Re: Covid

Covid is a word that was not part of my vocabulary way back in December 2019. My blog postings are all about words that matter to me; words that create a thousand and one visuals in my brain; words that conjure up emotions and memories; words that have become as much a part of me as the bologna sandwiches I love to eat.

The word Covid has quickly found its way into dictionaries. Some may stick a number 19 onto it when they are speaking but I think the single C-word will persist throughout history. English language speakers regularly use about 20,000 words. Since December 2019, I suspect I’ve said Covid out loud every other day. Somedays I can’t stop talking about it. Here I’m writing  about my thoughts using Covid as a subject heading. Some English words come and go depending on relevance I guess. My wife sometimes teases me when I use a word like Trousers. She’ll say, with her eyebrows raised up to her hair line, “What century are you from?” I’m not anywhere near fluent in other languages, so I’ll try to do justice to my birth tongue, I’ll tell her. I can also baffle my bride with future words like Levidrome. I’m part of a growing group who is promoting its inclusion in the dictionary. It has been a fun pastime during Covid to share puzzles online as a way to maintain a semblance of social contact. I wrote a whole blog page on Levidrome. https://catchmydrift.blog/2020/06/22/re-levidrome/

Language changes with the times. Those born with a cell phone in their hands may shake their heads in disbelief when reading about someone using a phone booth. My grandfather used to love to entertain my children with tales of when his farmhouse got a wall phone that had to be cranked by hand in order to get the switchboard operator. Covid life has quickly become a before/after experience for many people in a similar way that people talk of life before/after computers or other profound moments in history.

Due to Covid, I’m beginning to forget how it felt to be in a crowd, in a restaurant, on a plane. I’m imagining my sons trying to explain the differences between then/now to my wee grandchildren. Questions of what it was like ‘before’ are no doubt becoming something that teachers must anticipate. Lesson plans involving how to keep Covid exposure to a minimum will be padded with discussions of the way it used to be when we crammed into a classroom. As a career teacher many of my happiest moments were when I planned a school wide assembly with guest actors, speakers or for awards ceremonies where three hundred or more squirmy bodies experienced each other in the gym for an hour of collective fun. The thought of that now makes me gasp at the risk for viral exposure. We didn’t think twice about it then.

Five years from now how will we talk about Covid?

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: Hope

Hope is one of those words we hear all the time and never get tired of hearing. Hope is like the word Love: It’s easy to insert it into a conversation but difficult to explain. Hope is everywhere, except when it’s not. Hope, it’s been said, is the only thing that can’t be taken away from you. 

I’ve felt hopeless. I have hoped someone would die even though I never wished them dead. I try to live hopefully, especially when cynicism comes a calling. Living in a temporary, wait and see environment is difficult for me. It’s not about remaining positive; I can do sunshine and lollipops. Currently, Hope has become the catchword of my days. It is something I hang onto when I’m down and something I use as a planning tool when my mood shifts to building a better day. According to suggestions from environmental activist Greta Thunberg, hope must be equated with action. We can’t just hope that things will turn out all right, we must all be involved in the journey to find solutions.

It’s a good thing that Pandora, of Greek myth, closed the box before Hope escaped. Alexander Pope suggested that, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.” Elton John contended that, “When all hope is gone/Sad songs say so much.” Paul the Apostle summarized a letter to the Corinthians, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.” There are many references to hope in art and culture. This song has always been an ‘in the shower solo’ favourite of mine.

Hope, Honor, Grace, Charity and Prudence are five human qualities that are sometimes used as names for girls. My mother’s name was Joy. If my mom was any example, I suspect it is very hard to perform in life if a virtue is your name. To hear Mom tell it she was always hoping to please her father. Her dad expressed disappointment that she wasn’t a boy. Joy never brought her own mom any happiness either because of her willfulness. Perhaps Wilhelmina would have been a better moniker for this feisty, self absorbed lady. 

