Re: Art

Re: Strike

One hundred years ago, in a Canadian city once referred to as ‘the Chicago of the North’, the working class had had enough. A general strike was called in Winnipeg with switchboard operators, called ‘Hello Girls’, being the first to refuse their labour. This work stoppage was the biggest and longest of similar strikes throughout North America. While the original intention was to seek redress for poor working conditions through collective bargaining, this strike soon included non-unionized workers, returning WWI soldiers and thousands of other people who felt disenfranchised. Much like today, those living in 1919 experienced a disgusting disparity between rich and poor: The few had much. The many had very little.

Strike is a word that conjures up decisive action. One of the first movie musicals I enjoyed as a child was ‘Strike Up the Band’ starring Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney cast as two young folks with enough energy to change the world, perhaps even take it over with their enthusiasm.

Striking can be subtle but still forceful. When someone in the fashion industry strikes a pose they are trying to capture a moment of body posture to maximize drama. In one of Madonna’s masterful music videos, ‘Vogue’ she works her image to maximum effect. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GuJQSAiODqI

Strikes can be lucky if they connote finding gold, or unfortunate if they come in threes. My mom and dad were two pack a day cigarette smokers (to my knowledge they never indulged in Lucky Strikes). One summer afternoon, my father took me to a baseball game (this was a rare treat for me as my parents were part of the lower class). What I remember most was the abundance of cigarette butts that piled up around his feet. We stood and sang ‘Take me out to the ball game’ at the seventh inning stretch, yelling this line amidst Dad’s coughs, ‘and it’s ONE, TWO, THREE Strikes you’re OUT!’

I grew strong in spirit during my brief time as a Boy Scout. My favourite activity was camping. It was where I first learned to build my own fire. We were taught how to keep our matches dry so we could get the kindling going on the first strike. What I learned in my scout troop I applied with happiness to camping trips with my parents, and later as a young father of three boys. When it came time to strike camp there was always a sadness. Packing up the shelter that was our tent seemed too sudden a thing after we had spent such quality time under its protective embrace.

In the nineteen fifties, I learned about the hazards of a nuclear strike. In the event that missiles were launched in our direction we were taught to hunker under our school desks. What naivety! My nine year old self wanted to trust that my teacher knew how that bit of metal and wood would protect her students. My almost seventy year old self shakes his head when thinking how ignorant people can be.

Re: Excuse

English language words can be hard to teach. Some words may be spelled the same yet have different meanings depending on pronunciation. Take Excuse for example: I may be excused for certain behaviour yet I may decide to make no excuses. In the former there is the Canadian zed sound for the letter s and in the latter Excuse you hear the es sound clearly.

The mental shift that comes about as one hears the word in context can be confusing for an ESL student. I somewhat shamefully admit that the challenges inherent in learning another language frighten me. My other excuse, lame though it may be, is that I am lazy. Language, of course, is more than just vocabulary. Language is a force in communicating culture.

When I was growing up it would be pretty common for someone to say, ‘Excuse my French’. Maybe this xenophobic phrase is still used as someone’s less than polite way of excusing the four letter swear word that had just come out of their mouth. When we endeavour to excuse ourselves it is a way to rationalize our way of thinking and/or to seek forgiveness. There are some among us who would never consider the need to make an excuse, much less an apology. The current President of the United States, Donald Trump, is a daily example of inexcusable behaviour. He once infamously said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters”. Many would say he is just speaking his mind. But that, in itself, is another excuse.

Dinnertime, when I was a young father, was pretty formal (for the mores of the 1980’s anyway). We observed as much as possible the 50’s Canadian tradition of all gathering around the table for a meal and conversation. Our excuse was that my wife and I wanted to hang on to customs that we thought were important for raising children. As my boys got older I remember giving permission for them to leave the table if they had finished and had an important place to go by saying, “You’re excused.” I wonder if anyone says that anymore. Reading this over makes me sound so nineteenth century!

