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.
A park is a lovely place to go on a summer’s day. In Canada we are blessed with policies that require governments to recognize the need for natural spaces and recreational parks where citizens can go to revitalize their tired urban spirits. Some neighbourhood parks are so small they are called parkettes. When I was raising a family my young boys would pace by the door asking to go to a small patch of grass containing one small climbing apparatus, directly across the street. It’s freeing to go to a park.
Now, finding a parking spot is a whole different scenario. How one word can carry two very different connotations is an example of the confusion found by some in the intricacies of the English language. And getting a parking ticket is the height of insult to me. My sister used to just stuff her parking tickets into her glovebox, avoiding paying until they came with additional fines. When I walk by a parked car with a ticket under its windshield wiper I always feel sorry for the owner. I’ve had so few I remember the circumstances in detail, but I’ll keep it short: One was in Toronto where I had parked on a street that was signed ambiguously (I almost got towed that time), another time in Toronto was on a quiet residential street where I had parked a large moving van, once in Vancouver’s Stanley Park I parked unknowingly in front of the ticketing agent sitting in his unmarked vehicle and lastly in Victoria B.C. I had parked my tiny moped in what turned out to be a construction zone (I found the ticket neatly rolled and taped around my handlebar). Have a nice day!
Even when I am sure I am parked legally I am anxious until I can get back to my vehicle and gaze at the clear windshield. On street parking comes with the additional risk of being broken into. A city parkade with its multiple levels is also a source of stress for me. Even though I like the security and the friendly gate keeper the tight spaces make me fear scratches. And finding the car on return is easier than when you park at those huge Box Store parking lots. My wife is a whiz at navigating the tight corners of the ramps in downtown parkades and doesn’t seem at all concerned that the traffic control bar might come crashing down on the car’s hood before she has made it safely back onto the street. I find it best to close my eyes when I’m her passenger.
Once I tried to fight a parking ticket at city hall. I had to make an appointment with the mayor’s assistant. I came early and parked outside, near a municipal park, feeling calmed by three Garry Oak and a memorial fountain. I presented my evidence and supporting documentation, but the parking authority bureaucrats politely disagreed with my assessment of the situation. I drove home listening to Joni Mitchell. It helped.
The Oscars Slap. The Slap that was heard around the world. The outrage over this one violent act, even amidst conflict in locations throughout the globe, came as more of a shock to me than the slap itself. By the time this page is posted there will have been lots of sincere discussion and whataboutery on social media, in print and in coffee shop gatherings. Conversation is a good thing. This incident produced an excellent exchange with my eldest son.
Together we identified the issues that this act of violence highlighted: female agency, male power, comedic intent, manners, and personal illness were among the many relevant points. For me the central issue was society’s tolerance of violence. I told my son that I could not condone any form of violent action against another. I see many challenges in life in a spectral way. With respect to violence I might place a hurtful comment on one side of a continuum and an act of war on the other extreme. The point I was making with my son was that I believed that emotion drives the violence and regardless of the degree, we are responsible as individuals to control our responses to anger, hate, or other feelings that would fuel hurting others. “You’re more of a pacifist than I am.” said my son. I’ll take the label.
The Covid-19 reality has made death a counting game. I fear that it has produced a tolerance among us to loss. Likewise with the war in Ukraine, in the early days we have argued against helping for fear the conflict will escalate. Meanwhile people are hurt from disease and the feeling that they are struggling alone. Essentially we are alone, yet we help our neighbour. We are individuals, yet under normal circumstances we resist using violence to solve our problems. When collectively we act emotionally we can advance civilization. The opposite can also be true; when we are pushed we want to push back.
Looking back through my life I recalled two people who have faced my violent response: One was a bully at school when I was twelve, the other was a student who was swinging a ruler at me in my early days as a teacher. He had cornered another student and I stepped in to protect, slapping the aggressor in the process. I’ll put the former down to youthful indulgence but the latter I felt instant regret. I apologized and wished I could have thought of a better way to defuse the situation. Most schools now have a zero tolerance policy to violence and bullies are called out, even when the behaviour is passive/aggressive.
I find it surprising that we tolerate violence in some sports and not in others. I look at the Will Smith/Chris Rock altercation and wonder why that awards show went on at all. I thought of movie westerns where one punch leads to a wrecked saloon. Simply put, maybe saner heads prevailed on Oscar night. Everyone assembled took a breath and carried on. More violence would have been wrong.
‘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.’
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.
