Re: Scene

My wife and I have been talking about scenarios on a daily basis. We both like to have some grasp of the future so we plot out possible scenes as a playwright might. Shepherding two seniors through end of life stages is no easy task, especially when they have so little intention to be part of the present scene. One will say it is too early for such talk while the other will prefer to listen to audio books. Both of them effectively leaving it to us to write what could happen next. Hard to make any headway when some of the players don’t even want to read the script, let alone help to write it.

Children are often being told not to make a scene. Parents hate to have attention drawn to them in a public place. My first wife had the effective strategy of scooping up our toddlers the second they misbehaved in a store. Into the car they would go for a chilly drive home where they would be confined to their room. Sounds harsh, yet it would always be followed up with a conversation on how the scene was seen by all of the actors involved. Kids are predisposed to act out their frustrations, fears and wants, yet they must learn the consequences and be guided towards solutions.

I used to accompany my artistic father on sketching walks. Rather than take a polaroid shot of a scenic view, he would sit for a bit on a small canvas foldable chair and focus his attention on picturesque details. He would make notes of colours so when he returned to his apartment he could use his pastels or oil paint to best affect. As a result, I fell in love with scenery in general and landscapes in particular. Even when I have been in a confined space I have tried to trick my mind into seeing a vista. I’ve found that even in a small backyard or on an apartment balcony I could visualize elements of a grand canyon just by narrowing my view to marvel at the details of the scene.

Nothing makes my emotions tingle so quickly as a well acted scene in a stage play, television serial or big screen film. When a scene can include the expanse of magnificent scenery, well, that memory forms a bond in my brain that forever informs the scenes of my own life. For example, I can recall the intricately placed scenery from a production of La Boheme my wife and I viewed at the Opera House in Oslo, Norway. This magnificent piece of architecture was a treat for the senses both inside and outside. My favourite film of all time, Lawrence of Arabia, has so many scenic scenes that I am awestruck by the planning it must have taken to make this masterwork of cinemascope.

Moments in time can be scenes from which lifetime memories are built. From birth to death  there are opportunities to wonder. The more involved we are, the more vivid the scenery.

Re: Trouble

Trouble is one of those words that pops up frequently. We don’t go looking for it, but it has a way of finding us. “You’re in big trouble mister!” was a sentence I was afraid of hearing as a young boy. Luckily I didn’t hear it very often. I got caught swearing. I once told a kid with big ears that he had big ears. I stole a magnet. That’s about all the trouble I put my parents through. Troublesome, I was not. That was my little sister’s job.

There is a lot of trouble in the world. I don’t know for certain if present times are more troubling than times of yore, but it sure feels like it (make your own list of woes here). I wonder if much of it is our own making. We can look for others to blame or consider ourselves as victims of circumstance I suppose. We can be conned into a fearful state. Here, The Music Man quickly convinces the townsfolk that trouble was just around the corner, all because of a Pool Hall in River City. Well, I’ll be hornswoggled!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LI_Oe-jtgdI

Laughing through our times of trouble can be helpful when the fix is easy. Authors create characters who might conjure trouble over a bubbling pot or use television comedy to resolve the conflict on screen. Laugh tracks can help assure us that problems won’t last and, really, everything is all in good fun. Captain Kirk tried to be serious during his trouble with Tribbles but in the end even Spock feigned amusement. Song writers can use melody to bring us out of our funk or they may convince us with words that we need not worry, just be happy. One of the films of my childhood starred an actor named Norman Wisdom. ‘Trouble in Store’ was about a charming goof of a man who’s heart was always in the right place even when his brain wasn’t fully engaged.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpMRnN5-Bpw

Sometimes the difference between pain and suffering is a matter of time as much as perspective. The Troubles of Northern Ireland lasted decades before there was any sort of peaceful resolution. Children grew up in this God forsaken corner of the world knowing all measure of hostility. Religion as a cause would be any easy excuse while to me, watching from the outside, it seemed more about bitterness, intractable positions, poverty and blind stupidity.

Trouble Shooting sounds like an oxymoron yet it can be helpful to gather as a group to solve a problem or set a new direction. I normally like to keep to myself, yet put me in a room with some newsprint on a flip chart and I can lead a bunch of willing wanderers out of their confusion. “Remember folks, there are no wrong answers.” I’ll announce as I clutch my set of non toxic coloured markers. Word to the wise: I’ve learned to set up the ‘breakout’ groups before workshop participants consider a mutiny.

