Re: Dismiss

In the digital dating world the act of swiping left is an example of dismissal. The social media apps and sites are primed to get you what you want in the impulsive twitch of a finger. My eldest son is not happy with this form of meeting people yet it is the sign of our times: We want immediate access. In general, we’ve become dismissive of one another’s point of view so profoundly that we seek shelter within our tribal connections. Our thoughts are comforted by the wishes of the flock. It’s easier to disregard the outsiders when we are on the same page of groupthink.

I watched an episode of Star Trek:Enterprise that was streamed on television the other day. Disclaimer: I am a trekkie rather than a Star Wars fan so don’t dismiss me out of hand. May the Force be with you. In this particular episode the captain tells three separate crewmen that they are dismissed. The meetings take less than a minute each. All three had more to say but the head officer was done with gaining feedback. Space army language, it was clear, is perfunctory. The script in this case was obvious; we all have a job to do, so do your duty.

Imagine life in the armed forces on Earth, where being dismissed is a regular occurrence. I can’t imagine what that does to your self esteem to appear so individually inconsequential. Someone decides what’s best for the many, while the individual is always expendable. Soldiers are tools, militarized human beings, trained to function for one purpose, discarded when expired, honoured once a year. Attention! Eyes front! You’re dismissed.

Dismissal is a failure to accommodate even more than it is a case of poor communication. I was a career teacher, with a daily requirement to hear a room full of students’ thoughts and feelings. The class management component was always a challenge for me, since I have a more one to one communication style. Many lessons would involve a debate of some sort, either over content or perspective. I was never a ‘My way or the highway’ educator, which sometimes made me an easy target for a persistent dissenting voice, calling out, “But why?” If I’m being kind to myself, I can’t ever recall saying, “Case dismissed” as a judge might, while ruling over a controversial situation. I never wanted a student to feel that their opinion had been lost in the translation. However, at the end of some very long and eventful school days, I was very pleased to pronounce, “Class dismissed!”

Strangely, we can be dismissive of good things too. Consider when we wave off a compliment from a colleague, family member or friend. Humility has its place, yet acceptance of someone’s regard for us is important to acknowledge. Likewise when we neglect to give praise or take goodness for granted we dismiss the nectar of life. The value of another soul is precious. We gain so much by pausing, by paying attention, before moving on with our own lives.

Re: Servant

There is a distinction between being a servant or a slave. A friend of my son once surprised those gathered for a back yard BBQ by stating, “I ain’t nobody’s bitch.” Someone had just asked him how he liked his new job and he was telling us that already he wasn’t getting along with the boss. He worked at a grocery store. He was tasked to keep the floors swept so that customers wouldn’t slip on entry. When he wasn’t doing that he was assigned to bringing in the carts from the parking lot. Basic service work, minimum wage.

Recently deceased Queen Elizabeth II, expressed in speeches and in her actions that she saw her life as service. Her servant salary was quite different to that of a grocery cart boy. As a society, I think most of us place a high value on service to others, even while we underpay the majority. A housewife is a role we take for granted in most of the world. Putting aside the sexual discrimination elements inherent in the title, the job description of a person who makes a home for others is a lengthy list which can cover a number of well paid professions: Cook, Laundry Worker, Psychologist, Teacher, Early Childhood Educator, Personal Care Worker, Financial Planner, Management Coordinator etc. If these services were contracted out separately the monthly expenses for a family of four would be prohibitive. The important role of Homemaker could be supported with a government cheque. A guaranteed wage might resolve this issue, as well as other cases where service goes unsung.

Ironically perhaps, the nobility of being a servant was sensitively portrayed in an episode of the television series The Crown. Sydney Johnson, a real life character who was valet to the abdicated King Edward VIII, was shown as a graciously giving fellow, even though he was only a notch above a slave to every royal whim. I cringed when I saw the Duke make a request for his silver cigarette case. I felt like yelling at the screen, “Get it yourself!”