Canadians are often dubbed as being over-the-top polite. We are branded as always saying such things as ‘excuse me’ in front of almost anything: Is that seat taken? Are you reading that? Would you pass the salt? I was here first! Often we ask, in our embarrassment, to be excused for sneezes, farts or burps. I haven’t met too many Canadians who wish to make excuses for poor behaviour. Generally we try to own up to our mistakes.

“Excuses, Excuses.” Would be an admonishment from one of my teachers for not following through on a project. If I failed to live up to my parents expectations I would be asked, “What’s your excuse?” My childhood explanations would rarely pass muster. In those cases, I was likely excused to go to my room.

Re: Sorry

I don’t say the word Sorry very often. Not because I refuse to own up to my mistakes. It’s just that I seem to have a specific view of what Sorry means.

I’m too formal for my own good sometimes. I have had complaints that I don’t say sorry often enough, or quickly enough. Trouble is I don’t understand the concept of saying the word as a balm, so I bomb. I can come across as being cold as a result of my reluctance to say sorry as a soothing agent.

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” This is a phrase from the early seventies that is senseless. Likewise at a funeral when I hear someone say, “We are sorry for your loss.” I’m baffled. These people may be showing they care but surely they don’t mean they’re responsible for the death? I picture myself trying to explain this use of the word to an alien being, fresh from some distant planet. They keep nodding their head, not in understanding but in bewilderment. Just like me.

I’m not much good contributing to a woe-is-me sort of conversation. I can’t joke about it or fake feeling sorry either. There are many stand-up comics who riff on the difference between the sexes when it comes to the word Sorry. Men will joke that it’s probably best to wake up and start apologizing to your partner just to cover any contingency. That’s insensitive but I can’t help but laugh. Sometimes I think it might be good advice. Trouble is, I can’t make an apology sound sincere if I don’t feel responsible. In the same way I’ve never been a good liar, my face shows my guilt. Weaselly politicians and ferret-like corporate CEO’s may get away with statements such as, “If we have caused any harm we apologize.” This as a way to suggest that it’s somehow YOUR fault for being aggrieved.

If I say sorry I want to mean it. I remember one time feeling so badly I had screwed up that I actually went on bended knee to plea for forgiveness. I’ve never used flowers or gifts to apologize. I want the words I use to redeem me, since it is likely that words got me into that awful predicament in the first place. I used to discipline my sons by saying that if they really mean the apology they had to make a full sentence. ‘I’m sorry’ never cut it in my house. “Sorry for what?” I would ask. I would suggest a sentence starting with, I’m sorry for…, then maybe adding a question such as “How can I make it better?” They could never cop-out by saying, “I’m sorry IF I hurt you.”

I can be extremely sad that someone is going through some trial. I can sit patiently and listen to the story of anguish. It’s hard to find words that will show compassion. But that doesn’t make me want to apologize. I’m sorry for being such a stickler.

Re: Thought

Choosing a name for a newborn takes a lot of thought. You are considering family tradition, links to ancestors and meaning. You want the name to stand for something, maybe even be an influence on your child’s behaviour. I heard a story once that some North American indigenous tribes wait until their young ones have developed a personality before using that information to guide them to the best name.

I’ve often wondered if we grow into the name given us or does our name actually determine who we become. Chicken or egg? If I had a child now I think I would use Keagan (somewhat gender neutral). It is Irish for Thinker. If a name makes the person then I would like my son or daughter to be thoughtful. I would like them to aspire to grow up to be one of the world’s great thinkers: another Plato, Da Vinci, Galileo, Darwin, Einstein, Hawking. Philosophy, at its heart, is the science of thinking and I think the world is in need of more philosophers right now.

Ideology has been given a bad name. Ideologists are considered to be rigid and narrow minded. Ideology has merged with dogma or doctrine and in the minds of many the term suggests a political platform. Too bad really, because if philosophy is all about thinking then ideology is more rightfully described as the science of ideas. And what’s not to like about ideas?

