Re: Art

Re: Dignity

One of my Twitter friends, who uses the handle Black Mamba, posted a query about ‘Quiet dignity’ recently. That got me thinking about my dad. He was a fellow with a dignified bearing and when he went out wearing his heavy black camel hair coat he cut an impressive figure. Yet he was working class all the way, earning less annual salary when he retired than what I received in my first year of teaching. He valued honesty, harmony and quiet. He showed it in his behaviour. He did not aspire to dignity, but from my observations, he personified it. 

Some see the characteristics of dignity in a negative way equating it with arrogance, pomposity, prudery, and indifference to others. My father was often quick to make himself secondary in a gathering at his home in an effort to let his guests shine. Never hoity-toity and also never afraid to be the clown, I once saw him dress in an outlandish costume for a municipal function. It puzzled me that he would put himself out there in such a manner when it wasn’t even Halloween. One of my few regrets is feeling embarrassed by my father at that moment.

I think dignity is one of those things we are taught. Early on I was told to stand up straight and speak only when spoken to. The outfit I chose to wear was judged before I left for school. I was asked if I had clean underwear lest I be involved in an accident and had to be undressed in hospital. I recall hearing folks indicate that some behaviours or occupations were beneath their dignity. Others have told me that they would never dignify certain remarks with a comment of their own.

Some, like my dad, taught me the importance of giving others dignity by showing respect. I once sang in a choir with an elderly gentleman who had an air about him that I came to believe was a state of grace. Some church people called him refined. When he interacted socially I never saw him belittle anyone for a point of view, even if he disagreed with their perspective. Donald Trump is the antithesis of men such as these. His indignations abound and are public record. Heads of state can be faulted for false displays of dignity; that’s where pomposity is found. Yet The Donald seems to flaunt his indignity, even as he struts royally with tissues stuck to the heel of his shoe. My grandmother would have been mortified.

Dignity is not confined to nobility, though it is often equated to it. All humans deserve to be treated with dignity. All life is worthy. Animal activists claim that we must look harder at the way we treat other living things since they suffer huge indignities under our watch, as permitted by biblical edict,”…they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

We must do better.

Re: Face

One of my very first memories was of me, chattering nonsense at the dinner table, then being told by my mother to “Shut your face!” I would come to face the truth that that was her way of joking. Growing into an adult I have had to face the facts about my parents, as all children must do, if any sort of relationship is to be maintained.

I have another memory of my mother when she was a municipal politician, where doing an about face was a match for her personality. Getting ready for a meeting, she would always get her face on. She rarely wore makeup but used cosmetics to make herself ‘public’ as she would put it. I’ve often wondered about the sincerity of the cosmetic industry for this reason. As a heterosexual male I have always been most attracted to women who eschew adorning themselves. Natural faces are so beautiful; freckles, blemishes, scars and all.

Let’s face it, many people create a facade for their true selves. Some can’t accept their reality as they face the mirror, so they invent someone who is more in line with who they wish to be. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytZsndEc830 .

It must be hard to use dating apps for that reason. As you scroll through the choices all you have to go on are the manufactured bios and carefully posed selfies. When it comes time for the risky face to face meeting, it is like the old notion of a blind date; cross your fingers and hope you haven’t made a mistake.

I’m that way with the celebrities I have chanced to meet. I usually get all flustered, heart racing in an OMG moment. I lose my sense of normality as I overthink what I must say or do when faced with the fact that they are right there in front of me. I’ll always regret a brief encounter with Neil Sedaka. He looked lost without an entourage at an airport in North Bay, Ontario and I didn’t offer to help, rudely acting like a VIP myself, off to catch my flight.

Other times in my life I have been able to put on a brave face. During sick leave for depression, several of my grade eight students sent me get well cards asking if I would attend their graduation ceremonies. I didn’t know whether I could face the music, so to speak, of returning to the environment that had been partially responsible for my nervous breakdown. Thankfully, with a friend to accompany me, I could face up to the hard therapy of getting on with life. Facing reality is damned hard work. That event was the first step of many I took to recover and rebuild my identity.

