Re: Dream

Rare is the night that I don’t dream while I’m asleep. Lately, I’m absorbing the world’s troubles and processing them somehow while in bed. Problem is, come morning, the result of all this subconscious mind spin is not resolution but exhaustion.

Dreaming holds a fascination. In my twenties I picked up lots of books on dream interpretation. Anything by Sigmund Freud I leapt on. Horoscopes held an amusing fascination. Texts didn’t have to be scientific in their approach to questions of a neural nature. I had the classic youthful dreams: going to school in underwear, being chased, escaping a locked room, peeking into a closet, running up an endless inclined plane, flying amongst the clouds. A recurring nightmare through my grade ten year had me staring at a dot in the distance, it got bigger as it approached, gained texture and, just before I identified it as a massive Brillo pad dripping with sticky honey, I woke shouting and in a sweat. I disturbed the household often enough that my mom considered taking me for therapy. To this day if someone asks me how I think I might die, I answer reflexively, “With a blow to my head.”

More positively, I believe I am a dreamer by nature. I love the way the word Dream appears in the songs I’m most fond of humming: Imagine, Dream Weaver, Rainbow Connection, I Dreamed a Dream. In this regard, here’s Rita Wilson singing one of my favourites.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Cm7U9SCFPk

I love to project my thoughts of a better future while daydreaming. I’m looking forward to spending long stretches of time with my grandkids exploring clouds and watching dragonflies. Dream Boards were popular for a while. Cutouts arranged in a collage for the wall or a private journal are made with intention, while dreaming of better days ahead. Wishing is a close cousin to Dreaming; it’s a projection of all that stuff going on in your headspace. Hopefully the wish can be made manifest in order to keep hope alive.

Our grey matter is a marvel. At times I feel may brain is like a massive parabolic antenna , picking up ideas, messages, multiple conscious musings from countless souls. I long to be tuned to the right channel. It could be a super power like Charles Xavier has as Professor X. I could tap into others’ thoughts not to interlope but to understand my own convoluted self just a little bit better.

During my first year of university I went on a date to see a student production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. On the walk back to residence, the girl commented that I seemed like the main character to her.  I thought she was teasing, but I recognized that I had a brooding sort of personality. When we parted at her dormitory door, as if to make up for a potential slight, she kissed me on the cheek and called me a dreamboat. What a night! I strolled off to my room reviewing the words of the Danish Prince; “To sleep, perchance to dream!”

Re: Real

My thoughts seemed like a Netflix fantasy series. I started a conversation with my wife one morning saying I was losing my grasp on reality while having trouble making sense of time and space. Pinch me please. Bless her heart, she looked shocked and worried for my mental health. A reset to realism was needed, and quick.

According to much of what I’ve read in the media lately, I’m not alone in feeling abstract. Faulting things, events or individuals for my discombobulation won’t help. My doubts about what is real aren’t about the stuff out there.  It’s more to do with how I’m processing the maddening array of conflicting information. To discover the truth these days I have to reevaluate almost everything I have learned so far in life. I’ve lost my trust in institutions, in the political process, in the weather even. Finding realness and holding on to it is so exhausting!

I watched with incredulity the length of the London queue to view Queen Elizabeth’s coffin. This line up couldn’t be real. What did those half million people need? Grief is real, I think. But standing in the rain, overnight, for twelve hours, surely challenges anyone’s sense of reality. The aged Children Royal stood vigil wearing military regalia similar to a toy soldier set my grandfather once bought for me from Harrods. I imagined costumes for Halloween. Is this an authentic representation of life in 2022? Such disrespectful thoughts! Death is real, I imagine.

Covid19 continues to read like an incomprehensible nonfiction novel. Illness is real, I thought. It seemed that in 2020 many governments were working in the interests of the people yet now we are sternly encouraged to get back to the business at hand; making money. This virus isn’t over and there are more variants expected. So the new normal is really the new reality.

People interviewed after a disaster sometimes say they felt like they were in a movie. They are sharing the shock of an unreal experience while the results of the flood/fire/tornado or other such climate induced mayhem is clear to see, strewn about them. If I’m deciding what’s real based on my past experience, that’s probably a mistake since cryptocurrency doesn’t seem real, Donald Trump wasn’t real, real estate prices aren’t real, reality television isn’t real and global warming is supposedly a hoax.

We are creatures of habit. We like things to be predictable. People who say, ‘embrace the change’ are likely the ones in charge. And the ones in charge don’t appear to know what they’re doing so I resist accepting their version of reality. I’m sounding unrealistic and I realize it. I’m looking for a focal point and I’m coming up lacking. Moments are real, aren’t they?