My father loved ideas and one of the most fun things we would do together was play variations of “What if?”. Nothing was out of bounds in this game of suppose. My dad encouraged me to think for myself in an imaginative way. He loved reading to me excerpts from Plato’s Republic. Looking back, I imagine myself as Aristotle on my father’s Plato-like lap. He would often remind me by words and action of Socrates, the founder of Philosophy who suggested that; “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Parallel to this thought based strategy of child rearing, my more practical mom would be forever watchful to see if I was using me noggin. One of the worst things I could do as a child, in my mom’s eyes, would be a result of a thoughtless action. “What were you thinking?” I can still hear her saying as she rained disappointment down on me. If she caught me in the process of carrying out something suspicious she might warn/advise/rebuke, “If that’s your plan, then you’ve got another think coming.” Building yet another layer of responsibility onto the skin of her son, my mom would insist that whatever I intended; “It must be the thought that counts.”

I maintain that erring on the side of sharing a thought is my best bet. Yet sometimes it is wise to keep a thought to myself at least until I’ve had those all important second thoughts. I believe thinking before an event creates well conceived plans. Sharing my thoughts with someone is the greatest gift I can give. Only listening ranks higher as an offering.

Re: Expectations

My wife and I made our first Airbnb booking recently. We researched various sites on the internet, jotting down pros and cons as we went along. We had booked through VRBO before and were impressed with their consistent standard, but they had no properties listed in the travel area. The other option of a hotel just proved too costly for our length of stay. Knowing we would be doing some family entertaining we needed space so we picked a property listed as ‘An entire house!’ We had an expectation based on it being ‘An entire house!’

I find that people who say they never have expectations are lying. Everyone has expectations for themselves: Not many people refer to themselves as a total screw-up. Everybody expects to move through their day with most of their needs being met. We may not get all that we want but we expect we will not die trying. When someone tells us something, at first at least, we believe them. We expect that they are telling us the truth. Having an expectation for ourselves and of others leads to trust when that expectation is fulfilled on a consistent basis. For example when I visit a friend I have a simple expectation that I will be greeted with a welcoming gesture. If that is not forthcoming, over time, I will cease to visit.

A worry free philosophy isn’t realistic. If we say we don’t expect anything from anyone I wonder where that leads us as a community. I suspect a period of reduced expectations leads to stifling disappointment and chronic despair. At the other end of that spectrum is an obsession with fulfilling an expectation we have for ourselves. That can also be crippling: We must face each day feeling that we can ‘measure up’.

When we hear the declaration, “I’m expecting!”, all manner of expectant thoughts start to percolate. Hope is never greater than when we hear news of an impending birth. We wish the parent-to-be the very best because we expect the outcome will be practically perfect in every way. We want to believe in great expectations. Every life deserves an existence set to the highest standard. I’ve never heard a teacher say to her students on opening day, “I don’t expect much from you this year.” When I don’t live up to the expectations I have for myself, I let myself down and I feel I disappoint others around me. Having an expectation means you’re looking for the best.

Just as we have been instructed by our parents, we expect our children will behave for good reasons. We all have felt the sting of an elder suggesting that they felt disappointment in us after we had made a poor decision. The positive message being; I understand the value of standards.

Honesty is a value I hold to a high standard. The Airbnb ad was not accurate: It wasn’t a whole house. It wasn’t clean. It only had one closet! I was disappointed. I will learn from it.

Re: Birthday

Since I don’t like drawing attention to myself, I’m bashful about my birthday. How I feel about my age has nothing to do with the annual day, although I do appreciate the reminder of these milestones of life. The actual day when we are born is so momentous that it does deserve a retelling in whatever context.

Recently I became a grandparent for a third time. This birth had the usual moments of concern, drama and anxiety, all in the context of love. There were hospital worries and some recovery is required. Friends of the parents, two sets of grandparents, co-workers and many acquaintances all were involved in some way as the ripple effect of a new life spread. This little guy had to elbow his way into the world and that may become the favourite anecdote to his life as his future unfolds. Life is about the stories we tell and a birthday is one of the building blocks to our understanding of ourselves.

