Re: Fish

I like the non gendered word Fisher; someone who fishes for their livelihood. Even Jesus must have preferred it to Fisherman/Fisherwoman since he extolled his disciples, “I will make you fishers of men.” I have been interested in fish for as long as I can remember.  My favourite bedtime story was McElligot’s Pool by Dr. Seuss. Pretend you’re a kid again, listen with wonder and you’ll see why I got hooked.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNH6i3KSYsk

When I got older, the first novel I read was about an old man who went out to sea and caught a fish as big as his boat. Once, when asked what super power I would like, I said I wanted gills like Aquaman. I kept several aquariums in my bedroom during adolescence. I have visited many large city aquariums including a beautiful one in Lisbon, Portugal. I learned how to use SCUBA gear so I could join my finned friends in their own habitat. I studied Ichthyology in university as part of my Bachelor’s Degree in Fish and Wildlife Biology. I spent one summer surveying lakes in Northern Ontario to help the government determine if there were viable areas to develop for a fishing tourism industry.

The watery world we live on fascinates me. I’m not alone, as a book by Laura Trethewey called ‘The Imperilled Ocean’ attests. I could find myself in these chapters devoted to how we all are personally linked to the ocean and its creatures. It brought back memories of idle summer holidays immersing myself in the tidal zones along Wells Beach, Maine. Now living in British Columbia I am very aware of the impact of the salmon fishery. I’ve just finished a great book about salmon by Mark Kurlanski. The controversies of salmon farming, hatcheries, fish ladders, commercial fishing, fish cannons, river habitat are discussed. When greed, politics and climate realities merge it’s clear something fishy is going on.

I remember the first fish I caught, a Sunfish, was barely bigger than my hand. It’s scales were coloured like a rainbow. I won’t forget it’s perfectly round eye, staring back at me. Everyone near me shouted congratulations yet I felt sad. I was surprised how its brilliant colours faded as its gills stopped moving.

Philosophically, I like using fishing as an analogy for life. I used to encourage my children to go out into life as though they were going fishing: “Cast your line son. You never know what might come to your bait.” Fishing in this broader sense requires amounts of patience, perseverance, courage and curiosity. When looking for a mate or a date it’s important to keep trying. My mom once tried to console me when I was crushed by an adolescent breakup, “There are plenty of fish in the sea.” Whether applying for a job, signing up for a course of studies, deciding on a purchase or looking for a new friend, fish around until satisfied. You never know, what you might catch could just be a new way of thinking.

Re: Face

One of my very first memories was of me, chattering nonsense at the dinner table, then being told by my mother to “Shut your face!” I would come to face the truth that that was her way of joking. Growing into an adult I have had to face the facts about my parents, as all children must do, if any sort of relationship is to be maintained.

I have another memory of my mother when she was a municipal politician, where doing an about face was a match for her personality. Getting ready for a meeting, she would always get her face on. She rarely wore makeup but used cosmetics to make herself ‘public’ as she would put it. I’ve often wondered about the sincerity of the cosmetic industry for this reason. As a heterosexual male I have always been most attracted to women who eschew adorning themselves. Natural faces are so beautiful; freckles, blemishes, scars and all.

Let’s face it, many people create a facade for their true selves. Some can’t accept their reality as they face the mirror, so they invent someone who is more in line with who they wish to be. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytZsndEc830 .

It must be hard to use dating apps for that reason. As you scroll through the choices all you have to go on are the manufactured bios and carefully posed selfies. When it comes time for the risky face to face meeting, it is like the old notion of a blind date; cross your fingers and hope you haven’t made a mistake.

I’m that way with the celebrities I have chanced to meet. I usually get all flustered, heart racing in an OMG moment. I lose my sense of normality as I overthink what I must say or do when faced with the fact that they are right there in front of me. I’ll always regret a brief encounter with Neil Sedaka. He looked lost without an entourage at an airport in North Bay, Ontario and I didn’t offer to help, rudely acting like a VIP myself, off to catch my flight.