To summarize: Things aren’t the way they used to be. They never were. The unbelievable can still be real even if it seems crazy. I know I’m not imagining things when my grandchild climbs onto my lap with a big picture book. Love is real, I know that at least.

Re: Heart

My heart skipped a beat the other day. In fact it skipped several beats, enough to make me wonder what was going on. My son-in-law just happened to be stopping by for lunch so I asked him to take me to the hospital instead.

It was the prudent thing to do. Heart disease claims more lives in Canada than any other illness. I had been having heart palpitations (what I called kittens chasing each other in my chest) with some regularity for the past several months. My wife and I had agreed that, ‘the next incident’ would be the one where I would go to emerg. I considered my father, who died while on holiday in Portugal due to his heart health issues. He was only seven years older than I am right now. Memento mori.

My son is thirty years younger than I am. He and his wife have just bought their first house. After the move they enjoyed reporting a heartfelt sense of permanence, saying the decision was a “coup de coeur” experience. News of their combined joy pulled at my heart strings as though a song of love and longing had just arrived after a commercial break. A song such as this favourite of mine by Tony Bennett. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6DUwMnDxEs

There are many songs written from the heart. Some popped into my head as I waited for a doctor upon entering the hospital’s emergency department. It was a large open area room akin to a Costco warehouse. Direction arrows were taped to the concrete floor, clerks stood at their posts. Instead of food samples or coupons I answered questions and was directed to a succession of stations where I was tested and questioned further. I got labelled then someone came with a wheelchair to take me through the final portal. Here, in a small room, I was told to lay on a bed around which gathered no fewer than seven medics. They stopped my heart twice in an attempt to reset it from a high of 185BPM. I felt well attended to, so I wasn’t frightened.

While being monitored and tested further, I listened to the busy sounds of the ER setting. I contemplated the news cycle since late 2019 of Covid calls to action in hospitals around the world. Many unrelated deaths occurred because folks like me were resisting going for medical attention for other ailments, like the atrial fibrillation which became my diagnosis on this day. Surprisingly my heart beat returned to normal as quickly as it had raced to my attention. Latest incident over, I have appropriate medication to forestall a similar occurrence and an appointment for a follow-up consultation with a cardiologist.

I felt gratitude that I had avoided a stroke which I was told was a potential with my condition. I was heartened to see our health care system work so well on my behalf. I’m happily feeling the beat of a consistent rhythm, giving me hope for what my future may hold.

Re: Panic

I have a panic room in my head and it works the opposite of a safe haven. I’ve never seen a film style panic room; where actors portraying people victimized by home invaders find sanctuary. My panic room is a room in my mind. My panic room must have doors and windows to let fresh air in. I’m only there because I have been stifled by repeating thoughts that whirl me into a panic response. My panic room door must not be locked for then a key may be lost, the key to understanding how I got there in the first place, even if the key is found the latch may be corroded, the knob broken, a sealed room of past hurts will continue to mildew with dark mold teeming with disease. No confidence can be regained whilst in the panic room of my mind.

I once helped a student take the moment necessary to come out of his panic room. Something triggered him to rise beside his desk. I called his name. He had the posture of a cornered animal. He started towards the door, tripping and falling to the floor. Students quieted as he lay there, eyes darting. It was not a seizure but some strange force had seized him. Taking advantage of his stillness I moved beside him and placed my palm lightly over his heart. His breathing calmed and his classmates remained breathless. He looked at me. He sat up. I asked his friend to accompany him to the office so the secretary could call his parents. He left for the day. It wasn’t until year’s end that he mentioned the incident and thanked me. I told him I would always remember what happened as though I had been guided: The right person, in the right place, at the right time.

I most feel panic when things seem out of order. My way seems barred. Access is being denied. I feel trapped, painted into corner, claustrophobic, breathless, suffocated. In the midst of this anxiety attack I feel there is no way out, yet why I enter there in the first place is always a mystery to me. I don’t know the why of panic’s approach, yet I’m getting better at the how of waving it goodbye.

A Yoga instructor once advised me to see disagreeable thoughts as flowing through and not lingering. Deep breathing helps. Calm may be the opposite of panic. I like the way some pronounce calm with a noticeable ‘l’. When stressed I will linger with the middle section of the word repeatedly sounding it out as ‘c-ah-m’. I’ve developed strategies as I’ve aged to minimize the risk of entering into a panic response. I have medicine that brings comfort when needed. Just knowing it’s there in the cabinet is often enough for relief. I’ve learned to visualize safe places; like a verandah with a swing. Peace is found there, sitting for a spell with a cooling lemonade, taking time to gather my thoughts, settling me into a fresh perspective.

