Re: Convey

The other night I dreamt of being on an airport conveyor belt. I was the luggage moving on an endless carousel. It was nothing like a giggly ride with a grandchild on an amusement park merry-go-round either: No hurdy-gurdy music in this dream. No Sir! No one came to pick me up and take me home. Eventually I was consigned to the ‘Lost’ kiosk. Woe was me.

I’ve been on many a conveyance in my lifetime, some taking me places that were familiar, others thrilling me with adventure as I anticipated a new destination at the trip’s terminus. The mode of transportation from A to B sometimes is the trip itself. I liked ski hill tow ropes in that way, getting to the top was a challenge and half the fun. The moving sidewalks in airports make me feel like a kid again, as do escalators. I’ve felt the power of the wind, propelling me forward, on sailboats and sailboards. There is joy and companionship found while riding on a horse’s back. I once felt euphoria as I gripped the dorsal fin of a dolphin and was conveyed from one end of a pool to another. Street cars in San Fransisco and Oslo, a small gauge train in Peru and subways in London and Toronto have all filled me with awe and gratitude that such things exist, seemingly just for me.

I wonder what subconscious message, in that piece of lost luggage, is being conveyed to me. The way that I communicate is equally as important as the words that I choose to use. When I talk intimately to my partner I trust that the message I want to convey is never in doubt. Yet, most of us can name an occasion when our words have not measured up to the feelings we have wished to express. Sometimes we can’t be blamed completely for mixed messages. The listener is also responsible for checking to see if the topic is still on track. Relationships can get derailed even among the best travelling partners when one person takes the toll road while the other takes the road less travelled. I’ve met couples who seem unable to convey their feelings in words, much like the characters Tevye & Golde from the classic musical ‘Fiddler on the Roof’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_y9F5St4j0

Through word and especially action, we must convey to the people in our village what is most important to us. It’s risky business to let others see who we are. It may seem unnecessary to tell others how we feel about them. It’s easier to not engage,  But when I hold things in I don’t feel right. I feel like an opportunity to show who I am has been missed. Like that piece of luggage in my dream, I feel like I’m not being picked up, like I’m not important enough to matter.

When you share yourself with another, you are sharing a ride on a magic carpet. It’s a trip neither of you will ever forget.

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: Intent

Intention is not everything, but it’s a start. It has been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I don’t believe in an afterlife so I prefer to do what I can while I have breath in me. Heaven can be found by following through. There are shelves filled with self help books that show examples of how we can move from the idea to execution. The best advise I’ve read is pick a method to accomplish your goals then stick with it until you fail. Then try again.

I remember a clever comic strip that showed a boy scout helping an elder across a busy street. When he got her to the other side she said, “Thanks sonny but I didn’t want to cross”. I’ve been that scout, trying to do the right thing but unintentionally screwing up. Having good intent will not mitigate a misguided decision. Sometimes all it takes is asking first, acting next. Resolving to do the right thing by others takes practise. As a parent I bought all of the books by Barbara Coloroso, a well known child behaviour expert. She came to visit our community on a promotional tour for her work, my wife and I sat in the audience taking notes. I am still guided in everyday life by her quote; “Say what you mean, Mean what you say, and Do what you say you will do.”

I can relate to finding the right mood/moment/headspace to start or complete a task. Certain inexplicable things sometimes have to be just right before I can proceed with an intention. It is hard to create a balance between the aphorisms, ‘He who hesitates is lost’ and ‘Look before you leap’. Sometimes I relish a day spent procrastinating. Other days I will rejoice that I have tackled those things that have nagged at me. I often start the day with intention, in the form of a list on paper or in my head. If I don’t always accomplish what I set out to do, I forgive myself.

A child may react to being caught in a misdeed by saying that they didn’t mean it or they didn’t know any harm would come. Parents may allow some wiggle room in the name of learning. However, intention in a courtroom setting must be critically judged. Murders are classified as to the level of intentionality. If the accused is found to have malicious intent then judgement will be harsh.

