Re: Sick

“I’m sick and tired of this mess.” My mom used to moan before collapsing into our chromed kitchen dinette set. She was referring to her very existence, I came to learn, as she asked me to sit beside her while she smoked cigarettes and figured things out. From a very young age I got the idea that sickness has an emotional component.

Sick seems worse than ill; it’s more violent at least. There’s often vomit involved. We remember, vividly, all the times when we have been really sick. On a return flight from Europe my wife and I were served a rice dish that seemed a bit off. Within an hour of eating, my tummy was a gyro of gurgles. Then I got seriously nauseous, taking several runs to the tiny airplane bathroom, then retching in my home airport after disembarking, only to continue vomiting after the long taxi ride to my house. Somewhere in that mix diarrhea was involved. For a long time after that I was sickened by the thought of rice. The slightest inkling of a sickening feeling sent me running for an antacid.

Cleaning up after another person who spews is the highest calling. Contents of one’s stomach should never be seen. Puke is disgusting. Bile is worse. I watched a film recently where a character was breaking off their relationship to their friend saying, “You sicken me.” She acted as though she was throwing up as she was delivering her line. I got the point and so did the boyfriend. 

One of the quickest ways to stop feeling sorry for yourself is to consider the spectrum of health. We’re not always able to label our illness but we sure can tell a story of someone who was sicker. We judge sickness. Perhaps that’s why it’s hard to call into the office saying we can’t come in because we don’t want someone else second guessing our self diagnosis. There may be whispers of shirking one’s duty to the company. Long Term Covid may change attitudes regarding the sincerity and necessity of health care needs.

My first experience with health trauma occurred when I was fourteen. My sister was riding a bicycle and was struck by a car. She was rushed to Sick Children’s Hospital where she was treated for multiple injuries. She was in a cast for a long time and she had some long term issues that affected life for the whole family. Watching her recovery from the accident gave me a new perspective on priorities. I think the incident made me less likely to complain about the little aches and pains of life. It stiffened my resolve to see the other person’s situation clearly before forming an opinion.

My mom would regularly declare that she was sick to death of a situation or a person. Time after time she pulled herself out of her funk: Not really a complainer, yet always a bitch. I wonder if repetitive negative emotion does us in eventually. Let’s call it ‘Death by Crankiness’. What a way to go!

Re: Sprawl

In my present location I look out from a fifth floor balcony at many square miles of identical rooftops. Without a GPS to guide you, there is a real risk of getting lost when you go out for a walk in such a neighbourhood. This is referred to as urban sprawl, an expression coined in the 1930s to describe areas of aggressive, largely unrestricted housing development.

My posture can be considered urban sprawl since I’m citified and have been lounging a lot lately. I’ll blame Covid slowdown for the way my body has begun to sprawl. Parts of me are spreading out, boldly going where they’ve not ventured before. I admit, slothfulness has always been one of my characteristics, but in the morning, once I am vertical, I have a certain energy. When I walk I have been considered quite military in bearing. In fact some folk have pointed out that my body sort of slants backwards a few degrees even while I am strolling. It’s a different matter when I sit.

Lounging about may give me a bad reputation for seeming to not care or being unambitious. I do care. I can be active when the time is right. However, I’m not very flexible. I am uncomfortable sitting at ninety degrees to eat a meal at a table. But then again eating is not a favourite pastime. If you help me into and out of a beanbag chair I might be inclined to stay there all day. I like the current expression for lazing about as ‘just chilling’. Breathing is easier in this position. I can do my best crossword puzzle solving while sprawled across a comfy couch.

I have a stepson who likes to say, “If you are not living on the edge you are taking up too much space.” My need for comfort is not about entitlement, however in public I try to be respectful. The municipal government of Madrid takes sprawling on public transport very seriously. Manspreading is rude. There are signs and fines for validating your manliness over more than your share of seat. In Canada there is debate about the space men command to be comfortable. https://torontosun.com/2014/12/29/anti-manspreading-campaign-called-sexist

Hands behind my head, back angled at least 110 degrees to my thighs, legs splayed and feet supported by a stool. This is my characteristic configuration as I read, type these words or watch television. My body was meant for a Lazy-Boy recliner, but I don’t have one so I improvise. With the right number of cushions I can be comfortable sprawling on the floor, up against a wall. I can hear people telling me not to slouch, it’s bad for your back, you look sloppy, even slovenly. I can’t argue with that.

