Re: Settle

I settle into my favourite chair as I write this. I like the fact that I chose to settle in this part of the world. My journey, both geographical and metaphorical, was not unlike the first western white folk who settled into their covered wagons to look for newness in a promising land. I wasn’t nearly as bold as the First Peoples who ventured across the Bering Straight either, but I like to think I share their curiosity.

Sediment settles to the bottom through a fluid. That’s a movement that is the result of gravity not of willpower. And that may be why the notion of settling has gotten such a bad rap. I could have had that job, relationship, friend, pet, apartment, lifestyle or meal but I settled for this one instead. The implication is that you took the lazy way out and ended up with something less. Yet those people who seek out a new place to live or think, do so for very definite reasons. It’s a very willful decision to leave what you know for the risk of the unknown. To find a new place to settle requires a gravitas that only comes when options are weighed and hope is filed for another day.

I remember a discussion with my parents regarding my decision to marry. My mother and father had different questions to ask. I brought them comfort with my answers. I felt they basically wanted to know if I was going to find comfort with the woman I had chosen to be my wife. Comfort, security, love, promise, and the idea that I was going to settle down didn’t sound boring to me; it sounded like heaven. I clearly remember my mother rising from the discussion table with resolve, declaring, “That’s settled then.”

Settlements come in all forms and figurations. They can involve formal contracts or the wink of an eye, they can be held in a moment or transcend lifetimes. They can include a subtle willingness to go along for now, or acknowledge a deep acceptance of something that will never change.

The other day after a meal at a restaurant I asked the waiter, “Can I settle the bill please?” My wife always teases me about my formal nature and even this archaic phrase, slipping out of my mouth so fluidly, surprised me. After the meal is eaten, after the words have been spoken, when the party is over, there is an accounting that must take place. Ultimately, things must be settled before a decision to move on can be made.

Sometimes it feels that we are weighed down so much by our grief or our wishful thinking, that sinking to the bottom is guaranteed. Yet a person is not a speck of sediment. We are a complex mix of our past, with desires for the future, trying to make something of our present. We are dealing with daily memories of loss while maintaining a confidence that we can continue to make valid, positive decisions.

Despite the fact of gravity, I believe we can always choose to boldly go.

Re: Satisfaction

When do you feel satisfied? Some people are never satisfied. Wow! How terrible that must be. The only Rolling Stones song that I ever really liked was ‘Satisfaction’. It may be no accident that this song is the second most covered title in history. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrIPxlFzDi0

Can you live with a normal level of satisfaction? I used to feel content as a teen if two out of four aspects on my life score card were judged by me to be satisfying. School life? Check. Part time work? Check. Family? Not so much, grounded this week. Social life? Disabled due to previous aspect.
I got a natural high when all four entries on my life score were not just ticked but starred! If I let that level of feeling pleased with myself become noticeable, I would soon have hell to pay from my mom who would tell me to wipe that smug look off my face. “Pride cometh before a fall” she stated, leaving me realizing that my brief record of 4 checks on my life score card was now reduced to three. This quirky version of ‘Satisfaction’ seems appropriate to my angst filled teen years. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jadvt7CbH1o

The kid in me feels dissatisfied when I can’t get my way. The adult has to intervene in such situations, hopefully before I cross my arms and stamp my feet. We like to get what we want, when and how we want it. But that selfish sentiment, over time and if our adult selves don’t speak up, can lead to a sense of entitlement. This unsatisfied sense and the sense of outrage, are two senses best muted for our own social development and the happiness of those around us. At some point we must learn that we can’t have everything. The world can only be our oyster until we find a foul one; if that makes any sense.

It’s true that when we lack satiation, we feel disappointment. I count myself lucky when I feel satiated. In my childhood, after Halloween night, it was never difficult for me to put away the candy, while my sister ate herself sick. I don’t relate this in a smug, or self-satisfied way, just as fact. Much later, when it was clear my sister was an alcoholic, I wondered if there was a connection between slowness to feel satiated and addiction. If you can’t get no satisfaction or if it doesn’t come quickly enough, do you double down and risk everything to find it?

Coming to grips with getting a satisfactory grade in school, being a satisfactory player on a team, having a satisfying relationship or satisfactorily accomplishing any task will help us to not feel down about life or about ourselves. We can sing the blues on occasion and then we must get up and move on. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9NijFed0dI

Oh! But the times I have sung out my dissatisfaction, like this, in a long hot shower. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRve0Nh9_uE

Re: Relate

Learning how to relate to another person is tough. We can be advised to ‘walk a mile in their shoes’ or be asked the question; “How would you feel if they were you?” We have to be open to the idea that we are not the only person in the world. We must learn that others may have a different view yet still require our respect.

