Re: Body

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

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

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

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

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

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

Re: Enough

“Enough!” Is a cry of exasperation. I’ve shouted ‘Stop’ using the same emotion. There is so much discord, trauma and catastrophe in the world right now that I’m surprised someone hasn’t used Enough as a label for a social activist, environmental justice or political reform movement. I picture vast numbers of people all wearing red Enough! T-shirts, faces boiling mad, voices yelling through loud speakers. That will fix things.

Enough is a word with a selfish root. We say it when things aren’t going our way. We say it to make bad things go away. We ask it when we are questioning our worthiness or competence: “Am I doing enough?” Or “Have I done enough?” Or “Am I enough for you?” In discussions we have with ourselves or with others we hopefully can reach a point to acknowledge our understanding by saying, “Fair Enough.”

I’ve rarely felt ambitious. A peaceful life of satisfying activity shared with others feels enough for me. I’ll admit there has been a few times when I have hung on tenaciously to a goal. The grasp of that brass ring might have been the only thing sufficient to get me off the scent. And yet I rarely have found myself so fixated that I refused to listen to another person’s counsel. I’ve met people who are always wondering if they will ever have enough material things, enough space or time or even enough peace of mind. The accumulation of things, medals, memories has never been an aim of mine. The journey is what counts. But some must continue to strive, to master, even to conquer, while missing out on what’s right in front of them. 

I usually feel uncomfortable in times when abundance is the focus: Decadence diminishes delight. Christmas particularly is a conflict of interest, especially being part of a collective family scene where wrapping paper is strewn about the floor as participants tear into their gifts with wild abandon. There is stress related to the value of the gift in the context of the giver. Thoughts of fairness, have I spent enough, or will the recipient feel the presents were adequate to the occasion, all do a balancing act in my mind. It’s a display of consumption that messes with the joy of giving and receiving for me and each time I hope that I can muster enough patience and grace to be present.

We do many things hoping they will be enough. On retirement, many wonder if they have left a legacy, if they accomplished what they had set out to do. My wife feels this everyday as she cares for her aging parents. I feel her actions are a reminder of the importance of sacrifice; ‘a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done before’. Charles Dickens often described his characters, young or old, as being in a state of grace when they put another’s needs ahead of their own. Oliver was clearly needy, while Scrooge was greedy.

Re: Access

I feel like a spoiled child when I am denied access. I want to kick and scream until I’m sent to my bedroom without any tv or supper. I scream, “I Don’t Care. It’s Not Fair!” I’ve got conflicted emotions while I’m holding my selfish ground. Thx Icona Pop.

When the child in me quiets down I can be rational. I can better see my place in the grand scheme of things when temper has cooled. I might still complain about the many gatekeepers at work to keep order in society. I might still rail against those who make money by keeping essential commodities inaccessible for the many in need, but I can put my selfish desires aside when I’m calm because my adult mind can remind me that I can’t always get what I want. I can believe for a moment that all good things will come to those who wait. Thx Rolling Stones. 

I have given access a priority whenever I have made a move in my life. I want to be near the things I need for satisfaction. As much as my budget will allow, I figure closer is better; to beautiful spaces, to artistic opportunities, to healthy communities. There is nothing quite like caring for an elder to remind me of how lucky I am to be able bodied. Chaperoning someone in a wheelchair shows me how accessibility issues prevail. A simple grocery run is more difficult. A nature outing stops short when trails are not fit for wheels. Access points need to be evaluated for navigation hazards. And mobility concerns are not the least of the worries when dealing with sight or hearing deficits. 

“Sorry, your request to be verified has been denied.” A Twitter message I received recently. It bothered me for a while. It was a cold ‘Access Denied’ sign that made me feel less than. I had not wanted the blue checkmark for status, but for clarity of identification: There are a lot of people with my name in this world. I soothed my sour grapes mood by realizing that I am among the many nearly anonymous, hardly influential and unheralded folk in this world.

