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: Park

A park is a lovely place to go on a summer’s day. In Canada we are blessed with policies that require governments to recognize the need for natural spaces and recreational parks where citizens can go to revitalize their tired urban spirits. Some neighbourhood parks are so small they are called parkettes. When I was raising a family my young boys would pace by the door asking to go to a small patch of grass containing one small climbing apparatus, directly across the street. It’s freeing to go to a park.

Now, finding a parking spot is a whole different scenario. How one word can carry two very different connotations is an example of the confusion found by some in the intricacies of the English language. And getting a parking ticket is the height of insult to me. My sister used to just stuff her parking tickets into her glovebox, avoiding paying until they came with additional fines. When I walk by a parked car with a ticket under its windshield wiper I always feel sorry for the owner. I’ve had so few I remember the circumstances in detail, but I’ll keep it short: One was in Toronto where I had parked on a street that was signed ambiguously (I almost got towed that time), another time in Toronto was on a quiet residential street where I had parked a large moving van, once in Vancouver’s Stanley Park I parked unknowingly in front of the  ticketing agent sitting in his unmarked vehicle and lastly in Victoria B.C. I had parked my tiny moped in what turned out to be a construction zone (I found the ticket neatly rolled and taped around my handlebar). Have a nice day!

Even when I am sure I am parked legally I am anxious until I can get back to my vehicle and gaze at the clear windshield. On street parking comes with the additional risk of being broken into. A city parkade with its multiple levels is also a source of stress for me. Even though I like the security and the friendly gate keeper the tight spaces make me fear scratches. And finding the car on return is easier than when you park at those huge Box Store parking lots. My wife is a whiz at navigating the tight corners of the ramps in downtown parkades and doesn’t seem at all concerned that the traffic control bar might come crashing down on the car’s hood before she has made it safely back onto the street. I find it best to close my eyes when I’m her passenger.

Once I tried to fight a parking ticket at city hall. I had to make an appointment with the mayor’s assistant. I came early and parked outside, near a municipal park, feeling calmed by three Garry Oak and a memorial fountain. I presented my evidence and supporting documentation, but the parking authority bureaucrats politely disagreed with my assessment of the situation. I drove home listening to Joni Mitchell. It helped.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWwUJH70ubM

Re: MAGA

Make America Great Again. As acronyms go, this one will certainly go down in history. I imagine the famous Pearl Harbour speech by FDR, paraphrased in my head; “This policy slogan will live in infamy!” The directive MAGA, in reality, may also win a prize for best example of irony as the USA’s reputation as a great compassionate country is in tatters across the globe and its people have never been more divided in purpose.

The acronym will always be associated with that single term US President, Donald J. Trump. MAGA was borrowed from his predecessor Ronald Reagan whose phrase was less demanding and more invitational in tone, “Let’s MAGA!” Both of these jingoisms are representations of the idea that the ‘good old days’ were better than what we have now and ‘by golly by gum we’re gunna make them happen agin, dagnabbit!’ In fact, the thought went that if you were not in favour of getting back to the way we were, then you were un-American.

Trouble is the present day flows by like that River Zen, where you can’t possibly sample the same water once it has passed you by. As that theory continues; You aren’t even the same person! But try telling that to someone who thinks everything is turning out all wrong. At this point I’m wondering where all the visionaries have gone. Maybe I’m not facing in the right direction. I need a hat!

Campaign slogans aside, the wearing of baseball caps can be an identifier; of a favourite team, a philosophy of life or just a cheeky observance. I don’t have a head for hats but I would wear a cap with YOLO on it if I was invited to a Wear a Cap party. Since I don’t believe in an afterlife it’s important that I observe a ‘you only live once’ philosophy. I don’t have FOMO because I am one of the lucky ones while the majority of the world’s people are, in fact, missing out on a lot of basic things.

In our family, my sister and I were expected to act in a certain way every December 25th. It was a Make Christmas Great Again effort so that our mom could ‘get that feeling’. The stress was intense. Every detail had to be acted out. I have mixed emotions when I watch the film Christmas Vacation because of the prescribed nature of the holiday. It scarred us as kids. I believe it was a factor in my sister’s untimely death.

