Re: Art

Re: Sprawl

In my present location I look out from a fifth floor balcony at many square miles of identical rooftops. Without a GPS to guide you, there is a real risk of getting lost when you go out for a walk in such a neighbourhood. This is referred to as urban sprawl, an expression coined in the 1930s to describe areas of aggressive, largely unrestricted housing development.

My posture can be considered urban sprawl since I’m citified and have been lounging a lot lately. I’ll blame Covid slowdown for the way my body has begun to sprawl. Parts of me are spreading out, boldly going where they’ve not ventured before. I admit, slothfulness has always been one of my characteristics, but in the morning, once I am vertical, I have a certain energy. When I walk I have been considered quite military in bearing. In fact some folk have pointed out that my body sort of slants backwards a few degrees even while I am strolling. It’s a different matter when I sit.

Lounging about may give me a bad reputation for seeming to not care or being unambitious. I do care. I can be active when the time is right. However, I’m not very flexible. I am uncomfortable sitting at ninety degrees to eat a meal at a table. But then again eating is not a favourite pastime. If you help me into and out of a beanbag chair I might be inclined to stay there all day. I like the current expression for lazing about as ‘just chilling’. Breathing is easier in this position. I can do my best crossword puzzle solving while sprawled across a comfy couch.

I have a stepson who likes to say, “If you are not living on the edge you are taking up too much space.” My need for comfort is not about entitlement, however in public I try to be respectful. The municipal government of Madrid takes sprawling on public transport very seriously. Manspreading is rude. There are signs and fines for validating your manliness over more than your share of seat. In Canada there is debate about the space men command to be comfortable. https://torontosun.com/2014/12/29/anti-manspreading-campaign-called-sexist

Hands behind my head, back angled at least 110 degrees to my thighs, legs splayed and feet supported by a stool. This is my characteristic configuration as I read, type these words or watch television. My body was meant for a Lazy-Boy recliner, but I don’t have one so I improvise. With the right number of cushions I can be comfortable sprawling on the floor, up against a wall. I can hear people telling me not to slouch, it’s bad for your back, you look sloppy, even slovenly. I can’t argue with that.

I’ll conclude by agreeing that municipal sprawl is the antithesis of edgy and personal sprawl in public lacks grace. Meanwhile, I have a foldable chaise lounge perfect for sprawl worthy moments. I’ll be outside with a magazine if you need me.

Re: Artifact

My mother-in-law has been giving some thought to what she might like to take with her when she moves one last time. When I asked her which of her keepsakes were most important to her she said immediately, “My pictures!” I could relate to that sentiment since I have been in charge of family photography. Recently I digitalized all of that wealth so that my next move will be easier.

The task of cleaning out storage lockers, cupboards, closets, attics or sheds can be onerous and honouring. Through the layers of dust, artifacts of a personal nature are revealed. Letters and journals can be examined to make a time stamp, like rings on a tree stump, showing what was going on in our past, in times passed. Sorting comes easy when items literally break apart in your hands. Things that someone once thought might retain value, are not even yard sale worthy. Then again the adage,’One man’s junk is another man’s treasure’ continues to contain a nugget of truth.

I met up with a fellow who ran a New Immigrant Fellowship based around learning how to use a bicycle. My in-laws created a new memory for themselves by donating the wheels they had used when they were still able to peddle. In my job as cleaner/sorter in this downsizing adventure it is helpful to work with someone who sees value in letting go. I believe some of our curios are meant to make someone else smile. Clothes can be laundered and given away. Garden tools can be offered up to create new gardens of earthly delights.

My special mom has treasures from her daughter and grandkids that help her remember things hard to recapture. She wants to pass on family heirlooms. She has a pottery figurine she likes to have right next to her bed. It’s curious what each of us counts as treasure. I used to wonder what my birth mother was thinking as she stroked an old deckle edged Kodak black&white photograph. It was one taken of her sister, its corners now softened to the consistency of linen.

What we keep may be ‘art-in-fact’. Respect must be shown to the original owner of the relic. Museums around the world are coming to terms with this truth; that their cultural artifacts (some involving human remains) may have been procured under false pretences. Governments are seeking to rectify and reconcile with Indigenous People who have had their heritage put on display. Justice for these situations may be found through repatriation; a giving back of what was not ours to begin with.

