Re: Spectacle

Being a follower of the philosophy of awesomeness I’m naturally drawn to anything spectacular. Occurrences in the sky can make me gasp with pleasure. I love double rainbows. A bright full moon with a three dimensional texture will knock my socks off. While travelling on the prairies I’ve been awed by the spectacle of distant cloud formations slowly approaching my position then dropping rain in great curtains, quenching the arid landscape.

I can be gobsmacked by human feats of invention. I love a grand fireworks display as though I’m seeing it for the first time. Uniformed marching members of parades don’t turn me on like they did when I was a kid. Back then my mom would warn me not to make a spectacle of myself. Her admonishments made me shy, but maybe I’m just naturally introverted so I mustn’t blame her for my lack of desire to seek the spotlight. I had to get a pair of glasses (horrible cheap black rimmed ones) in grade eight which caused me a bit of teen angst. You could say I felt a spectacle due to my spectacles!

In adult situations, I prefer to be a shadow assistant or second-in-command. Once, a Chairperson of a Board, on which I served, called me a ‘stealth director’ which underscored my wish to be seen and not heard. I like to be judged by my actions. I am surprisingly happy when I find out someone has been talking about me. Some have said it is better to be gossiped about, rather than being the one to spread rumours. Balcony seats in opera houses were designed to show off patrons, much as scandal sheets, like the National Enquirer, serve the purpose of getting celebrities the notice desired. Can you be humble and not wish to attract attention, all at the same time? I seriously don’t recall an occasion when I’ve purposefully made a spectacle of myself. Whether that is because I’m not very daring in social situations or that I’m just not easily embarrassed, I haven’t figured that out yet.

A spectacle can draw us together. The lustre of pomp and ceremony has somewhat dimmed for me as I age. Staged events, particularly political ones, can make me feel less than impressed when I think the money could be better spent elsewhere. However, I still feel attached to the culture surrounding the Olympics: the intent to showcase human excellence, the effort to break down borders and barriers through sport is inspiring to witness. It’s a reminder of how far we have come from the days of the Roman Colosseum where human life was treated with such disregard.

We see what we want to see. We hear what pleases us. I confess to filtering life through rose coloured glasses when the landscape surrounding me presents discord. It can be a matter of survival to change focus when my emotional resources are low. But I do have a special pair of spectacles for when it’s important to see as clearly and as far ahead as possible.

Re: Grey

Some words like Grey get as much attention as a senior citizen waiting in line at a bank. The word Grey/Gray even comes with two spellings, which my computer doesn’t appreciate. I think that gray has more complexity than the colour tone it describes. I’m grey; of hair, of perspective and sometimes of mood. Let me explain.

My hair has grayed slowly. My mom predicted that I would be bald by age thirty, but my hair persisted. I went through a salt and pepper phase but now, at age seventy, there are very few dark strands left on my head. So I am officially a ‘Grey Hair’; a term I used to use with some disrespect when referring to members of committees who’s opinions I didn’t share. Now, I like the way my grey hair lends me the illusion of wisdom, like Gandalf the Grey. I won’t use a hair dye. I used to feel sad when I saw female church elders who had tinted their soft grey locks with a blueing agent. (I quietly nicknamed them Blue Belles to cheer myself up).

Life is filled with shades of grey. Many folk feel that the world is either black or white. Some actually prefer seeing things as either/or. I suppose it makes it easier to decide yes or no. But events or ideas are rarely as singular as that. Taking a hard line on a topic means that the soft fringy edges will get ignored. Darkness and light have spectrums of illumination, tone, and pastel perspective. To me, grey does not suggest mediocrity of opinion or design. I’m quite content to see issues as shades of grey.  When I evaluate things I can sometimes rank them according to priorities, like selecting shades of colour when I am repainting my living spaces. I once painted all the walls in my home a light grey and was amazed how they took on a different colour as dawn moved into dusk. It reminded me of how my dad taught me to watch patiently for a rainbow to emerge through the greyness of a rainy day.

I admit that overcast days can make me moody, yet I tend to do my best writing on a grey cloudy day. In bright sunlight I have an urge to do silly things in a forest or on a beach, but on a hazy, darkened day I can somehow make better decisions. Where I live now, the skies are often tissue white, which is a remarkably happy, less stressful, contrast to the intensity of a cloudless stark blue sky. I remember being surprised when my wife and I previewed our wedding pictures; I hadn’t noticed that the skies were a light ash shade. When the sun set on our lengthy joyous pictorial, the sky behind and above us had exploded with a stunning pumpkin red wash that looked digitally manufactured.

The neutrality of grey can suggest a potential for inclusion. All colours are then complementary rather than competitive. Perhaps we can get to yes more effectively by starting with grey.

Re: Myth

Sometimes when I’m starting a blog idea I can’t decide which word I’ll use as a guide. This one started as Re: Wheel then it morphed to Re: Significance before finally settling on Re: Myth. Read with me while I try to spin these all together.

The Greeks, Romans, Norse had gods, goddesses and fringe idols. All aboriginal cultures have creation stories to aid in understanding how we got here on this solitary planet. We need to feel that gods/goddesses/saints and other mythical creatures in whatever pantheon have our backs in times of trouble. Ancient peoples used the language of their time to elicit a response from their mythological buddy and voila, prayers/wishes were answered. Advice was sometimes given by earthy middlemen. Modern books have suggested we have these archetypes within us, empowering us to define ourselves as creators of our own destiny. I like the notion that I can be sailing my own ship, using the wheel to steer clear of hazards, avoiding the trap that I am open to the whims of the gods. I don’t want to feel as though someone is spinning the wheel of fortune for me, especially if I come up short. Yet myths are sometimes like maps giving us direction signs, even on the straight or narrow highways.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kK62tfoCmuQ

Millions of television viewers wrapped themselves up in the mythology of The Game of Thrones, beautifully produced by D.B. Weiss and David Benioff. Inspired by fantasy writer George R.R. Martin and elements of British history, this enthralling series reinvented mythic characters. To paraphrase Daenerys, sometimes  the wheel of tradition has to be broken. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-rxmk6zPxA

Some generations grew up with Aesop fables or Grimm’s fairy tales, now with the  sagas of Harry Potter, Star Wars, Star Trek and Game of Thrones we have recycled legends of old and new. These imaginative mythological characters may very well be the stories we tell to bring significance to a future beyond anything we can currently believe possible. Watch how these young minds revel in the telling of legendary Luke Skywalker meeting his father.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCBA1wii70o

Current ticket sales for Marvel or DC ‘comic book’ films are likely inversely proportional to the number of bodies sitting in church pews every Sunday. Intellectually I’m convinced that all religions are myths. Every individual and every society tells tales in order to make sense of the unknowns in life. We seek order to overcome our feelings of randomness. We want the intangible to feel tangible. Our religions help us to feel significant amidst the spinning wheels of space and time. And significance is what we are after. As the wheel of our life spins its way to the inevitable end. I am a central figure in my own play. I may not be the hero, and yet, I want to be able to conclude that my life story had substance, was not a myth of my own creation.

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.