Using Facetime is a wonderful way to show your two dimensional self during COVID19. I live far from my grandkids, so I love to see their grinning, curious faces. While I long for a good old fashioned three dimensional hug, at least having screen time with them is better than any television show.

Re: Idea

My blog postings start with one word. Sometimes I don’t have the foggiest idea what will happen next. Often the idea itself comes easily, putting it into a sensible composition with relatable context is the hard part. To me it is fun to play with ideas and that’s the point because even Einstein said that imagination is more important than knowledge. Ideally, this short essay may have some ideology that will be relevant to your life experience. But, you be the judge.

My parents used to challenge me with “What gave you that idea?” As a young adult, while going about my own business, someone once threatened, “Hey! What’s the big idea?” Of course ideas to be effective must be merged with reality. For example, a former girlfriend liked the idea of me but over time the reality got in her way. We can idealize, running the risk of making someone or something into a precious idol. No one individual can possibly be as perfect as the idea someone has made of them.

Ideology is really just a bunch of ideas that can lend themselves to greater understanding or a better way of living. Ideology has gotten a bad reputation because an ideological person is often prone to frantic rants telling us all how to live. Some ideas I can support, like those found in the song called Imagine. Here, Lennon & Ono work together to ideate a world where people live in peace. I can dig that. I tend to be an idealist, choosing any sunny bit of news to bolster my philosophy that the world is inherently good. I have a set of ideals that help keep me on a path. Which reminds me of a principal I once worked with who loved to have brainstorming sessions, “There are no wrong answers!” He would shout. He was after ideas, which made things seem democratic. Unfortunately he would go away on the weekend and comeback Monday morning with a whole bunch of ‘from now on’ pronouncements that didn’t resemble anything we had written down in our break-out groups. So much for collaboration!

An idea is a creation of thought. Maybe there is no such thing as an original idea. Ideas might come from dreams, be inspired by muses or spring from a collective consciousness. We profit from those who made the first leaps of imaginative thought. It’s not important to me where an idea comes from. One thing I believe; ideas are part of what it means to be human, so they mustn’t be ignored.

When we try to imagine a different world, that’s an ideation. I can form an attachment to an idea and adjust my behaviour accordingly. An idea leads from awareness to making a plan; like treating our environment as though it’s critical to our survival. From that singular notion we can build a set of ideals that we can put into practise to move us closer to a more healthy, sustainable planet. An ideology based on nurturing our planet I will support. In my opinion there is nothing more imperative.

Re: Stimulate

I can confess to being consistently stimulated by only three things; Coffee, sunshine and women. I have to be careful of too much caffeine as it makes me bobbly eyed. I once had an espresso to which I added a few tubs of caffeine concentrate at a roadside diner. I thought I was hallucinating! With sunshine I used to get nasty sunburns but now have developed the good sense to seek shade before I regret the exposure. My fascination with women however, continues to confound me. Visually beautiful and behaviourally unique, the female sex will forever stimulate my imagination. Fortunately my parents taught me the advantages of willpower. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uc0x7xOap4I

Our economy sometimes needs to be stimulated with various banking or government initiatives. I know nothing of finance at this global level. Whenever I hear economists talk about a stimulus package I can’t help but think of the macabre experiments we students did on frogs, using electric impulses to get their wee legs to spasm. I saw an infomercial the other day that promoted a product that stimulated your leg muscles so you could improve circulation, get out more, and, as the visuals showed (wink, wink), maybe walk your dog with that fine looking neighbour you’ve seen pass by your front porch.

Many video games I find overstimulating. I remember the first time my son asked me to try Tetris. Wow! The music, the colours, the pace put me into a hyper state and I never played again. That was back in the early days of computer graphics, now the virtual reality simulators can allow you to feel like you are actually climbing a mountain or racing a car! Interesting word, Simulator: It is Stimulator without the T. Perhaps a definition of simulate could be: lacking the truth.

I have read there is such a thing as an addictive personality. I suspect it is in your body’s chemistry and I’m glad I don’t have it. During my time in university there were many drug temptations, but I  eschewed stimulants as my thoughts were always busy anyway. My desire was to be in control, so I was afraid to get high on artificial substances. I was called a Square for not doing drugs, but I learned to live with the label. Instead of chemical tripping, I got off on the variety of dating choices on campus.