It’s true that status often defines access. Consider William Shatner who was able, at 90, to take his Star Trek persona on a space joy ride. I have enjoyed the perks of going to events in my home towns as a result of a Press pass or Board membership. I may not be rich or powerful,  yet I have felt the joys of entitlement enough to wish that everyone could be so blessed. So many humans on this Earth are denied the most essential of items: fresh water, food, housing, education, health care. My baby rants of ‘poor me’ make me feel embarrassed. For the vast majority there is a gate (virtual or otherwise) keeping them out of pleasures and processes that I too often take for granted. I must work harder to champion equity.

Re: Practice

I was taught in grade school that if Practice was spelled with an ‘ice’ ending then it was a noun, otherwise it was okay to use the spelling Practise in any situation. For all spelling rules and forms I now count on my wife who has a phenomenal memory for such things. She is also practised in the healing arts so when I get a headache from too much wordplay I have access to a nurse and a quick soothing remedy.

Sometimes I need to go to a medical clinic. Nowadays I might be checked over by a Nurse Practitioner and she might tell me that my issue isn’t within her scope of practice so I’ll be referred to a specialist. The medical profession offers a wide variety of practices which have, in Canada at least, taken over the almost heritage realm of General Practitioners. Seems like everyone practises something these days, which is a good thing if viewed through the lens of life long learning. Meanwhile I continue to practise being patient.

One of my deficiencies is that I abhor repetition. I was one of those irritating students who picked up things quickly enough to be at a B level most of the time. I was content when one teacher referred to me as a Jack of All Trades. Never too good at anything, that way I could just blend in, go unnoticed, especially in high school. Practise is all about repeating the task until it becomes second nature yet I still can’t persevere. It’s an area in life where boredom wins out. I’ll try almost anything, but briefly; until I feel I’ve got the taste of it. My history is littered with “That’s enough” decisions: only two week’s of lifeguard training, one week of violin lessons, barbells that collect dust in my closet, a Polish dictionary with an uncracked spine and a forehead sweatband for jogging that was used once. Give me a New York Times crossword however, and I’ll bend over it until it’s filled.

Practise makes perfect is a cliché that never grows old. It’s one of the few expressions that I don’t yawn over because it is so relevant to anything that requires effort. I’m amazed at the amount of practise it takes to go beyond acceptable. Levels of human accomplishment in sport, art, science don’t happen overnight. I believe those folks we call genius types have raw talent for sure, but that gift is only fully realized through practise. All three of my sons practised piano. Neither wanted to be a concert pianist but their parents both thought that music experience was a good thing for general proficiency: We wanted our children to practise what we preached. Practically speaking it was an effort for all concerned; the student was often reluctant, the parent was sometimes annoyed, finances were definitely drained. However the practising resulted in a lifetime love and understanding of music. And the youngest son has been a member of several bands and is a practised song writer. I’m allowed to be proud.

Re: Itch

What is an itch and why do we have it? I could google my lead question but it isn’t really a question and I rarely do any research other than a quick Siri type throw away inquiry because I have to satisfy an itch of the curiosity sort. Suffice to say that I’ve been itching to write about itches because they are among the few basic things that humans have in common with other animals.

Let’s agree that the origins of itching are elusive. I suspect a link to the Missing Link can be made whereby living together in caves created an environment for pests. Once bitten or bored into, Neanderthals would scratch to remove the parasite, otherwise they might fall prey to infection, disease, even death. Maybe these ancient humans didn’t die out from war with Homo Sapiens but because they couldn’t invent an efficient scratching protocol. This must be the source of our ancestral behavioural DNA as though some distant memory compels us to attend to our itches: That’s my theory anyway so I’ll pick away at it for now.