We try to define hope by matching it with something we can see, even though it is something we only feel. Hope and light are often referred to in the same sentence. Rainbows signify hope as they come after the darkness of a storm. Hope can be the light at the end of the tunnel. Conversely, hopelessness feels like darkness or a void, a pit where despair and bitterness can grow. We can wallow, but not for long. We must hope that the sun will come out tomorrow. 

My niece thoughtfully created a symbol of hopefulness which is hanging in our apartment. It is a painting of a lighthouse, casting a beam into the unknown. It reminds me to be patient as my wife assists her parents over hurdles of declining health. Hope will see us through.

Re: Hero

In a recent New York Times crossword I found the clue ‘Rescuer’ and it had me stumped for most of the puzzle. A four letter answer was required and it started with the letter H. Finally solving the other words forced me to see it was HERO. I spent the rest of that afternoon thinking about what a hero is to me.

Words are fascinating in that they require a definition. Discovering the meaning of a word can be tricky depending on context within a sentence, the tone of voice of the speaker, grammatical origins and even body language can be an important criterion for understanding. My first thought regarding the word Hero was not concerning rescuing, although I see it now. Perhaps it is because almost everyone these days is referred to as a hero. The term is so ubiquitous that it reminds me of the trend to present a Participation Award to anyone who shows up for an event.

If I was rescued from certain death I might refer to my saviour as a hero whether they be male or female (the feminized word heroine is simply awful). From childhood onward, people who have done heroic deeds have enthralled me. Boys of my age would have read tales of knights rescuing damsels, of sheriffs bringing justice to the American west, of explorers sailing the seven seas, or of ball players making baseball diamonds sparkle with their talent. As I got older my definition of an act of heroism became more philosophical and broader in scope to include those who challenged the status quo. These ‘idea heroes’ may not have been active in a physical sense, but their abstract thinking made them stand apart from the crowd.

Hero is an overused word and doesn’t belong with every expression of gratitude. Confusing fame or institutional power with heroism gets me in a bit of an anxious knot. Comic book heroes won’t save us. Some modern songs suggest we crave, even worship, the idea of a personal hero. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWcASV2sey0

Media personalities are often over quoted merely due to their celebrity. I wonder why the military profession is automatically tagged as being heroic. I’m not even sure bravery is a prerequisite for being a hero; determination certainly, and a sense of selflessness but most rescuers report they didn’t feel courageous at the time of the call for help.

I believe extraordinary constructive behaviour is heroic. Citizens who make an unselfish contribution to their communities are heroic. I would label some Olympic level athletes heroes just as I would someone who has devoted their life to an artistic passion. Folks might begin their personal list of heroes with Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Sylvia Pankhurst, or Linus Pauling. Pick a professional discipline, set some criteria, define parameters and let the list making begin! The debate might get heated determining which of those named are either Noteworthy, Great, or Truly Heroic. Be prepared to be convinced when someone asserts, “My dad is my hero.”

Re: I

I is a word and a single letter that carries a lot of punch. I is declarative: I was! I am! I will be! Translated to Latin: Ego eram, ego sum, I erit. Whenever bullying teachers asked rhetorically, “Just who do you think you are?” I always wanted, but lacked the courage, to respond with a preteen snarl, “Me, myself and I!”

There is a certain trinity to who we are. Christians are taught that Jesus was the father, son and holy ghost all rolled into one being. Sigmund Freud contended that all individuals are psychologically composed of an Id, an Ego and a Superego. I especially like the last term because it sounds and looks like a comic book hero. When I think of my responses to people and events I often consider whether it’s my inner child, my parent voice or my authentic adult self that is creating my thoughts.

In the context of the power of the word I, its homonyms are cool to think about too. Aye is something you shout with positivity when you are casting an oral vote or voicing agreement with your pirate captain.  Eye is the centre of things, as in a storm, calming, focussed. An eye is a body’s tool to gather information. William Shakespeare wrote that the eye is the window to the soul.