Full service gas stations used to have lots of employees dashing about checking oil, pumping fuel and washing windshields. DIY is now the language norm in more than just filling up your tank. But I must admit to feeling let down when I can’t find someone to help me when I’m looking for a product in a store I don’t frequent. I get royally indignant wondering why the customer is no longer always right. I can relate to the symbolic Karen in these moments.

My father served with distinction in North Africa during the second world war. Later, through his work in community he taught me by example the value of volunteering. My mother was a Public Servant in the manner of an elected official in her region. Growing up with them, I witnessed how giving service to others is an essential part of being human. Everyone wants to feel a part of something, giving of yourself honours your life as well as those who receive your offerings. Volunteerism builds humanity and humility.

Re: Trigger

The word Trigger gets me thinking about guns. Don’t get me started on the 2nd Amendment of my basement neighbour’s Constitution! I’m triggered to think of the atrocities committed in the United States that are directly related to the insane belief that some Americans have regarding their right to bear arms. Of course, gun culture is not exclusive to the U.S.of A., but that nation sure knows how to promote it.

Most guys my age had a set of toy six shooters under the Christmas Tree. These faux firearms came with a roll of caps to create authentic sounds of engagement. As a nine year old I met up with my friends in a nearby ravine every weekend to play Cowboys and Indians. As well as my holstered cast aluminum pistols, I carried a replica carbine rifle and a derringer tucked into my sock. I was packin’!

Television at the time had role models to enhance your imagination. I could pretend to be Roy Rogers who had a dog named Bullet. I’d pretend to ride his horse named Trigger, chasing after bad guys who only understood justice from the point of a gun. Today you can view an endless stream of Netflix dramas that feature gun play. Violence is depicted as necessary, the weapon as an equalizer. Rarely is guilt factored into that fictional equation, since the end result justifies any and all means. So goes the script anyway.

What sets a person off can often be a good starting point to any discussion that requires resolution. I’ve been noticing lately that even a single word, misinterpreted, can incline the conversation in a surprising direction. Language can trigger memory and, like the speed of a bullet, the damage of that recollection pierces your heart as though the wound was occurring in real time. With feelings tightening, it’s very difficult to return to the onset: The flames of unresolved issues have been fanned into a firestorm of emotion. It’s a firefight.

I used to idolize the gunslingers I followed on my favourite tv westerns. They had a quick trigger finger and a focussed aim. I liked it when their precision shot would blast the gun out of the bad man’s hand, disarming the villain even while correspondingly shaming him for his intent to harm the innocent town folk. To this day incidents of bullying are most triggering for my childish mind. I picture myself as the sheriff walking about my village with a space gun (set to stun), or a rapid fire nerf shooter. I’ll be doing my rounds, ever watchful and fully prepared to immobilize the blaggards of my community. Thankfully, my adult sensibility has found ways to tap into a relevant response to current stressors.

I’m getting better at not letting triggers dictate my immediate action. I’ll review my past association with the words or behaviours I’m witnessing before going off half cocked. Metaphorically, for safety sake, I’ve put a lock on my triggers, to avoid any random violence. Peace and reconciliation are my aims.

Re: Clown

A Jack in the Box is a clown puppet on a spring. You turn a crank on the side of the metal box where he lives to make music (Pop! Goes the Weasel) until the door on the top opens randomly and out jumps Jack the Clown. If you can recover from the shock, then just push the clown back down, close the lid and relive the experience. Sorta like life.

The circus came to our city one late summer and I took my first born and his younger brother to catch some of the excitement that live theatre provides. After enjoying a few simple rides, some candy floss and a small petting zoo we went into a large tent and sat on chairs arranged around a single large ring. We got to be in the first row so everything was up close. There were horses and jugglers, acrobats and clowns. One clown, face pasty white and eyes ringed in red make-up came out of nowhere flashing his large gloved hands and startled me. My children crawled into the arms of my wife sitting next to me. Chaos ensued. The clown man moved on along the circle. We decided that we had had enough for the day.