Re: Normal

I’m challenged by this word right now. I’m looking for anchors as I am being swept into the whirlpool of opinion regarding the New Normal. My previous definitions are lacking the clarity they once had for me. I feel like my brain might be labelled Abby Normal as interpreted by Igor in the film Young Frankenstein. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9Pw0xX4DXI

Sometimes I surrender to the unknown cauldron of noxious bubbling stew that can be life, by placing it in a corner where I can keep an eye on it. On these days I’ll settle into a favourite chair with a book and a heating pad. As I reflect on written works presented by an array of authors, I lose my anxiety while a multitude of characters play out theirs. One magazine article recently suggested that PTSD sufferers most often complained that their life no longer had any semblance of normality. In all seriousness, I can relate.

Normally we go about our lives with a routine. Even if it’s an unhealthy routine it can have some satisfaction because the elements don’t stray far from the norm that we expect. That’s one of the reasons that change can be so frightening: Because it goes against the norm.

The question of what is normal can be as perplexing and profound as asking what is the meaning of life itself. These questions become more overwhelming when everyone is experiencing war, famine or pestilence. Under normal circumstances I’ve built my days around my comforts and my knowns. The current and inconvenient truth is that now I feel less comfortable and I find I know less than I thought I did. Searching for a state of normalcy is exhausting. It is not in my nature to go with the flow or leave things to others. I’m not one to fly by the seat of my pants. I resist the possibility that I might find out something later. I’m normally known by my loved ones as being the man with the plan. I don’t want to wait and see what might happen without considering all possibilities and probabilities, thereby establishing a normative approach to life. This makes me feel more confident when it comes time to take that next step, even if it is a baby one.

Maybe the so called ‘new normal’ is really a version of the paranormal. Funny how there is a resurgence of interest in UFOs and aliens. Real XFiles are being released from security vaults distracting us from the real horrors of our present; ie, Climate Crisis! The highest grossing films have fictional characters that are definitely super normal. These comic book super heroes are depicted as saviours. They may be bringing us more comfort than we like to admit. Establishing a feeling of normality can come after data collection. I like my experience being placed on a spectrum or a Bell Curve. I’m mathematically challenged so a graph brings me perspective on what is normal or what is fringe. My life, graphically, feels like that kind of wave.

Re: Endurance

The times we are in require endurance. People living in North America have now been suffering from the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic for over a year. We are showing signs of fatigue as we try to endure closures, lockdowns, lay-offs, long lines, crowded hospitals, enclosed spaces, domestic tension, business uncertainty, mental breakdown, unexpected shortages, restricted travel, etc. The list is long as we try to hang on or hang in.

Yet I have not tested positive for Covid-19 so I call myself lucky. There are numerous perspectives when it comes to pain and grief. I stop myself from complaining about my particular situation, knowing full well that someone else will be finding life much harder. Currently, I’m only suffering from the repercussions of our society’s response. Nevertheless I wonder how much longer I can endure fundamental changes to my existence.

I’m awed when I hear tales of lost miners or people who have been abducted or imprisoned for lengthy periods. There are many compelling stories of individuals who have managed to prevail while entrapped. Anne Frank & Henri Charriére for example, lived through unendurable experiences. In a modern context, two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, have now been detained by Chinese authorities for more than two years. Situations may differ but people who have endured must find a similar inner strength to stick it out.

Those who undertake endurance runs capture my enduring attention. I marvel at their willpower. The desire to be first must not be their only motivating force. I recall back in the seventies watching people hang on to the side of a boat, parked on the street. A local sports store offered the vessel in a questionable contest to promote the grand opening. Several entered, despite the hardships of the strict rules (ex. one hand must always be on the boat, only six ten minute bathroom breaks per day allowed). The winner, literally the last one holding on, endured for eight days in all types of weather.

The popular television series ‘Survivor’ and ‘Alone’ have sometimes captured this phenomenal human quality of persistence. We watch and judge as contestants muster calm, a focus, a belief: ‘this too shall pass’. With many contests, prize money is the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. In real life situations however, I believe incentive comes from seeing the light that is already there.

What makes things endurable for me is a sense that what I am doing has value. I thrive on a voice telling me to hang in there, to keep calm and carry on, to persevere. I don’t need a thrill that speaks to outlasting others in a virtual race. In my most adverse times I haven’t even imagined a finish line. Sometimes you just don’t have a choice but to hang in there. We must have conviction that we are durable. Like other generations who have faced down forces that have made life difficult, giving up is not a satisfying alternative. Soon we will say with pride, we did endure.