I can’t imagine what I might leave behind as an artifact. I’ve already discarded things I once thought useful but no longer found important enough to shelve or even seal in a box. I can be very sentimental when exposed to an idea. I can cry when I see an artist earnestly creating. Generally though, old things are just curiosities to me. I’m an old thing after all, and pretty curious to boot.

Re: Spectacle

Being a follower of the philosophy of awesomeness I’m naturally drawn to anything spectacular. Occurrences in the sky can make me gasp with pleasure. I love double rainbows. A bright full moon with a three dimensional texture will knock my socks off. While travelling on the prairies I’ve been awed by the spectacle of distant cloud formations slowly approaching my position then dropping rain in great curtains, quenching the arid landscape.

I can be gobsmacked by human feats of invention. I love a grand fireworks display as though I’m seeing it for the first time. Uniformed marching members of parades don’t turn me on like they did when I was a kid. Back then my mom would warn me not to make a spectacle of myself. Her admonishments made me shy, but maybe I’m just naturally introverted so I mustn’t blame her for my lack of desire to seek the spotlight. I had to get a pair of glasses (horrible cheap black rimmed ones) in grade eight which caused me a bit of teen angst. You could say I felt a spectacle due to my spectacles!

In adult situations, I prefer to be a shadow assistant or second-in-command. Once, a Chairperson of a Board, on which I served, called me a ‘stealth director’ which underscored my wish to be seen and not heard. I like to be judged by my actions. I am surprisingly happy when I find out someone has been talking about me. Some have said it is better to be gossiped about, rather than being the one to spread rumours. Balcony seats in opera houses were designed to show off patrons, much as scandal sheets, like the National Enquirer, serve the purpose of getting celebrities the notice desired. Can you be humble and not wish to attract attention, all at the same time? I seriously don’t recall an occasion when I’ve purposefully made a spectacle of myself. Whether that is because I’m not very daring in social situations or that I’m just not easily embarrassed, I haven’t figured that out yet.

A spectacle can draw us together. The lustre of pomp and ceremony has somewhat dimmed for me as I age. Staged events, particularly political ones, can make me feel less than impressed when I think the money could be better spent elsewhere. However, I still feel attached to the culture surrounding the Olympics: the intent to showcase human excellence, the effort to break down borders and barriers through sport is inspiring to witness. It’s a reminder of how far we have come from the days of the Roman Colosseum where human life was treated with such disregard.

We see what we want to see. We hear what pleases us. I confess to filtering life through rose coloured glasses when the landscape surrounding me presents discord. It can be a matter of survival to change focus when my emotional resources are low. But I do have a special pair of spectacles for when it’s important to see as clearly and as far ahead as possible.

Re: Sermon

I’m not threatened by people who pontificate as long as they aren’t fudging the truth. I enjoy hearing people’s points of view as long as they aren’t trying to push someone else’s agenda. In short; if you are giving me your thoughts of the day I’ll enjoy looking through your lens since it might give me a fresh perspective. And while we are at it, let’s agree that sermons can be found in many venues these days, not just in a church. I think that a sermon is not so much about advice, rather it’s an opening of a door or window. We may see what we already know yet have resisted acknowledging.

One of my friends enjoys what he calls ‘The Church of Bill Maher’. Each Friday he’ll watch Maher’s television show ‘Real Time’ to catch a dissection and analysis of the weekly news. The final segment ‘New Rules’ seems a lot like a sermon to me as the host preaches what he feels should become standard cultural practise. Tongue in cheek sarcasm is used while delivering his message. Similarly, Canadian comic Rick Mercer used rants, often delivered while walking alone in back alleys, about cultural conundrums or political missteps. He had this message to impart in the early Covid19 days and it’s still relevant today.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbZRo4pw63g

You don’t have to be a talkshow host to express an opinion. People from all sectors of society can be heard spouting their sermons while mounted on a soap box or an equivalent platform. TED talks are sermons for the business set. Government buildings are magnets for the protestor’s voice. I prefer the open air preachers who invite me in closer without the use of a megaphone. Some say the message must be amplified before it is recognized. I believe if the idea has value it will be heard. Some folk can con by sanitizing their ideas before they sermonize with smooth talk. Before you know it, you’re shouting agreement. There you go again, down that garden path. The morning after you might have a headache, regretting that you were so easily swayed. Self awareness is key to deciding if the message or the messenger is attracting your attention or motivating your behaviour.