Santa is really a clown, “Who’s got a big red cherry nose?” He could be referred to as the King of the Clowns. Every year someone pretending to be Santa volunteers to dress up and be part of parades and company parties. Every large shopping mall has a North Pole display complete with a throne for Santa. Children are encouraged to overcome their shyness, sit alone on the big man’s lap while telling him their secret wishes. Some kids are visibly shaken by the experience yet caregivers feel compelled to continue this odd cultural tradition. Pictures are taken to keep the moment memorable, smiles or no smiles.

The author Stephen King has added an extra level of fright to the way we view clowns. Pennywise, the character in his story of clowning mayhem called IT is not a dude you would like to bump into. Lurking in the gutters, leering through the drain ways,  Robert Gray generates no laughter from me. Neither do clownish politicians who act one way and make policy decisions in another dimension of reality. There were times when court jesters were employed to divert the populace from unpleasant royal edicts. Comedy used this way could be risky. Several television & movie actors have toyed with the fine line between humour and pathos. Jack Lemmon, Norman Wisdom, Milton Berle, Red Skelton and Jim Carrey are among those successful with the transition between these emotional forms. Jerry Lewis was another who used his clown persona but not always with mass approval. Witness this questionable unreleased film; ‘The Day the Clown Cried’. Coming Soon! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Cv3-MCkX7U

Sometimes I enjoy clowning around. Being silly allows me to step outside of my normally serious personality. I don’t use scary makeup. If others in the room appear shocked, I’ll quickly let them in on the joke.

Re: God

When I was a child my parents did not lead me in ways to suggest a reverence for the word or meaning of God. They even spelled it differently: Gawd! Pronouncing it with exasperation, as if someone had let them down again. At the time my friends and I thought the Catholic kids who were educated in the scary looking building down the street belonged to the Others so we teased them. As I grew I ditched my ridicule but maintained my curiosity regarding God-fearing personalities. I was curious enough to marry one. My first wife was a gentle soul, raised in the ways of a Christian. She practised her spirituality rather than spouted it. She was subtle in her evangelism; leaving a newish version of the Gospel out on a side table for example, knowing I liked to read almost any text. It was that gentle persuasion that got me accompanying her to services on Sunday. I came to understand the Bible not as the Word of God but for its intent.

This became my God Period: going to church on a regular basis with my growing family. During those years I included myself through reading, leading, singing and otherwise participating in finding out more about my spirit. It was fun and rewarding. I learned a lot about people. I think it helped me be a good father to my children and a husband to my wife.

A survey from Angus Reid Polling landed in my email inbox last week asking me to identify my faith status from a long list of choices. I chose ‘none of the above’ for several reasons: I don’t practise the tenets of any one faith, I don’t attend any religious functions, I don’t pray. I believe that religion no longer has a place in my life. The idea of God still fascinates me as it did when I was using it to understand community but I am not a godly person. Calling myself a humanist sounds banal. Being an atheist just sounds argumentative.

Yet here I capitalize the word God. I still feel as godless as when I was a child. I don’t believe that a god created all things. As an artist I have sometimes entertained the notion that I am the maker of my existence, yet I resist using The Creator’s name as an expletive out of respect. I feel I can appreciate the many deities that are worshipped throughout the world while never feeling the urge to kneel. I have witnessed some amazing things but do not believe that these happenings were the result of a divine hand. I refuse to give credit to a supreme power, nor will I accuse such an entity of meddling negatively in my personal affairs.

Many philosophers, I have read, describe themselves as anti-theist. I find much in common with that willful declaration. My spiritual side comes out when I’m being silly, when I’m feeling carefree holding hands with my wife, when I’m awestruck by the vastness of the universe and all it contains.

Re: Tree

During the time I have spent in a fifth floor apartment in the midst of suburbia, I have come to appreciate a maple tree outside my window. From my balcony perspective I am living at the level of the tree’s canopy. I have now gone an annual cycle with this tree; through the four seasons of change. My time began here as leaves turned colourful, then brittle enough to escape with the breeze. Winter branches crackled with frost and sleet. I was close enough to watch the buds burst in spring, while birds built their nests. As summer leaves widened, branches moaned in the wind. Now the tree and I have come full circle. I mourn a little as my tree returns to its dormant state. I have more waiting to do.

