Re: Robert

In the beginning my folks created Robert. They argued over the name: my mom liked William while my dad, lover of ancient epic tales of bravery in battle, wanted to call me Paris. Settling on Robert, they called me that until their separate inevitable deaths. I can hear my dad calling me with love in his voice, however when my mom called, there was generally more force to her enunciation, “Raw-Burt!”

Even though Robert is displayed on my birth certificate, throughout my school career I was called Bob. That name is written on many of my school report cards beside teacher comments. On some trophies Bob Thompson would be listed as the recipient. To my recollection my parents never made a point of correcting the engraving. They were both always proud, as parents must be, with whatever I could accomplish. My first wife and all her family called me Bob since the pattern seemed set by the time I graduated university.

I’ve often wondered if a person becomes the name they are given. Bob is a run of the mill sort of name and I think that’s what I am: pretty basic. Both my first and last names are quite common yet I’ve never felt insignificant. Some friends have given me nicknames like Tommygun, Artie and Berto; all having a certain flair about them that makes me feel momentarily proud. My auntie has always called me Rob, which makes me smile. Shakespeare spoke of a rose by any other name, suggesting that it is the spirit that matters more than any artificial appellation.

Some cultural traditions allow for formal naming ceremonies at various stages in life. My present wife was once given a tribal name and I’ve always envied her for that honour. It would be awesome, but a bureaucratic nightmare, if we could switch names when we felt moved by circumstance to state we had gone beyond our birth name. In my case, after a bout of depression brought on by a midlife crisis, I opted to announce a return to my original name. I told my work colleagues and friends that I preferred Robert over Bob. I wanted to take a bit of my past into my future, eliminating the tag of my middle years. Drawing that distinction still makes sense to me.

Artists sometimes go by other names. Whether to protect, disguise or otherwise play around with their identity makes no matter to me. What a nom de plume conveys is an adventurous spirit; one who is willing to admit they are individuals with many facets. William Porter blossomed as O’Henry, Samuel Clemens had to find Mark Twain, Engelbert triumphed over Arnold, Calvin needed Snoop Dog, Lady Gaga outgrew Stephani.

Being AKA (not the rapper) has its benefits, sort of like dressing up for halloween. Having someone supportively comment that you look or act differently can be refreshing. I chose my Twitter handle @wh0n0z with that in mind: I can be the wise one who knows or, alternatively, the one to exclaim with a wink, “Who Knows?”

Re: Snow

Most Canadians have a love/hate relationship with snow. Every car has a snow shovel, a snow scraper and some vehicles even have snow chains waiting in the trunk. I used to have a set of snow tires on rims which I put on the car every October in preparation for the first heavy snowfall. We all have our horror stories of finding our way through snow. We spin tales of our first childhood experience with snow, wishes for snow days or being snowed in so we don’t have to go to work or school. Freshly fallen snow can be a source of wonder and delight, especially if the snowfall is on Christmas Eve. Who can forget the joy in that excited shout, “It’s snowing!”

One December I headed out with my young family to spend Christmas holidays with relatives in Thunder Bay. It’s a long trip from home and the light dims early at that time of year. Half way through the journey the wind starting whipping the snowflakes into a frenzy called a white-out. Car headlights are useless as the beams reflect back at you. Dimensions are distorted; no up, down or sideways is discernible. On this drive I tried to lock my sight on to the vehicle in front, a transport truck with a small red rear light showing on its back left hand corner. Luckily an inner voice told me I was being stupid so we pulled into the next motel. Only one room was left and, I kid you not, sifted snow had piled its way into the closet.

I’ve never enjoyed driving a car on snowy roads. I survived 30 winters in Timmins Ontario, where snow can be expected from September to June. I dare not estimate the number of driveways I have shovelled during those years. Some snowdrifts completely covered my car. I built a carport and a garage in an effort to minimize the coverage yet I still had to clear a way to the road, which was often not plowed until midday, creating a crusty mound of snow at the end of the entryway.

Rolling up sticky snow to create snowmen never loses its allure. Everyone has memories of building snow forts, throwing snowballs, or sledding down hillsides. I satisfied my wish to leave the dark side of winter wonderlands behind by retiring in Victoria, British Columbia. The family gathered at the homestead on the final Christmas In Timmins and the young ones honoured us by sculpting two snow replicas of my wife and me in tropical accessories.