Jean Talon is a character in early French Canadian history who may hold a key to viewing intent in a positive light. His title was as the first Intendant of New France; a CAO of the colonies. The translation of Intendant to English is Steward. I love the thought that an intention can be something we have a responsibility to see to fruition. If our intent is worthwhile it must not be squandered but put on the first available To Do list. A hopeful idea has little meaning without practical application. We must do what we intend.

Re: Understand

I took a two hour road trip with someone several years ago. Please understand that I zone out after a few minutes as a passenger in any vehicle. I’m not much better at conversation if I’m driving the car. Then I put myself on auto pilot as my mind numbs to anything but safety on the highway. On this particular trip though, the time sped by because we were dissecting the phrase, “I can dig it.” 

We both got the reference to the sixties, back when the phrase was popularized. We were of a similar age to appreciate the context behind ‘getting it’ but wondered if there was a difference between relating and understanding. Today when we say,”I can relate” after a friend has told us a story we want to convey that we understand as well as feel empathy. While in the car, that division between mind and heart kept us alert as we gave examples of understanding someone’s point of view while not necessarily relating to their situation.

For example, I understand why a person may choose to own a pet. I confess that I don’t prefer animals in the home, even though I have shared space with dogs, cats, a rabbit, a lizard and tropical fish at various times in my life. My sister and her daughter have both been pet lovers. When my niece said goodbye to her latest dog I asked if she would get another animal. She knows I would have a hard time relating to her decision if she did. Perhaps we can relate to our next of kin or loved ones because it is easier to empathize. They are relatives after all, so understanding their behaviour is not always conditional for our love. 

If I want to understand something or someone I take steps to evaluate the information provided. I’ll listen, observe, compare and contrast in a genuine effort to see the facts. This is head space work, scientific even. I don’t relate to the desire to go jogging. I understand the joy of fresh air, wind in my hair and using physical, not fossilized, energy. But would I make going for a daily run a lifestyle choice? Nope!

Back in the Trump days it was understandable to me how his brand could be seen as commercially appealing. I also ‘got’ the hatred for Hillary. And yet I could not relate to those who chose to vote for someone with so many obvious flaws. The division I see amongst the population of the United States today is a result of one side ignoring the work that is required to understand. In interviews these folks will actually be heard saying, “I don’t need to know.” 

Understanding certainly helps you to ‘get’ another person. When I am in conversation with someone, I like it when they check in with a phrase or comment which suggests they want to confirm what they just heard. They may not ‘dig’ my point of view but it’s wonderful to find out that they want to understand me.

Re: Cable

The first transatlantic communications cable was completed in 1858. It was telegraph back then; dots and dashes pulsing under the waves. Now we have similar cables of fibre optic material. I’m sometimes not sure if we have come very far when is comes to cable technology. Full disclosure: I’m going to sound old-timey in this blog so laugh away if you could use some chuckle therapy. I wish I could laugh, and maybe I’ll get there but the wounds are still fresh. I’ve had two chats with two different cable companies in the space of a month and “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” (Network 1976) 

Incident #1: My WIFI receiver was getting hotter than usual. I went to Shaw Cable’s website and initiated a Live Chat. 37 minutes of soul sucking chatting later, it dawned on me (chuckle here) that I was discussing my problem with an algorithm (new word meaning Robot). I finally asked the robot if I could have a technician come and replace the old device. I got an appointment booked and was told they would mail me the equipment. Two deliveries of tech stuff arrive. The cable guy arrives. He shakes his head as I relate the story. 

Incident #2: After setting up cable & WIFI in a rental in Ontario I was contacted on the phone by Bell Communications, at dinner and on weekends, for a total of five calls. They wanted to know if I was pleased with the service and if I wanted to upgrade any features. I said it was too early to say, but I would call them if I needed any help and please don’t interrupt me again. When I did call them (at least this time I got a real service agent) about a question regarding service irregularities due to jet flight over the building, I was told they could do nothing. When I pointed out my parents-in-law, five floors up, didn’t have the problem, the fellow got defensive. When I asked for a cable guy to come check the installation he said that everything looks good from his end and he couldn’t authorize it. I asked to speak to a manager and was told I would receive a follow-up chat (again with the chatting). All I got was an email telling me I might want to change the location of my connection.

