Re: Voice

Every artist has a desire to find their own authentic voice through their work. In song, the quality of the voice seems obvious, however it isn’t about technical ability alone. There is a craft to be learned with all art for sure, but one’s singular voice can only come from your soul. I believe the iconic image of the ‘struggling artist’ is a reference to this creative force willing itself alive. It’s hard to define or keep consistent. Often we sing a different tune. The voice one seeks is sometimes merely a whisper or an echo, or a memory. It needs to be heard, begs to be seen, desires to be applauded. When it doesn’t show itself, it’s frustrating. Writers call it a block, visual artists fear the blank canvas. Actors too, can draw a blank, freezing on stage. Sculptors agonize over quarried stone or soft clay, unable to hear what lies within. Dancers stiffen, singers go mute for lack of direction from their inner voice. Whether vocal or metaphorical, I believe your voice will eventually assert itself.

To be given a public voice through fame must feel intimidating. Celebrities experience this when suddenly their opinion matters. The microphone is poked at their face. The questions come fast and furious. When you’re famous everyone wants to know how you feel, where you stand, whose side you’re on: Give us your opinion please so we ordinary people know how to act. Under such pressure to be a role model, it’s no wonder to me that many simply crack. I worry for the pressures placed on Greta Thunberg in this regard. She is receiving good guidance to stay with the issue, diverting attention from herself by exhorting us to “Listen to the science.”This latest video shows Ms.T.’s familiar voice speaking for the planet.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7WvehTbuvIo

We all have degrees of difficulty when it comes to giving voice to our feelings and thoughts. We may be shy about speaking up, speaking out and making ourselves heard. Yet how else are we to be known by others. We show respect to people who give us their opinion even though we may not share it. We turn to some for advice, when they have earned our trust through their words and deeds. I remember, in late adolescence, telling my parents that I had changed career plans. I thought the news would disturb them. But they heard the passion in my voice and gave me their support. Coming out with any news can feel dangerous, especially if what you want to reveal is against a societal norm. For example, Ellen Page’s transition to Elliot Page has fascinated me. I can’t imagine what that’s like, yet through her journey, my own vocal notes have changed. I deeply respect those who use their voice to help redefine culture. Their story, their struggles, their desire to be understood, accepted and supported provide a new context in which we can all re-examine our own lives and our place on Earth.

Re: Cliché

With the COVID19 pandemic, clichés are going viral: ‘We’re all in this together’, ‘The new normal’, ‘Flatten the curve’, ‘Social/Physical distancing’. Everyone is catching these phrase viruses. Clichés are just phrases that were once respected for their originality and meaning yet in these compacted times, a phrase, however helpful, can easily become worn out from overuse. Then people may stop paying attention.

My former father-in-law wrote the book on clichéd discourse. He revelled in bromides such as, ‘Love your enemies:It drives them crazy.’ He enjoyed teasing actor friends with the worn platitude, ‘Break a leg’. He preferred the banality of weather talk over conversations that challenged his one sided view of things. He sometimes sat me down and issued a string of trite phrases that blurred into a single slurry of thought, like this memorable one after I asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage. As I recall he said something about; ’The blushing bride, bury a hatchet, at loose ends, busy as a bee, depths of despair, easier said than done, the fair sex, calm before a storm, to the bitter end, in no uncertain terms.’ We shook hands after this confusing monologue, which I took to mean he was blessing our union.

I’ve always thought that clichéd statements were examples of lazy speech, much like swearing. I discouraged my sons from wearing out words while trying to say what they were feeling or thinking. When my wife and I went on a cruise, we agreed beforehand to steer dinner table conversation away from clichés like; ‘So, where are you from?’ or ‘What do you do for a living?’ or ‘What’s your story?’ Or, the worst of all; ‘Is this your first cruise?’ Instead of using these banal queries we tried something refreshing like; ‘How do you express your artistic side?’ or ‘What would you find hard to live without?’ Or even a cymbal clasher like, ‘Who do you love most?’