There are many words used to describe types of snow; sludge, scrump, slurry, floaters, are some I’ve heard. Many words come attached to curses. Being a poet, my favourite is ‘snowy-dews’; those jumbo sized flakes that meander from whisper-still skies to melt on contact with parka-clad humans. A panoramic view of these fragile crystal structures makes me want to softly sing with a vibrato Bing Crosby-esque voice.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orJ9-bdNi_s

Re: Skirt

I’ve wanted a kilt, made in my family tartan for a while now. I won’t skirt the issue regarding why I haven’t bought one: I predict I will feel shy wearing it. There are some ways that I wish I were more daring. Wearing a plaid skirt would certainly be bold for me. I just don’t think I could pull it off yet I continue to fantasize. The thing is I don’t think I present as a manly man like Sean Connery or even Jamie, The Outlander dude. I’m not a man of fashion either; sweats, T-shirts, blue jeans suit me just fine. I prefer to blend in rather than stand out.

The kilt was banned in Scotland for a long time because it was seen by the dominating Brits as a sign of dissent. The word Skirt itself carries much baggage: Not kindly for females. Skirt was a derisive term for women of weak morals. Boys who cried got called Skirts. Canadian girls weren’t allowed to wear pants while at public school even into the early 1970s. Looking at the issue of gender identity, the role of the skirt as a definition of femininity is obvious: Most restrooms still use the skirted woman. I’m thinking spontaneously and perhaps outrageously that the skirt is likely a clothing item seen as an example of male oppression of women.

Part of me wants to raise my Jacobite sword in defence of this free type of covering for all people. By wearing a kilt, or an izaar, I could join other males in discovering the benefits of a breezeway. Or perhaps, in the smallest of ways, I can get a step closer to understanding a woman’s experience. For example, I wonder what it would feel like to stand over a subway grate like Marilyn Monroe once did. Wearing a kilted skirt, I would not be trying to make a statement, just find out how it feels to be so easily accessible and vulnerable.

Exceptions have been made to my normally drab wardrobe. There has been occasions where what I have worn has made me feel on the outskirts of reality. I have been called classy while wearing a crested blue blazer at juvenile team sport banquets. One full year in high school I wore only white pants with corduroy shirts (a different colour for each day of the week). I had a brief fling with the Sonny Crockett ’T-shirt and dinner jacket look’ in my fifties. I can rock a wool turtleneck while practising my seafaring brogue. Once, for a wedding on a paddle wheel boat, I purchased a dark blue, double breasted jacket to go with grey pants and a light grey mock turtleneck. A guest told me I looked familiar, sincerely asking if I had served on a ship out of Whitehorse. I was flattered and wished I could have continued the deception.

Perhaps I’ll buy a kilt for my granddaughter’s wedding. Dinna fash, I’ll ask her first. It’s probably two decades from now so I’ll have plenty of linear time to dither.

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

Re: Bank

Where I spent my formative years there was a small river that wound its way to Lake Ontario. Its banks were muddy, with tangled roots grasping for water. I hid plastic toy soldiers amongst these fibrous tendrils, lit small red firecrackers to imitate war. It felt safe here, with my back against the wall of cool earth, watching the creek water smoothly trickle past my feet.

I have Scottish ancestry so I feel a yearning kinship while humming the lilt from ’On the Bonnie, Banks of Loch Lomond’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gb8AGuD2uOI

One of my favourite television shows from that time was the hypnotic black and white classic, ’Tales of the River Bank’. The creators seemed to imagine exactly what was on my mind as I used small toys to create a miniature world. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-VTn6VlUXNA

I took to television with an eye for more than entertainment, like many in a previous generation had immersed themselves in books. While I did find comfort and escape in reading my mind quickly awoke to world issues. I chose stories that spoke of adventuring to different lands on the open sea. I could bank on authors like Farley Mowat to set a pleasing compass course by spinning tales of non or near fiction. His stories of man and nature contrived to inspire and are so relevant to today’s angst over the decline of Earth’s natural resources. In early adulthood, I wept through parts of ‘A Whale for a Killing’ and later gasped at the abundance that once was found off The Grand Banks off Newfoundland in ‘Sea of Slaughter’. In high school my Student Aptitude Test results indicated I was destined to be either a Banker or a Lighthouse Keeper. Hardly occupations for my adventurous spirit! When my mom found out I clearly remember her show of disappointment while my father made a joke of it by saying, “I wouldn’t bank on it son.”

In the northern Ontario town where I spent my career my neighbourhood bank had a history dating back to Gold Rush days. When I first strode in to open an account I was awed by how much it reminded me of the banks depicted in the film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: Lots of wood, brass and a mammoth safe standing sentinel in a corner. It’s hard to believe that this was in the late nineteen seventies! Two tellers sat behind antique looking arched frames with vertical bars. There was a small safety deposit box room at the very back but the only other room was one accessed by a heavy oak door on which was carved the manager’s name.

I enjoyed having my bank book stamped and updated while chatting with the tellers. When a new bank branch of chrome and glass was built into a modern mall nearby, some new fangled ATMs were installed. My sons taught me how to use them. It took time for me to feel safe along the walls of this bank.