There was a lot of chattering going on. I should mention that I’m triggered by the word Chat. I used to work with a school Principal who used the phrase, “Let’s have a chat,” whenever he wanted to stress a point of discipline. Every time I Skype I see dozens of avatars who just can’t wait to have a live chat with me. On the one hand I’m grateful we have cables (chuckle again, as you do your Wireless Age type thinking). On the other hand I sometimes feel the cable community is manipulating me. Chipmunk chatter, is what this is. Forgive me for being such a chatterbox.

I’m only human.

Re: Phone

Change is exasperating. It’s never just one thing that changes. Dominoes will fall! Lately my three year old phone failed to do what was expected. Being a smartphone made it a smart aleck. The problem seemed to be that it refused to communicate with other digital devices in my home. I tried password changes, account changes and rebooting (an old fashioned term?) But it was all for naught. By using the word naught I guess I’ve firmly placed myself in the pre-computer era. And that, despite my best efforts to remain tech savvy, is the problem with my general attitude concerning The Phone. I rant. Yet really I stand bewitched by this technology.

My dad would send me off on adventures when I was barely in my double digits with these instructions: Do you have coins in your pocket? Have you got your handkerchief? Call home if you have trouble. Calling home in those days meant finding a phone booth, which I learned how to use quite early in my life. Any call from a booth could connect me with the home phone, and if I was out and about someone was always home. Safety assured.

Safety is the number one reason parents in the tech era buy phone plans for their children. Safety is also the top reason adults cite for switching from home phones to cell phones. The phone was a lifeline for me in the late fifties and is truly a must-have for Generation Alpha. Needing a phone for emergency use is one thing, but now it is clear phones are so much more. The term smart phone is apt; mini computers they are indeed. With storage capacity, links to other digital devices, connectivity with more than just your mom is assured. The camera capability of a smart phone has changed communication; we can send a text of our meal, or hold police to account for their actions. We can start a Movement.

I’m in awe over how it has changed our culture, and I’m also intimidated. I’m trying. I’ve come to terms with the need to regularly update my device. I still talk English on my smartphone even though it has gone through several iterations of operating systems. My smartphone has regular conversations with my other digital devices so that things can continue to function. Somehow that doesn’t make me feel more secure. For old folks, being hacked has taken the place of falling down as the number one anxiety. Forgetting a password is tantamount to losing our wallets.

And yet we soldier on. I was one of the first on my block to buy a computer. I’ve had an early Star Trek phaser-like flip phone. I no longer have a land line. I know how to Facetime, Skype, Zoom and Tweet. I’ve just installed a new device that makes my television smarter so that I can stream new entertainment catalogues. My old phone will have to be replaced with an updated version. Like a little lost ET, I still need the comfort of knowing I’m able to call home. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xZif3WmG7I

Re: Speech

Two speeches marked my youth with vivid words of instruction on how to behave in the world. The first, notably remembered as the “Ask not…” speech, was delivered in 1961 by John F. Kennedy at his inauguration as the 35th President of the USA.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SODxisodLA0 The second, popularly named the “I have a dream…” speech, was delivered in 1963 by Martin Luther King Jr. after his March on Washington DC event. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3vDWWy4CMhE

In the early sixties my parents and teachers guided me to use public speaking to overcome my natural shyness. Much to my wonderment, I won several local and regional competitions and was chosen by my grade eight graduating class to be their valedictorian. That training has emboldened me to speak up in my community as needed. I have chaired meetings, led workshops, been a guest on television programs and introduced other speakers at various events. Yet I’m still sort of shy.

The talent of being a speaker, or one who speaks in public seems archaic in some ways. Yet we still expect someone to say a few words when we are gathered; at weddings, funerals, church services, rallies, office parties, gallery openings, award ceremonies, protests and all manner of celebrations. Someone may shout, “Speech, Speech” to encourage an orator, while another drawn to a microphone may admit, “I’m speechless.” To give a speech may seem old fashioned but delivering an oral message of substance and emotion still has relevance in this age of text-messaging. Speaking for myself, I’d wonder who could not be moved by the “How dare you…” speech from Greta Thunberg, delivered to the United Nations in 2019. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYqtXR8iPlE. Her message is in some ways delivered like the town crier of old bringing news, proclamations, or in this case, a dire warning.