Re: Practice

I was taught in grade school that if Practice was spelled with an ‘ice’ ending then it was a noun, otherwise it was okay to use the spelling Practise in any situation. For all spelling rules and forms I now count on my wife who has a phenomenal memory for such things. She is also practised in the healing arts so when I get a headache from too much wordplay I have access to a nurse and a quick soothing remedy.

Sometimes I need to go to a medical clinic. Nowadays I might be checked over by a Nurse Practitioner and she might tell me that my issue isn’t within her scope of practice so I’ll be referred to a specialist. The medical profession offers a wide variety of practices which have, in Canada at least, taken over the almost heritage realm of General Practitioners. Seems like everyone practises something these days, which is a good thing if viewed through the lens of life long learning. Meanwhile I continue to practise being patient.

One of my deficiencies is that I abhor repetition. I was one of those irritating students who picked up things quickly enough to be at a B level most of the time. I was content when one teacher referred to me as a Jack of All Trades. Never too good at anything, that way I could just blend in, go unnoticed, especially in high school. Practise is all about repeating the task until it becomes second nature yet I still can’t persevere. It’s an area in life where boredom wins out. I’ll try almost anything, but briefly; until I feel I’ve got the taste of it. My history is littered with “That’s enough” decisions: only two week’s of lifeguard training, one week of violin lessons, barbells that collect dust in my closet, a Polish dictionary with an uncracked spine and a forehead sweatband for jogging that was used once. Give me a New York Times crossword however, and I’ll bend over it until it’s filled.

Practise makes perfect is a cliché that never grows old. It’s one of the few expressions that I don’t yawn over because it is so relevant to anything that requires effort. I’m amazed at the amount of practise it takes to go beyond acceptable. Levels of human accomplishment in sport, art, science don’t happen overnight. I believe those folks we call genius types have raw talent for sure, but that gift is only fully realized through practise. All three of my sons practised piano. Neither wanted to be a concert pianist but their parents both thought that music experience was a good thing for general proficiency: We wanted our children to practise what we preached. Practically speaking it was an effort for all concerned; the student was often reluctant, the parent was sometimes annoyed, finances were definitely drained. However the practising resulted in a lifetime love and understanding of music. And the youngest son has been a member of several bands and is a practised song writer. I’m allowed to be proud.

Re: Hero

In a recent New York Times crossword I found the clue ‘Rescuer’ and it had me stumped for most of the puzzle. A four letter answer was required and it started with the letter H. Finally solving the other words forced me to see it was HERO. I spent the rest of that afternoon thinking about what a hero is to me.

Words are fascinating in that they require a definition. Discovering the meaning of a word can be tricky depending on context within a sentence, the tone of voice of the speaker, grammatical origins and even body language can be an important criterion for understanding. My first thought regarding the word Hero was not concerning rescuing, although I see it now. Perhaps it is because almost everyone these days is referred to as a hero. The term is so ubiquitous that it reminds me of the trend to present a Participation Award to anyone who shows up for an event.

If I was rescued from certain death I might refer to my saviour as a hero whether they be male or female (the feminized word heroine is simply awful). From childhood onward, people who have done heroic deeds have enthralled me. Boys of my age would have read tales of knights rescuing damsels, of sheriffs bringing justice to the American west, of explorers sailing the seven seas, or of ball players making baseball diamonds sparkle with their talent. As I got older my definition of an act of heroism became more philosophical and broader in scope to include those who challenged the status quo. These ‘idea heroes’ may not have been active in a physical sense, but their abstract thinking made them stand apart from the crowd.

Hero is an overused word and doesn’t belong with every expression of gratitude. Confusing fame or institutional power with heroism gets me in a bit of an anxious knot. Comic book heroes won’t save us. Some modern songs suggest we crave, even worship, the idea of a personal hero. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWcASV2sey0

Media personalities are often over quoted merely due to their celebrity. I wonder why the military profession is automatically tagged as being heroic. I’m not even sure bravery is a prerequisite for being a hero; determination certainly, and a sense of selflessness but most rescuers report they didn’t feel courageous at the time of the call for help.

I believe extraordinary constructive behaviour is heroic. Citizens who make an unselfish contribution to their communities are heroic. I would label some Olympic level athletes heroes just as I would someone who has devoted their life to an artistic passion. Folks might begin their personal list of heroes with Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Sylvia Pankhurst, or Linus Pauling. Pick a professional discipline, set some criteria, define parameters and let the list making begin! The debate might get heated determining which of those named are either Noteworthy, Great, or Truly Heroic. Be prepared to be convinced when someone asserts, “My dad is my hero.”