I’ll conclude by agreeing that municipal sprawl is the antithesis of edgy and personal sprawl in public lacks grace. Meanwhile, I have a foldable chaise lounge perfect for sprawl worthy moments. I’ll be outside with a magazine if you need me.

Re: Heart

My heart skipped a beat the other day. In fact it skipped several beats, enough to make me wonder what was going on. My son-in-law just happened to be stopping by for lunch so I asked him to take me to the hospital instead.

It was the prudent thing to do. Heart disease claims more lives in Canada than any other illness. I had been having heart palpitations (what I called kittens chasing each other in my chest) with some regularity for the past several months. My wife and I had agreed that, ‘the next incident’ would be the one where I would go to emerg. I considered my father, who died while on holiday in Portugal due to his heart health issues. He was only seven years older than I am right now. Memento mori.

My son is thirty years younger than I am. He and his wife have just bought their first house. After the move they enjoyed reporting a heartfelt sense of permanence, saying the decision was a “coup de coeur” experience. News of their combined joy pulled at my heart strings as though a song of love and longing had just arrived after a commercial break. A song such as this favourite of mine by Tony Bennett. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6DUwMnDxEs

There are many songs written from the heart. Some popped into my head as I waited for a doctor upon entering the hospital’s emergency department. It was a large open area room akin to a Costco warehouse. Direction arrows were taped to the concrete floor, clerks stood at their posts. Instead of food samples or coupons I answered questions and was directed to a succession of stations where I was tested and questioned further. I got labelled then someone came with a wheelchair to take me through the final portal. Here, in a small room, I was told to lay on a bed around which gathered no fewer than seven medics. They stopped my heart twice in an attempt to reset it from a high of 185BPM. I felt well attended to, so I wasn’t frightened.

While being monitored and tested further, I listened to the busy sounds of the ER setting. I contemplated the news cycle since late 2019 of Covid calls to action in hospitals around the world. Many unrelated deaths occurred because folks like me were resisting going for medical attention for other ailments, like the atrial fibrillation which became my diagnosis on this day. Surprisingly my heart beat returned to normal as quickly as it had raced to my attention. Latest incident over, I have appropriate medication to forestall a similar occurrence and an appointment for a follow-up consultation with a cardiologist.

I felt gratitude that I had avoided a stroke which I was told was a potential with my condition. I was heartened to see our health care system work so well on my behalf. I’m happily feeling the beat of a consistent rhythm, giving me hope for what my future may hold.

Re: Pool

“Right here in River City” is a lyric from The Music Man and it is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of pool. The billiard kind, on a table, with balls rolling on a quality felt. My grandfather, a grand champion in his country, taught me the basics of banked shots and finesse with a chalk tipped cue. He snookered me many a time before I got the hang of the game. My mom however, agreed with the flim flammer character Harold Wilson, who felt that pool halls were places of sin. Here Mr.W. is played by Hugh Jackman singing a clip from ‘We’ve Got Trouble’.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UOL5CzvxnI

Both my parents encouraged me to swim. I was enrolled in the Red Cross program and got badges up to Bronze level. I competed in local level swim meets, once getting a third place in Breast Stroke. I took SCUBA lessons in two different pools, then completed my open water certification near Tobermory, Ontario. Now in my seventh decade I tend to splash around when I enter a pool, yet I still feel confident that I won’t drown.

Bodies of water encourage me to enter. I love the feeling of buoyancy. I love holding my breath and sliding porpoise-like under the surface, frolicking in the two worlds of air and liquid. I prefer a hotel stay that gives me access to a pool. Even a half hour in the chlorine infused water gives me an emotional lift that is a combination of youthful exuberance and entitled bliss. The building where I’m staying in Mississauga has just opened its outdoor pool. I was there on the first day, waiting by the gate. Children were gathered, freshly freed from school, looking as excited as I was to have a swim. They hung back while I tested the waters and took the first dive. Sublime.

