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.
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.
Sometimes it is hard to find the appropriate word. I have to take into account the way language evolves over time. Add to that the changing societal norms of acceptable usage, then it takes courage to speak or write what might be on my mind. I believe that freedom of speech requires an appropriate filter if I wish to engage in meaningful conversation. Reading helps me stay on top of current language trends. Writers can suggest uses of words or phrases in ways that sometimes seriously startle me. A challenging author can get to the how of life rather than dwelling on the why. That’s a grander exploration than the dead end annoyance of why someone did or said something controversial.
Cultural appropriation is in the news. Artists are currently frustrated by criticism when they explore features outside of their domain. I wonder how we can get to that place of cultural understanding if we do not pretend or act out roles that are unfamiliar to us. I think that it is part of the learning process to appropriate ways that may be foreign. Perhaps that can be a way to walk a while in the other’s shoes. If we hold too fast to notions of exclusivity we are in danger of discarding the concepts of openness and inclusivity.
I have often felt outside. Luckily, belonging to a dominant culture allows me more freedom to be an outsider than someone who is already on the fringe or part of a minority. I get that being marginalized would make you hold on to what you have with greater passion, especially when your culture is being appropriated. Historically, The Doctrine of Discovery was a document legitimizing theft. It was a rationale for displacement and slavery. No one has a justifiable right to have their cultures appropriated by another. The appropriate English name we have for that is genocide: The ultimate form of appropriation.
Jesse Wente is a respected thinker and film critic. He has published a memoir called Unreconciled. While reading this book, I felt as though he was in the room with me, challenging my perceptions of inclusivity, patriarchy and colonialism with the gentle persuasion of a man honestly examining his own role in the world. In spite of my white skin and ancestry I recognized the truth of his life experience when I could relate it to the truth of my own existence. I could find a commonality even though we are not of the same tribe. I believe we share and value the importance of story telling in our individual lives. I felt closest to his words when I allowed myself to respectfully, in thought, tread where he had tread.
My high school was full of extracurricular opportunities. The many different clubs I joined helped me to understand my identity. Sometimes I found the membership requirements to be inappropriate to my goals, so I quit. I could always try another club. Sometimes my application to join a group was rejected, then I felt crushed. Words can break bones.
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.
As the train approached the station I felt the familiar rush of wind being pushed by the plunger of the lead car through the tubular underground channel. My hair blew back, I stepped further back from the platform, the brakes squealed and the announcer advised, “Please step back from the doors.” I was excited to be riding the subway of my childhood for the first time in fifty some odd years. The TTC (The Toronto Transit Commission) was once disparagingly referred to as Take The Car. In my opinion it stands up to other cities, at least in terms of efficient subways. It’s a modern mass transportation system that works.
My earliest memory of the Toronto subway was taking the bus from my childhood home in Scarborough to the nearest subway stop then navigating my way to dance lessons, stamp stores or to the C.N.E. My parents would take my sister and me downtown on special occasions like birthdays or when we won a trophy for something. It was extra special when I could get to sit in the very first car so I could get a visual sense of our forward momentum. It was scary and thrilling at the same time as the car pierced the darkness and then came the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel as we pulled into the tiled terminal. Some subways I have been in have more than tile at their station stops. In Stockholm for example, their Metro is worth riding even if you have no destination in mind. Each cavernous terminal point is beautifully lit with fascinating art and historical references to the city and Sweden’s culture. This experience might be called the Caves of Lascaux 2.0 for its modern nod to the famed prehistoric ochre paintings.
I don’t work in Toronto, nor do I use the city transit system on a regular basis so my opinion is based on fondness for the transport mode, happy childhood memories and fun touristy sorts of thought. This is not very scientific, hardly objective, yet riding the rails is fun. And for me it’s a sentimental trip. My first free range solo adventures hinged on my confidence in taking public transit. When I went to the Canadian National Exhibition my wallet contained change totalling no more than five dollars and a return TTC paper ticket. My first time alone there was when I was nine. My mom checked my wallet and combed back my hair with her palm. My dad asked if I had my handkerchief and quizzed me on bus stops. They both said to have fun, watch out for pickpockets and be home by eight.