If you refuse to acknowledge an itch I don’t think it ever goes away. Itchiness can be a symptom of physical disease, yet psychologically an itch is an urge: To find out. To start a fight. To get going. To get started. Or, to leave your spouse, as in The Seven Year Itch.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJgC549mpRk

An Itch can be a form of curiosity and while you are scratching you just might come up with an amazing idea. Kids love to scratch. As with passing gas, it is a continuous source of amusement. Surely the title of The Itchy & Scratchy Show from The Simpsons was inspired by this fascination with moving fingernails across our skin. One of my children’s favourite camping songs was ‘Flea, Fly, Mosquito’ nicely rendered with all its silliness in this youtube video by Arlo & Alro’s dad of Tiny Mule Songs.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BC6Ey_QyGQw

Dogs and cats have very satisfying lives, I can imagine, because they are always licking, scratching or rooting around looking to please themselves. No one tells them to go moisturize! I can relate when I watch films of chimpanzees, grooming each other with scratches and nibbles. It looks naturally healthy to be itchy from time to time. At the Imax a few months ago I watched as scientists recorded, ‘for the first time in the wild’, a grizzly bear stopping to satisfy an itch in the middle of its back by rubbing against a spruce tree. I’m no different. I love a good scratch. I’m quite dependent on my wife for getting at those hard to reach places. I have gone all consumer-ish and invested in some ‘money back guaranteed’ quality backscratchers ‘as seen on TV’. I’ve been told that attending to an itch (especially in public) is the epitome of bad manners. Yet we can feel collectively encouraged when someone says, “You scratch my back I’ll scratch yours.”

Re: Treasure

I think of the word Treasure in an emotional fashion like Adventure. I can imagine going on a voyage and discovering, at the end of my quest, a treasure most spectacular: That’s the little boy inside me, treasuring a moment of imagination. I want to believe anything is possible. And treats are like treasure. Like pirate’s booty, often buried for later.

Financially speaking, my parents were lower class. When holidays or birthdays came around there was always a feeling of stress in the house. Once my folks actually told us not to expect anything under the tree that Christmas. I learned to treasure what I had. Sometimes our parents surprised us with treats, gifted just because they had extra money that week. I remember treasuring a chemistry set presented this way, right out of the blue, like magic. Much later I remember a trip to Canadian Tire with my dad. I was looking for a single drill bit for a project I was working on. He bought me a deluxe set which I still treasure as much as any legacy he may have left.

I follow a fellow on Twitter who has made it his mission to reduce litter in his neighbourhood. He posts photos of the haul from the walk around his block. On one excursion he picked up a plastic lid that may be one of the first Tupperware toppers. Someone’s garbage is another man’s treasure is a phrase that comes to mind. He finds value in his personal project and the community sometimes joins him in this unselfish voluntary labour. My Nanna would have called  this good citizen, David Boudinot, a treasure.

Some people rise to the status of ‘National Treasure’: Sort of like a popularity contest yet hopefully due to merit. Cirque du Soleil once had that label in Canada. Other groups and people of note have been recognized as being treasured by their fellow citizens. Not to be confused with a National Treasury, which is a place where gold used to be stored as a country’s monetary standard. The success of a country was often measured by wealth of this nature. I often wonder if some countries with fewer ‘material things’ feel impoverished. Or do they have another measure of treasures that would teach me something I don’t know about value.

As a retired person with a successful career behind me, I am treasuring the fruits of my labour. Financially I’ve been luckier than my parents. My eldest son and I got into a deep dialogue around the topic of success and how it is measured. I still treasure the moments I had with him as father to son and now I place great value on our adult friendship. His generation has not had the easiest road to career style employment as my generation. In my eyes he has succeeded, regardless, in finding treasures along the way.

When I downsized I gave away many things I once thought were treasures. Now I look to time as a treasured gift to spend freely.

Re: Stale

My son and I had a covid talk about feeling stale. It doesn’t help that we are both without a significant other right now for different reasons too lengthy to go into, however we both admitted that life in the pandemic is bland and tasteless. When waking in the morning there isn’t that pop of enthusiasm that makes you want to be up and get going on something. We wonder where the zest has gone as we return to bed at the end of a lacklustre day. If you took this feeling out of the global pandemic context, the symptoms would suggest we are both depressed. Indeed, reports of research on the psychological impact of the last year show evidence of widespread depressive illness, even among children.

