Re: Birth

Spring is a time for rebirth. It’s the season for positive change. A birth heralds new possibilities. A new generation can now lead us to a better way, a better life, a better world. After our mothers bore us, we must now bear the responsibility of making our lives count for something. That is the challenge inherent in our birth. Maybe that is part of the meaning of birthright: each of us has a chance, a right and a responsibility to use our lives well and to leave a worthy legacy. When I experienced the births of my own three boys, I remember being awed by the process itself. Now as I watch my grandchildren, I am enjoying their eager minds birthing new ideas, new games to play, new imaginings that sparkle out when they awake to greet a fresh day. I love being surprised by their behaviours.

Recently my wife told me a story of how her mother responded to her gift of Easter treats. Chocolate eggs had been placed for easy finding to accommodate tired elderly eyes. On this particular spring morning, my mother-in-law got up early with laser vision gathering up a feast of sweets, filling her pockets and quickly going back to bed. When she arose for a second time that same morning, she seemed petulant that she hadn’t got as many treats as her husband. The trail of foil wrapping, brown chocolatey smudges on her bedsheets and breast pocket attested to her haul, yet still she doubted the accounting. Endearingly, Mom asked her daughter to help tie the Lindt bunny’s bell ribbon necklace around her frail wrist. At 92 she allowed her 2 year old soul to shine through.

Our personal birthday, the anniversary of our beginning, can be a time to reflect on how far we’ve come and where we want to go. I am getting old enough to not think back to count my age, but rather to see how many more years until 100. I’m closer to that date than I am to the year of my birth. Age doesn’t scare me too much at this point. Luckily I have been able to witness the experience of others born before me. My elders have taught me much about patience and other important values. What I am most charmed by is the way the seniors in my life have returned to their childlike selves in response to events in their lives. 

My fondest and most frustrating memories of my sister often revolved around her gathering the treats of life too fast for me to catch up, leaving me wondering if I had got my share. I need not have fretted. Judging by my mother-in-law’s Easter egg experience, I’ll have a chance to be a kid again. Life viewed this way surely eliminates the fear of death. Maybe this is a signal that life is a never ending circle. Death, as we call it, is just another sort of birth. With patience, we’ll soon discover what’s next and find happiness there.

Re: Awe

“Awesome!” and “Far Out!” are sounds that tumble out of my mouth whenever I’m amazed at what I’m experiencing. With these exclamations I’m not passing judgement on the surprising subject matter, I’m just feeling joy in the wonder of the moment. Just as the character Spock from the old television series Star Trek says, “Interesting” or “Fascinating” he too is expressing curiosity. My Awesome is just a big fat Wow regarding the mystery of life as I experience it. The singer/songwriter John Denver clearly understood how to express delight in the world around him. I feel to show enthusiasm is to embrace life and all its observable mysteries.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-OhYLVSGj0

My only social media account is Twitter. Recently I had my first experience with a post getting a lot of attention. People took issue with me using the word awesome to describe a short video that made my head metaphorically explode. It was a shipping container that housed fans and wires and a computer-looking array. Since it had no narration, I retweeted asking for an explanation of what I was seeing. Thousands of responses later the world seemed to think my awesome choice of words was either evil or masterful. I sincerely wasn’t choosing sides on the Blockchain/Bitcoin/NFT debate, only expressing a sense of wonder. Oh well.

Language is full of pitfalls. The word Awful carries a negative connotation even though it literally means, ‘full of awe’. I’ve been reading about philosophers lately and have discovered that a common connection with all the theories is that the world, and the humans who inhabit it, are pretty awesome. Each writer is filled with awe when it comes to his/her philosophy of life. I wondered if I would come across someone who had a philosophy of awesomeness. In the feature length cartoon ‘The Lego Movie’, there is an inspiring song ‘Everything is Awesome’ which captured the enthusiasm I had in mind. It’s obviously written for youngsters but I’m a kid at heart.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StTqXEQ2l-Y

If I understand Phenomenology correctly, it is our experience that defines the meaning of life. Martin Heidegger and other bright minds began a discussion of this idea of how phenomena interact with the consciousness. Detractors suggest Phenomenology might be dangerous because it lacks focus. Psh-Posh! Perhaps this minor philosophical movement can be restarted with my humble input. First, I humbly suggest a name change: Let’s try, Awelogy: The Philosophy of Wonder.

I’m working on some initial precepts: *When you greet the morning after your first breath of consciousness, be grateful. *Put aside your preconceptions when experiencing things. *Observe and allow yourself to be awestruck *Reserve judgement *Share your wonder with others *Resist sarcasm or mockery

These are nascent thoughts but I am in earnest. I plan to discuss this notion of Awelogy whenever I get the chance to slip it into conversation. Maybe one day one of my grandchildren may smile over my efforts and say in amazement, “Oh grandad!”