In countries with Parliamentary governments there is the tradition of the Speaker. He or she is responsible for keeping those elected from going rogue, in a manner of speaking. All speeches must be formally directed to the Speaker who decides if they are in order. The right to speak freely is enshrined in the constitutions and laws of many countries. From the lowly plebe to the highly entitled throughout history, we all have the right to say what is on our mind. Whether you exercise that right in a circle with a ceremonial conch shell, at a Speaker’s Corner, in a coffee shop, or if you get selected as a guest on a talk show, your opinion matters.

Mr. Kennedy urged us with his words to be active in our community. Mr King invited us to dream and then to help build a more inclusive land for all citizens. Ms. Thunberg asks us to pay attention to the science so we can work together to save our planet. All speakers talk, some walk their talk. We can amplify speeches by our actions. Hopefully for the betterment of our species and all other species on this planet that we share.

Re: Protest

I live in a community where people come out to protest on a regular basis. I join in because I naively see it as a sign of democratic action. Based on the signs people carry to support their outrage/concern, there may be other motivations for their presence in the crowd. For example, at a recent climate change rally, I saw one overweight man sporting a T-shirt that read ‘I love CO2’ while waving another ‘I love fossil fuels’. Was he after sales or just being contrary?

Being somewhat afraid of large crowds and a functional introvert to boot, you can often find me at rallies like this leaning against a tree where I can appreciate the shade or gain some shelter from the drizzle. An activist I’m not. Rather a cheerleader/witness. My sign would probably read; ‘I see what you mean’ or ‘I’m here for you.’ Some protest signs written by a more anarchistic sort can seem like manifestos: small print on corrugated cardboard, begging to be read, to acknowledge the effort that it took to pour out such passionate thoughts. Short form declaration: ‘Pay attention! I mean it!’

Protests I’ve attended clearly allow folk to vent. Quiet self expression is as evident as a collective shout of alarm. At a recent Fridays For Future congregation I was impressed how Greta Thunberg’s leadership had encouraged a diversity of ages, backgrounds and emotions to come together in a harmonious demonstration of concern over the climate crisis. Amidst the speeches, music and cheering a small hole opened in a part of the crowd as a lone middle-aged male removed his clothes and poured a bottle of motor oil over his body, miming his anguish over pipeline leaks. He wasn’t arrested. People gave him space.

In our city protests tend to be peaceful. Marches and rallies offer up chants, poems, speeches and slogans. Some who line the streets join in if they find a friend or are moved by the cause. Sometimes it seems counterproductive to see smiles on the protesters’ faces while they’re shouting to end war. It makes me wonder about the line between protest and carnival. But in Canada it’s true we are polite and, for better or worse, we work hard at trying not to offend others, even those with whom we disagree.

Art lives and thrives in protest settings. Feelings pour out in creative ways. I always feel grateful for the civility expressed at protest gatherings I’ve been to in Canada. I’ve heard bystanders thank the calm looking police officers for just being there. My sons, in contrast, have been witness to protests that have started out civil but have turned violent, often as a result of police being instructed to clamp down on demonstrators.

There is much injustice in our current world. Perhaps there always has been, yet now it’s easier to see. It’s easier to name the wrongs. It’s easier to find something or someone specific to blame. At the same time it seems harder to find someone who will listen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aHN6AViJAvI

Re: Search

Searching is what adventurers do. Some questers are fictional: Sherlock Holmes searched for clues to solve the unsolvable, Don Quixote searched for wrongs to be righted, James T. Kirk journeyed to find new worlds. Sir John Franklin was a real life adventurer. He searched for a Northwest Passage to China over the top of North America. When he and his crew disappeared a massive search was joined to unlock the mystery of their whereabouts.