My dad was a great story teller. It took patience to listen to his picturesque anecdotes about his day at work, his thoughts on clover, his belief that we all mattered. He rarely repeated a story. Each new day brought new material for him to wonder over. Each tale was embellished beyond practicality. For my father, the act of storytelling was the most important thing. He once held my sister and me captive as he dramatized his amazement over the amount of condensation he had had to wipe from a bathroom window after he had taken a shower.
His presence in my life was undervalued when I was young. His legacy remains however, as I have recorded that joy of the awesomeness of life by journaling. I have kept anecdotal thoughts on the events of my life in diaries, on note pads, in newspaper columns and internet blogs. I’m not alone, nor unique really, since anecdotes are the history of humankind.
Society can dismiss information that comes from others as not being accurate or not science based. Yet we do love to gossip. Often evidence in a trial is invalidated if it is anecdotal but get a large enough group to say they believe in something then fiction becomes truth. Old wives have been shamed for hundreds of years just because their tales were considered suspiciously held. Stories that are passed down from one generation to another may lack documentation but that doesn’t necessarily make them untrue. An oral history can indeed be worthy of note.
Indigenous peoples of the world have taught us colonizers that stories from our elders can be genuine. We can trust what our mom or dad or grandparents tell us. Take the recent discovery of the two ships from the Franklin expedition in 1813 as an example of the value of anecdotal evidence. Searches using various scientific methods were conducted on many occasions but it wasn’t until oral heritage descriptions from Inuit stories were analyzed that the search narrowed to the location of discovery. Now the area is a Parks Canada Historic sight.
Speaking or writing anecdotally is sort of an analogue version of history. We may not need to gather around the tribal campfire anymore but family gatherings always enable experiences to be shared in an informal way. At the family level or nationally this is heritage talk. Inevitably there are paper trails to be followed when one is researching antiquity. There are legal documents, court reports, death notices, registries of births. The pages will sit in some file, or listed in a computer data base, maybe even laminated and framed for posterity. My eldest son is a historian. He does painstaking research through various archival sources but the final product he creates reads like one of my dad’s stories.
Tales of where we have come from or who we were can act as a guide for us to discover our own lost wrecks.
It is easy for me to remember Queen Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne of England, since I was born that same year. Her reign has been numerically equivalent to my lifetime. Being born in England has added to my connection with the crown. Yet a royalist I am not.
Just take the word ascension. What a load of codswallop! I cannot believe, let alone condone the thought that HRH is above me. I am a man. She is a woman. We are both citizens of the world. She does not reign over me. I can recognize her existence as a symbol in our government (Canada is a Constitutional Monarchy) while not personally acknowledging her sovereignty or authority over me. I don’t wish to rain on anyone’s parade of pageantry. Idealistically, royalty does not add anything to my life. I don’t need a pyramid system of hierarchal status to rein me in when I wander. The rule of law will suffice.
Like many of my age the singing of God Save the Queen was regular and rote. We were indoctrinated as children in school, each morning declaring with one voice: “Send her victorious/Happy and glorious.” How fortunate we weren’t required to sing words from some of the other verses such as: “Scatter our enemies/And make them fall/Confound their politics/Frustrate their knavish tricks.” As I grew older the singing of Canada’s anthem became more common yet once in a while The Queen was toasted at formal dinners. Recently I went to a New Year’s Day levée at the Provincial Lieutenant Governor’s House where we all sang a tribute to the sovereign and after some speeches of allegiance we all got some fancy free food. My principles seem to vanish when I am treated to some complimentary dainty delectables.
‘The time has come, so sayeth the Walrus, to move on to other things, not kings.’ I boldly paraphrase Lewis Carroll, who satirized the reign of another queen of the realm. As an anti-royalist I wish for a change away from deference to royal trappings. To imagine a King Charles makes me shake my head over the backward step that would be. Admittedly a reigning monarch is merely a symbol yet the symbolism is badly tarnished. Regardless of what you think of this Prince of Wales, surely his entitlement to ascend the throne does not require me to bow to nobility. What an awkward occasion that thought brings, even abstractly.
People once reigned, and now people who are elected to govern must lead. This is political evolution. One of my life principles is that rules must be challenged and often bent. Rules are made by humans, not heaven sent. The ruling class must be of the people, not above them. We may venerate people, but in the honouring of them our actions will rule the present. No statues are required. No forced observance either. Leaders’ efforts will be recorded in books, film and other forms of art for us to educate ourselves, then act currently as a gracious citizen.