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: Analogy

I enjoy analogy talk. It is so much more interesting than the weather. Some analogies are cliches and ultimately boring. Others are simply outrageous, like always comparing people or situations to Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Most things can be compared to something else. You could put yourself in a potentially tricky situation if you say you understand how someone is feeling by following up with an analogous experience. For example you might show empathy for your friend who has just lost his job due to COVID19 by saying, “That’s just like the movie I saw last night!” Somethings are just not analogous. Using analogies, while dangerous, can bring us closer to meaning without the true experience.

In high school I had a group of nerdy English major friends who used to play the simile game; ex. Life is like a locker (opening, closing, smelly, contains our records and necessities). I remember one of our teachers telling us budding poets that metaphors were better than similes. He didn’t enjoy using the words like or as and thought that a metaphoric expression was more direct. He wished us to declare that Life is a highway.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-fPe6EVeYE

Being young sometimes equates to searching for the meaning of life. As an elementary teacher I was often careful not to assume my students knew what I was talking about by saying, “It is kind of like…” to bring them to understanding. For example, how can you explain snow, to someone who’s never seen, or felt it? Without ever really having the full experience it’s tricky getting a concept across. As a student of life, when you are observant, you quickly catch on that life can be ‘like’ so many things. I studied Science in school because I enjoyed how scientific principles could define things around me. Shapes and behaviours in the natural world are amazingly similar. Physics and Chemistry can be applied to solve problems. Now that we know more about DNA we can confirm that many aspects of Biology are analogous and therefore relatable.

Metaphorically and anthropomorphically, if Science wants to define you, Art seeks to have a relationship with you, By it’s very nature, Art is a representation of someone’s experience, which can magically illuminate your own. Art is like a relationship; messy, never perfect but wow! When it works it works! Art is the exclamation of life. Sometimes it is merely tolerated (graffiti), while elsewhere or by a different artist, it may be admired. However, Art is more than a matter of taste, since it requires you to bring your personal experiences to the canvas, or the stage or to the printed page. A sculptor, weaver, dancer or cellist will use different analogies than an accountant, restaurant owner, police officer or sailor. 

I’m prone to analyzing the heck out of a topic. I love a conversation that explores all facets of a subject. It can be exhausting trying to get to the heart of the matter yet, according to Sigmund Freud, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

Re: Cliché

With the COVID19 pandemic, clichés are going viral: ‘We’re all in this together’, ‘The new normal’, ‘Flatten the curve’, ‘Social/Physical distancing’. Everyone is catching these phrase viruses. Clichés are just phrases that were once respected for their originality and meaning yet in these compacted times, a phrase, however helpful, can easily become worn out from overuse. Then people may stop paying attention.

My former father-in-law wrote the book on clichéd discourse. He revelled in bromides such as, ‘Love your enemies:It drives them crazy.’ He enjoyed teasing actor friends with the worn platitude, ‘Break a leg’. He preferred the banality of weather talk over conversations that challenged his one sided view of things. He sometimes sat me down and issued a string of trite phrases that blurred into a single slurry of thought, like this memorable one after I asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage. As I recall he said something about; ’The blushing bride, bury a hatchet, at loose ends, busy as a bee, depths of despair, easier said than done, the fair sex, calm before a storm, to the bitter end, in no uncertain terms.’ We shook hands after this confusing monologue, which I took to mean he was blessing our union.

I’ve always thought that clichéd statements were examples of lazy speech, much like swearing. I discouraged my sons from wearing out words while trying to say what they were feeling or thinking. When my wife and I went on a cruise, we agreed beforehand to steer dinner table conversation away from clichés like; ‘So, where are you from?’ or ‘What do you do for a living?’ or ‘What’s your story?’ Or, the worst of all; ‘Is this your first cruise?’ Instead of using these banal queries we tried something refreshing like; ‘How do you express your artistic side?’ or ‘What would you find hard to live without?’ Or even a cymbal clasher like, ‘Who do you love most?’

Clichés can be considered the comfort food of language. A cliché will sound familiar and therefore safe. We often speak them to get quick acknowledgement of our ideas and a sense of where the other is at, in their view of the world. A cliché spoken and received may identify your level of understanding or establish you as part of the club or tribe. For example, when we want to show support for soldiers we speak of their ‘supreme sacrifice’. We often acknowledge grief by sending ‘thoughts and prayers’.