Personal memory plays a big part in our belief that life was better before: Before cars, before computers, before contraception, before electricity, before appliances, before feminism, before guns, before stand-up comedy, before plastic, before welfare cheques, before oil. We filter out what interferes with our conception of the facts. Sometimes the filter is so fine only a few things stay relevant and our point of reference gets permanently clogged.

Psychologists may do well to advise us to get a filter change every two years or 10,000 thoughts.

Re: Private

When I first started writing this blog my only followers were my friends and family. I remember my niece asking; “How can you write about such personal things?” I told her that I didn’t think I was giving away any secrets. “But what about your privacy!” She countered. Well, I told her that there are some things I consider private and I guess it matters only to me what I might consider to be a secret. I honour the people in my life by never telling their private story, only mine. Their secret is safe with me.

Most cultures have body boundaries. Privacy comes with a perimeter. When there is little room for privacy, we may be cautioned not to look, out of respect. Children are taught early what parts of their body require coverage in public. Modesty is often determined by these early codes of conduct. An uncovered window is a privation for some and a source of liberation for others. In this way privacy suggests a space that surrounds us but it can also be within us; as in the privacy of our own thoughts, where no one may enter.

Comedians make a joke of this sort of conundrum by saying things like, ‘What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.’ My mother warned me early in my life that what happened in our house was no one’s business but ours. She would often say things like, “This is a private matter between your father and me.” Keeping a secret involves information. Information that someone else might want. I never thought anything that happened in my family would be of interest to anyone, anyway.

Privacy is a big issue in the www. world. Our devices are becoming so linked that it is harder to police your own privacy. We are told that if we have nothing to hide then we have nothing to fear, yet our private stuff is entrusted to a Cloud.

There are many instances in life where the difference between private and secret gets fuzzy. For example, after a death you often hear family members requesting that they have privacy, out of respect for their grief. The death is likely known in the community, so that much isn’t a secret. Yet sometimes the circumstances surrounding the death may become a closely guarded secret by family members who feel that the cause of death itself is a private matter.

Many Canadians have kept the realities of the Indigenous Residential School System like a secret. Privately, many things were done in these state sanctioned institutions that have brought grave dishonour unto a people. Awful secrets cannot stay private for long. Secrets like these must be uncovered so that all may find healing. Original intention does not matter. Excuses don’t count. A healthy society is responsible for making amends. All citizens have a right to privacy and in that private space a determination must be found to eliminate secrets. For secrets are like lies, impossibly fragile and destructive even before they come to light.

Truth must come first.

Re: Age

The view that age is a state of mind sells anti-aging products and makes seniors feel better about themselves but perhaps we are just kidding ourselves. Some may look good for their age, while others must surrender to the inevitable sag and wrinkle. If you have the means for a little cosmetic enhancement then I guess age is relative. I enjoyed a second look at The Curious Case of Benjamin Button which is a film that oddly turns the aging process upside down. Benjamin returns to baby-like form as some of his senses get shuffled out of play. Similarly, as I age, my sense of caution, for example, is winning out over my sense of adventure. If I’m honest with myself, my body has been aging steadily since I passed sixty. My hands mark me; I see my father’s tanned oniony skin when I pause from this typing.

Parents love to report how their baby is a day old, a week old, then a month old. The age of the newly born is so precious it must be clearly defined in celebration of its existence. Children sometimes correct you if you guess their age wrong. A ‘Four’ is adjusted to ‘Four and a half!’ because at that tender age 6 months carries great significance to their rank in the world. On the other side of the age specific spectrum, a decade may seem a brief span of time to a septuagenarian.

While I was paying attention to other things, The Age of Aquarius, morphed into New Age practises, to the Age of Entitlement, which was part of the Consumer Age before being summarized as the Anthropocene. Ironically we may be facing a global environment catastrophe equivalent to the Dark Ages because our leaders maintain Stone Age regressive thinking. It’s the age old story of greed, immediate gratification and wishful thinking. We aren’t getting any wiser.