This learning about relationships takes time and can be distorted by conflicting messages or misguided influence. In my growing up time I learned early to question my mother and follow my father. These two dominant relatives were responsible for helping me decide the kind of person I wanted to be. I would often avoid my mom because of her inconsistencies. Her standard instruction to me was, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Whereas my father, man of few words, would lead by quiet example. I learned by watching his response to the world’s pressures.

It was easy to relate to my father. I watched what he stood for in life. He was good at relating aspects of his life journey through story. I adopted some of his philosophies of life into the pattern that was to become me. Relatively speaking I have found it easier to relate to one of my sons over the other two. It’s not a question of picking favourites. It has more to do with recognizing life style and the behavioural choices that go along with daily living. It’s also not about judgement, since my relationships with my sons requires a recognition of time and place factors. It may be easier to relate when a son is doing it my way (the familiar way) yet I’ve come to enjoy being introduced to other, equally satisfying, solutions to problems. I enjoy opportunities to update our relationship within current contexts so I can rediscover my sons. I hope I continue to be relatable to them.

My first wife instituted a bedtime prayer with our wee sons that ended with, “God Bless Mommy, Daddy and all our friends and relatives near and far away.” She was a fan of A.A. Milne and may have formed her opinions of the value of honouring friends and relatives from one of his books. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkr4E1Q1Dds

Relating to relatives isn’t easy. In-laws get the brunt of relationship jokes mainly because they lack history with us. Gatherings can quickly become shouting matches because, without a sufficiently long context, we have fewer ways to counter thoughts of ‘How can you think like that?’ or ‘You just don’t get me.’

There are ways we can make ourselves more relatable. Being consistent in our behaviour can be a start for people to recognize the patterns within us. Allowing someone else to know through our words that we have experienced some of the same life adventures can help open the door to a relationship. Until you hear the multitude of life stories you can’t really grasp the reality of all things being relative.

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: Carols

It’s that time of year for Christmas music. The jing-a-ling loop heard in stores and on most radio station playlists may make people get Ebenezer Scrooge grumpy or it may start their yuletide engines. I usually like the first few weeks of this sound and then I start wishing that the season would just hurry itself along. A pun is called for: I’m a Bad-Humming Bug!

For convenience I call all christmasy songs Carols. I’ve sung many Christmas hymns in church choirs and once joined a regional choir that performed favourites in a Holiday Extravaganza! During my elementary teaching days, I even wrote an original song for a play written and performed by my whip-smart fifth graders: “…Don’t be a grump/Get off the couch and don’t be a lump/Share your feelings/Share your life/It all comes true on Christmas night!” The play was way better than my song but a deal was a deal.

I had a short term relationship one Christmas holiday. Her name was Carol. I didn’t tease her. Maybe that was the reason it ended before the new year. In general maybe that is why many people don’t like songs about Christmas; because it reminds them of past loves, broken promises, expectations about presents or turkey dinners gone terribly, horribly bad. Some Carols can certainly stick in your mind. Likely because of the constant airtime during December, one tune or another will bore its way into your head. Earworm is such an appropriate word isn’t it?

That critter can often get lodged in my brain deeply enough that I can find myself belting out Baby It’s Cold Outside while enjoying a hot shower in February, half expecting to be joined by Will Ferrell’s Elf. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7RMy7Vg0LU
This duet is one of my favourites in the Christmas songbook. I find it to be playfully seductive but some have criticized its lyrics as being inappropriate as we examine what it means to be sexually active in a #metoo atmosphere. This version by Idina Menzel & Michael Bublé from a few years back, featuring child actors, may cause outrage; but it’s so cute!

Still another version of this song that came from a GLEE episode. It appears light hearted yet at the time it aired on television the context seemed so groundbreaking.

Quite a while ago, when my tenor voice was reasonably under control, I got paid to sing for a Worthy Matron of the Order of the Eastern Star. Her choice was The Christmas Song.

Its long sustained notes and lower register were a challenge for me but I pulled it off. Afterwards, one gentleman in the audience sought me out. With a tear in his eye, he told me that my performance reminded him of a fellow soldier who sang this very song at dockside while he and his buddies were boarding transport to return to Canada after WWII.