I’ve given sermons in churches, declarations at protest marches, pronouncements at board meetings, speeches in school and admonishments to my children. I’ve had something to say in each case while easily admitting that I don’t know everything there is to know. I prefer to set a quiet example but I don’t mind rising to the occasion when the time for talk seems appropriate. When I’ve answered the call to speak I’ve felt most comfortable in the role of story teller. Greek philosopher/teacher Socrates suggested that posing a question was a better way to evoke thought, rather than providing a prescription for the right way to live.

If you wanted to start a principled movement what would your keynote address sound like? How would you persuade others to join you in your quest?

Re: Appropriate

Sometimes it is hard to find the appropriate word. I have to take into account the way language evolves over time. Add to that the changing societal norms of acceptable usage, then it takes courage to speak or write what might be on my mind. I believe that freedom of speech requires an appropriate filter if I wish to engage in meaningful conversation. Reading helps me stay on top of current language trends. Writers can suggest uses of words or phrases in ways that sometimes seriously startle me. A challenging author can get to the how of life rather than dwelling on the why.  That’s a grander exploration than the dead end annoyance of why someone did or said something controversial.

Cultural appropriation is in the news. Artists are currently frustrated by criticism when they explore features outside of their domain. I wonder how we can get to that place of cultural understanding if we do not pretend or act out roles that are unfamiliar to us. I think that it is part of the learning process to appropriate ways that may be foreign. Perhaps that can be a way to walk a while in the other’s shoes. If we hold too fast to notions of exclusivity we are in danger of discarding the concepts of openness and inclusivity.

I have often felt outside. Luckily, belonging to a dominant culture allows me more freedom to be an outsider than someone who is already on the fringe or part of a minority. I get that being marginalized would make you hold on to what you have with greater passion, especially when your culture is being appropriated. Historically, The Doctrine of Discovery was a document legitimizing theft. It was a rationale for displacement and slavery. No one has a justifiable right to have their cultures appropriated by another. The appropriate English name we have for that is genocide: The ultimate form of appropriation.

Jesse Wente is a respected thinker and film critic. He has published a memoir called Unreconciled. While reading this book, I felt as though he was in the room with me, challenging my perceptions of inclusivity, patriarchy and colonialism with the gentle persuasion of a man honestly examining his own role in the world. In spite of my white skin and ancestry I recognized the truth of his life experience when I could relate it to the truth of my own existence. I could find a commonality even though we are not of the same tribe. I believe we share and value the importance of story telling in our individual lives. I felt closest to his words when I allowed myself to respectfully, in thought, tread where he had tread.

My high school was full of extracurricular opportunities. The many different clubs I joined helped me to understand my identity. Sometimes I found the membership requirements to be inappropriate to my goals, so I quit. I could always try another club. Sometimes my application to join a group was rejected, then I felt crushed. Words can break bones.

Re: Accessible

I’ve wondered what it means to be personally accessible. Throughout my varied relationships with others I have striven to provide access even though I have a reticent personality. I resist the pronouncement, “My door is always open.” Because in truth it isn’t. Just because I consider myself a good listener doesn’t mean I’ll always hear what you say. My spirit has access points. I’ve discovered I’m more open to someone who poses thoughtful questions. The way to my heart is not through my stomach but by accessing my sensitivity to truth, justice and inclusivity.

When my wife and I were looking for a place to live after retirement I thought up an ABC list for a potential location. The A stood for Access, the B for Beauty and the C for Cost (an obvious bottom line in any list). At the time, our accessibility needs were few since we were both retired and healthy. So there was no need to be near work, a hospital or a school since our family days were well behind us. We desired to be near to city services, cultural amenities and community gathering spots all preferably accessed by foot. Victoria B.C. provided on the first two so we had to adjust our budget and expectations to fulfill our dream. I stuffed my desire to curse the cost.