We lost many aged folk through Covid19 pandemic missteps. Strange that we can value vintage automobiles, aged cheddar or cellar casked wine more than we do our grandparents. Our standards around assisted living facilities (barely sanitized old age homes) must change to reflect a greater respect for what elders can provide in a wholesome, healthy society. Wisdom, like beauty and love is ageless in a way. When our terms of reference for Age become so narrow that we begin labelling people dismissively as Boomers, GenXers, Millennials, we are in danger of demonstrating ageism, as restrictive a label as all the other forms of prejudice.

Mature First Nations individuals I have know have often been referred to as Elders and I’d like to follow the path of humility, wisdom and patience that comes with that territory. In correspondence with the younger members of my family I have self identified and signed off on notes as West Coast Elder. This WCE moniker helps distinguish me geographically and it’s also how I’d like to be perceived as a senior member of the collective.

I’ll take that as a respectful salute to my agedness.

Re: Convention

I liked going to conventions when I was a teacher. Before the money for such things vanished, each of my colleagues would have a chance to go to an out of town event about once every other year. Living in a remote community like we did, this was a boon for our professional development and an opportunity to share our experiences with educators from across the province or across the nation. My specialty was elementary school guidance which was unconventional, providing me with several opportunities to make presentations to School Boards that didn’t have that educational service.

Conventional wisdom comes from the collective. It can be generated in a local coffee shop or it can be fostered on social media. When the mob controls the agenda there is often not much wisdom, conventional or otherwise. I tend to be unconventional in that I don’t care if others think I am not a team player. I don’t wish to buy into groupthink, however I will follow convention when rules or common practise make sense or appear reasonable. Our system of government is conventional, plodding along on some matters, by definition and design resistant to change. Yet some very rigid systems have responded better to the Covid pandemic due to their citizenry being willing to follow directives. The Pacific Dental Conference, held March 5-7, 2020 at the Vancouver Convention Centre was a major source of coronavirus infections in British Columbia. To convene or not to convene and under what conditions has been a debate ever since.

On my wish list is a trip to a ComicCon convention. I have a particular yearning to mingle with other Star Trek geeks. In my fantasy I can see myself dressing in a Star Trek uniform, perhaps going as my favourite character Data. I wish I could do cosplay. I’ve over-analyzed my desire to go by making charts in my head. In the ‘Don’t Do It’ column my reasons are: aversion to crowds, reluctance to spend flagrantly, fear of being ridiculed. On the ‘Just Do It’ side my kid voice can be heard saying, “But I wanna!” Maybe I could go as the Invisible Man, then I could take in all the excitement without being noticed. I was the same way about Burning Man until I mentioned to a Burner that it was on my bucket list. He snapped, “Tell me what you’ve already ticked off your list!” That unconventional response made me realize the importance of not dreaming my life away.

‘Well, that’s the way it’s always been.’ Is a bit of conventional wisdom that dismisses innovation. I wonder if unconventionality could be a synonym for inventiveness. Sometimes an entire system must be cleansed for health to be restored. Police departments, in the United States particularly, have faced criticism for systemic racism and misuse of force. Conventional ideas of police funding and militarism are being challenged. We are no longer ruled by kings or queens. We only have ourselves to blame if we let convention dominate the discussion when change is clearly in order.

Re: Amuse

I was musing over U.S. election news telling me how a new ‘soulful’ White House might respond to the crises of our time. Blessedly, without The Donald in charge, there will be less amusement.  Much of the world was certainly not amused by Trump’s selfish antics. He was a president who’s only muse was power. He showed no sign of comprehending the Arts as described in Greek Mythology. That ancient culture appointed nine Muses to watch over artistic pursuits: Three styles of poetry were inspired by Calliope, Erato and Polyhymnia, In theatre Melpomene and Thalia teamed up, Euterpe brought music when Terpsichore danced, and Clio kept a record of it all (hopefully an accurate one) for posterity’s sake. 

I feel that government’s responsibility is not to entertain the masses. Those we elect are not there for our amusement. By voting we have entered into a contract with our representatives to do good by all. This is so different from what you expect when you purchase an amusement park ticket. You step right up for the greatest show on earth. You come along for the ride. You strap yourself in. You are entertained by the unexpected extravagances. You will be thrilled. You choose to be thrilled! I have fond boyhood memories of going to Toronto’s C.N.E. at the end of every summer. Another more permanent amusement park nearby is called Canada’s Wonderland, once boasting the longest roller coaster in the land while promising to lift all of your adventures to ‘new heights’!