Re: Distraction

Covid Pandemic, Climate Crisis, Trumpian America, Rainy Day Mondays; are some of the persistent bad news realities of our current world. Sometimes it seems like staying in bed all day is the right choice. Logically we can’t escape from these inconvenient truths so we thrash about trying to find a distraction. Even for a moment the respite a distraction provides can seem like a holiday from inevitable doom. There is good news to find these days, but you have to be watchful. It’s also incumbent on us all not to be like Rachel Dratch’s character, Debbie Downer. We all know someone like her can be as negatively infectious as any virus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qse8erP8zEk

A friend once told me she devoted one day a week as a ‘techno-free’ 24 hours. She eschewed devices that brought her news, while choosing to distract herself by walking around town, meandering in parks, or hanging out at a coffee shop watching others. She also loved to read, my favourite distraction, and would often bring me wonderful suggestions that helped me broaden my world view. I admire these approaches to shutting out the busy world. It’s way healthier than was my sister’s distraction of choice: alcohol. There really is nothing that can make problems completely disappear, unless you are a magician.

A magician is skilled at the art of distracting the audience. This talent has been called The Art of Misdirection: While you are busy looking here, the trickster will do something over there. This brings distraction to an art form and I find it so very amusing. As a child I marvelled at the escapes of Harry Houdini. I loved watching the sleight of hand of Canadian Doug Henning and the theatrics of American illusionist David Copperfield. Recently I have been turned on to the unbelievable close-up work of the British magician called Dynamo (Steven Frayne) and stunned by master pickpocket Apollo Robbins, who is able to distract the audience so well one begins to doubt one’s own common sense. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZGY0wPAnus

Along with word pursuits, watching others is a favourite distraction for me; bless those entertainers. Some people are distracted by the joys of cooking and eating, not me. I can lose myself in a challenging crossword and have been known to stare out to sea for great lengths of time. Thinking really is my favourite distraction. I’m contented getting lost in my thoughts. It’s a form of meditation; I just have to be aware that as I ponder, I dwell longer on positives. For example; our newspaper recently reported that in one month 170 people had died in our province from drug overdose while in that same month, in that same province, 415 births had been recorded. How does one deal with those two numbers?

People have been distracted by music throughout history. Music can bring a moment of peace, while directing our attention to a more promising land.
Curtis Mayfield led us well. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VOXmaSCt4ZE

Re: Performance

I miss performances. The COVID19 pandemic has created an environment where culture has been a victim. China’s lunar new year holiday celebrations were affected. Italy and Spain curtailed their street cafe traditions. European countries lost their football community. I have a friend who lives for sports and he mourns the absence of watching a high performance team. He and I were both shocked when the summer Olympics in Japan had to be cancelled. What a blow to all the athletes who were robbed of the chance to perform, after years of practise, for a coveted medal of Gold, Silver or Bronze.

A large part of my enjoyment in life comes from attending a play, a dance or musical performance. I’m always awed at the work it takes to bring a piece of art to the stage. It’s thrilling to witness a one of a kind performance. I take great delight in watching young artists get their first taste at a role. When I was in elementary school I took part in public speaking competitions and my sister excelled at baton twirling. Together we once auditioned for a youth talent competition at our local television station. Our parents would admit, after we came off the stage, that they experienced sheer terror over a potentially bad outcome. We were just delighted it was over so we could go to the promised dinner and movie.

We have a performing arts college in our community and many theatre companies ask the students to perform with more veteran actors as part of their course work. These shows validate the effort it takes to make a performance count for something special. I wonder how these student actors will realize their dream of performing in front of a large audience, when large crowds are scary places to be, even while a death dealing virus is on the loose. 

The most uncomfortable times in my teaching career were when I had to undergo a mandatory performance review. Working with senior teachers during the practice teaching sessions at Teacher’s College was tense enough, but being under the watchful gaze of a principal for a week created performance anxiety. Even when I felt I performed well it was hard to deflect the feeling of judgement. Performing artists must have very thick skins.

Television can fill the need to watch performers showing their skills. There is a plethora of talent shows on all major networks right now. The monotonous commercials get in the way of me engaging with the backstory behind each performer. Sometimes I tire of the need producers feel is necessary for me to know the details of each of the artist’s lives. Like a magic trick, sometimes I just want to be amazed by the performance, without knowing the details of how, why or what came before it. 

I was recently moved to tears by this work from the genius of Lars Von Trier. The power of performance is breathtaking, the magic of creativity is spellbinding, the result is inspiring.