Other times in my life I have been able to put on a brave face. During sick leave for depression, several of my grade eight students sent me get well cards asking if I would attend their graduation ceremonies. I didn’t know whether I could face the music, so to speak, of returning to the environment that had been partially responsible for my nervous breakdown. Thankfully, with a friend to accompany me, I could face up to the hard therapy of getting on with life. Facing reality is damned hard work. That event was the first step of many I took to recover and rebuild my identity.

Using Facetime is a wonderful way to show your two dimensional self during COVID19. I live far from my grandkids, so I love to see their grinning, curious faces. While I long for a good old fashioned three dimensional hug, at least having screen time with them is better than any television show.

Re: Death

I’ve been thinking about death lately. Daily COVID19 updates will do that to a person. It isn’t the fear of death that has gotten to me, but the inevitability of it. Recently I dreamt of my childhood apartment, home to four: I walked about the small rooms.  Bedding was in a tumble, wiring was exposed. I called out for my parents and sister. I woke with a start. 

Today, I am the sole survivor. When will the grim reaper come for me, like in Ingmar Bergman’s classic film, The Seventh Seal. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NtkFei4wRjE

It’s natural to be uncomfortable with the subject of death. During my years as an elementary school counsellor I listened carefully to many children who had questions about life and death. I participated in death and dying workshops at Kings College at Western University in London, Ontario. My experience led me to offer sessions on grief with members of my United Church congregation. During an ‘Art Healing’ afternoon, one young fellow captured a positive note by making a button with his slogan, ‘Death is Interesting’.

Film producers deal with death in a variety of ways. Some confront it with a collage of blood spattered bodies, bullets flying and body count so disproportionately high that viewers soon become desensitized to dead people. Death can be treated comedically, like in this bizarre feature starring Hollywood’s leading lady of drama, Meryl Streep. 

Speaking of zombies! The undead hold a special place in the imagination of many people. I don’t share that fascination but I can appreciate the walking dead as an undying metaphor for racial discrimination. I admit to a curiosity for death whenever it has appeared in my life. I’ve witnessed several people die. I’ve only had a death wish once and luckily was clutched from the jaws of death. I’ve seen five productions of the play, Death of a Salesman and watched Dead Poet’s Society at least six times. Once, I took a death defying leap off a waterfall, diving into a small natural pool many metres below. I’ve also tempted an early demise by eating a serving of Death by Chocolate. I’ve had my share of la petite mort, a French term for orgasm, relating to the notion that climax provides a loss of consciousness equivalent to a small death.

The quote, “Nothing is certain except death and taxes.” is attributed to Ben Franklin. Death is clearly a part of life. I appreciate cultures that integrate that reality into their social observations.The Aztecs had Death Day festivals that have been continued by Mexicans and other cultures as The Day of the Dead or Día de Muertos. The belief that the departed are never really far from us is comforting. Two wonderful animated feature films that explore this healthy view of death are; The Book of Life https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mCSljmwNs_U 

Coco https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_5DD9G89rI .

Death need not be something to fear.

Re: Change

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” is a quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. When I think of the word Change the most available quote that comes to my mind is one my mother used to say often; “A change is as good as a rest.” She was referring to getting yourself out of a routine. Being in a rut is not a helpful place to be when you are on the road of life. I believe my mom was right; choosing a different path can bring refreshment, even enlightenment.

Not all change is welcome. In these changing times brought on by COVD-19 we can feel that change to our very livelihood has been inflicted upon us. Change is easier to handle when you are the creator of it or even if you have a stake in it. When someone else brings change there is a tendency to grumble. In our community we have a Grumpy Taxpayers Association who regularly criticize any change that our elected municipal officials legislate. Specifically they are concerned about the cost of things. In that regard I can relate. I often find myself gazing at the loose change in my hand and wondering how quickly it loses its worth.