Like other white middle class males I have felt the urge to get huffy when my access is denied. As a teen, at a beach resort I once fumed for several minutes after I showed up bare chested to a ‘No Shirt/No Service’ restaurant and was turned away. “How dare they!” I railed against the authorities. My friends covered me, literally, by finding me a Tee to wear. When you get used to doors opening for you, it’s easier to be shocked when access is denied. We all get a little testy when internet service goes down or water gets shut off in our apartment. I can make myself feel outrage when something appears unjust. I’ll go to lengths to advocate for myself and those I love. The squeaky wheel does get greased.

Some folk strive for access: to the executive washroom, to the halls of power, to the information highway, to the happening concert, to the next big thing. I’ve never been ambitious enough to barge in front of people, yet I have coveted what others have excluded from me. The child in me wants to point and shout, “But how come she has one and I don’t?” In my perfect world no one needs to fight an urge to bud in line, because there is no line. In this world we shape laws that focus on inclusivity. Technology is used to further the goals of accessibility rather than being commodified for the rich. Here, we are taught that our resources are plentiful and not restricted to a pie shape. As a matter of justice, we all have equal access to food, shelter, education, healthcare, employment and recreation. Here, truth opens all doors.

Re: Reciprocity

Finding equivalency in a relationship can be frustrating. It’s not like you want metaphorical cash back in your daily exchanges. Yet without a consistent feeling that your love is being reciprocated, I believe it is doomed to fail. We’ve all heard of partnerships where one side feels used or taken advantage of because of their easy going personality. I feel carrying a cross is the quickest way to get crucified.

No one should be a door mat to another. It’s true that getting along with someone requires patience and a mature recognition that no one can be exactly like you. And deeper, longer lasting alliances with someone require a mutual commitment to give and take. I hang a lot of my thoughts regarding my bonds with others on the word Reciprocity; 5 syllables, that’s a mouthful yet there is so much here philosophically to work with when you are figuring out matters of the heart.

Often, the expectation of a ‘you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours’ arrangement can be distorted into a tit for tat exchange. Someone might even venture, “What’s in this for me?”. That phrase sounds callous, however, it’s true that at any point in a relationship one of you’ll wonder what you’re personally getting out of the union. When my partner tells me she loves me I sometimes say, “I love you more.” Even while thinking I do, truly, want to love her more. I know I can’t realistically match every one of her overtures of caring, in breadth or depth.

When I can’t be reciprocal it’s usually because I’m not well. That’s when I count on others going beyond their normal quota of caring. I’ll make an effort to show reciprocation when the shoe is on the other foot. It sounds like I’m making my behaviour conditional and I guess I am in an unspoken way. We have to be careful in our expectation of others while at the same time recognizing a one sided arrangement when we see it.

There are stages and occasions in a lifetime where reciprocity will never be realized. In my book of love, a child must never feel that payback is a requirement of their familial arrangement. Likewise when we contribute to someone’s wellness after an accident/illness, we know our effort can never be matched.

Think of a time when you might have said, “The next one’s on me.” You recognize a gift, want to return the favour, perhaps even work out a repayment plan. Many gifts can’t be repaid in kind. Many favours can’t be replicated. I warmed to the notion of ‘paying it forward’ as represented in a film of the same name. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfW0wCV9iFI

Here, the desire for reciprocity is found in spreading the love. Each caring act builds on the one before it. Here we are, trying to give our 100% knowing full well we can’t sustain that level of mutuality. Thus when we can’t, our mates are there to top us up to wholeness.

Re: Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

Re: Subway

As the train approached the station I felt the familiar rush of wind being pushed by the plunger of the lead car through the tubular underground channel. My hair blew back, I stepped further back from the platform, the brakes squealed and the announcer advised, “Please step back from the doors.” I was excited to be riding the subway of my childhood for the first time in fifty some odd years. The TTC (The Toronto Transit Commission) was once disparagingly referred to as Take The Car. In my opinion it stands up to other cities, at least in terms of efficient subways. It’s a modern mass transportation system that works.