Re: Pain

Recently I opted for some elective surgery. While in hospital, the most frequent question posed by the nurse was, “Are you experiencing pain?” This question was clarified with, “On a scale of one to ten.” Aside from coping with the real pain, this question caused stress pain. I couldn’t identify the pain level, since it varied from moment to moment. The consistency of the pain was also a factor: there was dull ache, sharp spasms, performance anxiety, all over ague, perpetual angst, stiff muscular knots and constant ringing in my ears. It was impossible to assist the nurse’s valid question because I clearly couldn’t un-sort my feelings.

When it comes to pain, I’m a baby. I can take the sight of blood or a nasty bump but when I feel a low grade headache coming on I run to the medicine cabinet. I keep all the brands of pain relievers so that I can cover all the bases when pain strikes. I think of pain as discomfort, not the, ‘Oh God I’ve just been shot!’, sort of experience. Lucky me. I’ve never had an extreme level of pain. I’ve only been in one fistfight in my life. My sparring partner proclaimed to the grade six class one day that he was going to bring ‘A whole lotta pain’ my way. My classmates witnessed the choosing of the location for the fight later that day and some even showed up to see the result. It was over in a few minutes; blows were struck, noses bloodied, honour restored. I went home after feeling manly yet bruised. I was offered an ice pack and a hot cup of tea.

Recently I’ve been enjoying the drama of a British TV series, Call the Midwife.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tY0eUynAOY . The episodes have renewed my respectful belief that I could never give birth to a child. In reality, I’ve been a father to three sons, watching my wife handle the painful moments of childbirth. Now each time I saw a mother crying out to the television midwives I’ve moved into the room with them, almost becoming them, as though they hold a painful memory. Yet after the TV birth there is joy! How can this be? I’d picture myself immediately asking for knock-out drops.

We use the word Pain in our language frequently. Someone at the office is a ‘Pain in the Neck’ or worse, ‘A Pain in the Butt’. When we were bringing bad news we used to lead into the announcement by saying, “I’m pained to say this…”. Most country songs are about painful breakups or loss. This kind of emotional pain is surely at the heart of the OXY crisis.
https://www.pharmacytimes.com/contributor/marilyn-bulloch-pharmd-bcps/2018/08/how-oxycodone-has-contributed-to-the-opioid-epidemic

Even though I am British born I find it hard most times to offer a stiff upper lip to discomfort. I will take an easy fix, just as long as it comes over the counter and is medically tested. I hope I never know what real pain is.

Re: Phobia

The word Phobia is actually a suffix that has morphed into a word through common usage. You might say someone is phobic if they are demonstrating anxiety. A person may tell you they have a phobia to something. Both Phobia and Phobic can be words used to exaggerate the fear that someone feels. Lucy tries to explain phobias in this scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8SDztycKwY

I don’t like to admit I’m fearful. That’s like showing your hand in a card game. My fears don’t tend to limit me in the pursuit of a fulfilling life. I believe that’s where phobias come in: When your fears direct you to stop normal functions. I’ll admit to feeling discomfort over certain things that, in the extreme, might be phobias. For example: I don’t enjoy crowds (enochlophobia), I like to be inside before dark (noctiphobia), I avoid tight spaces (claustrophobia). The latter fear I can trace back to a bizarre game my mom and dad used to inflict on me when I was very young. When I asked to jump into their bed on a weekend morning they would wedge me with their elbows between their bodies so I couldn’t escape. Tough to know why I would ever come back for more of that but to this day it’s a challenge for me to stand in a packed subway car.

We have hired someone to renovate our bathroom. The workers’ first day on the job was a highly anxious time for me. Despite being confident about the decision to go ahead with this project, the noise and numbers of people involved produced a fear of the future reaction. What will they find behind the walls? Will they break anything important? Is it going to cost me more than budgeted? I know I’m not alone when it comes to Chronophobia, especially in the Anthropocene Age. It seems hard to look positively to the coming days in our current climate, political or otherwise.

The politics of fear cannot help us make good decisions yet this is the currency used by many to buy our vote. Xenophobia is a word that is being used to legitimize racist statements and activities. Our cave dwelling relatives had reason to fear others. In our modern world we need others, we need the collective, we need diversity, if we are to continue to survive as a species.

The antonym of Phobic is Phile. I’d rather promote the latter as a way to describe my positive nature. I love books, so I am a Bibliophile. I appreciate the artistry in clocks, so I am a Chronometrophile. I thoroughly enjoy film so I call myself a Cinephile. I’m proud of my heritage despite its flaws so I am an Anglophile.

There are just as many Phobias as there are Philes. Two sides of the same coin so to speak. We must find balance yet when our fears dominate let’s hope there is someone to watch over us. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y92LxyuNFZ0