Like cities throughout time, our downtown has its share of panhandlers. One fellow in particular gained some notoriety by the manner of his shout to passersby. “Spare a little change.” was his plea. You could hear the long drawn out word ‘Cha-i-n-ge’ a block before nearing him and for blocks further along. He was a veritable institution on one corner and when he relocated it caused a buzz in the community until word got out that he was working a corner closer to his new home. Throughout his time collecting coin he saw an abundance of pennies and nickels, then dimes and quarters. Regardless of the amount his cadence was never changeable.

Our change has changed. Inflation is ever changing the value of change in everyone’s pockets and purses. Where I used to keep a jar for quarters, I now have a plastic tub for loonies and toonies. I haven’t changed how I process my change even though the worth of it has declined. I still feel a childlike thrill when I save enough change to roll into a special paper sleeve designed for its respective denomination. A cylinder of nickels will total two whole dollars, a roll of quarters will create the equivalent of ten bucks and, hold your breath, a single tube of toonies amounts to $50! I’m old enough to remember my excitement as I walked to my corner candy store with a roll of pennies quickly growing warm in the grip of my tight little fist. A large bag of jujubes, caramels, liquorice and jawbreakers would soon be mine.

Change in the 21st century happens faster than it takes for a soft caramel to melt in your mouth. As always, there will be things we can change and things out of our control. Peace will come from knowing the difference.

Re: Life

The virus COVID-19, like others of its kind, is not a living thing. It can’t respire. It can’t metabolize nor can it make other viruses. One of several key elements to life is being able to replicate. Since a virus has limited genetic material it requires a host to reproduce. Humans can be that host. Our cells take what is lifeless, replicating new specimens that can be transmitted to other living things through our mucus: A case of deadly biological complicity. Yuck!

In these days of pandemic we are searching for a lifeline. It’s frustrating to think that the best an average citizen can do is to stay home, thereby avoiding the infection and the consequences of spreading the contagion. Our lifestyles have drastically changed, even as we count ourselves lucky if we haven’t contracted the virus. Worldwide, medical professionals labour to bring life giving care to those who are stricken. We see the lifeless bodies of those mortals who have succumbed to the infection being taken from the chaos of underfunded, understaffed and underprepared hospital emergency spaces in increasing numbers and we wonder if there will be life after this Coronavirus. We wonder if life can ever be liveable again.

My parents used to subscribe to Life magazine. Pictorially and textually I learned much from leafing through those pages. As a teen I started collecting Time/Life books; thin well bound volumes on a multitude of subjects in history, science and nature. I used the books for research and for wonder. Like all who are youthful I believed that there were keys to bringing justice and harmony to the world. Just as the periodic table of chemical elements has order, I figured once humankind came up with a plan that worked for all then we would experience heaven on earth. I have always felt lucky that I haven’t had to personally experience the effects of war. In my lifetime I haven’t had to adapt to massive change; until now.

We say that we make or earn a living when we refer to going to work. It’s a financial context that doesn’t include other aspects of life. I prefer the rarely used word, Livelihood, to describe all of the things we do as we build our unique existence. In the presence of the economic shutdown that is one result of the pandemic, survival is paramount. After the crisis I hope our society takes a hard look at what matters most in life. We must eat. We must be housed. Our planet must be clean. We must have equity. We must know joy. We must feel peace and purpose. We’ve been taught that life is what you make it. It’s up to us to create a life worth living. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBNChSa-rkA

Confronting death can make you hyper aware of life. Those who climb mountains often site that as a reason for the risks they take on the edge of things. Perhaps now, humans throughout the world will unite in a common definition of what constitutes a life well lived.

Re: Mean

“Everything happens for a reason” is easy to say, harder to believe. Just what do we mean by that phrase? Perhaps we are merely trying to find meaning in what might have just happened to us. We want to fathom the grand meaning of life, yet we don’t have the context to make a reasonable connection. To paraphrase a classic, “If a butterfly flaps its wings in my son’s backyard, I’ll be inclined to go ten pin bowling.”