It’s hard not to be a forest activist when your permanent home is in British Columbia. While I’m away from the towering firs and cedars I’ve been reading about trees. There are some wonderful recent books on the subject. I’ve joined several authors in their revery of dendrology. I devoured the description of the passionate arboreal warriors in The Overstory by Richard Powers. I found a kinship concerning the science behind The Arbornaut by Meg Lowman and Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard. Call me sappy, but I rewatched the film Avatar for its tree hugging sentimentality.

Canadians are blessed with opportunities to experience trees in nature. Cutting down your own Christmas tree is part of our culture. Most folks know how to use an axe to chop wood into fire sized chunks. I’d be surprised if I met someone who hadn’t climbed up into a tree’s branches as a child, testing themselves while finding a fresh perspective. My son often carries a hammock in his hiker’s bag so he can rest between two trees, gently swinging. His brothers and I have planted many a tree sapling while sharing hopes for future groves, bringing environmental health and integrity.

Trees are great metaphors for many aspects of life. My first wife was a genealogist. She spent much time researching family trees, revealing fascinating ancestral connections. She traced some branches back to early North American colonial settlements. She discovered heroes, black sheep, soldiers and farmers and many quirky characters who enlivened our understanding of our genetic predispositions. During my church years, my Sunday school students would move in close when I told them about the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life. They all agreed that Eve did the right thing to show Adam the wonders of that Apple of Knowledge. “How else would we learn!” Exclaimed one girl.

I’ve been lucky to see trees from several continents. I’ve watched my Mississauga maple for four seasons now. From its canopy to its strong trunk, I have gazed the middle distance into its structure searching for the meaning to my present uprootedness. There is more knowledge yet to be imparted These branches wave back to me offering reassurance that another season is yet to come. Time to be patient.

Re: Baseball

Hollywood and Baseball are the only two truly great things that come from the United States of America. Whether you refer to it as a game, a sport or a pastime; Baseball has something for everyone. I believe the meeting of spectator and athlete at the Old Ball Game has an artistic quality to it, with church-like overtones. The stadium is the sanctuary, the diamond is the nave, the pennant is the holy grail. Buy me some Cracker Jacks please.

Baseball is a story, generally played out in nine chapters by two teams with nine players on each side. During the game there is drama, strategy, plots and intrigue. Occasional foul play is rare, but umpires are there, to ensure that there is an overriding tone of gentlemanly interaction and level headed sportsmanship. I like that Baseball is a team sport as well as an individual sport. The first batter to approach home plate is truly one player against nine. With each swing of the bat the goal is to secure a place on the next base. Once there, by fate or the will of the baseball gods, the runner prays his teammates will get him home. Barring a home run, all members must work together. Coaches are allowed near first and third bases to give runners some encouraging words. It’s collaborative. It’s collegial. It’s an example of the way life can be.

Variants of ball and bat games predate the development of Baseball which got its start in North America in the mid-nineteenth century. As the sport grew in popularity it was played on vacant lots, streets and open fields. The dreams of many a boy began with hearing the exploits of their favourite player. I had a small transistor radio I kept in my desk in grade six. It gave me updates on the exploits of Roger Maris and Willie Mays, my two favourite players. I played hardball and was a terrible batter. However, I caught the league winning fly ball in my last season as a left fielder. I collected Baseball cards, kept them in a shoe box and, like everyone else, after I left home for college, my mother tossed them out,

The pace of Baseball appeals to my personality. It takes its time. The players are diverse in shape, size, colour and disposition. My favourite player right now is a catcher named Alejandro Kirk. He’s not a stereotypical athlete but damn can he perform! In a world that often seems unfair, the rules of Baseball are regularly being updated to make for more egalitarian play. Umpires, like a third team, are present to see that justice is done, that a level of respect is maintained. When judgement is questioned there is allowance for impartial review. Scandals have existed on and off the stadium grounds (steroids, gambling, conspiracy, corporate usury) but when all is said and done, regardless of who you are, you have a chance to realize your dreams on the field of Baseball.

The spirit of this game shall endure forever.

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: Appropriate

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.