Over time, we might cultivate phrases that become the proverbs or slogans by which we live. My favourite is, ‘Plan for the worst/Hope for the best’. The truism, ‘You get what you pay for’ will quickly establish a point of view. ‘Every cloud has a silver lining’ holds bits of sage wisdom, however the language we use to describe our complicated lives requires more than hackneyed old sayings. Insight can be found in some clichés yet I’d hate for them to disguise the whole truth about me or the world.

Re: Circumstance

“Circumstances don’t make the man, they only reveal him to himself.” so sayeth Epictetus. He was a famous Stoic, among those Romans of the stiff upper lip. Much of Stoicism I can agree with, yet I think we are all to some degree a victim of our circumstances.

Yes, we have choice. We can go high when others go low. We can keep our wits about us while others are losing theirs. I’d like to be easy with it all, as Keith Carradine sang it in Nashville.

However, it ain’t easy to be noble when the leaders of our world do things that create uncomfortable or dangerous circumstances. Currently, in the U.S. of A., it is a wonder to me that there is not chaos. Some days I feel like freaking out with the lack of kindness and civility that streams at me from the White House. It wasn’t always this way. Circumstances have changed.

Sometimes it’s only circumstantial evidence that leads to a conviction in a courtroom. Circumstances can point a finger and if one doesn’t have an air tight alibi, then one can find themselves in a whole new set of circumstances. Being free to be is certainly the objective but some circumstances can lead you away from positive choice. Poverty, despite what the one percenters say, is not a choice. It’s a circumstance that is difficult to find relief from, let alone propose a cure for. My sister once found herself having to register at a food bank. The company where she had worked for almost two decades folded and she struggled to find herself after that shock. She died trying. In my opinion poverty prevention must be discussed at every election event until not a single person finds themselves in such unforgiving circumstances.

Fate, fortune and randomness all have a part to play yet sometimes you have to assert, “Under no circumstance will I permit this!” I hear a struggle for a path through difficult circumstances in the voice of Billy Joel. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3JFEfdK_Ls

We can be victims of circumstance. We like to think that we are in charge of our happiness. The truth is others impact our lives. Undoubtedly we have a role to play in making things better, but so do members of society have a responsibility to build a better village. Viktor Frankl, a psychologist and survivor of the Holocaust, reflects on our personal agency under trying circumstances when he states, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; The last of the human freedoms-to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” I don’t want to believe that a circumstance like being taken to a death camp would be regarded as something within someone’s personal control.

I enjoy love stories where a couple has to be separated by circumstance yet they make a vow to find each other when things change. Sometimes we must trust in Time: It may be the only agent that can bring the change we long for.

Re: Rule

The first time I played Scrabble with my future mother-in-law I told her about our modified house rules. She said, “Hmm, I’ll stick to the original ones.” Changing the rules for playing a game brings me pleasure. I’m not a ‘Rules are Meant to be Broken’ advocate yet I think they are meant to be tested. How else do you know it’s a good rule?

On a visit to the Tate Modern Gallery in London, England I was closely watched by the security team after I had been reminded by an official to not touch a statue. I had ignored the sign; ‘Please do not touch the works of art on display. Even clean hands can damage surfaces.’ I felt compelled by the sensuous curve of the metal and stone fabrication. Shame on me.

Making your own set of rules and keeping them consistently can be a difficult proposition. Self imposed rules are hard to make and hard to keep. We all have some personal rules that we keep sacred; like never lie, never cheat etc. I try to keep the special set of rules which I live by in order to feel I can be trusted by others. It is important for me to be dependable so my opinion can have a high level of credibility. A set of rules can enhance my personal authority. But what is authority anyway?

Cultural rules can change quickly. It didn’t take long for cigarette smoking to turn from ‘anywhere, anytime’ to a strictly regulated behaviour. We still use the expression ‘Rule of Thumb’ when we talk about a baseline for behaviour yet the origin of that phrase came from the thickness of wooden rod a husband could legally use to beat his wife. I remember Sadie Hawkins events when I went to high school; making a ceremony out of women choosing who they might date while restricting the amount of female participation in the game of love. Now we have relevant discussions about consent within a #metoo focus.

In democratic countries we elect our Rulers; those who we allow to have authority over us. Previous generations were instructed to have respect for the Ruling Class. To be loyal to their King and Country. ‘Rule Britannia’, as an example of colonialist fervour, was positive for only a few. ‘Make America Great Again’, as a slogan, can also be an expression of a rule of engagement that creates imbalance in the great wide and diverse world that we currently share. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akbzRuZmqVM .

Often we don’t get a choice in politics. We may choose to believe that we collectively put our leaders on the metaphorical throne but in today’s world it is truer to acknowledge that others behind the scenes really control political outcomes. As a result of this interference with the rules of law, we find ourselves with rulers who may flout what many of us see as important rules of etiquette. Perhaps we collectively need to get better at who we select to be the boss of us.