Re: Itch

What is an itch and why do we have it? I could google my lead question but it isn’t really a question and I rarely do any research other than a quick Siri type throw away inquiry because I have to satisfy an itch of the curiosity sort. Suffice to say that I’ve been itching to write about itches because they are among the few basic things that humans have in common with other animals.

Let’s agree that the origins of itching are elusive. I suspect a link to the Missing Link can be made whereby living together in caves created an environment for pests. Once bitten or bored into, Neanderthals would scratch to remove the parasite, otherwise they might fall prey to infection, disease, even death. Maybe these ancient humans didn’t die out from war with Homo Sapiens but because they couldn’t invent an efficient scratching protocol. This must be the source of our ancestral behavioural DNA as though some distant memory compels us to attend to our itches: That’s my theory anyway so I’ll pick away at it for now.

If you refuse to acknowledge an itch I don’t think it ever goes away. Itchiness can be a symptom of physical disease, yet psychologically an itch is an urge: To find out. To start a fight. To get going. To get started. Or, to leave your spouse, as in The Seven Year Itch.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJgC549mpRk

An Itch can be a form of curiosity and while you are scratching you just might come up with an amazing idea. Kids love to scratch. As with passing gas, it is a continuous source of amusement. Surely the title of The Itchy & Scratchy Show from The Simpsons was inspired by this fascination with moving fingernails across our skin. One of my children’s favourite camping songs was ‘Flea, Fly, Mosquito’ nicely rendered with all its silliness in this youtube video by Arlo & Alro’s dad of Tiny Mule Songs.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BC6Ey_QyGQw

Dogs and cats have very satisfying lives, I can imagine, because they are always licking, scratching or rooting around looking to please themselves. No one tells them to go moisturize! I can relate when I watch films of chimpanzees, grooming each other with scratches and nibbles. It looks naturally healthy to be itchy from time to time. At the Imax a few months ago I watched as scientists recorded, ‘for the first time in the wild’, a grizzly bear stopping to satisfy an itch in the middle of its back by rubbing against a spruce tree. I’m no different. I love a good scratch. I’m quite dependent on my wife for getting at those hard to reach places. I have gone all consumer-ish and invested in some ‘money back guaranteed’ quality backscratchers ‘as seen on TV’. I’ve been told that attending to an itch (especially in public) is the epitome of bad manners. Yet we can feel collectively encouraged when someone says, “You scratch my back I’ll scratch yours.”

Re: Love

I’ve hesitated a while before doing a posting on the word Love. Many people are either uncomfortable using this word or frustrated because it doesn’t do justice to their feelings. Love is impossible to explain yet easy to know: Like trying to describe a colour. Metaphors and similes bring you close to an understanding but the uniqueness of love resists analogies. It can come in spectrums, shades and categories. Love as a theme can be overused and also under appreciated. It’s likely the most talked about word in the English language but we find it hard to say the phrase, “I love you.” The language of love may have its very own unlettered alphabet. Love is felt but not seen. We know it though; just as the movement of a leaf can tell us that air exists. Perhaps love is undefinable, yet it is as real as in this heartfelt song by John Denver. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rKhBPps7_Fc

In an effort to define love, we often try to qualify it. We talk of unconditional love, puppy love, unrequited love or romantic love in a desire to place the love-ness into a category. I recall a conversation with a friend when I had told him I thought I had fallen in love. To confirm my news he asked, “So do you Really love her?” Without that qualification he just couldn’t accept my announcement. Funny, how we feel a need to know the kind of love being discussed before we can buy into the reality.

I don’t believe any art form can be created without love. In this way I believe Love equals Art. A life’s creative work cannot be summed up in any other way but without referencing love. Poems of love tell of yearning, exultation, catastrophe and pain. Painters have described love as the light by which they work. Plays and novels have used countless words in exhilarating ways to give meaning to this single word; Love. Art tends to avoid any kind of labelling or judgement, when it comes to love. A song about love is open to the listener’s interpretation. We can judge, if we want, who or what the singer is referring to. Or we can just bask in the splendour of loving words, such as those found in this masterpiece by Rolf Løvland, sung by Josh Groban. https://www.youtube.com/watch/aJxrX42WcjQ

Growing up, we soon learn that love can hurt, be used against us, bring us hope or lift us to heights unimagined. Love can tangle us in knots of indecision or leave the way clear of doubt. As I get older I’ve lost the need to categorize love. People can have loving feelings towards all manner of things; human or not, living or not. Love is energy, moving out from us and returning. Love supports us, enabling us to be the best that we can be. My advice to the lovelorn is to be watchful. Love is everywhere. It is there when someone says, “I’ve got your back.”