Re: Cream

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream. I have received news that my almost three year old grandson was super excited to get his first cone from a neighbourhood truck. And here I thought those musical chiming vehicles were a thing of the past. On the other end of the age spectrum my mother-in-law still loves a well scooped ice cream in a waffle cone and she currently can’t get enough of cream-style corn either, something I’ve loved for years.

During my first year of teaching in Timmins, Ontario, I lived next to the Eplett’s Dairy plant. Just half a block away, if the wind was right, we could smell a sweetness in the air when they poured the ice cream into large four litre plastic tubs. We bought all our warehouse priced creamery stuff from there. When my kids were little they used the empty tubs for all sorts of woodsy adventures, carrying supplies, picking blueberries or capturing insects. I still have items in my closet that are wrapped in old fashioned branded plastic milk bags.

Ahh, slipping the bonds of time! My first job summer job was delivering creamery products in glass bottles from a truck, directly to people’s doorstep. My boss drove while I ran back and forth across the suburban streets. I was only nine yet my folks were fine with the arrangement as they were friends with the milkman. I was up by five and we finished our route by 9ish. I could drink all the chocolate milk I could gulp between delivery stops. At the end of each week I was paid cash. If I didn’t break any bottles, I was allowed to take home a carton of strawberry ice cream. When I was 12 I developed a passion for creamsicles. I let my first girlfriend take a bite of mine. As our relationship grew later that summer she invited me to her grandparent’s farm for peaches and cream corn, boiled in a huge pot. We could eat as many as we wanted rolled in large blocks of butter. It was likely no coincidence that I creamed my jeans for the first time that day.

My grandmother enjoyed being told that she looked like Queen Elizabeth II. She said she owed her creamy complexion to the British dampness, even as she complained of another rainy day. She always thought cream was best with her tea and loved clotted cream on her pastries. She once effusively congratulated me for graduating university by telling me I was the cream that had risen to the top of the Thompson clan. I thought of her just the other day as I put my coffee cream in the back of the fridge as per her long forgotten instruction. Her personality was prickly but she had a sentimental heart, much like Jean Brodie, the title character in a book by Muriel Spark, who said of her students; “All my pupils are the creme de la creme.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXA0N55c3iw

Re: Guide

Influencers are big news. High profile people are courted by business, advertisers and social media sites to guide opinion or spark controversy. Guidance sells. Having a blue checkmark on your Twitter profile or thousands of followers on Facebook, you become worthy of attention. Providing guidance in a social media setting is increasingly problematic however, since users equate celebrity with credibility. This may be a new kind of going with the flow.

The mania and methods of social media sites have us following trendy others too easily. The best advice I ever got from my mother was not to be a sheep. Listening to alternative voices is important yet we must be guided by more than the flavour of the week. Fashionable morals need not dictate central principles and values. I’m conflicted by the conversations over ‘Cancel Culture’.  Guiding principles and societal values are no excuse for shunning individuals or ruining careers. Surely we can parse an offensive singular statement from general behaviours or opinions that are consistently abusive or prejudiced. We can stand for something by standing up. Censorship misses the point of the importance of active listening. Without an open conversation to guide us, there is no satisfactory conclusion. 

Our guidance can still come from the usual places. I was thinking recently how I’ve been guided in my life. I attempted a ‘top five’ list of influential forces. While some were people, some circumstances provided me with guidance. In review form, here’s what I came up with to describe how I came to this place called me.

Television: This device became my message, to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, from my earliest days. The glowing eye has had a watchful presence over me from my fifth birthday onward. Even now, I reference TV programs when I am thinking/writing/conversing. One of my chores from an early age was to go to the grocery store to pick up a TV Guide. Using it as an early reader, I learned about schedules, film, advertising and media culture.

Scouting: Through several formative years with the Boy Scout movement I learned what perseverance and goal setting meant, how to stand up for myself and prepare for a rainy day.

My mother: She was a stronger personality than my father by far. I was lucky to be favoured by her over my sister, yet her manipulation of the family dynamic left lasting scars. 

My sister: Taking care of my younger sister was a regular activity of my childhood. I was held responsible for her whereabouts and missed out on the freedom of childhood.

Being alone: Hard to know whether my nature is to be an introvert or whether my early life trained me for solitude. I had one solid friend in early adolescence. While most of my life has been guided by turning inward, I have been blessed by the love and guidance provided by two wonderful wives.

With my advancing age I find myself trusting more. I look to my children for guidance regarding new technologies and societal shifts; for new ways to love and contribute.