People asked me when I first retired what I missed most about teaching. I have had several responses but the one that is most frequently observed is seeing the potential in my students’ faces. I loved watching my kids light up with a new idea. The fire in their eyes set me going kinetically: Together we would make a plan. Together we got energized. Together we set a course of action. Together we reached for a goal.
I’ve never liked the expression, ‘Those who can DO, Those who can’t teach’. It suggests that teaching is passive, somehow lacking in the energy to actually DO something. But the process of education is so kinetic any teacher will tell you how exhausted they are by the end of their workday. Especially at the Elementary school level, educators have to be on their toes to catch as many bursting buds as possible, then steering them in positive directions.
Spring is my favourite season. Pushing through melting snow is all that stored energy becoming kinetic. Life lies dormant through winter months then suddenly: Buds burst. Leaves unroll. Colours explode. Spring is the life giving, expressively active time of year. Birth happens! It’s a season for plans and ideas to express themselves. A single seed is pulsating with stored potential. The right combinations of nutrient, water, warmth and light will bring forth a display of wondrous kinetic energy. I love watching time lapse photography of plants sending searching roots and prayer-like shoots in all directions. Spring is the season of Joy.
My grandkids are sprouting. Covid reality has made it hard to be an active part of their early years. Children under five practise Kineticism everyday. From the time their little toes touch the floor in the morning to nighttime’s bedtime stories, action is in order. It’s wild enough watching them dance and run around kinetically over FaceTime or from a short video sent over email, yet something is missing when you can’t do yoga right beside them, or play pirates bouncing off the couch, or running and giggling together across a field while holding a kite. On these virtual Skype sessions, my wife and I feel like we are in perpetual winter, storing up our energy so we’ll have lots to give physically, once we are reunited. Then we might go mountaineering or horseback riding together. For now, dreaming will have to do.
Currently, as a society, we are hungry for examples of Newton’s First, Second and Third Laws of Motion. We want helpful forces to act upon us to get us moving again. Energetically engaging in social issues, collectively gathering for arts and sports events. Being locked down and vigilant in our habits to avoid spreading the pandemic has been a worthy goal. No doubt we are all tired of not being able to be kinetic in our pursuits. However, I don’t want to die in my favourite chair, long before my time. I want to keep doing what I love. That requires human contact.
I sit perplexed, thinking I have taken up residence in a snow globe. Flakes of white float about me while I remain, a tiny plastic figure, securely fastened. Presently, I feel like life is swirling around me. There are few familiar things to remind me of time or space. My extended family is scattered and I am tethered to a temporary existence that seems destined to be permanent.
Elders in my family are approaching death. At a time when a shared experience is almost mandatory these two souls are turning their backs on reality. We have an apartment nearby the care giving scene. Younger members of the fam have come to visit and offer their unique words of kindness, understanding and support. Friends too, have offered grace, humour and encouragement. These are the times we all look for signs of familiarity.
Family is defined differently from person to person. The word conjures up feelings of warmth and harmony for some, discord and coldness for others. Family was so rigidly defined by my first set of parental in-laws that, when their daughter died, I was written out of the will. Some families have members referred to as black sheep. My mother once wrote off several in her clan, vowing never to have them darken her door again. My father, in contrast, welcomed all as if they were blood relations. My sister and I were bonded only through our DNA. Our characters were as different as night and day, therefore I find the term family is best defined by closeness to another rather than genetic similarities. Blood is thicker than water but so what?
I have felt a soul connection with many, yet my reserved nature holds me back from collecting friends as family. I bristle when a boss in a work environment encourages us all to be like a family. Surprisingly, I can tear up when witnessing signs of a universal family yet it has to be at a certain remove. For example I love marching with crowds committed to a cause yet intimate Christmas gatherings of ‘the whole fam damnly’ put me on edge. On those occasions I keep looking for a singleton to share some meaningful thoughts of quiet reflection. In certain contexts the family collective can generate within me a sense of claustrophobia.
During a recent conversation with my stepson, I remarked how I envied his ability to maintain friendships. Unlike me, he seems able to spread his familial energy to help others feel included. In his company you feel his empathy and willingness to be a part of your life. I am unable to spread myself that thinly. My emotional capacity appears limited to one key person. My head puts Love and Family in the same mental box so I have trouble sorting out the contents. I feel stressed dividing my attention between multiple individuals while reciprocity is paramount in my relationship guidebook. In truth I am a son, father, uncle, nephew, husband and reluctant friend.
My wife understands all this about me and I am blessed.