In my career as a special education teacher I often had students labelled as ADD/ADHD. These children would sometimes take medications like Ritalin to give their particular brain chemistry a stimulus. In the right dosage this drug made a huge difference to the success levels of many in my classes. I have to shake my head though when I read stories of university students who take non prescribed methylphenidate  along with caffeinated beverages to be ‘up’ for exams.

I never want to be assimilated by a fictional Borg. Resistance to stimulation is never futile since it keeps me from being manipulated. A pretty woman however, is another story.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3KFvoDDs0XM

Re: Time

There is a certain pathos with thoughts of time, especially when you realize, like I do, that you have less time left, than the time you have already lived. There are some parts of my life I return to in memory, but mostly I focus on the present. Sometimes I’ve wanted to save time in a bottle as Jim Croce once wished. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnWWj6xOleY

I have seen Time as a friend when I have been grieving or ill and as an enemy when I have had to meet a deadline or complete a test in school. I’ve enjoyed the thrill of meeting someone at just the right time and, on another occasion, I felt the disappointment of recognizing that the timing wasn’t right for a lasting bond. I’m old enough to have experienced a change in societal culture called the ‘end of an era’. I’ve impatiently timed contractions during the birth of my sons, measuring minutes as though they were hours. I’ve learned how to use time to make the most of a bad situation. Most of the time I think I use my time wisely.

I used to be quite fanatical about man-made time. My first watch, a practical Timex with a brown leather strap, was a gift from my parents on my tenth birthday. This timepiece removed uncertainty from my day. I could plan my away time and become less reliant on others. My friends and family began to rely on my timekeeping abilities. I put my third watch in a drawer on my thirtieth birthday and haven’t worn one regularly since. As I grew older I became resentful of my timepiece, and clocks in general, since I found them a reminder of responsibility and the sadness that can come from reflecting on time passages. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCJkbrQF88A

We celebrate anniversaries and birthdays as milestones in our lives. Numbers represent years, then decades, somehow giving us a sense of personal achievement, however unwarranted. Nature wins out in the end. We only have a lifetime, which can’t be predicted on a calendar. These days I respect nature’s symbols of time more than the programmable kind. I’m close enough to an ocean to enjoy the magic of tidal rhythm. I love being aware of the seasons. I pay homage to the moon cycles and delight in the change in daylight hours marked by solstice and equinox.

I’ve come to see time as a gift rather than a goal. I chuckle now when it seems to fly by. Then I marvel when it slows to the natural rhythm of my breathing. I like seeing my lifetime as compartments: Many separate moments that have created the current me. Time can take you on a journey as vivid as a train trip. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdQY7BusJNU

Time has wonderful healing properties that have allowed me to put events into a broader perspective. Some of my memories have faded, making it easier to make peace with loss. I’m not necessarily wiser, just a bit calmer.

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: Analogy

I enjoy analogy talk. It is so much more interesting than the weather. Some analogies are cliches and ultimately boring. Others are simply outrageous, like always comparing people or situations to Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Most things can be compared to something else. You could put yourself in a potentially tricky situation if you say you understand how someone is feeling by following up with an analogous experience. For example you might show empathy for your friend who has just lost his job due to COVID19 by saying, “That’s just like the movie I saw last night!” Somethings are just not analogous. Using analogies, while dangerous, can bring us closer to meaning without the true experience.

In high school I had a group of nerdy English major friends who used to play the simile game; ex. Life is like a locker (opening, closing, smelly, contains our records and necessities). I remember one of our teachers telling us budding poets that metaphors were better than similes. He didn’t enjoy using the words like or as and thought that a metaphoric expression was more direct. He wished us to declare that Life is a highway.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-fPe6EVeYE

Being young sometimes equates to searching for the meaning of life. As an elementary teacher I was often careful not to assume my students knew what I was talking about by saying, “It is kind of like…” to bring them to understanding. For example, how can you explain snow, to someone who’s never seen, or felt it? Without ever really having the full experience it’s tricky getting a concept across. As a student of life, when you are observant, you quickly catch on that life can be ‘like’ so many things. I studied Science in school because I enjoyed how scientific principles could define things around me. Shapes and behaviours in the natural world are amazingly similar. Physics and Chemistry can be applied to solve problems. Now that we know more about DNA we can confirm that many aspects of Biology are analogous and therefore relatable.