My earliest memory of the Toronto subway was taking the bus from my childhood home in Scarborough to the nearest subway stop then navigating my way to dance lessons, stamp stores or to the C.N.E. My parents would take my sister and me downtown on special occasions like birthdays or when we won a trophy for something. It was extra special when I could get to sit in the very first car so I could get a visual sense of our forward momentum. It was scary and thrilling at the same time as the car pierced the darkness and then came the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel as we pulled into the tiled terminal. Some subways I have been in have more than tile at their station stops. In Stockholm for example, their Metro is worth riding even if you have no destination in mind. Each cavernous terminal point is beautifully lit with fascinating art and historical references to the city and Sweden’s culture. This experience might be called the Caves of Lascaux 2.0 for its modern nod to the famed prehistoric ochre paintings.

I don’t work in Toronto, nor do I use the city transit system on a regular basis so my opinion is based on fondness for the transport mode, happy childhood memories and fun touristy sorts of thought. This is not very scientific, hardly objective, yet riding the rails is fun. And for me it’s a sentimental trip. My first free range solo adventures hinged on my confidence in taking public transit. When I went to the Canadian National Exhibition my wallet contained change totalling no more than five dollars and a return TTC paper ticket. My first time alone there was when I was nine. My mom checked my wallet and combed back my hair with her palm. My dad asked if I had my handkerchief and quizzed me on bus stops. They both said to have fun, watch out for pickpockets and be home by eight.

I counselled myself the same way as my parents did, for my most recent trip. I researched the route by computer but eschewed taking a cell phone. I felt alert with self responsibility, didn’t get lost, consulted with a bus driver, was amused when a traveller bared his bum and some riders gasped. I didn’t scale Mt.Everest but my trips have created stories to tell.

Re: Pool

“Right here in River City” is a lyric from The Music Man and it is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of pool. The billiard kind, on a table, with balls rolling on a quality felt. My grandfather, a grand champion in his country, taught me the basics of banked shots and finesse with a chalk tipped cue. He snookered me many a time before I got the hang of the game. My mom however, agreed with the flim flammer character Harold Wilson, who felt that pool halls were places of sin. Here Mr.W. is played by Hugh Jackman singing a clip from ‘We’ve Got Trouble’.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UOL5CzvxnI

Both my parents encouraged me to swim. I was enrolled in the Red Cross program and got badges up to Bronze level. I competed in local level swim meets, once getting a third place in Breast Stroke. I took SCUBA lessons in two different pools, then completed my open water certification near Tobermory, Ontario. Now in my seventh decade I tend to splash around when I enter a pool, yet I still feel confident that I won’t drown.

Bodies of water encourage me to enter. I love the feeling of buoyancy. I love holding my breath and sliding porpoise-like under the surface, frolicking in the two worlds of air and liquid. I prefer a hotel stay that gives me access to a pool. Even a half hour in the chlorine infused water gives me an emotional lift that is a combination of youthful exuberance and entitled bliss. The building where I’m staying in Mississauga has just opened its outdoor pool. I was there on the first day, waiting by the gate. Children were gathered, freshly freed from school, looking as excited as I was to have a swim. They hung back while I tested the waters and took the first dive. Sublime.

When I lived in Schumacher, I swam in the oldest indoor pool in Northern Ontario. The atmosphere in the vaulted room felt as confining as underground shafts built by the mining company that had made this recreational space for its employees and their families. I have found natural pools of water whenever I have travelled. Hot springs in New Zealand, frosty kettle lakes near Timmins, the ocean-like fresh water expanses of Lake Superior and the salty delight of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

When I first visited Victoria in British Columbia, my eldest son took me for a midnight New Year’s Eve swim held at a community pool. It was a tonic to celebrate time passages in that way. I remember the walk along the dark streets and a gin&tonic to cap the evening when we got back to his apartment. A friend of my wife asked her to cat sit her pets once and I went along because of the beautiful private pool located in her condo complex.

Where ever I go I pack a bathing suit. A chance to immerse myself in healing waters is not to be missed.