I counselled myself the same way as my parents did, for my most recent trip. I researched the route by computer but eschewed taking a cell phone. I felt alert with self responsibility, didn’t get lost, consulted with a bus driver, was amused when a traveller bared his bum and some riders gasped. I didn’t scale Mt.Everest but my trips have created stories to tell.
My generation has tons of musical references to trips of the psychedelic sort. We were advised to ‘tune in, turn on and drop out’ by LSD guru Timothy Leary. Author Aldous Huxley advocated for altered states. Television and movies at that time proliferated the conflicting ideas that getting high was either fun, instructive or a slippery slope to mania. In the United States the establishment (The Man) got so worked up about dope fiends and acid freaks that they encouraged their government to wage a war on drugs. In my dorm at Guelph University, drugs were easy to obtain in the early seventies. A fellow nicknamed Blackie was a familiar face at parties, offering a tempting collection of pretty coloured pills. My roommate partook, I resisted. The whole scene frightened me. I have a curious mind and an adventurous spirit yet turning myself over to tripping went against my need for personal control over my behaviour.
Growing up, the highlight of my summer was a camping trip to the beachfront of Maine. This vacation was from one to three weeks long and it marked me for life. My first fish caught with a rod, first kiss, first brush with death, first big purchase, first independent road trip and first long distance girlfriend all happened in this State. My experiences each summer welded together the things I had learned back home. Those trips contributed to my maturation process. I have magnified the importance of these holidays to such an extent that I brought my first wife and three boys to camp in the very spots I had enjoyed. When my current wife and I were planning for retirement, seeing Maine as part of an east coast residency possibility seemed like a natural trip to take.
Now I suddenly find myself at age seventy. I have travelled to many places I had only dreamed of as a youngster. Writing stories and typing pages for this blog is an intellectual trip of sorts. I continue to enjoy armchair travel with the help of film, books and magazines. Several years ago I turned on to ethnobotanist Wade Davis, whose adventurous writing captivates me. His creative reflections made me curious about Psilocybin. Likewise, Michael Pollan and Paul Stamets have added to my understanding of the regrowth of interest in tripping as a therapeutic tool.
When my eldest son told me he had tried magic mushrooms. I asked if he would go on a trip with me for my 70th birthday. Quite coincidentally I discovered that Johns Hopkins University was conducting research on psychotropic medications. I signed up as a long distance participant. I felt I was ready. We chewed our dried ‘shrooms. My wife checked in on us during our journey. I tuned in, dropping out occasionally by closing my eyes to restore a sense of inner safety. I used a feather as a talisman on my vision quest. It showed me wondrous animations. I got in touch with my dead mother & sister. Why not? Who knew?
This boy will never stop learning.
The board game called Clue invites players to find out who committed murder. The box says it is a family game for ages 8 or older. My sister sent a colour videotape version of the game to my family of three boys years ago. I had just purchased a modern VHS player but still owned an old black and white television set. Colonel Mustard was hard to identify.
Killing someone is deadly business and sometimes grotesquely profitable, yet we are fascinated by tales of murder and mayhem. I grew up watching The Three Stooges swearing they’ll murder someone, “I’ll moidelize ya!” ‘Murdelize’ comes up in old cartoons too. It was all just meant to get a laugh from a five year old, I guess.
During my last years of high school I chummed around with a fellow who introduced me to CO2 gas pistols. They were loaded with harmless metal pellets. We used to walk the creek in our neighbourhood aiming at signs and stray tin cans. Pop bottles were best to hit because of the shattering glass special effect. On one of these ramblings my buddy aimed at, and killed, a pigeon that he spied innocently cooing at a railway crossing. Later the next year when I was away at university I learned that he was in a bar fight, murdered a guy and went to prison.