Re: Kind

I’ve heard many authors at signing events respond to someone’s gushing praise of their work with a rote rendition of, “You are very kind.” The use of the word kind, in this context, devalues it. We are not being kind when we show someone how much they are appreciated, we are being grateful. I wish we could see acts of kindness more often. It is not something that is regularly practised, yet when we see someone helping another who has stumbled we recognize a kind heart. I believe in kindness as a form of love. If more readily applied in our behaviour it can improve life on earth. 

In University I studied Life Sciences, particularly wildlife biology. I became familiar with the work of Carl Linnaeus, a scientist who developed a system of classification of living things based on precise particulars of biological design. I had fun sorting specimens into well defined categories by kind, using observable physical characteristics. These days it is much easier and more conclusive to use DNA to sort living things. Consequently we have discovered that some species are closer kin than we could ever have imagined.

Some people say they have a kindred spirit, someone so close to their kind of thinking/feeling that they form a bond. The fictional character Anne Shirley, of Green Gables fame, talked a lot about this kind of friendship. While she gathered kindling for the wood stove she had thoughts of becoming less isolated as an orphan and more kin to the kindhearted community that would become her home. Author Lucy Maude Montgomery writes beautifully of a time where manners and kindness abound yet her stories are not all sweetness. She doesn’t shy away from issues found in a closed society. For example, she exposes Avonlea villagers who could be quick to tell outsiders to “Go home to your own kind!” Since the first printing of Ms. Montgomery’s widely popular stories, there has been numerous interpretations. The latest in Canada is ‘Anne with an E’. This television series is so charmingly sweet it could kill you with its kindness.

Babies, like birds, quickly show they prefer to flock together. Kiley Hamelin has done research work at the University of British Columbia showing that even young babies can sort puppet identifiers according to whether they are helpful or not. They can determine the kindness in others at a very early age, suggesting that figuring out who is kind among us may be a matter of survival and integral to forming bonds of friendship and family.

In British Columbia, Canada, residents have been lucky to have a Provincial Health Officer named Dr. Bonnie Henry. She is held in high regard for the work she is doing to control the spread of the COVID19 virus. At news briefings she is not afraid to show her humanity, often crying over grim news,. Her advisories and updates on the pandemic usually end with a familiar mantra, “Be Kind, Be Calm, Be Safe.” Indeed: Kindness comes first.

Re: Gluttony

When I think of a gluttonous person the picture that comes to mind is someone very large; of the size of characters in Pickwick Papers or akin to sumo wrestlers, that kind of large. Of the ancient deadly sins I match this word with Greed. One and the same; Greed and Gluttony are about over indulgence, over spending, and over doing almost anything. I’m referring to the act of extravagance. It’s not about fat shaming but living within your means. Gluttony to me is about consuming more than you need. The best skit I have ever seen on this subject is the revolting tale of Mr. Creosote as told by the Monty Python crew from the film, The Meaning of Life.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GxRnenQYG7I

Paul Anka is credited with this guiding phrase: ‘Moderation in all things, including moderation.’ My mom used to like that quote. She was part of a post WWII tribe that had little in the way of material things. When things got comparatively better, the flood gates to excess were opened. When I was growing up she would have spells of acquisition that accompanied her care free attitude. One month we may have been looking for coins between the sofa stuffing and the next (with overtime pay in the envelope) treats were allowed. When the pantry invariably became depleted I might be inclined to ask if I could have the last of the jam. In response, Mom would flip her hand, “When it’s gone, it’s gone!”, which made me feel as guilty as sin.

Apparently, there are seven sins: Pride, Greed, Wrath, Envy, Gluttony, Lust and Sloth. I was taught not to be lazy, to control my temper, to not whine about what others may have, to measure my wants, and that if I boasted my head would surely swell. Of all those early lessons I think I absorbed, with lasting success, that gluttony is bad. I do believe that too much of anything leads to a serious disconnect with others and is responsible for the damage we have done to this finite planet. I’m told this is a homesick-like feeling called solastalgia. When it’s gone, it’s gone.

Preaching minimalism didn’t get me far in conversations with my sister, who like our parents before us, chose to maximize her paycheque with payday loans of one sort or another. She was always reaching for the proverbial brass ring, hoping to keep the ride going even when resources ran out. In her tribe I was considered a stuffed shirt when I questioned, “How much stuff do you really need?” 