Metaphorically and anthropomorphically, if Science wants to define you, Art seeks to have a relationship with you, By it’s very nature, Art is a representation of someone’s experience, which can magically illuminate your own. Art is like a relationship; messy, never perfect but wow! When it works it works! Art is the exclamation of life. Sometimes it is merely tolerated (graffiti), while elsewhere or by a different artist, it may be admired. However, Art is more than a matter of taste, since it requires you to bring your personal experiences to the canvas, or the stage or to the printed page. A sculptor, weaver, dancer or cellist will use different analogies than an accountant, restaurant owner, police officer or sailor. 

I’m prone to analyzing the heck out of a topic. I love a conversation that explores all facets of a subject. It can be exhausting trying to get to the heart of the matter yet, according to Sigmund Freud, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

Re: Guilt

“I don’t do guilt.” John, a teacher colleague of mine, said long ago. I can still picture his face as we discussed heaven knows what. I remember wishing that I could be so cavalier. The way the word ‘guilt’ came out of his mouth made me want to shed the strong feelings of responsibility that weighed on me at the time. I wondered how someone could honour their responsibilities to others and not feel guilty when they inevitably let another down. While I envied John for his stance I also felt such a position could only be held by someone selfish. After all, guilt came easily and could not be ignored by a stalwart individual such as myself. I still wish that I might find an easy way to let myself off the hook.

Feeling guilty is not a disease but unless it’s resolved it can make you feel sick. I have had periods where I have been rendered guilt-ridden. At the other end of this spectrum we have a label for people who don’t express remorse: Sociopath. Perhaps these individuals never resolved early feelings of guilt and so chose to tuck them away in the recesses of their mind.

These days, others named John may use a different word or phrase to easily absolve themselves of remorse: They might stand straight and utter, “Guilty as charged.” They may choose to feign humour, “Ooops! My bad.” Some may intellectualize their dilemma with the words, “Mea Culpa.” Saying sorry is difficult. Courts provide an opportunity to get things off your chest. An admission of guilt is often a precursor to a more lenient sentence after a verdict is passed. Witness impact statements can move those involved in a criminal act to feel remorse. In a perfect world, offenders and those offended can find ways of reconciliation beyond guilty/not-guilty definitions in order to create justice that lingers.

I always thought going to a Catholic confessional was an easy way out of dealing with the reality of guilty feelings. A few Hail Marys strikes me as not getting to the heart of why bad thoughts remain after committing an offence. Guilt thrives in the absence of forgiveness yet telling ourselves that it’s all right can be a hard thing to do. When my children made a mistake they were encouraged to apologize with an explanation of why they were sorry. The resulting dialogue helped everyone feel better because the act itself was acknowledged, feelings shared and understood, forgiveness provided. An emotional drive-thru experience: A happy meal.

I feel guilt just like I feel regret. There are times I say things that are unwarranted or do things I don’t really feel comfortable doing. I can’t blithely state that guilt doesn’t affect me. I’ve known some people who have responded to guilty feelings by seeking revenge on the very person who made them feel remorse. Deep feelings can be frightening. When I hurt someone else I feel the hurt too. Stopping the cycle of hurt is not easy, like most things in life, it starts with patient understanding.

Re: Wild

Most people my age can describe stories of their wild childhood. Children of the late fifties were told to get outside and play, totally unstructured. Urban kids, like me, would find creeks to splash in, grassy fields under towering hydro power lines or small preserved woodlots. I remember Saturdays leaving home after breakfast, scrounged some food from neighbours or restaurants for lunch. Getting up to no good, some would say. “Come home before dark.” was the only direction our parents gave, otherwise,“Have fun!” Along the way I learned how to fend for myself, who to trust and how to manage time and space. There has been a recent social movement to allow more freedom for young folk, to be raised in this ‘free range’ style without a lot of parental supervision. The whole idea of what wildness can do for our personal growth needs more examination.