One of the first signs of depression can be a change in your senses. I remember losing taste when it happened to me. Coincidentally it can also be one of the symptoms of the body’s response to the coronavirus. I find that circular connectivity to the covid19 virus interesting: you may not get the illness that causes a sensation of staleness but trying not to get the disease also makes your life exceedingly drab and boring. I wonder if a whole culture can go stale. It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.

Things can grow stale in interpersonal relationships. Back when I paid attention to magazines at the grocery store check-out lane, Cosmopolitan magazine used to have front cover titles that claimed easy solutions to renew the romance in your life. In what is clearly a sexist approach to handling problems, I remember women were advised to be open to new sex positions. Men were supposed to show their softer side by bringing flowers or generally being more attentive. Both sexes were told to open metaphorical windows to banish staleness; bringing fresh air into their lives by being more spontaneous, by getting off on a secret rendezvous that often involved lots of lube.

I’m known in my family to love creating a meal from stale food. I enjoy making casseroles, chilis or soups from leftover fridge specimens. Heck, I’ve been chastised for plucking things from the trash bin under the sink. I come by the trait honestly, so they say, since my dad used to love telling stories of life in the North African WWII airbase where he was stationed. There was lots of weevil filled bread pudding, moldy cheese, and questionable beef stew. He would often be seen in our kitchen creating impromptu recipes from stuff my mom or sister had left on their plates, mumbling something about Louise Pasteur and penicillin.

The latest stat suggests Canadians throw out 79 kilograms of food waste each year. My penchant for using things up, repurposing or making the most out of every tiny morsel has a positive side. I also try not to buy into the ‘latest thing’ philosophy. I’ll choose consumer items that last, repair stuff and pass things on rather than trash them. I don’t think conservation should ever go stale.

Re: Circumstance

It is possible to be convicted by circumstantial evidence. Likewise, we are all victims of circumstance. Our unique set of circumstances, beginning with the accident of our birth, forms the template of our lives. Some of us will carry our fates like a cross to bear, some will struggle with the unfairness of our circumstances while others will journey forth to find the truth of their destiny.

It’s not pleasant to feel shackled by unfortunate circumstances. We can look at the hand we’ve been dealt and search vainly for something up our sleeve; some magic that will improve our circumstances. I’d hate to live as a Hindu under the caste system. How is that any different from the rule of apartheid as practised once in South Africa? One’s lot in life can be accepted but to have it institutionalized is a travesty of human rights. It’s a form of segregation that the Dalai Lama finds abhorrent. I can’t imagine being an Untouchable.

I refuse to be a victimized by my circumstances.  I have sometimes shouted the Billy Joel song, ‘My Life’ while in the shower. Feeling angry after being bullied, I wanted to be left alone with my own life. Under these circumstances the lyrics can be seen as an encouragement to stand tall, girded by the courage of your own convictions. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tka4DQGx7zc

I think artists, and particularly poets, are the scientists of emotion. They use words to try to make observations and draw conclusions about feelings. If you get concerned about the hand you’ve been dealt in life, it might help to change your vocabulary. Coincidence is linked to circumstance. Fate is the annoying brother. Serendipity is the favourite aunt. Timing is your gym coach. These words can lead you out of the prejudice you find whenever you hear the word Circumstance. Yes, events happen to you, but you can decide what to do next. Circumstances may have brought you to the crossroad and then it is up to you to go left or right.

To be sure, there is unfairness in the world. It’s unfortunate that some people work harder to prove this truth than to correct it.  I find no satisfaction in saying, “I told you so.” And pointing the finger of blame doesn’t help either, even if you are pointing it at yourself by saying, “I can never catch a break.” I walked by a park near where I live and saw many tents occupied by homeless folk. “Get a job!” I’ve heard some shout as they drive by in their cars. One tent was set on fire under suspicious circumstances. I often wonder if under different circumstances, I might be one of these unfortunates hunkering in a flimsy structure, unfit for a cold dark winter.

I like the first four letters in the word coincidence. Our circumstances can provide us with the ‘coin’ we may use to get the most out of life. Don’t make yourself a slave to fate. Watch for the opportunity, then lay down your hand with optimism.