A single letter as a word with meaning is startling to ESL students. Only one other letter in our 26 word alphabet is a word unto itself. The letter A is what I used to call a helper when I taught early readers. Officially referred to as an indefinite article, the word A is important when distinguishing the difference between say, A baby and THE baby. Watching an episode of the British television series Call The Midwife, I was amused to hear the nurses refer to the newborns with the single word ‘Baby’. What a lovely declaration to start a wee one’s life!

During classes that I took to prepare myself for working as a Guidance Counsellor, I learned a lot about using the word I and I encouraged the students I worked with to use it when they started a sentence: ‘I don’t like what Johnny’s doing at recess.” “I feel bad when Jenny says that to me.” During these dialogues it became chaotic if most of the sentences began with the word You: “Ah, you said!” “You took my things!”

In previous generations talking about yourself was discouraged, even frowned upon. It was thought that if you proclaimed that you were good at something then your head might swell. Whenever my mom thought I was getting too big for my britches she used the Biblical quote, ‘Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall.’  She didn’t think a person could be an I, without being selfish.

Sir Paul McCartney, here in an interview with Stephen Colbert, speaks well about the reality of his fame while being aware of his kid self and the lazy adult persona, Paul. Let it be.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdGlGwlgxTk

Re: Awe

“Awesome!” and “Far Out!” are sounds that tumble out of my mouth whenever I’m amazed at what I’m experiencing. With these exclamations I’m not passing judgement on the surprising subject matter, I’m just feeling joy in the wonder of the moment. Just as the character Spock from the old television series Star Trek says, “Interesting” or “Fascinating” he too is expressing curiosity. My Awesome is just a big fat Wow regarding the mystery of life as I experience it. The singer/songwriter John Denver clearly understood how to express delight in the world around him. I feel to show enthusiasm is to embrace life and all its observable mysteries.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-OhYLVSGj0

My only social media account is Twitter. Recently I had my first experience with a post getting a lot of attention. People took issue with me using the word awesome to describe a short video that made my head metaphorically explode. It was a shipping container that housed fans and wires and a computer-looking array. Since it had no narration, I retweeted asking for an explanation of what I was seeing. Thousands of responses later the world seemed to think my awesome choice of words was either evil or masterful. I sincerely wasn’t choosing sides on the Blockchain/Bitcoin/NFT debate, only expressing a sense of wonder. Oh well.

Language is full of pitfalls. The word Awful carries a negative connotation even though it literally means, ‘full of awe’. I’ve been reading about philosophers lately and have discovered that a common connection with all the theories is that the world, and the humans who inhabit it, are pretty awesome. Each writer is filled with awe when it comes to his/her philosophy of life. I wondered if I would come across someone who had a philosophy of awesomeness. In the feature length cartoon ‘The Lego Movie’, there is an inspiring song ‘Everything is Awesome’ which captured the enthusiasm I had in mind. It’s obviously written for youngsters but I’m a kid at heart.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StTqXEQ2l-Y

If I understand Phenomenology correctly, it is our experience that defines the meaning of life. Martin Heidegger and other bright minds began a discussion of this idea of how phenomena interact with the consciousness. Detractors suggest Phenomenology might be dangerous because it lacks focus. Psh-Posh! Perhaps this minor philosophical movement can be restarted with my humble input. First, I humbly suggest a name change: Let’s try, Awelogy: The Philosophy of Wonder.

I’m working on some initial precepts: *When you greet the morning after your first breath of consciousness, be grateful. *Put aside your preconceptions when experiencing things. *Observe and allow yourself to be awestruck *Reserve judgement *Share your wonder with others *Resist sarcasm or mockery

These are nascent thoughts but I am in earnest. I plan to discuss this notion of Awelogy whenever I get the chance to slip it into conversation. Maybe one day one of my grandchildren may smile over my efforts and say in amazement, “Oh grandad!”