To me a Birthday after the actual day of birth is really an anniversary. Being an introvert, I prefer to have quiet time to reflect, revisit and categorize my life journey. Sometimes I don’t want to celebrate each of my years on one specific day. I like the silliness portrayed by the Mad Hatter in the Disney animated production of Alice in Wonderland. He’s on to something when he declares that every day NOT a birthday can be called an ’Unbirthday’. I like the notion that each day can be recognized for what it can bring and is just as important as the next in one’s development towards becoming human. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdsZT7WKjW8

Our traditions of cake, balloons and birthday greetings are sometimes a distraction from the significance of one’s birth. I can’t begin to understand all of the forces at work to bring a human baby into the world. So many things can go wrong and so much can go right. A lot of effort is put in, just to get the newborn to its first official Birthday. Hurray! You are one year old!
People gather to mark that first event in what often strikes me as a comical time, since the one year old person can’t possibly take in what is going on.
But hey! It’s a party!

I travelled to see my newest grandchild and coincidentally spent time with my mother in law who had just turned 90! It was a time spectral visit! One life begun and another nearing its end. A ninety year span covering so many historical events made my mind spin. In many ways my special mother is exhibiting signs of returning to her youthful roots of expression. She insisted on ice cream for her birthday celebration and she shouted,‘Tada!’with arms held aloft, after successfully stepping off the city bus near her apartment after her party.

Time is precious. Our lives are precious. Each day is special; from birth to beyond. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GibiNy4d4gc

Re: Write

I am a writer. It took me a while to say that, to myself, before I could proclaim it to the world. I grew up with the notion you had to BE, before you could claim to be. There was something in my mother’s teaching that made me reluctant to attest to something about myself unless someone else, officially, had acknowledged it first. Even when I became an adult and wrote for my daily newspaper, my mother continued to think; ‘a Writer is someone who writes Books.’

I have mixed feelings about the drive to be a writer as my father spent almost every spare moment during my pre-teen years clacking on his Underwood. Having gone through my own mid-life crisis I can recognize now, what was going on with my dad. He was at a crossroads and he thought sending off manuscripts, with rejection slips inevitable, just might bring him the fame he was after. My mom kicked him out of the apartment for his ‘writing obsession’ and only let him back after he promised to write no more. These were very stressful days for me. The house was suddenly very quiet after he took his typewriter and left. To this day I will feel heartache whenever I see one of these antique word processing machines. The departure scene became forever connected to WRITING. To venture into the land of career writing became filled with the prospect of following in my father’s failed footsteps. Nothing pleasing to picture with that scenario; move along please.

What a negative space I occupied; Being unable to write because it didn’t feel right. Thankfully I recognized that this attitude was largely self-imposed. As my teaching career wound down I approached our local daily newspaper with an idea for a weekly column. It felt like a rite of passage when I got hired. The Daily Press even used me as a roving reporter covering the arts scene on the weekends. I tapped away on the keyboard of a new Bondi Blue iMac (much quieter than my dad’s machine). I discovered that the more I wrote the more I wanted to write. I had tapped into an artistic side of me that had been hungering for release. I wrote editorials. I wanted to be a righter of wrongs. I kept poetry diaries and trip journals. During my last few years of teaching everyone in my classroom wrote lots of stuff. We shared the results together with delight. We played with homonyms, synonyms and antonyms. We made up nonsense words and made them into cartoon characters. Sometimes it only takes one person to read your work to make you feel accomplished.

One year, to honour the passing into the new millennium, I wrote a full page of thoughts for each day of 2000 thinking it would be a curiosity for my grandkids someday. My wife was diagnosed with stage four cancer in January 2001. For the next 288 nights she asked for a bedtime story; either Winnie the Pooh or a page from my Millennial Journal.