Imagine a strange scenario: A baby born in the backcountry. Her parents die and she is raised by wolves. She survives, thrives, grows old and dies never having known another human. Did her life have meaning? Surely life can have no meaning without context or connection. We have meaning only when those we have touched remember us and respond to that memory. I think that is why funerals (or Celebrations of Life) are so important. During an end of life event, we get to pronounce what a person has meant to us. As a collective we confirm that the person did not die in vain; that a legacy remains despite the loss. We, by extension, are made significant for having known another and are encouraged to continue our journey.

Meanwhile, I’ve been meaning to write about the word Mean for a while. Sometimes with a word like this it’s hard to cover all the thoughts that bubble up. I mean it! I could go on a rant about how I wish people weren’t so mean to others. Or I could say how happy I was to discover that the mean price of a house like mine has risen in the last six months. Each time I pick apart a word my intention is to find out how it has affected me.

Perhaps intention is key to meaning. When we say we want a meaningful relationship with someone, we are intending to give as much as we get. Reciprocity can add to our understanding of life. It starts by ‘walking a mile’ in someone’s shoes. Yet sometimes after all we do to find commonality and mutuality with another, we must go our separate ways and define a new meaning for our personal path.

Graffiti, like other art forms, is rooted in an exclamation: I exist! All artists use creativity to find meaning. Regardless of an artist’s depth of training or natural skill, their work shows us what they have discovered so far. One of the first ubiquitous bathroom stall etchings was a drawing of a head with a large nose peeking over a horizontal line with the caption, ‘Kilroy was here’. A one-liner, a bumpersticker or a meme all do the same thing: They attempt to crystallize our thoughts on the meaning of life.

Sometimes I have felt that life has no meaning for me. On those occasions I’ve been grateful for the loving souls who have given me counsel to let some time pass. The urgent question, “Why am I here?”, is often solved by waiting patiently for meaning to present itself.

Re: Price

During the sixties, my parents scrambled to make ends meet. The price of everything made everything priced just out of their reach. I would help my mother with the weekly chore of coupon cutting. The clipped ads would be arranged in an envelope according to shopping aisle. This package was presented to the check-out lady along with the cash from my dad’s pay envelope. My parents were too random to keep a budget so their mantra was simply, ‘Go Easy’. We rented an apartment, bought our car on time, took out loans for Christmas and a week of summer vacation. Bills piled up, most were paid. We did things when the price was right or if Mom had had enough penny pinching.

And Mom knew her prices. She once appeared on a local TV timed grocery dash in a neighbourhood food store winning a shopping cart load of meat and non-perishables. She rarely missed the television show, ‘The Price is Right’, once applying to be on as a contestant. I guess she got good at price guessing from all the catalogues she would thumb through with a far away look in her eyes.

We were brought up in a lower class environment, my sister and I, but some of our experiences were hard to put a price on. My father had an art book collection. Each volume contained pictures of beautiful works of art. From them I learned the difference between pricey and priceless. When my folks weren’t working, they spent time with us. Some of my fondest memories are around the kitchen table working on a school assignment, my mom chatting away with a pair scissors in her hand and my dad suggesting edits for my narrative. In a subliminal way, I was learning that there is the difference between price, worth, cost and value.

While watching gangster movies I also learned the notion, ‘everyone has a price’ or be careful not to ‘price yourself out of the market’ or even more sinister, ‘there’ll be a price to pay!’ Outside of this black market bargaining hopefully we can determine our own value and be safe in any transaction. Like it or not though, we sell ourselves everyday. Our body, our organs, our skills, our education all have a value and we can trade that value for a price, paid by some individual or some corporation who wants us. Hopefully we don’t sell ourselves short.

Chemically, our bodies (our ashes really) after death, are currently valued at approximately $160. Apparently most of that price comes from potassium. So unless you have some gold fillings or precious metal implants you are not worth much dead. All the more reason to regularly consider your worth when you are alive.

The price of stuff can’t be only consumer demand. Works of art are considered priceless yet fetch millions. Housing has become unaffordable for many. Cost and price are distractingly manipulated. Wealth is the new religion. I dream of a world where we get what we deserve not what we pay for.

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