One of my first memorable desires was to search the seven seas with Jacques Cousteau. I enrolled in Marine Biology at university to achieve what had become an adult goal. However, during the course of my studies I had to do an inner search. I questioned whether I had the right stuff to live life away from home and family. In this soul searching, I concluded that being a family man, married to a like minded woman was my primary goal. I quested for Mrs. Right: a woman with a heart of gold. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qkjchElp0s

That seemed like an adventure that would be the ticket to my happiness. Along with my search to find the secrets to a loving family I ventured into the world of religion. I self studied various texts and practised what could be found in the community of the United Church of Canada. I joined choirs, became a soloist. One choir leader found that I often changed some of the lyrics as I sang. When she asked why, I told her that my search for God hadn’t yet made me accept some of the script. She showed me how grace can be found through understanding. A hymn that captured my spiritual belief at that time was turned into a cool folk song by Jim Croce, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAjzEQgZBh0

When I started writing columns for a daily paper I enjoyed searching for the right words. I would pore through my small collection of books looking for quotes and phrasing. I had friends (research assistants?) at the local library who looked things up for me when I’d exhausted my personal resources. My eldest son is a historical writer and researcher. He digs deep to find primary source information: diaries, letters, journals, original news stories. My first wife used to love searching through microfiche to unearth dead ancestors.

Internet search engines are a game changer. For those who love knowledge, web sites can open worlds of information. Access to facts that previously had to be dug up like a pirate’s buried treasure, now spring to life at the typing of a few computer keys. I first tried Alta Vista, Excite (I liked that name) then Yahoo before I settled on everyone’s favourite: Google. How did we ever manage before we could ‘just google it’? When I want specifics I go to Youtube (music&video clips), IMDB or Rotten Tomatoes (film information) or Wikipedia (historical profiles).

Whether you travel abroad to search for answers or sit in Zen-like contemplation. One must do as Captain Jean-Luc Picard commands: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ie5usEuNdI

Re: Why

My granddaughter has discovered the word Why. This is an amazing step for one small girl. This word can be used to stop time in its tracks. Bath time can be delayed while answers are being weighed. Even if the answer is not understood, an important moment of assurance has been established: Why is a very powerful word. From our beginning we learn to use language to shape our environment, to control, or at least influence, those around us who are important to our well being. From the parents’ point of view, the word Why can sometimes seem as a test, at best it is surely a quest for information. Here is a wonderful song by Anne Murray that captures the importance and frustration of this word. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYsadwkBrnI

Before wee babes can formulate discernible words, sounds sub in for communicating needs. Likely, the word When was the first question which came out more like Whaaa! This universal cry: When will I be fed? When is my diaper going to be changed? When is Mommy coming? Translation: Whaaa? Whaaa?

Journalists are taught the five Ws in order to get the important elements of a story. The who, where, what, when, why of an incident are key to understanding. The reporter wields these questions as a surgeon might use a scalpel, to expose from witnesses the details of the event. In my chronological order of question development I see Who, What and Where, as words learned after the When and Why of baby vocabulary: The Who? babes can see, the What? they can point to or grab, The Where? will eventually be explored on pudgy knees.

Getting to How, now that is the most important question of all. In my life, the question of how has been the difference between youthful thinking and adulthood. After you have accumulated data on the first five questions it is the “how about it?’ that looms large. When we reach How, we are searching for our essential selves. We alone can answer the How’s of life: How will I behave? How will I make a living? How do I want to fit into this world? How shall I be?

I’ve spent many a frustrating time trying to figure out an answer to why after an event in my life. It’s a windy road of back alleys and dead ends. It’s a journey of little use. It’s a spinning wheel of thought, endlessly circling without resolution, without direction, without hope. Here’s David Clayton Thomas singing about the trouble with Why. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kK62tfoCmuQ

Agonizing over the Why of something is part of human nature. Most times the reasons behind something are not as important as finding a way out, over, through or forward. Inspecting the How To, can point the way to the future better than any other question. How is a hopeful word. When you become an adult, dumping the Why frees you to consider your present moment so you can finally assert, “This is how it’s going to be from now on.”