Some carols never leave us.

Re: Naïve

I enjoy how language can evolve. New words are coined. Words from other languages are kidnapped and tossed into our vernacular. The English Language has always been good at borrowing from other tongues. Words can be usurped and become so familiar that we just assume that they have always been ours. Naïve is such a word that started from Latin and moved through the French before being inserted into regular English discourse.

There are many synonyms for Naïve. I hear people use this word when wanting to disparage an individual. The implication being that they need to grow up, be realistic or just stop being so stupid. I think of myself as Naïve and I don’t like it when someone calls me that, when they really mean I am ignorant. I am ignorant sometimes because I don’t know everything; can’t possibly. My naïveté comes from being trusting; which I try to be.

Certainly naïveté can be ridiculed. You are considered a fool if you are too trusting to the point of being duped. Someone who is naïve is a target for a predator. That innocence can be picked up like a scent to someone who enjoys manipulating others.

The levidrome match for naive is Evian which I find amusing. A character in the film Reality Bites discovers this in a charmingly naive way. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQVw58aDt3Y
I can’t help but wonder if the naming of this product is a sly wink at the consumer who is paying for essentially something they can get for free, from a tap. I have no doubt we are living in a time when corporations encourage us to trust them over mere flesh and blood humans.

If trust is a value we still hold dear, in who/what or where can we place our trust? Many people put their trust in a deity. Faith in God is all about trust. Have corporations become the new god simply to help us mortals who are bombarded by so many competing choices? When we get worn down from so much decision making it’s easier to go with the label that looks familiar.

In politics we are massaged into putting our trust in the candidate who says they have our best interests at heart. Before we cast our ballot, we must separate the rhetoric from the appearance. We must wade through the issues and pick the values or ideas that are presented before we can honestly and objectively decide amongst the candidates. This is tough work!

Some of us worry that we will make the wrong choice in our naïveté. We might err on the side of caution, reluctant to commit because of our doubts. We might choose the lesser of two evils. We might follow our peers, blindly, in an effort to fit in. At the end of the day we must trust that things will work out and hope that we haven’t been conned as individuals or as a society.

Yet voting still matters. No matter the cost, your view matters. Stand tall.

Re: No

No is a small word with powerful connotations. It can be used to send a message of finality, of desperation or of resolve. It is incontrovertible. It does not mean maybe. This is not the time for coaxing, bullying or cajoling. This is a word that must be respected.

When I am angry, the word No comes to mind quickly. My mental dictionary translates the feeling and I may end up shouting “Stop!” I never feel well after I have lost my temper. The emotion behind the thought of No is strong. It comes when you find yourself backed into a corner. You must quickly demonstrate that what is happening is not to your liking. Retreat is the order of the day. You are not deserting the field, only choosing to live on so that you can fight another day. No can be an active word in that it leads you to reshape what will happen next. Paradoxically, sometimes before getting to Yes we have to say No.

No is a levidrome. Its twin is On. Herein lies an amusing puzzle: In the binary world On would represent the opposite of No. So from analog to digital we have a yin/yang mystery. No implies that we have turned off, turned away, or maybe even turned ourselves inside out. We need a rest from decision making for a spell. The lights are out. The Off switch is engaged and taped down. Please leave us alone while we go into shutdown mode. Processing. Processing.

There was a time after the death of my first wife when my decision making circuits were shut down. Every time my brain came to a choice intersection, I would reflexively turn off. For a while I even forgot how to engage the On switch. Did it go up or down? Saying No outright was way easier than risking another foreign situation. I didn’t feel lazy so much as squeamish. My biological cyber security was in question. The passage of time helped. At some point I remember making a conscious decision to say yes more often. I spent less time weighing the options presented and more time engaging in the invitation. I recalled a mentor once saying to me that there is often a good reason why someone invites you to do something.

My new granddaughter is almost two and the only word she uses consistently is No. It makes me smile when I hear it. I wonder what awareness of the situation she has when she says it. She seems to know her mind and I act accordingly. For adults, in some situations it takes courage to say No. We may not want to let someone down. We don’t want to be misinterpreted. We don’t want to be labelled a poor sport or a Debbie Downer. We don’t want to turn people off. The fact remains that sometimes the word No needs to be said.

Even though No is a valid answer to a question, my life feels somehow better when I can get to Yes.