Re: Need

I recently pleaded to a nurse, “I need to be rescued!” Needless to say she paid attention to this call to action and found a way to get me the help I needed. Bless her heart. Most times I think we are individually reluctant to say we need something. We like to be independent in our quest for the things we require. We don’t want to appear as whiners or be left feeling bitter because someone else got what we were needing, so generally we are quiet searchers for the things that will make us healthy, happy and whole.

We can all agree that for mere survival we need air & water. We often band together and demand needs as our rights: affordable housing, a clean environment, education, equal pay. When our side seems abandoned we protest, we argue and literally stomp our feet and bang our drums to right the injustice over the distribution of these human needs. How we define a need from a want can lead to further discord until a unified consensus is found.

Parents have to be wise in differentiating between needs and wants so their children can grow to understand. Very young children may have tantrums when they want something. In the film The Jerk, Steve Martin’s character finds out the differences between needs and wants through a humorous journey. In this scene I laugh at the childlike way he adds to his list of what he “really needs”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSWBuZws30g

Is emotion to want, as survival is to need? I’ve had some insightful conversations with my academic activist son on this topic. He easily lists Education, Housing, Employment, Food, Health Care as needs. He argues these needs must be supported by governments and to a larger or smaller degree they all are. Being a Star Trek fan, I would agree these five primary needs to be free for all, supported by tax dollars. Far from being utopian in scope, once these needs are met then we can tackle other areas of life with full bellies, open hearts and keen minds.

Trouble is, some of us think waging war is needed. Some think we need massive amounts of wealth. Others think education is only for boys or the rich or the white. Still others think the food that we grow, the water we drink must be managed for maximum profit. Information is even being commodified. “That’s for me to know and you to find out.” used to be a boast, a school yard taunt or a military pronouncement. Now, in the search for basic facts, the information you need may end up costing you.

My personal needs for optimum emotional health include safety and love. Sometimes what you need has to actively pursued. Sometimes it’s a matter of seeing what has been there all along. The song, ‘Without You’ written by Pete Ham & Tom Evans of Welsh rock group Badfinger plaintively captures the universal need for love. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PPco24LS31A

Re: Content

Content is a word that can change in meaning depending on whether the first or last syllable is stressed. When I write I always try to be content with my content. The English language is a delight for authors yet for ESL students it’s a source of confusion. Let’s explore.

I have a small shed just outside my front door which is part of a carport. The contents of the shed include tools, old paint tins, recycling totes, and stuff. The stuff is hard to classify and hard to remove. Being a clutter-free kind of person I am not content with the state my shed is in. On recycling day I pull out the totes filled with other waste I’ve produced. I mutter internally about doing something about the contents of this space. It’s a useful space, if managed properly. I tell myself: Why do I have three boxes of rocks and shells from past holidays? What is the use of three paint trays? When was the last time I used two golf putters? How can I ever part with my childhood fishing rod?

Just try removing or resolving the contents of your thoughts when it comes to assessing what you really need in life, as opposed to what you think you need. This exercise can be very contentious. It’s an ongoing internal struggle to justify what amounts to the content of your life. Your brain must sort things out before you can do any external sorting. My contention is that people like Marie Kondo make this process look easy, while for most it’s not that simple.

Those who can’t cope with the reality of their stuff end up being labelled hoarders. When this happens family and friends may not be content to let the situation go by without an intervention. We are so fascinated with how we stuff our stuff that a reality television series called ‘Hoarders’ has been broadcast for a decade on various networks.

While some seem content to live amongst the contents of their mess, others are more interested in examining themselves. Part of the famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech by Martin Luther King Jr. comes to mind; “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

The content of one’s life is hard to determine. Most of the time I feel a sense of contentment. As much as I can bring order to my world, I feel generally contented. Sometimes that feeling crosses the border into happiness; an upgrade if you like. When I take into account my relationships, my history, my personal successes, I feel contentment. It often comes out as a deep sigh, sometimes audible, as I lay my head down on my pillow and wait for sleep each night. It’s a pleasing moment. The shed can wait.