Re: Art

Re: Reward

I’ve been on several non-profit Boards serving a membership as well as clients. A question that often comes up is how to encourage involvement. In most cases you would think that the reward would be self-evident: A volunteer would feel that supporting the organization is satisfaction enough. A ticket buyer gets pleasure out of the fundraising event and that is pleasure enough. A donor is getting a tax receipt. A member is happy to be part of something important within the community. ‘Virtue is its own reward,’ so sayeth theologian J.H. Newman.

Yet we live in a time of perks, value added, frequent flyer, loyalty punch card carrying, ‘what’s in it for me’ sense of privilege. It’s a bit ironic I suppose that often these benefits are there for the already privileged. We can believe that what goes around comes around, as long as the good stuff comes around to us with regularity.

One of my current volunteer gigs is at a Therapeutic Riding stable. The best perk is nuzzling with the horses. I was a bit nervous at first since these beasts are large! After a time they got used to me and I felt less intimidated as I cleaned their stall and tacked them up for their riders. The volunteer coordinator keeps my interest up by offering a variety of jobs. Coffee is in the kitchen as well as a cookie jar labelled ‘Volunteer Diet’. Like most non-profits who value their volunteers highly I am invited to appreciation BBQs, pizza nights and discounted sales tables. Communities large or small owe a debt to those who serve without payment and within a meaningful context a hearty ‘Thank You’ is often enough compensation for my hard work.

Playing with the word Reward by examining its levidrome Drawer, I can see what I get in a general sense from volunteering: I Draw on my skills to help out. I’m a Drawer, a Creator who gives time, energy and experience and looking backward this act is its own Reward. Fun!

I no longer feel I want a reward for its own sake. Achieving something that I have worked hard at has brought an expectation for recognition. As a boy I would have been disappointed if I didn’t receive that trophy, ribbon or certificate to attest to my brilliance. Now that I’m an adult I am less ambitious for a tangible outcome. I’m enjoying the journey of discovery. I can witness my own pleasure and be glad in it.

Many old folks (especially white, rich ones) feel entitled. Back in 2005, Canadian Government bureaucrat David Dingwall famously fought for his perceived entitlements. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIo-bEsoMgA

A recent Saturday Night Live skit with Idris Elba as an ‘Impossible Hulk’ showed us what entitlement can look like when placed in a superhero context.
https://www.cbr.com/idris-elba-impossible-hulk-saturday-night-live/

The horses I’m caring for, love an apple after work. I’m still a sucker for a free cookie.

Re: Resistance

Tales of the resistance movement during WWII continue to fascinate me. Such bravery from those Partisans I can only imagine. They chose to move in the space between compliance and defiance. They were examples of people devoted to helping themselves and others overcome tyranny. Throughout the world in modern times there continue to be regimes/policies/governments/corporations that challenge us to choose between acceptance or rejection.

Resistance may be underground, subtle or go unnoticed, yet it is not a form of giving up. To resist is to take purposeful action. In human behaviour I see a Resister as someone who chooses to actively refuse something that doesn’t hold true to their value system. In electrical circuitry, a Resistor is a device that controls the flow. I find it curious how those two words, for only the difference of a vowel, can be similar in concept.

Consider for a moment that a Resistor’s unit of measure is an Ohm. Another Om is considered by Buddhists to be the first sound. I have often used that sound to control my anxiety. When I chant using that word I feel grounded and my thoughts cease to speed in whirlwinds about my head. In that moment of meditation I am a Resister and a Resistor, holding thoughts at arm’s length so that I can interpret them more clearly.

I met a Resister the other day at the grocery store where I shop. We were both in a line to have our purchases scanned by a clerk. We chatted about voluntarily waiting when we could have checked out faster by stepping one aisle over to scan our items via a robot cashier. We agreed that AI was taking over the world and we were determined to resist.