Re: Listen

It can sound like a quibble when someone points out that there’s a difference between hearing something and listening. Damn semantics! But there’s truth to that separation. Listening requires purposeful attention. Perhaps that’s why a leader of a group will shout, “Listen up!” before beginning an address. In arguments we sometimes can be accused of selective hearing or be told, “You only hear what you want to hear.” Tinnitus gets in the way of my hearing sometimes, perhaps that’s why I make a point of concentrating when someone is talking. I actually like moments when I can provide a listening ear to bring comfort. Regrettably, my sister used to think that the focus I brought to a conversation made me seem too intense for her liking. 

My grade six teacher would challenge us to listen for specific changes in a piece of music to better understand what emotion the composer was trying to convey. Like my dad, he was very dramatic when he read us stories, lowering his voice so we would lean in to pick up his change of accent, or a whisper to invite suspense. He was definitely my favourite of all of my school teachers. As part of English studies, Mr. Stroud twinned us with a classroom in Newfoundland. We each had a pen pal, who we wrote to every second week. When their letters came back to us, we would learn to listen to the printed word and ‘read between the lines’ to find meaning. I think of Mr. S., whenever I watch the awesome teacher film ‘Conrack’, starring Jon Voight.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTePeZag_yI

Being a good listener takes discipline and practise. Some have called it an art form. We’ve all been in a situation where someone has accused us of not listening, when really what happened was we failed to understand. I took courses in listening attentively during my training to be a Guidance Counsellor. In class sessions, we would pair up and role play scenarios. The goal was not just to gather the facts of the problem but also to relay to the other that we really understood what they were trying to say. 

I have been challenged during COVID19 with my listening skills. It’s very clear to me that I listen to people with more than my ears. As I age my hearing has weakened. With mask wearing, I’ve realized how much I’ve depended on lip reading to bridge the gap of missed vowel sounds. I’ve watched more closely for changes in body language. All this attentive listening requires keen eyesight too, “Hold on I’ll get my glasses.” These Covid realities have made communicating more like work. It doesn’t help when my inner voice is sounding negative either. For stress relief I’ve been reminded that listening to nature breeds a calmer attitude. The breeze through the trees, a bird on a branch, waves on the shore or rain on the window will bring my focus back to what matters most. This moment can have healing sounds worth listening to.

Re: Best

Those of us who are competitive or ambitious want to be more than better; we want to be Best. The urge to ‘Be Best’ would get the attention of the current First Lady of the United States of America. Ms. Trump is determined that her program, despite the poor grammar, will be valuable for child development. Comedian Randy Rainbow suggests a different conclusion.

I’ve never had the honour of being the best man at a wedding. Somedays I feel better than others. I’ve been told I am a good neighbour. I believe in the presumption that the best is yet to come yet I also realize that Good is often good enough. When I’m not feeling my best it’s usually best for me to meditate or take a nap rather than transfer my mood to someone else. I try to be better everyday but I know I’ll never be perfect ‘cause that would make me Best and who am I to say I’m better than you anyway.

Grammatically speaking I see the value of superlative and comparative adjectives. They aid the writer who’s into description. Philosophically however, I resist thinking in these terms. I don’t like the feeling of dominance that Super brings to Superlative. And without a clear criteria for comparative points of view how can you have a satisfying conversation? For example is it the Best Poutine Ever because of the crispness of the fries, the squeak of the cheese curds or the savouriness of the gravy? Just what are we arguing about here!

Discussing the qualities of film is always a lively debate in my family, especially when it comes to the Oscar pick for Best Picture in any given year. Here’s the top pick from 1946: The Best Years of Our Lives. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yc5PugV4mk . It’s not your average overacted late forties melodrama! When I revisit this film I’m stunned by these performances. Others may be stunned in another way by the slower story-telling pace of the film. Before an argument begins it’s probably best to say that choosing best of anything is subjective, at best.

