stories we tell and a birthday is one of the building blocks to our understanding of ourselves.

To me a Birthday after the actual day of birth is really an anniversary. Being an introvert, I prefer to have quiet time to reflect, revisit and categorize my life journey. Sometimes I don’t want to celebrate each of my years on one specific day. I like the silliness portrayed by the Mad Hatter in the Disney animated production of Alice in Wonderland. He’s on to something when he declares that every day NOT a birthday can be called an ’Unbirthday’. I like the notion that each day can be recognized for what it can bring and is just as important as the next in one’s development towards becoming human. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdsZT7WKjW8

Our traditions of cake, balloons and birthday greetings are sometimes a distraction from the significance of one’s birth. I can’t begin to understand all of the forces at work to bring a human baby into the world. So many things can go wrong and so much can go right. A lot of effort is put in, just to get the newborn to its first official Birthday. Hurray! You are one year old!
People gather to mark that first event in what often strikes me as a comical time, since the one year old person can’t possibly take in what is going on.
But hey! It’s a party!

I travelled to see my newest grandchild and coincidentally spent time with my mother in law who had just turned 90! It was a time spectral visit! One life begun and another nearing its end. A ninety year span covering so many historical events made my mind spin. In many ways my special mother is exhibiting signs of returning to her youthful roots of expression. She insisted on ice cream for her birthday celebration and she shouted,‘Tada!’with arms held aloft, after successfully stepping off the city bus near her apartment after her party.

Time is precious. Our lives are precious. Each day is special; from birth to beyond. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GibiNy4d4gc

Re: Write

I am a writer. It took me a while to say that, to myself, before I could proclaim it to the world. I grew up with the notion you had to BE, before you could claim to be. There was something in my mother’s teaching that made me reluctant to attest to something about myself unless someone else, officially, had acknowledged it first. Even when I became an adult and wrote for my daily newspaper, my mother continued to think; ‘a Writer is someone who writes Books.’

I have mixed feelings about the drive to be a writer as my father spent almost every spare moment during my pre-teen years clacking on his Underwood. Having gone through my own mid-life crisis I can recognize now, what was going on with my dad. He was at a crossroads and he thought sending off manuscripts, with rejection slips inevitable, just might bring him the fame he was after. My mom kicked him out of the apartment for his ‘writing obsession’ and only let him back after he promised to write no more. These were very stressful days for me. The house was suddenly very quiet after he took his typewriter and left. To this day I will feel heartache whenever I see one of these antique word processing machines. The departure scene became forever connected to WRITING. To venture into the land of career writing became filled with the prospect of following in my father’s failed footsteps. Nothing pleasing to picture with that scenario; move along please.

What a negative space I occupied; Being unable to write because it didn’t feel right. Thankfully I recognized that this attitude was largely self-imposed. As my teaching career wound down I approached our local daily newspaper with an idea for a weekly column. It felt like a rite of passage when I got hired. The Daily Press even used me as a roving reporter covering the arts scene on the weekends. I tapped away on the keyboard of a new Bondi Blue iMac (much quieter than my dad’s machine). I discovered that the more I wrote the more I wanted to write. I had tapped into an artistic side of me that had been hungering for release. I wrote editorials. I wanted to be a righter of wrongs. I kept poetry diaries and trip journals. During my last few years of teaching everyone in my classroom wrote lots of stuff. We shared the results together with delight. We played with homonyms, synonyms and antonyms. We made up nonsense words and made them into cartoon characters. Sometimes it only takes one person to read your work to make you feel accomplished.

One year, to honour the passing into the new millennium, I wrote a full page of thoughts for each day of 2000 thinking it would be a curiosity for my grandkids someday. My wife was diagnosed with stage four cancer in January 2001. For the next 288 nights she asked for a bedtime story; either Winnie the Pooh or a page from my Millennial Journal.

Re: Recognize

A former girlfriend of mine, after several months of cohabitation, recognized that she had been in love with the idea of me, not the real, flawed person who stood before her. That act of recognizing the truth set us both free to move on from a relationship that had become difficult. It can take a hard look in the mirror to re-establish what we know about ourselves. Sometimes we count on another to reveal what we fail to see.

Knowing myself is very important to me. Self-Cognition and Re-Cognition have been ways I have checked in on myself since my adolescent years. I was a geeky introvert in my teens, often taking myself off to ponder things by a nearby creek. That shifting body of water gave me sound solace when things were puzzling me. I could dramatize further and say I gazed into those waters looking for the reflection of the real me and that might be a step too far, even though I did watch a lot of television drama in those days. That creek was a sanctuary where time, and space alone, allowed me to keep track.

When I have let my emotions take over me and my temper gets lost, I do not like who I am. In those heated situations someone might say to me, in words or facial expression, “Who are you?” At those times I feel wretched, less than, and very contrite. It takes time to rebuild the person I thought I was after such a loss of self. For me, even a few moments of self-reflection can make the restorative difference. Sometimes I have sought out others to verify that I have not changed, just experienced a speed bump of growth. The benefit others can bring to the situation may be no more than an assurance that everything will be okay. That sounds so wonderful to hear.

These others we turn to, may be those through whom we recognize ourselves. These people aren’t necessarily our family. They have traits that remind us of who we’d like to be and we adopt them, in a way, because then we can associate with a collective of similar thoughts and attitudes. Birds of a feather do indeed flock together. They become our clan or tribe. They become as familiar as family portraits in our hallways. They provide a picture that is not unlike a mirror, revealing the truth as well as triggering memories that ground us.

Sometimes I have been so lost that finding myself has taken a military style reconnaissance. Regular re-con missions are easier, keeping me abreast of changes and quickly calling me to account. The best thing I can bring to any relationship is the gift of me. Personal knowledge is powerful because it brings clarity and a map into the following day. I can rely on others for guidance, yet most of the time I navigate the various challenges of life whilst on my own recognizance.

Knowing I am bound by myself means I must respond when summoned.