Since our cave dwelling days, humankind has feared the wild even though we are part of it. We’ve been given biblical directives to tame the earth, thus separating us from nature. I enjoyed the characterization given to wild things in the television series Game of Thrones. For example there is the conundrum of the Wildlings; those far northern people beyond The Wall, who are feared and sneered at by those from the southern regions. They are clothed in primitive furs, exhibit a fierce determination and have awesome survival skills. They remind us where we came from so we get to feel superior. I found it so fitting that Jon Snow finds kinship with these prehistoric folk. At the end of the series, without giving too much away, this beloved character gets to start over by going back to the wilderness. To me, he goes home.

My formative years were spent near the Warden Woods in Scarborough, Ontario. In that area of the world there were few places, then as now, where one can find any sense of wilderness. In my mind’s eye I created deep jungles, vast oceans and towering mountains. I recreated the adventures of my explorer heroes, setting off to wild foreign landscapes with the wish to discover what others already knew. Charles Darwin was my earliest pretend mentor; brave scientist sailing in the Beagle to catalogue the wonders of the natural world. He went where the wild things dwelt.

Sir David Attenborough has made an impassioned plea for humans to ‘rewild’ the planet. This suggestion to go wildly off tangent from our consumptive trajectory is in response to the facts of global warming, deforestation and species decline which are elements of the Anthropocene. His latest effort is a call to action. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Puv0Pss33M

Space travel does not answer the question of our ultimate survival. We already live on a spaceship. A former U.N. ambassador Adlai Stevenson said, “We travel together, passengers on a little space ship… preserved from annihilation only by the care, the work, and…the love we give our fragile craft…on (our) resolution, depends the survival of us all.”

Re: Amuse

I was musing over U.S. election news telling me how a new ‘soulful’ White House might respond to the crises of our time. Blessedly, without The Donald in charge, there will be less amusement.  Much of the world was certainly not amused by Trump’s selfish antics. He was a president who’s only muse was power. He showed no sign of comprehending the Arts as described in Greek Mythology. That ancient culture appointed nine Muses to watch over artistic pursuits: Three styles of poetry were inspired by Calliope, Erato and Polyhymnia, In theatre Melpomene and Thalia teamed up, Euterpe brought music when Terpsichore danced, and Clio kept a record of it all (hopefully an accurate one) for posterity’s sake. 

I feel that government’s responsibility is not to entertain the masses. Those we elect are not there for our amusement. By voting we have entered into a contract with our representatives to do good by all. This is so different from what you expect when you purchase an amusement park ticket. You step right up for the greatest show on earth. You come along for the ride. You strap yourself in. You are entertained by the unexpected extravagances. You will be thrilled. You choose to be thrilled! I have fond boyhood memories of going to Toronto’s C.N.E. at the end of every summer. Another more permanent amusement park nearby is called Canada’s Wonderland, once boasting the longest roller coaster in the land while promising to lift all of your adventures to ‘new heights’!

If life is like a circus, relationships can offer these kinds of random experiences too. We may try out a different personality, against our ‘type’. I did that once, anticipating an adventure. Turned out it was not the ride I had imagined. She felt that way too. When your situation is no longer amusing it is time to look elsewhere, maybe try something or someone, who is tamer, more your speed. No shame in choosing a roller coaster or some such gravity defying device that makes us dizzy, it’s how we learn. Just be realistic to the truth that what goes up will at some point come down. It’s inevitable. When we get to the end of the attraction we can choose to move on to something else or ‘go round again’. I’m not a thrill seeker so you’ll find me at the Bumper Cars or maybe if I’m really brave, The Fun House. I’m not entertained by captive animals either. If I want a wild experience I’ll go for a hike in nature.

How we amuse or entertain ourselves can make a difference to our well being. I’ve enjoyed the cotton candy of a carnival yet I prefer to be edified through the study of Art and Science. I’m so lucky since my food, housing and relationship needs are all being met during these Pandemic times. I am sheltering in place with someone whom I refer to as my muse. We currently work on jigsaw puzzles while inspiring each other to know.