If life is like a circus, relationships can offer these kinds of random experiences too. We may try out a different personality, against our ‘type’. I did that once, anticipating an adventure. Turned out it was not the ride I had imagined. She felt that way too. When your situation is no longer amusing it is time to look elsewhere, maybe try something or someone, who is tamer, more your speed. No shame in choosing a roller coaster or some such gravity defying device that makes us dizzy, it’s how we learn. Just be realistic to the truth that what goes up will at some point come down. It’s inevitable. When we get to the end of the attraction we can choose to move on to something else or ‘go round again’. I’m not a thrill seeker so you’ll find me at the Bumper Cars or maybe if I’m really brave, The Fun House. I’m not entertained by captive animals either. If I want a wild experience I’ll go for a hike in nature.

How we amuse or entertain ourselves can make a difference to our well being. I’ve enjoyed the cotton candy of a carnival yet I prefer to be edified through the study of Art and Science. I’m so lucky since my food, housing and relationship needs are all being met during these Pandemic times. I am sheltering in place with someone whom I refer to as my muse. We currently work on jigsaw puzzles while inspiring each other to know.

Re: Right

I’m right handed so that means my left brain is dominant too. Left brainers are logical and enjoy using language to solve problems. Our left brain also holds the controlling functions, which drives my family crazy since I am constantly weighing the odds, reducing the risk and planning strategies for comfort and continuity. I do however, feel the rightness of this approach.

Yet, I encourage my right brain. The right hemisphere thinks spatially and is usually not aware of the passage of time. This side sometimes corresponds to left handedness and is therefore often associated with artists. I once purchased a workbook to tease this creative side; Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Written, a while back, by Betty Edwards, this book is a classic treatise that unlocks this poorly used hemisphere while helping many people to draw and think in a right-sided way. I believe there is an artist in all of us and sometimes we have to tell our left brain to stop being so bossy.

It may seem contradictory but you can be left handed and still have a right wing ideology. This notion of politically being left or right came about after the French Revolution, when the more conservative thinkers (think aristocrats) sat on the right side of the appointed leader of the assembly. Left wing thinkers are generally considered to be more inclusive and progressive when assessing policy. I feel sort of strangled when simplistic labels are tossed about. We can hinder dialogue and even promote division when rushing to call someone out, purely based on their political position. Folks on either side of this dividing line can spout self-righteous dogma. Everyone wants to feel like they are on the right side of an argument. Trouble is, we are rarely right all of the time. 

Currently the United States of America is locked in a right/left ideological campaign that will be tested, thankfully, hopefully, by an election. I don’t quite understand how the Republican Party has become synonymous with Right Wing Rednecks any more than I fathom how some think all Democrats are Tree Hugging Commies. Voices on both sides have shouted over each other claiming Constitutional priority. It’s been astonishing to watch so much pain and passion literally spilling out onto the streets. All the world over is tense about the outcome of who will be in charge of the planet’s most powerful country, once this extraordinary year is over.

I admit that I am left leaning yet I can appreciate that, logically, a bird needs both wings to fly straight. My conservative nature used to drive my sister nuts. I can thank my love of the arts for bringing me to mental landscapes of inclusivity often enough to be able to empathize with leftist behaviour. I feel anger when conservative governments claim they have the answers. A government is not a business. Jobs are not the most important thing. I look forward to a time when our society recognizes the value of each individual life. It’s the right thing to do.

Re: Hospitality

Some words fall out of favour in the English language. I was talking to an inn keeper recently and commented on his facility being so hospitable. He was flattered and said that he and his wife had made it a point, when they bought the place, to make hospitality their number one responsibility. And it showed; not only was the location of the lodge immaculately maintained but the gift of personal service could be felt from the first greeting. I’m in the habit of using the internet travel site Trip Advisor so I gave the hotel a glowing review.