When I lived in Schumacher, I swam in the oldest indoor pool in Northern Ontario. The atmosphere in the vaulted room felt as confining as underground shafts built by the mining company that had made this recreational space for its employees and their families. I have found natural pools of water whenever I have travelled. Hot springs in New Zealand, frosty kettle lakes near Timmins, the ocean-like fresh water expanses of Lake Superior and the salty delight of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

When I first visited Victoria in British Columbia, my eldest son took me for a midnight New Year’s Eve swim held at a community pool. It was a tonic to celebrate time passages in that way. I remember the walk along the dark streets and a gin&tonic to cap the evening when we got back to his apartment. A friend of my wife asked her to cat sit her pets once and I went along because of the beautiful private pool located in her condo complex.

Where ever I go I pack a bathing suit. A chance to immerse myself in healing waters is not to be missed.

Re: Attachment

My son watched aghast as Prince Harry was asked yet again if he misses his mother. I understood how he could relate to the royal, having lost his own mom to cancer twenty years ago. We both wondered why some people maintain such strong attachments.

“Hang on tightly, let go lightly” is a wonderful line from the film ‘The Croupier’. I’m proud that my sons and I have found ways to detach ourselves from events that have caused us sorrow. We have learned to say goodbye without forgetting. In our own ways we continue to practise the meaning of living in the present. I love my sons not because they are mine, but because of who they are. When I learned the value of loving detachment I made a committed step towards a more mature attitude to life in general and other people in particular. I feel safer knowing I can detach from my own ego, from unhealthy situations, from the pressures of conformity. I will not blindly wave a flag nor join a parade.

I’m learning late in life not to be attached to an outcome. I wished I had had a clearer sense of this when I had sought out opportunities in the past. Perhaps a desire for something is closely linked to our wish for attachment. Sometimes our singularity compels us to seek the security of group membership. Even a kite needs to be tethered by guiding hands before it can soar. Admittedly, this analogy falls down when you consider that your individuality risks being constrained by an idea, a process or a brand. An obligation can also be an attachment that holds you back from discovering what’s best for all concerned. Truth can be the scissors that cut through those tethers that prevent us from experiencing a healthier personal reality.

Getting over ourselves can often mean stepping from the centre of our web of connections. Detaching from some filaments and letting go of the security of the collective is frightening but necessary to growth. I was clinically depressed five years before the death of my wife. I look back in gratitude that I had that span of time to sort myself out. In hindsight, I needed those years to be a better person for my dying spouse. I found ways to be more responsible for myself so I could be of greater assistance to my loving partner.

It isn’t an easy journey but I believe it begins with the cutting of the umbilical cord. To me that marks the start of one’s life, when you know you are truly alone. From that moment there are varying degrees of dependency, agency, and clarity regarding who is really in charge of your existence. Calling the shots means knowing when to seek help, receive help and provide help.

These days I’m attaching myself to the joys of life using a lighter thread enabling me to feel less bound by convention: More tuned in to the slightest breeze of welcoming change. I wish to fly higher and see further.

Re: Body

‘We all need some body to lean on.’ I’ve separated a compound word back there on purpose. If the great Bill Withers tune comes to mind that’s ok by me, just lean on me, while I try to amuse you with what the word Body brings to my mind. I promise I’ll stay away from bodily functions, body humour and noises a body might make.

When typing the word Body I must admit my first thoughts are sexy ones. A country song by The Bellamy Brothers plays now in my head; “If I said you have a beautiful body/Would you hold it against me?” That makes me think of times I’ve shared my body. I’ve been lucky that others have been attracted to me. I’ve been lucky to be fit without really trying. I’ve been in no major accidents and have few ailments. Like most people, I wish some parts of my body were better: longer, firmer, brawnier, hairier, or more flexible. Generally I think I’m presentable if not lovable.