Cliches are worthy of resistance. I appreciate that a commonly used term may be easier to say while engaging in small talk, however a serious discussion deserves a more careful choice of words. For example, a well known celebrity recently announced his terminal cancer and was quoted as saying, “I’ll fight this.” Cancer talk is often filled with warlike terms. I find it upsetting that if the patient doesn’t want to fight the disease they are somehow deemed to be giving up on life. My late wife chose to resist the pull of death after her diagnosis by filling each day with amusements. June Callwood, a noted Canadian author, who died of cancer in 2007, resisted the common call to ‘fight on’ by refusing treatment for her disease. Her wonderfully watchable interview on CBC television aired mere weeks before her death is a testament to the term ‘dying with dignity’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Duif0tGZ4pc

When it comes to death, to quote from The Borg in the Star Trek universe, “Resistance is futile” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rtEaR1JU-ps . The irony, perhaps, is that resistance can sometimes empower us to be an active participant of change. To rebel or to acquiesce may not be options. Resistance may be the middle ground where we can assert our unique individuality.

Re: Polyglot

Some words are so weird you don’t know what you are hearing. When I first heard this one I thought someone had made it up just to be funny. And silly is my favourite style of humour. In the tradition of the party game Balderdash, let’s do some guessing. Polyglot is: A) a rare breed of goat, B) a bunch of discarded plastic, or C) someone who knows three or more languages. Who knew that C was the right answer? I didn’t when it first came to my attention so I did some research and voila!

To my ears Polyglot still sounds like something you might read in a Dr. Seuss children’s book. That aside, I have an enormous amount of respect for someone who has mastered a poly amount of anything. I may aspire to the notion of being a Jack of All Trades, but that generally signifies I’m a master of none.
A dentist I saw for regular checkups told me all about his life while I was wired, probed, drilled, filled and/or dental dammed. My teeth may be in good shape but I couldn’t help but feel diminished by this one man’s list of supplementary skills acquired over his lifetime; Orchestral Trombonist, Black Belt Karate, World Bridge Federation Member. Not to mention, he was also a Polyglot; fluent in Polish, German and English.

Hanging out with members of my home town symphony orchestra made me very aware of people who exist in a multi-hyphenate world. Many of these highly talented individuals work as doctors, lawyers, accountants or professors during the day and compose or interpret music in their off hours. As a teacher I was familiar with research that suggests there are many examples of areas where a crossover of skills is complementary and not necessarily layered. The music-math crossover is often touted as an example in people who may be considered of genius intellect. Einstein comes quickly to mind, yet so does Steve Martin the comedian/banjo picker/writer/director/actor/producer/magician.
Is Mr. Martin a genius or a polymath? Phewff! Take a bow already.

I enjoy watching artists challenge themselves in different media or venues. You must have talent to skip around artistic disciplines for sure. You also have to make the time to do it. Imagine being able to say you have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony award. Only fifteen multitalented artists have been able to accomplish that laudable goal. As of the posting of this blog page the following are in the esteemed EGOT Club: Richard Rogers, Helen Hayes, Rita Moreno, John Gielgud, Audrey Hepburn, Marvin Hamlisch, Jonathan Tucker, Mel Brooks, Mike Nichols, Whoopi Goldberg, Scott Rudin, Robert Lopez, Andrew Lloyd Webber, John Legend, Tim Rice.

Someone once flattered me by calling me a Renaissance Man. That compliment as much as I loved the taste of it, made me embarrassed. If I cut out television, reading the newspaper, tweeting about stuff and staring lazily out the window I may discover the time I need to be better. Another Leonardo Da Vinci, I’m not.

Re: Resilience

If I am resilient I can survive change. I may not completely bounce back from the trauma nor will I necessarily become stronger simply by dodging a proverbial bullet. My experiences may make me better able to cope the next time a challenge arises. Trouble is, there may be enough difference in the new situation as to make my response difficult. I must rely on my belief that, given time and adequate support, things will get better.