I’ve never travelled extensively in the lower United States, yet I’ve always heard talk of their ‘southern hospitality’. Perhaps the phrase is a boast from the days of rich, White plantation owners. It must have been easier to look after guests due to the prevalence of slave labour. Also ironically, the word Hospitality comes up in several obscenity laced rap songs performed by Black artists. Check out Ludacris: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2QWQVm9J5DM

As an act of service, hospitality is not restricted to hotels and restaurants. I would say our village grocery store provides the highest standard of hospitality from produce managers, butchers through to check-out workers. It’s not an easy job to maintain customer satisfaction, especially when shoppers themselves can be less than hospitable. When coronavirus restrictions were first implemented in our region, I was surprised to see ‘essential workers’, like grocery clerks,  being applauded with banging pots during the evening yet later criticized in newspaper ‘letters to the editor’ for insisting on a fair wage. Some hotel workers in our district actually went on a hunger strike to keep the focus on their plight of being poorly compensated. Many wondered why the cheerleading of these essential workers had receded like the tide. I imagined someone inhospitably suggesting, “OK. Crisis is over. Now get back to work.”

No doubt, the hospitality industry has been hit hard economically with the realities of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Some governments and corporations have recognized the need for financial relief for the workers who have been laid off as a result of closures and health care compliance. I have applauded initiatives where the most needed members of our work force have been provided financial as well as moral encouragement. I believe a guaranteed income for all is a way that governments can show that hospitality works both ways. 

It would be inhospitable of me not to mention hospital workers. When we have the need to go to a hospital we expect a level of care above what even the best parent could provide. Only once have I experienced disappointment at the hands of a medical professional. Every hospital worker throughout the world has faced pressures beyond anything I would normally complain about, pre or post COVID19.  Our society venerates hospital staff but doesn’t always provide the resources necessary for optimal care. This pandemic has reminded us of the importance of caring for others, of being hospitable, as a first response to our neighbours.

Re: Side

An argument I had with someone long ago involved the use of this question, delivered at maximum volume, “Whose side are you on anyway?” It was really a one sided yelling match with someone who felt unsupported. I didn’t know how to answer the question. I still don’t because choosing sides makes me uncomfortable. Waging war is all about picking sides. Wayne Dyer once said, “When you live on a round planet, there’s no choosing sides.”

As a young boy I enjoyed the mythic stories of King Arthur and his Round Table. By definition the table lacked sides; no left, no right, no head, no foot. Political equality in theory and practise. Every knight’s opinion counted and there was no need to forge allegiances. There I go being naive again. Every kid learns early how to choose a member for his/her side or team and often it has less to do with talent and more about hard to define things like loyalty, friendship, or expectations. The business of Sides usually is about favours earned or collected: You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

And that’s when things can go sideways since one side often perceives that they are not getting an equivalency. Strong emotion then comes into play as the one on the other side feels let down, “I thought you had my back!” There may be good reason for someone to be construed as a turncoat. Sometimes a person’s principles dictate a different path from their usual comrades. Friendships aside, there are times when it’s important to diverge due to conscience.

Imagine being a staunch Trump supporter because you’ve always been a Republican in the United States. Perhaps your view of things from his side is now starting to unravel. Perhaps The Donald is making you question your loyalty to the Party of your ancestors. You may be virtually beside yourself with the dilemma of how to vote this November. Your country’s core values are being questioned at an international level. This particular decision to choose sides is way more crucial than what side of the bed you might prefer.

Heads or tails. The coin is tossed in the air. It has two sides and you are encouraged to choose. Yet often in life things can seem like two sides of the same coin. Environmental concerns and the use of fossil fuels are linked. In Canada we feel that Peace, Order and Good Government are not mutually exclusive.

A celebrity’s fan base can have members that vary from mild appreciation to rabid exclusivity. A Fan is often called on to take sides based on their celebrity’s announcements or positions on things unrelated to their particular talent. A celebrity may ‘go too far’ and alienate previous followers. Taking sides is serious business. Taking sides can sometimes involve an oath, of love or of fealty. Promises made aren’t necessarily kept for all time. Circumstances change, new data disturbs the parameters from which the original decision was made. An awakening!

Siding with truth, is something with which I can find fidelity.