On Twitter, #taxtherich often gets attached to rants about inequity, inequality and gluttony. Building a consumer based society has had its negative drawbacks. We’ve designed a land of plenty where almost any fantasy can be explored, meanwhile obesity, drug use, suicide and multi-billionaires are ubiquitous. We are encouraged to buy the latest and trash the once repairable: There will always be more. Our gluttony has squandered our precious home. Wastefulness is on my list of the new deadly sins.

Re: Tease

When I was a kid I thought Christmas Eve was such a tease. My mom would mention that times had been financially hard and that we mustn’t expect much under the tree. As an adult, I came to the conclusion that this was her way of reducing expectations so that when Christmas morning arrived we would all be awestruck that Santa had somehow pulled off one of his miracles. I think my mom’s approach to Christmas morning gift giving was the reason I often developed a stomach ache on December 24th.

This example also taught me about the larger pattern in my mom’s behaviour towards others: set them up with what seemed like the truth, orchestrate a reversal, say you were just having fun, accuse them of not being able to take a joke. Sadly, she lost many friends using this strategy of social engagement, including her own daughter.

My mom was a natural born teaser, yet she hated the comedy of Don Rickles; a man who made a career from taking the mickey out of people.

His use of mockery and ridicule at an audience member’s expense disturbed me. While I recognize that many people think teasing is all in good sport, my experience with my mom, taught me that teasing someone, like in any sport, produces winners and losers. Maybe my mom thought that teasing me early would give me character, or thicken my skin. I would say it made me shy with people. A former girlfriend, early in our relationship, said she wouldn’t ‘joke with me’ until she knew me better. A pretty accurate comment, I felt at the time, since teasing can bore into your heart if you don’t ‘get the joke’.

Teasing was not promoted as a form of humour when I became a father. My wife and I agreed that making fun of someone would not be something we modelled to our sons. She was a fibre artist and was very practised at teasing out particles from animal fur. For example, raw sheep wool, even after it has been washed, has much debris embedded in the fibre. Deft fingers are required to remove tiny seeds or vegetable filaments. Bits of straw, dung, dead insects and such can be picked from the fleece using a carder. A hand carder has many rows of fine metal spikes. A carding machine looks like an instrument of torture. When the fibre has been processed in this way, you can roll a clean roving that can be spun into yarn.

Christmas is a time of yarns. Sometimes we have to tease apart the truth from the stories before we can spin the best yarns. I guess in this sense finding the truth requires some teasing. Perhaps that’s what we do when we are poking fun; trying to provoke a reaction that will tell us something more about the person who is the butt of our joke.

Life can be messy, especially when we aren’t sure how to separate the drama from the comedy.

Re: Matter

The study of physics tells us that Matter is what makes the universe and all things in it, including us. The atomic particles that were first born of the Big Bang are part of our being.

We are made of matter yet how do we decide what matters to us? That comes from an examination of our values. What we care about and who we care for is fundamental to our existence. I have a need to understand what matters in the present context and then I set about prioritizing things accordingly.

What matters to you is totally up to you. It may relate to what you decide to eat, to wear, to read, to say, to own, to binge watch, or to march for. You can hand over this task to governments, to churches, to teachers or to neighbours but until you make your values matter to you personally you might find your self adrift in uncertainty. Determining what matters is what creates the uniqueness that is you.

My late wife took several courses on Philosophy and each time she came back from a lecture at the university where we met, she swore she was going to live the way she had just been taught. She had seen the light. She was raised in a church going family. Her religious convictions sometimes coincided and sometimes conflicted with her intellectual nature. We had some great discussions. From the content of her classes and these debates we drew closer to a philosophy of life that was consistent with our unity as a couple. We made plans using these discovered values to embark on the adventures of life.

Matter’s opposite is anti-matter. Does that fact suggest that, philosophically, everything matters and nothing matters concurrently? I’ve enjoyed examining the yin/yang nature of life. There are a lot of isms to ponder. Existentialism, we exist but why? Nihilism is too pessimistic for me. I have spent way too much time in my life trying to answer the why questions. I prefer now to seek out the how of living. That puts me leaning more towards a Zen way of thinking, if I am correct in that interpretation. I want to be more presently focussed so that I can understand what matters now.

The song Bohemian Rhapsody by poet Freddy Mercury, has meant different things to me since I first heard it. I often hum the ‘nothing really matters’ part to myself when I have no control over a situation. It helps me to detach from any outcome. Head banging aside, I find peace.

I wish to resist labels for myself and others. If you build your self concept by picking and choosing from the philosophical tree, so be it! That doesn’t make you wishy washy. More likely you will feel well rounded, not boxed in by a particular way. I don’t believe anyone has found THE WAY.

Being devoted to the creation that is you is not selfishness. You are showing respect for what matters.