Re: Home

I am a person who loves his home so much that he calls it his sanctuary. I’ve been called a homebody. Perhaps being a white guy I can’t call myself a homeboy but I wouldn’t mind if someone called me a homie. Settling into a comfortable homey space, with a book and beverage at hand, is a sigh inducing event. The cliché ‘home is where the heart is’ could be my bumper sticker, needlepoint pillow, memorial bench plaque or business card accent. When Dorothy awakens from her trip to Oz stating, “There’s no place like home.” I can affirm it.

After my retirement from a teaching career, my wife and I thought we could roam about in a home on wheels, being of no fixed address. I got uncomfortable with that romantic ideal pretty quickly. Our next adventure was managing a condo as live-in janitors. I soon found out that my definition of a home was different from other folks. I got frustrated when the owners didn’t take care of their property with the same enthusiasm or respect that I always had for my own home. It seemed like an injustice to clean up after these people misusing their common space in the building whilst outside on the city street homeless wanderers were hunting for any corner that offered warmth.

An enduring memory I have of my childhood is floating in an army surplus dinghy off the coast of Maine. Fishing there with a friend would come to a close as dusk made the sky a deep royal blue along the shoreline. The lights of the beachside cottages would click on bringing a warm orange glow to spaces within. That thought never fails to bring on a yearning to get inside, safe and away from the approaching darkness. It’s the vision that comes to mind whenever I read the idiom ‘home and hearth’.

I recently had a conversation with a young fellow who had moved frequently within a short span of time. I asked him what home meant to him. He described the physical structure of a house or apartment was not the same as the feeling of home. The conversation had many silent moments where I wondered if he was homing in on the quintessential thing that made a home, a home. He went on to tell me that he had a future wish that his perfect home would include a loving family, a place for a BBQ and a big screen television set. He was describing some things that brought him comfort and security, things that he felt he needed to complete the picture of his home. At least in his head, at least for now.

Ravens take the role of homing pigeons in the television series, Game of Thrones. They carried messages and were rewarded with food and safe haven. A homing pigeon knows what a home is. When he finds it I can imagine he feels just as I do when I take in the peace I recognize in my abode.

Re: Sandbox

For part of my childhood I lived with my parents and sister in a small two bedroom apartment. I spent a lot of time outside. In winter I would pretend to be Ernest Shackleton trekking across the vastness of Antarctica. In summer I would kill ants in the community rock garden or hang out at the large sandbox nearby.

With just two Dinky cars and a few plastic army men, I could occupy myself for hours sitting in that pile of sand. There were often several children playing in this simple rectangular structure. As I remember the apartment’s sandbox had four partially buried perimeter walls made of 2X10 lumber. Each corner was topped with a small triangle of plywood providing support for the structure and handy as a seat. To have a corner spot was a coveted position in what I came to learn as the hierarchy of the sandbox.

First child to arrive could claim a corner seat. If a parent came with their child, the adult got a seat. The centre of the sandbox usually had a small hill that kids who liked to play together occupied. If a parent was present things were quiet and order existed. I clearly recall being banished from the sandbox one day because I loudly said that a new kid had ‘big ears’ before realizing her mother was sitting nearby.

Without an adult, any group larger than two children required negotiations. Lines were drawn in the sand. What was learned in the sandbox never just stayed in the sandbox because the lessons remained with you for a lifetime. Allies were made. Bullies had to be dealt with. I learned kindness when someone uncovered one of my favourite Tonka trucks which I thought I had lost forever. I learned to share space with complete strangers. When no one was around I learned how to enjoy my own company.

When I bought my first house and was expecting my second child, I built a sandbox in anticipation. I chose a square shape to suggest the closeness I wished for my children. My wife insisted that I make a cover for it so that the neighbour’s cat wouldn’t think it was for his use only. I made the corner triangles a bit larger than I remembered to better accommodate my larger size. I loaded beach sand, which I raided from a nearby lake, into the back of my Chevy Blazer, making several trips before I was satisfied I had enough for my boys’ sandbox.

I became the father of three boys who, like their dad, learned how to take care of their toys, look after each other, use their imagination and value time alone. Eventually they helped me add to their backyard play area by constructing a ramshackle collection of wood bits, bicycle parts and lengths of rope they called ‘The Climbing Thing’. Jumping off the top of the structure into the soft security of the sandbox became their funnest activity.

Re: Freak

My intention with this blog is to puzzle through, while writing, what a word signifies to me. As I get feedback I’m finding I’m not alone in being confused by the different interpretations of a word. I find it interesting how some words produce an emotional reaction. These triggers can send our thoughts rushing to unintended conclusions. We lose sight of the original intent of the conversation and dialogue ceases to be productive.

I sent a Twitter message recently, saying that I was ‘freaking out’ about an upcoming event. It was interpreted in a negative way. Often, that is the way it is for me: I find myself exclaiming (out of wonder or joy) and someone is always there trying to explain my wonderment as a way to cover for me. I suspect some fail to understand why anyone could just be enthusiastic about things. I get that context matters, but funny why we so often jump to the negative connotation as a matter of course.

A headline in my city’s newspaper described our Prime Minister as ‘Freaking Out’ over a heckler’s comments at a political event. Watching the video clip in question I didn’t find that he behaved extraordinarily freaky but he was sure passionate about his desire for an inclusive immigration policy.

Everyone can name some classic bad words that we are taught not to use. Usually they have a racial, religious or body part implication. For example the N-word is clearly a mistake racially speaking. The C-word is particularly disturbing to women. In Quebec I wouldn’t use the T-word. Even in our progressive age it’s considered impolite to drop the F-bomb.

I taught a student whose surname was Freak. She never got teased about her name that I was ever aware of during her time in my classroom. It would be great to ask her about her perception of this word now that she has grown. A male named Richard must guard the long form of his name carefully as the shortened version is cringeworthy. As with any word, particularly if it’s your name, you must make amends with yourself. Any perception of our difference is often considered freakish, yet we all have oddities within us. I tend to like the freaky part of me even though I am shy to show it. This positive value of respecting diversity is a regular theme in the Arts. Two examples:
On Broadway; Shrek, The Musical https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSDetuag6zU
On Vinyl; CSN&Y ‘Deja Vu’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Lk2KHajp4Y

I’m old enough to have gone to a circus to see odd people. One of my favourite movie musicals of late is The Greatest Showman. P.T. Barnum hires “freaks” to be put on display to a paying audience. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjxugyZCfuw

The characters in this film found a common connection and some felt that within the circus they had a place they could finally call home.

Embracing our freakiness might actually save us.