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: Gluttony

When I think of a gluttonous person the picture that comes to mind is someone very large; of the size of characters in Pickwick Papers or akin to sumo wrestlers, that kind of large. Of the ancient deadly sins I match this word with Greed. One and the same; Greed and Gluttony are about over indulgence, over spending, and over doing almost anything. I’m referring to the act of extravagance. It’s not about fat shaming but living within your means. Gluttony to me is about consuming more than you need. The best skit I have ever seen on this subject is the revolting tale of Mr. Creosote as told by the Monty Python crew from the film, The Meaning of Life.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxRnenQYG7I

Paul Anka is credited with this guiding phrase: ‘Moderation in all things, including moderation.’ My mom used to like that quote. She was part of a post WWII tribe that had little in the way of material things. When things got comparatively better, the flood gates to excess were opened. When I was growing up she would have spells of acquisition that accompanied her care free attitude. One month we may have been looking for coins between the sofa stuffing and the next (with overtime pay in the envelope) treats were allowed. When the pantry invariably became depleted I might be inclined to ask if I could have the last of the jam. In response, Mom would flip her hand, “When it’s gone, it’s gone!”, which made me feel as guilty as sin.

Apparently, there are seven sins: Pride, Greed, Wrath, Envy, Gluttony, Lust and Sloth. I was taught not to be lazy, to control my temper, to not whine about what others may have, to measure my wants, and that if I boasted my head would surely swell. Of all those early lessons I think I absorbed, with lasting success, that gluttony is bad. I do believe that too much of anything leads to a serious disconnect with others and is responsible for the damage we have done to this finite planet. I’m told this is a homesick-like feeling called solastalgia. When it’s gone, it’s gone.

Preaching minimalism didn’t get me far in conversations with my sister, who like our parents before us, chose to maximize her paycheque with payday loans of one sort or another. She was always reaching for the proverbial brass ring, hoping to keep the ride going even when resources ran out. In her tribe I was considered a stuffed shirt when I questioned, “How much stuff do you really need?” 

On Twitter, #taxtherich often gets attached to rants about inequity, inequality and gluttony. Building a consumer based society has had its negative drawbacks. We’ve designed a land of plenty where almost any fantasy can be explored, meanwhile obesity, drug use, suicide and multi-billionaires are ubiquitous. We are encouraged to buy the latest and trash the once repairable: There will always be more. Our gluttony has squandered our precious home. Wastefulness is on my list of the new deadly sins.

Re: Anniversary

This is my 100th blog posting. That’s a lot of words! As far as anniversaries go, anything marking one hundred is pretty big news. I remember the 100th anniversary of Canada’s formation as a nation. 1967 seems like forever ago, now that I think of it. When my country was 100 I was only 15. Our high school centennial project was a rock cairn memorial built with the very capable hands of our two year Diploma students. Those of us flowing through academic streams created art to be placed in a time capsule at the base of the monument. We were all caught up in the euphoria of Canada’s 100th birthday. We were young and hopeful.

A few years after this event, and far more important to my mom, was my parent’s 25th anniversary. They had a party where a gift table was loaded with a pirate’s treasure of silver. Plated silver trays, silver spoons, silver artwork, silver picture frames, and assorted silver goblets were displayed pridefully throughout our house for a while. After my folks moved, the items stayed in boxes in closets and attics until both my parents had died. My wife donated the trays to a local jeweller who then made some cool items for my sister and her daughter.
Alas, my sister is now dead.

I’m not person who dwells on the past. An idea will fascinate me more than a memory. I don’t choose to celebrate milestones in a grand way. Low key is me. Yet there is something almost magical about one hundred. The number 100 looks interesting to me in a digital way. 1,000 is not nearly as aesthetically pleasing. There is the comma.

Birthdays are really annual anniversaries. 0 and 100 are yippee moments in life. Marvellous bookends to our existence. So similar in many ways; the fresh outward wonder of a newborn, the inner wonder a centenarian must feel for having lasted. My eldest grandchild has had three personal anniversaries. She’s discovered holidays. Having enjoyed celebrating Valentine’s Day with her parents and younger brother this year, she asked with excitement, “When’s the next one?”.
I can learn from that joy.

Every time I see a bright full moon in the sky I think of my wedding day on a beach. A specific date, like a wedding anniversary, is often important. Forgetting it can be dangerous. My wife and I celebrate moon anniversaries. Technically this is a monthly thing but then it seems more enjoyable to be reminded of such a special event more often. Rather than wait a whole year until the next anniversary (and hypothetically overlooking it), we have the full moon to remind us of our enduring love. Thanks celestial orb.

When it comes down to it, celebrating an anniversary can be arbitrary. Sometimes the marking of time can conjure unhappy memories. I’ve often wondered why some famous people’s deaths are noted with more fanfare than their births. To me the beginning of a bright light is more significant. A new journey has begun.

Everyday I want to wake celebrating the now.