Clichés can be considered the comfort food of language. A cliché will sound familiar and therefore safe. We often speak them to get quick acknowledgement of our ideas and a sense of where the other is at, in their view of the world. A cliché spoken and received may identify your level of understanding or establish you as part of the club or tribe. For example, when we want to show support for soldiers we speak of their ‘supreme sacrifice’. We often acknowledge grief by sending ‘thoughts and prayers’.

Over time, we might cultivate phrases that become the proverbs or slogans by which we live. My favourite is, ‘Plan for the worst/Hope for the best’. The truism, ‘You get what you pay for’ will quickly establish a point of view. ‘Every cloud has a silver lining’ holds bits of sage wisdom, however the language we use to describe our complicated lives requires more than hackneyed old sayings. Insight can be found in some clichés yet I’d hate for them to disguise the whole truth about me or the world.

Re: Pause

Thankfully I haven’t had to suffer physically from the COVID19 pandemic: Thus far, at least. Like many, I have found myself with lots of time to reflect. Looking back from some future time I may coin the quintessential phrase for this period of human time. Perhaps something descriptive like; Culture Paused.

Long before the remote control device was invented I was hitting my own personal Pause button. An Adam Sandler movie called Click explores this attempt at managing your life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZNC5emNyEQ . Time travel is suggested in the film yet for me, the Pause button was most creative. Going into Pause mode in my life is about zoning out. During moments of inner exploration I’ve come up with some astounding notions, however one button on a remote is boring, so I’ll add two others to better represent my experience: Yes, No and Pause.

Yes: Is full speed ahead and don’t turn back! Embrace life and fulfill your wishes. No: Is life as negative, a dull pit where even thinking is viewed suspiciously. Pause: Let’s digest, regurgitate, forecast while chewing on some serious cud! These three settings on my remote control are an internal function, not a response to others. Importantly, “No!” is an appropriate answer to an outside directive. I can say no readily even when I am in my Yes internal setting because I don’t want someone or something to stand in my way.

My Yes moments generally come when my partner can share my curiosities. These are mildly manic times when I felt supported to try new things, experiment with new opportunities. I have jumped into marriages, leapt into fatherhood, changed dreams to accommodate unexpected passions, embraced new places and methods. I was not thrill seeking yet I surfed on high levels of confidence that opened pathways to new adventures.

My No periods have been awful times when I denied my own personality. Time would march on for others while I made excuses to get out of stuff. I lied with a “Maybe” or “Let me get back to you.” I retreated to places that kept me from decisions. I preferred to reside in my hollow. The No button, on my device, represented guilt, failure and insignificance. I can recognize myself in stories of people who admit they have given up on life. They are in a No time. I too have once said No to life. I’m forever grateful to those who stood by me as I found my way back to Yes.

Young or old, there are times in our lives when hitting the Pause button is meaningful. Fascinated by my own hands and how they fit together palm to palm, I once confounded my grade six teacher when I asked (during the middle of an unrelated lesson) if I could exert enough pressure to expel all the air from my hands so that they would remain locked together. Perhaps forever glued, without adhesive! He asked me to continue my experiment while sitting in the hall.

I like to think that perhaps my question gave him pause.

Re: Mean

“Everything happens for a reason” is easy to say, harder to believe. Just what do we mean by that phrase? Perhaps we are merely trying to find meaning in what might have just happened to us. We want to fathom the grand meaning of life, yet we don’t have the context to make a reasonable connection. To paraphrase a classic, “If a butterfly flaps its wings in my son’s backyard, I’ll be inclined to go ten pin bowling.”