Covid is a word that was not part of my vocabulary way back in December 2019. My blog postings are all about words that matter to me; words that create a thousand and one visuals in my brain; words that conjure up emotions and memories; words that have become as much a part of me as the bologna sandwiches I love to eat.
The word Covid has quickly found its way into dictionaries. Some may stick a number 19 onto it when they are speaking but I think the single C-word will persist throughout history. English language speakers regularly use about 20,000 words. Since December 2019, I suspect I’ve said Covid out loud every other day. Somedays I can’t stop talking about it. Here I’m writing about my thoughts using Covid as a subject heading. Some English words come and go depending on relevance I guess. My wife sometimes teases me when I use a word like Trousers. She’ll say, with her eyebrows raised up to her hair line, “What century are you from?” I’m not anywhere near fluent in other languages, so I’ll try to do justice to my birth tongue, I’ll tell her. I can also baffle my bride with future words like Levidrome. I’m part of a growing group who is promoting its inclusion in the dictionary. It has been a fun pastime during Covid to share puzzles online as a way to maintain a semblance of social contact. I wrote a whole blog page on Levidrome. https://catchmydrift.blog/2020/06/22/re-levidrome/
Language changes with the times. Those born with a cell phone in their hands may shake their heads in disbelief when reading about someone using a phone booth. My grandfather used to love to entertain my children with tales of when his farmhouse got a wall phone that had to be cranked by hand in order to get the switchboard operator. Covid life has quickly become a before/after experience for many people in a similar way that people talk of life before/after computers or other profound moments in history.
Due to Covid, I’m beginning to forget how it felt to be in a crowd, in a restaurant, on a plane. I’m imagining my sons trying to explain the differences between then/now to my wee grandchildren. Questions of what it was like ‘before’ are no doubt becoming something that teachers must anticipate. Lesson plans involving how to keep Covid exposure to a minimum will be padded with discussions of the way it used to be when we crammed into a classroom. As a career teacher many of my happiest moments were when I planned a school wide assembly with guest actors, speakers or for awards ceremonies where three hundred or more squirmy bodies experienced each other in the gym for an hour of collective fun. The thought of that now makes me gasp at the risk for viral exposure. We didn’t think twice about it then.
Five years from now how will we talk about Covid?
The word Million has lost its financial lustre. I was standing behind a customer who was taking far too long at a drug store cash out. I was trying to keep my patience, peering over his shoulder, watching him buy a bunch of colourful coupons promising instant millions. The cashier wished him luck and he grunted in response, “Can’t even buy a house for a million these days eh!”
‘If I had a Million Dollars’ was a song written in 1992 (another millennium ago) when a million in cash really meant something. Overnight, it seems, we have people who can call themselves billionaires. If Robertson/Page were to rewrite the song today I wonder how their lyrics might go (They’d eat more Kraft Dinner I guess). Here is an amateur video of a performance by that beautifully Canadian band Bare Naked Ladies when Steven Page was till a member.
I can honestly say I’ve never wished for money nor have I bought many lottery tickets. That probably says something about how lucky I have been in life. Or perhaps I’m just content to be content. Through no great skill or effort I am a co-owner of a property that keeps edging towards a million bucks in equity. In spite of this possession, I still consider myself part of the vast 99% and can easily rant about the rich not being taxed equitably.
One thing the pandemic has taught me is that death is awesome and unrelenting. I’ve experienced the shock of several people dying in my lifetime. On a personal scale every death is tragic. I remember the first Covid reports in my home province of British Columbia when Dr. Bonnie Henry had a hard time keeping her composure over early deaths. Things have changed. For more than two years now, the daily tally of viral deaths is recorded on websites like some kind of global score card. Our nearest neighbour, the U.S.of A. will soon reach the one million deaths milestone.
In the current age about 50 million people die each year from various causes. Match that with approximately 140 million births and it’s clear that population worldwide is increasing. In 1968, Paul Erhlich warned in his book The Population Bomb that such growth was unsustainable. We see now what a mathematical prophet he was, as the effects of so many, crowded into a finite space, can cause political, health and environmental chaos.
I know my significance is small. On the world scale I’m merely one in several billion. When I think of those numerical values in terms of people my mind is blown. I can visualize a safe with a million dollars but a million souls boggles me. I’ve seen photographs of crowds of folks yet still can’t fathom the sheer extent of humanity captured as a planetary population of 7.9 Billion! I can be histrionic; I was born when the world held a mere 2.6 Billion humans on its surface.
We are fast approaching a new Big Bang.