As an adult I wonder how there are classifications for murder. Surely there isn’t a rational reason for creating a spectrum for murderous intent. It’s one of the few areas in my personal philosophy when I won’t accept a shade of grey. I guess you have to be a lawyer to understand the degrees between accidental homicide and mass murder. In between those two extremes I could put manslaughter (the strangest of terms), but where would institutional execution fit, or war even? I don’t distinguish a difference between war and murder on a massive scale. War is murder. And murder is war at the personal level.
In the U.S.of A., we read of people getting away with murder on a regular basis. From my bench it appears as if money, connections or a crack legal team can get you off from pretty much any crime. White folk seem to win their case in court a greater percentage of the time. In the city where I live there is a fellow, by my reckoning, who has got away with two murders. Both of his victims were fringe members of society. A blind eye was turned.
‘Thou shalt not kill’ is only in the middle of the list that Moses reported was important to God. Those holy tablets rank kicking a ball on Sunday as being more consequential. I bring up God since he/she is often used as justification for state sanctioned killing. Yes, I get that sometimes you must defend yourself but the whole ‘God is on our side’ is used to rationalize even Genocide!
“Why?” you may ask. Now, I haven’t got a clue.
The first time ever I thought deeply about this word was when my grade ten art teacher started a lesson by using a Marshal McLuhan quote: ‘The medium is the message.’ After the discussion, we chose the medium we felt was appropriate to a theme of our choosing. Back then I believed I was being clever by using plasticine. I wanted to give a cheeky message that media could be molded or manipulated to suit the situation. Today, as a writer, I’m using this blog as my medium of choice. Let me massage your thoughts.
Most people view media as the platform through which any information is delivered. In a free society this means that the message is rarely filtered and can get manipulated. Wars and governments are won or lost on how well the propaganda machine can spew out ‘alternative facts’. The messenger becomes very important when it comes to interpreting the barrage of information. As citizens we must take some time to discover what is believable and who to trust. It has become difficult to discern the truth, especially when we are in such a hurry, yet some subjects are just too important to rely on a swipe right or left methodology.
Courtroom decisions are being made based on media evidence of crimes committed. Darnella Frazier was recognized with a Pulitzer Prize for courageously recording the murder of George Floyd, a video that spurred protests against police brutality around the world, highlighting the crucial role of citizens in journalists’ quest for truth and justice.
Today the options for information and entertainment are vast. My blind mother-in-law is less alone because of the joy she finds in listening to her reliable radio. I cling to a traditional, home delivered newspaper in a similar way. I enjoy television too, perhaps too much, especially now that I can stream programming without the annoyance of commercials. I’ll confess that Twitter has been a remarkable addition to my life. I find this format of social media helps me to see interesting perspectives from all over the world.
Media and reality have never been so blurred. I’m respectful of journalists who sometimes risk their health and safety to bring us important stories. Cellphone technology can transport us live to scenes only passersby used to witness. Film can be uploaded to Facebook or Instagram for millions of users to take a collective gasp, then resent for political action. I remember being shocked by one-day-old film from the war in Vietnam. Now with the war in Ukraine, President Zelenskyy, pictured below, can bring a real time humanitarian message to viewers of the Grammy Awards show. Art imitating life imitating art, was never more true.
I won’t take a medial position on this. A spiritual medium may mystically propose that my being and my message are essentially interconnected. I’ll interpret Mr.McLuhan by proffering that we are all, Media. I believe our thoughts/feelings/expressions can be connected to form a singular reliable understanding. Wow!
The Oscars Slap. The Slap that was heard around the world. The outrage over this one violent act, even amidst conflict in locations throughout the globe, came as more of a shock to me than the slap itself. By the time this page is posted there will have been lots of sincere discussion and whataboutery on social media, in print and in coffee shop gatherings. Conversation is a good thing. This incident produced an excellent exchange with my eldest son.