One of the best things teachers, parents and coaches help us discover is our personal resilience. I can credit my years as a Boy Scout with teaching me a lot about resilience. I was instructed to hope for the best and prepare for the worst, to seek shelter when confronted with a storm, and to try one more time. I remember one portage in particular during a canoe trip through Algonquin Provincial Park. I had felt a head cold starting the morning of the third day into the trip. The paddling part was a blessing as the breeze cooled the fever my body was developing. Once out on the land and weighed down by packsack and canoe the going got tough. Biting insects could not be swatted and our path was through boot sucking mud. Each step was agony. I was young and wanted to cry. I faltered briefly and looked up as my Akela now stood near me. Quietly he asked, “Can you go to the next tree?” I repositioned my load and said yes I could. He walked beside me until the tree and said, “Can you make it to the next hill?” Somehow I could and just past the hill was the location of our camp for the night.

I recall having my meal that night in one metal bowl; a ground beef mixture, cookies and chocolate pudding. I tagged out of the next activity to get some rest in my tent, quickly falling asleep. Much to my surprise, my Sixer came to wake me for Mug-Up. My body still aching, I was persuaded by this familiar before-bedtime tradition of a warming tin mug of hot chocolate, so I rallied myself. The next morning I felt like I could canoe forever, no matter what might lay ahead on the trail. I was a modern day voyageur. I was invincible!

A resilient attitude is elastic. It bends like the marsh reed to the wind’s insistence. Rigidity can cause us to snap under pressure. Sometimes we can only respond to the change that blows our way. Other times we can make a change that will bring us closer to who we want to be. We can build resilience in mind, body and spirit by being watchful for opportunities that test us to be better.

What Akela had taught me that day was that I had more resilience than I ever imagined. By shrinking my goal I could continue. By sometimes taking baby steps I wasn’t diminishing myself. By trying one-more-time I found I could discover something new about the person I was becoming.

Re: Television

I think many people my age can say their childhood was influenced by what they saw and heard on television. For several hours before and after school the characters I watched on that old TV set provided childcare and I did feel nurtured by them all: Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Green Jeans, The Friendly Giant, Romper Room’s Miss Molly, Buffalo Bob. They were as real to me as if they lived down the dirt road I walked to get to school. Combined, they were like a third parent; offering advice, a quiet moment together. They gave me ideas to explore when I was out on my own.

As I got older I would plan my after school time with the scheduling calendar in the mini magazine, TV Guide. The white lettering on a square TV screen of their logo became as familiar to me as the CocaCola brand. I studied the pages each week using a pen to circle my favourite shows. I read insider info about the actors and learned about things like ‘Prime Time’ and ‘Soap Operas’. I remember one September when the networks were announcing their Fall lineup I pounced on that Preview edition, cutting and pasting the show titles onto a Bristol board display for a grade five art assignment. I was just approaching adolescence when NBC announced that they were programming a new space series. I’ll fully admit to the state of my pubescent hormones at that moment by declaring orgasmically that Star Trek was the seminal TV program of my life.

Who would think that a telecommunication device would offer so much enjoyment to the viewer; young and old alike. The four years leading up to my mom’s death in a nursing home included regular doses of programming through the Turner Classic Movie channel. In conversations about the films she viewed, it was clear the plot had become melded with her own life memories. Some at the extended care facility even suggested that TV watching was becoming too intense for my mother and therefore ill advised.

Such comments reminded me of the early days of television when it was forecast that viewing could not take place too close to the set, or too much viewing would dull the mind or distort your perceptions of the real world. Parents often questioned me about the advisability of television quality and quantity for their children during parent/teacher nights. Many were shocked that I allowed my own children to watch The Simpsons. My view has always been less about censorship and more about using whatever is televised as an opportunity for discussion. I would teach my children the difference between watching Television and watching a Program. If I felt suspicious of the content of an episode or series I would ask that I be allowed to join them in the viewing.

It is safe to say that television has contributed to my development just as novels have done to previous generations. The characters and incidents I have witnessed on the smaller screen have made a lasting impression and continue to inform my being.

Re: Recognize

A former girlfriend of mine, after several months of cohabitation, recognized that she had been in love with the idea of me, not the real, flawed person who stood before her. That act of recognizing the truth set us both free to move on from a relationship that had become difficult. It can take a hard look in the mirror to re-establish what we know about ourselves. Sometimes we count on another to reveal what we fail to see.