Re: Do

“What do you do for a living?” Is a question that can make me feel like running out of the room while screaming. You might as well talk to me about the weather if it makes you more comfortable. I don’t wish to be misconstrued, it’s not that I don’t mind describing my job. It’s just that my job doesn’t define me. If the rote questioner hears that I’m retired they will usually follow with, “What DID you do?” Oh brother! How about asking me about my hairdo?

What I do is actually not necessarily my job (or what it used to be). What I do is really the central reason for living. Doing things is the whole point to life. One of the best corporate slogans in the last century is Nike’s ‘Just Do It’. In three words the shoe company captured the essence of the Stoic philosophy. Many millennia ago western philosophy grew out of a Greek idea called Stoicism. This was a school of thought that proposed that the best indication of an individual’s philosophy was not what a person said, but how a person behaved. When considering the subject of Philosophy I find it mind blowing that so many ideas could percolate in what today we might call parallel worlds. I smile when I consider if there is significance to the founder of Stoicism being named ZENO and my interpretation of Eastern ZEN philosophy as being (doing) in the moment. Coincidence? I wonder eh?

I’d like to change the famous line in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, where the title character is examining his way forward, into “To DO, or not to DO, that is the question’. I believe that it is by doing that we become ourselves. Our doing shows us what works and what doesn’t. And it is perfectly all right to redo if the first try doesn’t meet your expectations. Life is certainly about picking yourself up after a fall. In the film City Slickers, Billy Crystal’s character tells a story about being a kid playing sandlot baseball and how in his rules you could have another try at bat if the ball went over the fence. He called it a ‘Do-Over’.

Musically, Cat Stevens is famous for his meaningful songs. A lesser known one is called ‘You Can Do, Whatever’. He sings of all the possibilities before us. A veritable smorgasbord of things to do. In our choices we become that which we have chosen to do. This wonderful poem, put to melody, is one I plan on singing/reciting to my grandchildren.

Part of my job as an elementary school teacher was to recite all the DOs and DON’T’s of the society my students were going to inherit. Unavoidable in a way, and necessary I suppose. Yet I feel my best lessons in class treated the DOs as WHAT IFs. When we start with who we want to be, even just for a day, then what we decide to do feels just right.

Re: Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Re: Maybe

I came back from a protest gathering yesterday filled with confidence that the youth of today can lead the way. They have the energy that some senior people find lacking. Maybe I recognized myself from an earlier time, in their eager, earnest faces.

The next morning I awoke wondering what word I would write on a protest poster. I could picture myself printing MAYBE in bold letters. I guess I wanted to acknowledge that the world is mostly shades of colour and shades of grey. Sometimes we need a passionate enthusiastic YES, equally we need to be able to say NO without guilt and then we must have room for MAYBE.

That soft place between the lands of extremism: You’ll make up your mind but hey, what’s the rush? Saying maybe is not like Hakuna Matata, saying maybe doesn’t leave you worry free for the rest of your days, saying maybe is not even a philosophy (unless you say maybe to everything). Noted Chef Julia Child and Singer/Songwriter Paul Anka are both credited with the phrase, ‘Everything in moderation, including moderation.’

MAYBE is a comfortable cousin to PERHAPS. In my childhood it used to drive me nuts when my parents would tell my sister and me that our weekend adventure ‘might happen’. As a kid it’s hard to understood that there could be extenuating circumstances to any parental promise, so it’s best to live in the land of PERHAPS until you actually get in the car.

DEPENDS is also related to MAYBE. I can easily picture a person with shrugging shoulders admitting that the situation was not black or white but dependant on a multitude of ifs. As a brand name for adult diapers DEPENDS is brilliant. We realize as elders that we may be far from a washroom while out adventuring, so perhaps it is best to be prepared. This gives new meaning to the concept of ‘covering your ass’ doesn’t it?

The notion of MAYBE is also about context. It’s not necessarily meh to say MAYBE and it’s certainly not fair to leave people hanging while they await your decision. MAYBE can be a tease though: As an adolescent I recall a girl at a locker who would often use the word, maybe to confound me. Developing a MAYBE attitude is more about being aware of your own limitations as well as recognizing the value of patience.

When I first heard Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen I immediately loved the line, “Nothing really matters to me.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJ9rUzIMcZQ
Nihilism is perhaps the closest bit of reasoning that might explain the middle point between yes and no. If I’ve got the philosophy right, which I probably don’t, the idea of MAYBE is wrapped up in this Nihilistic song. ‘Anyway the wind blows’ can be a MAYBE point of view. Once I wet my finger and hold it aloft, then perhaps I’ll have enough information to decide. With the right info I may be able to give you a more definite answer.

Time will tell. Maybe.