Body talk is often frowned upon. Some folks are too quick to assume that the speaker/writer/painter/photographer is body shaming, or lascivious or sexist or objectifying. When the subject of bodies is portrayed within the context of communicating feeling or ideas more tolerance is needed. My overriding biased opinion is that, yes the human body is a thing (flesh, bones, blood & stuff), but always a beautiful one. I truly marvel at the variety and assortment of fleshy things that are in this big world. How wonderful it is when our soul gets to decide how to practise play while using a body full of movement, senses and expressions!

Some feel their body gets in the way. I was surprised by a comment Melanie Safka made recently in an interview about impediments to her musical career. I naively thought that all men and women had the ability to shape their lives equally. Boy! Girl! Was I wrong! Melanie said,”I kind of wished I didn’t have a body.” That statement made me ponder the male/female divide when it comes to how we view our bodies. As a young adult I was very attracted to her bodacious body and also to her body of work. I memorized the lyrics to ‘Brand New Key’ and I empathized along with her when she sang, ‘What Have They Done To My Song Ma.’

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2021/dec/14/singer-songwriter-melanie-woodstock-was-unbelievably-frightening

During award shows my favourite category is Lifetime Achievement. A human is being recognized for the work they’ve done using their body, mind and spirit over the course of a majestic period of time. Pity the person who didn’t appreciate the award winner in the early days. Prejudice may start when a body meets a body and the impression is only skin deep. Snap decisions based on looks can affect a career or a relationship. Judging a book by its cover can inhibit you from discovering a story that may change your life.

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: Scene

My wife and I have been talking about scenarios on a daily basis. We both like to have some grasp of the future so we plot out possible scenes as a playwright might. Shepherding two seniors through end of life stages is no easy task, especially when they have so little intention to be part of the present scene. One will say it is too early for such talk while the other will prefer to listen to audio books. Both of them effectively leaving it to us to write what could happen next. Hard to make any headway when some of the players don’t even want to read the script, let alone help to write it.

Children are often being told not to make a scene. Parents hate to have attention drawn to them in a public place. My first wife had the effective strategy of scooping up our toddlers the second they misbehaved in a store. Into the car they would go for a chilly drive home where they would be confined to their room. Sounds harsh, yet it would always be followed up with a conversation on how the scene was seen by all of the actors involved. Kids are predisposed to act out their frustrations, fears and wants, yet they must learn the consequences and be guided towards solutions.

I used to accompany my artistic father on sketching walks. Rather than take a polaroid shot of a scenic view, he would sit for a bit on a small canvas foldable chair and focus his attention on picturesque details. He would make notes of colours so when he returned to his apartment he could use his pastels or oil paint to best affect. As a result, I fell in love with scenery in general and landscapes in particular. Even when I have been in a confined space I have tried to trick my mind into seeing a vista. I’ve found that even in a small backyard or on an apartment balcony I could visualize elements of a grand canyon just by narrowing my view to marvel at the details of the scene.

Nothing makes my emotions tingle so quickly as a well acted scene in a stage play, television serial or big screen film. When a scene can include the expanse of magnificent scenery, well, that memory forms a bond in my brain that forever informs the scenes of my own life. For example, I can recall the intricately placed scenery from a production of La Boheme my wife and I viewed at the Opera House in Oslo, Norway. This magnificent piece of architecture was a treat for the senses both inside and outside. My favourite film of all time, Lawrence of Arabia, has so many scenic scenes that I am awestruck by the planning it must have taken to make this masterwork of cinemascope.

Moments in time can be scenes from which lifetime memories are built. From birth to death  there are opportunities to wonder. The more involved we are, the more vivid the scenery.

Re: Trouble

Trouble is one of those words that pops up frequently. We don’t go looking for it, but it has a way of finding us. “You’re in big trouble mister!” was a sentence I was afraid of hearing as a young boy. Luckily I didn’t hear it very often. I got caught swearing. I once told a kid with big ears that he had big ears. I stole a magnet. That’s about all the trouble I put my parents through. Troublesome, I was not. That was my little sister’s job.