Together we identified the issues that this act of violence highlighted: female agency, male power, comedic intent, manners, and personal illness were among the many relevant points. For me the central issue was society’s tolerance of violence. I told my son that I could not condone any form of violent action against another. I see many challenges in life in a spectral way. With respect to violence I might place a hurtful comment on one side of a continuum and an act of war on the other extreme. The point I was making with my son was that I believed that emotion drives the violence and regardless of the degree, we are responsible as individuals to control our responses to anger, hate, or other feelings that would fuel hurting others. “You’re more of a pacifist than I am.” said my son. I’ll take the label.
The Covid-19 reality has made death a counting game. I fear that it has produced a tolerance among us to loss. Likewise with the war in Ukraine, in the early days we have argued against helping for fear the conflict will escalate. Meanwhile people are hurt from disease and the feeling that they are struggling alone. Essentially we are alone, yet we help our neighbour. We are individuals, yet under normal circumstances we resist using violence to solve our problems. When collectively we act emotionally we can advance civilization. The opposite can also be true; when we are pushed we want to push back.
Looking back through my life I recalled two people who have faced my violent response: One was a bully at school when I was twelve, the other was a student who was swinging a ruler at me in my early days as a teacher. He had cornered another student and I stepped in to protect, slapping the aggressor in the process. I’ll put the former down to youthful indulgence but the latter I felt instant regret. I apologized and wished I could have thought of a better way to defuse the situation. Most schools now have a zero tolerance policy to violence and bullies are called out, even when the behaviour is passive/aggressive.
I find it surprising that we tolerate violence in some sports and not in others. I look at the Will Smith/Chris Rock altercation and wonder why that awards show went on at all. I thought of movie westerns where one punch leads to a wrecked saloon. Simply put, maybe saner heads prevailed on Oscar night. Everyone assembled took a breath and carried on. More violence would have been wrong.
‘We all need some body to lean on.’ I’ve separated a compound word back there on purpose. If the great Bill Withers tune comes to mind that’s ok by me, just lean on me, while I try to amuse you with what the word Body brings to my mind. I promise I’ll stay away from bodily functions, body humour and noises a body might make.
When typing the word Body I must admit my first thoughts are sexy ones. A country song by The Bellamy Brothers plays now in my head; “If I said you have a beautiful body/Would you hold it against me?” That makes me think of times I’ve shared my body. I’ve been lucky that others have been attracted to me. I’ve been lucky to be fit without really trying. I’ve been in no major accidents and have few ailments. Like most people, I wish some parts of my body were better: longer, firmer, brawnier, hairier, or more flexible. Generally I think I’m presentable if not lovable.
Body talk is often frowned upon. Some folks are too quick to assume that the speaker/writer/painter/photographer is body shaming, or lascivious or sexist or objectifying. When the subject of bodies is portrayed within the context of communicating feeling or ideas more tolerance is needed. My overriding biased opinion is that, yes the human body is a thing (flesh, bones, blood & stuff), but always a beautiful one. I truly marvel at the variety and assortment of fleshy things that are in this big world. How wonderful it is when our soul gets to decide how to practise play while using a body full of movement, senses and expressions!
Some feel their body gets in the way. I was surprised by a comment Melanie Safka made recently in an interview about impediments to her musical career. I naively thought that all men and women had the ability to shape their lives equally. Boy! Girl! Was I wrong! Melanie said,”I kind of wished I didn’t have a body.” That statement made me ponder the male/female divide when it comes to how we view our bodies. As a young adult I was very attracted to her bodacious body and also to her body of work. I memorized the lyrics to ‘Brand New Key’ and I empathized along with her when she sang, ‘What Have They Done To My Song Ma.’
During award shows my favourite category is Lifetime Achievement. A human is being recognized for the work they’ve done using their body, mind and spirit over the course of a majestic period of time. Pity the person who didn’t appreciate the award winner in the early days. Prejudice may start when a body meets a body and the impression is only skin deep. Snap decisions based on looks can affect a career or a relationship. Judging a book by its cover can inhibit you from discovering a story that may change your life.