Knowing myself is very important to me. Self-Cognition and Re-Cognition have been ways I have checked in on myself since my adolescent years. I was a geeky introvert in my teens, often taking myself off to ponder things by a nearby creek. That shifting body of water gave me sound solace when things were puzzling me. I could dramatize further and say I gazed into those waters looking for the reflection of the real me and that might be a step too far, even though I did watch a lot of television drama in those days. That creek was a sanctuary where time, and space alone, allowed me to keep track.

When I have let my emotions take over me and my temper gets lost, I do not like who I am. In those heated situations someone might say to me, in words or facial expression, “Who are you?” At those times I feel wretched, less than, and very contrite. It takes time to rebuild the person I thought I was after such a loss of self. For me, even a few moments of self-reflection can make the restorative difference. Sometimes I have sought out others to verify that I have not changed, just experienced a speed bump of growth. The benefit others can bring to the situation may be no more than an assurance that everything will be okay. That sounds so wonderful to hear.

These others we turn to, may be those through whom we recognize ourselves. These people aren’t necessarily our family. They have traits that remind us of who we’d like to be and we adopt them, in a way, because then we can associate with a collective of similar thoughts and attitudes. Birds of a feather do indeed flock together. They become our clan or tribe. They become as familiar as family portraits in our hallways. They provide a picture that is not unlike a mirror, revealing the truth as well as triggering memories that ground us.

Sometimes I have been so lost that finding myself has taken a military style reconnaissance. Regular re-con missions are easier, keeping me abreast of changes and quickly calling me to account. The best thing I can bring to any relationship is the gift of me. Personal knowledge is powerful because it brings clarity and a map into the following day. I can rely on others for guidance, yet most of the time I navigate the various challenges of life whilst on my own recognizance.

Knowing I am bound by myself means I must respond when summoned.

Re: Enthusiasm

At this stage of my existence I refer to myself as a witness. I enjoy being that fly on the wall. It’s a safe vantage point, less messy than open engagement on the field of life. I show my enthusiasm for this role by sharing my opinions in a cheerleading fashion. There is a lot of the Rah, Rah in me still.

My enthusiastic side comes out at surprising moments. I once started exclaiming excitedly over a colourful bird while attending a lesson for a summer job. The instructor of the youth assembled gave me a disdainful look, saying dismissively that there were lots of that species in the area. Another time as a young father I rallied my son to hurry and see ‘the coolest car’ that had just parked near a store my wife was taking us to. My poor little guy got troubled when his mother didn’t share my interest and proceeded with her shopping, leaving our son not knowing where his loyalties should lie.

It’s a treat to see others go public with their enthusiasm. I once happened upon a colleague, new to our city, scampering about unashamedly in a small park within a busy intersection. She was fascinated to find cherry blossoms in the tree above her head and crocus bulbs bursting through green grass. This, on a February day while the rest of the country was still gripped in an icy grasp. I felt her joy.

Hope springing eternal will make me enthuse over what I’m seeing. First moments, signs of promise, a young person earnestly playing a musical instrument or actors skillfully inhabiting their characters may bring tears of rapture. My eagerness sometimes comes in a rush of emotion that can be startling. A few bars of music may stimulate me to remember a time gone by and I’ll want to share the memory with someone, anyone, and right now!

Based on these occasional inspired outbursts I might think of myself as an Enthusiast. What an exulted title! It would be fun to be introduced as such with appropriate fanfare at the entrance to a black tie event. Enthusiast implies you might be an expert in your chosen field or have exceptional talent, neither of which would be true for me. I know a few people who might be deemed bird enthusiasts, jogging enthusiasts or film enthusiasts. When I was a boy I maintained a stamp collection that earned me a scouting badge but like the character in the film Adaptation, I lost interest. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y410SQD2mz8

Thing is, my rhapsodies come in spurts. My passions never last long enough to acquire sporting trophies, fitness goals, artistic excellence or any sort of public acclaim. I just love feeling enthused, however long it lasts.

That’s the heart of the word for me: Enthusiasm is an expression of my love.