Imagine a strange scenario: A baby born in the backcountry. Her parents die and she is raised by wolves. She survives, thrives, grows old and dies never having known another human. Did her life have meaning? Surely life can have no meaning without context or connection. We have meaning only when those we have touched remember us and respond to that memory. I think that is why funerals (or Celebrations of Life) are so important. During an end of life event, we get to pronounce what a person has meant to us. As a collective we confirm that the person did not die in vain; that a legacy remains despite the loss. We, by extension, are made significant for having known another and are encouraged to continue our journey.

Meanwhile, I’ve been meaning to write about the word Mean for a while. Sometimes with a word like this it’s hard to cover all the thoughts that bubble up. I mean it! I could go on a rant about how I wish people weren’t so mean to others. Or I could say how happy I was to discover that the mean price of a house like mine has risen in the last six months. Each time I pick apart a word my intention is to find out how it has affected me.

Perhaps intention is key to meaning. When we say we want a meaningful relationship with someone, we are intending to give as much as we get. Reciprocity can add to our understanding of life. It starts by ‘walking a mile’ in someone’s shoes. Yet sometimes after all we do to find commonality and mutuality with another, we must go our separate ways and define a new meaning for our personal path.

Graffiti, like other art forms, is rooted in an exclamation: I exist! All artists use creativity to find meaning. Regardless of an artist’s depth of training or natural skill, their work shows us what they have discovered so far. One of the first ubiquitous bathroom stall etchings was a drawing of a head with a large nose peeking over a horizontal line with the caption, ‘Kilroy was here’. A one-liner, a bumpersticker or a meme all do the same thing: They attempt to crystallize our thoughts on the meaning of life.

Sometimes I have felt that life has no meaning for me. On those occasions I’ve been grateful for the loving souls who have given me counsel to let some time pass. The urgent question, “Why am I here?”, is often solved by waiting patiently for meaning to present itself.

Re: Inspire

We have the Creator in all of us. My interpretation of those pointy church spires has a creative inspiration. Perhaps they were designed to be the highest point in a village so that the citizens would forever be reminded of their own creation and by extension their inherent creativity. Think of these spires as antennae, reaching out and drawing in all manner of information. If inspiration comes from some mystical place, who is to say that those who are inspired are not just tuned into the correct frequency to receive the message. Imagine a writer working on a play, walking through cobble streets when suddenly catching sight of a pigeon lifting into the air. As the bird is followed, our artist spies the steeple and inhales as if struck by an inspired idea. Perhaps a church spire, with a God’s help or not, can be a conductor of what is sometimes called the collective consciousness. Ideas are out there, nothing is really new, thoughts hang in the air like fruit waiting to be picked.

While some inspirations may come from tall manmade structures, artists and scientists are forever having inspiring thoughts in all sorts of locations. One wonders where that inspirational signal comes from to create that seed of an idea. We’ve all experienced, to a greater or lesser degree, that magic moment when you feel as though all your previous ideas and thoughts congeal into a coherent whole. It’s the ‘Aha!’ Or ‘Eureka’ moment that drives the engine of change. It can be an expression of joy for a new way of doing things.

First we are curious: “How is this done?” We look through the cutouts at a construction site and stand transfixed at what is being created. We marvel at the birth of an animal in a farm setting. Lots of experiences inspire us to reach for our own goals. Once creativity starts, it rarely stops. The members of the band RUSH, like other artists, seem to be constantly inspired to do art in different ways. Here they are being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Watch for the inspired way that member Alex Lifeson (who is the last to speak) accepts his award. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7M7AEi68a20

We can watch moments such as this and be inspired. At other times we may stare blankly out the window or at a proverbial blank canvas and wonder how to find a way to express what we are feeling or thinking. I’ve been stuck like this many times in my life. Sometimes the best thing is just to wallow and wait. Find a place of safety until something colourful flits across your field of vision. Rekindle the ember that was, and still is, the child within. A child is rarely without inspiration. Is that called innocence?

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the Roman God Cupid is a wee babe with a skill to inspire love in those it pricks with its arrows. Once inspired, all negative thoughts subside, our eyes are opened to a fresh day, and a new way.