There is a lot of trouble in the world. I don’t know for certain if present times are more troubling than times of yore, but it sure feels like it (make your own list of woes here). I wonder if much of it is our own making. We can look for others to blame or consider ourselves as victims of circumstance I suppose. We can be conned into a fearful state. Here, The Music Man quickly convinces the townsfolk that trouble was just around the corner, all because of a Pool Hall in River City. Well, I’ll be hornswoggled!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LI_Oe-jtgdI

Laughing through our times of trouble can be helpful when the fix is easy. Authors create characters who might conjure trouble over a bubbling pot or use television comedy to resolve the conflict on screen. Laugh tracks can help assure us that problems won’t last and, really, everything is all in good fun. Captain Kirk tried to be serious during his trouble with Tribbles but in the end even Spock feigned amusement. Song writers can use melody to bring us out of our funk or they may convince us with words that we need not worry, just be happy. One of the films of my childhood starred an actor named Norman Wisdom. ‘Trouble in Store’ was about a charming goof of a man who’s heart was always in the right place even when his brain wasn’t fully engaged.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpMRnN5-Bpw

Sometimes the difference between pain and suffering is a matter of time as much as perspective. The Troubles of Northern Ireland lasted decades before there was any sort of peaceful resolution. Children grew up in this God forsaken corner of the world knowing all measure of hostility. Religion as a cause would be any easy excuse while to me, watching from the outside, it seemed more about bitterness, intractable positions, poverty and blind stupidity.

Trouble Shooting sounds like an oxymoron yet it can be helpful to gather as a group to solve a problem or set a new direction. I normally like to keep to myself, yet put me in a room with some newsprint on a flip chart and I can lead a bunch of willing wanderers out of their confusion. “Remember folks, there are no wrong answers.” I’ll announce as I clutch my set of non toxic coloured markers. Word to the wise: I’ve learned to set up the ‘breakout’ groups before workshop participants consider a mutiny.

Re: Kite

Kite flying is an analog pastime. As an activity it fits in a category with old timey games involving hoops, skittles, wooden balls or pegs. It’s been a long time since I felt like I wanted to play a game of croquet, yet when I found out that my son had bought a kite for his son, I wanted one too. My wife encouraged me to follow my desire. She has the sweetest heart.

My memories of kites are fulsome and fun. When I was a kid we would get a new kite every summer, while camping on the coast of Maine. There was a tiny store next to the shore that sold beachy things and they always stocked the latest kite designs. My sister would get an inflatable mattress or colourful beachball while the kite was my thing. It pleased me that my kite took a bit of assembly, some skill to get it aloft all the while staying tethered and in my control. Long after my little sister’s newly purchased toys had blown away or been punctured, my kite remained airborne.

A kite can be a collectible as well as a momentary source of pleasure. Throughout Canada I have witnessed several festivals where kites have been a prominent feature. An enthusiastic citizen named John Vickers organized community gatherings where these aerodynamic toys took centre stage in Victoria, British Columbia. It was fun to wander down to Clover Point at the end of the day’s kite building to see what everyone had accomplished. Dozens of kites made of paper, plastic, foil, garbage bags, even hair nets were tossed into the air with wild delight. I once attended a kite battle at the CNE grounds in Toronto. Razor blades were attached to a part of the kite string. Handlers aimed their kites so as to cross paths with someone else’s line, slicing their opponent’s mooring to obtain victory. This Youtube clip is way more dramatic than what I saw but it gives you an idea. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTL6B9PbqIU

Variations of kite technology can be found everywhere these days. Along Victoria’s Juan De Fuca shoreline on most windy days you will find kitesurfing or kiteboarding taking place. Using the forces of nature to leap and skim over the ocean waves, athletes hold on to large plumes of silk or poly, their feet attached to a surfboard. In my day I used a sailboard, not really kite-like but a much quieter ride for my liking. Along this same coast and often on the same day you can see paragliders suspended twenty or thirty feet overhead, following the bluff line, imitating the soaring seagulls. It’s quite a sight, watching all these kites, and so pollution free!

I’m looking forward to spring and another opportunity to build and/or fly kites with my grandchildren. When I’m holding my kite, there is a reset going on. It feels healthy. “With tuppence for paper and strings/You can have your own set of wings.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNSler7jBWs