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: 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: 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.”