Speaking of controversy, I had this jingle in my head as I shaved yesterday. “Gillette! The best a man can get.” The catchy tune came from this 1989 advertisement which seemed harmless for its time. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThDBf14qPsc
Recently the same company got into hot water for attempting to send a message in this post #metoo age about how men could be better behaved.

The 45th President of the United States has been called many things. This sophomaniac continues to convince voters with his braggadocio attitude that he is the best choice for your vote in this election year. He has called himself the “Greatest president God ever created.” New red ball caps may need to be embroidered ‘God Knows Best’. My anxiety levels need lowering so I’m hoping that beastly Trump gets bested in November.

Re: Phobia

The word Phobia is actually a suffix that has morphed into a word through common usage. You might say someone is phobic if they are demonstrating anxiety. A person may tell you they have a phobia to something. Both Phobia and Phobic can be words used to exaggerate the fear that someone feels. Lucy tries to explain phobias in this scene from A Charlie Brown Christmas. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b8SDztycKwY

I don’t like to admit I’m fearful. That’s like showing your hand in a card game. My fears don’t tend to limit me in the pursuit of a fulfilling life. I believe that’s where phobias come in: When your fears direct you to stop normal functions. I’ll admit to feeling discomfort over certain things that, in the extreme, might be phobias. For example: I don’t enjoy crowds (enochlophobia), I like to be inside before dark (noctiphobia), I avoid tight spaces (claustrophobia). The latter fear I can trace back to a bizarre game my mom and dad used to inflict on me when I was very young. When I asked to jump into their bed on a weekend morning they would wedge me with their elbows between their bodies so I couldn’t escape. Tough to know why I would ever come back for more of that but to this day it’s a challenge for me to stand in a packed subway car.

We have hired someone to renovate our bathroom. The workers’ first day on the job was a highly anxious time for me. Despite being confident about the decision to go ahead with this project, the noise and numbers of people involved produced a fear of the future reaction. What will they find behind the walls? Will they break anything important? Is it going to cost me more than budgeted? I know I’m not alone when it comes to Chronophobia, especially in the Anthropocene Age. It seems hard to look positively to the coming days in our current climate, political or otherwise.

The politics of fear cannot help us make good decisions yet this is the currency used by many to buy our vote. Xenophobia is a word that is being used to legitimize racist statements and activities. Our cave dwelling relatives had reason to fear others. In our modern world we need others, we need the collective, we need diversity, if we are to continue to survive as a species.

The antonym of Phobic is Phile. I’d rather promote the latter as a way to describe my positive nature. I love books, so I am a Bibliophile. I appreciate the artistry in clocks, so I am a Chronometrophile. I thoroughly enjoy film so I call myself a Cinephile. I’m proud of my heritage despite its flaws so I am an Anglophile.

There are just as many Phobias as there are Philes. Two sides of the same coin so to speak. We must find balance yet when our fears dominate let’s hope there is someone to watch over us. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y92LxyuNFZ0

Re: Excuse

English language words can be hard to teach. Some words may be spelled the same yet have different meanings depending on pronunciation. Take Excuse for example: I may be excused for certain behaviour yet I may decide to make no excuses. In the former there is the Canadian zed sound for the letter s and in the latter Excuse you hear the es sound clearly.

The mental shift that comes about as one hears the word in context can be confusing for an ESL student. I somewhat shamefully admit that the challenges inherent in learning another language frighten me. My other excuse, lame though it may be, is that I am lazy. Language, of course, is more than just vocabulary. Language is a force in communicating culture.

When I was growing up it would be pretty common for someone to say, ‘Excuse my French’. Maybe this xenophobic phrase is still used as someone’s less than polite way of excusing the four letter swear word that had just come out of their mouth. When we endeavour to excuse ourselves it is a way to rationalize our way of thinking and/or to seek forgiveness. There are some among us who would never consider the need to make an excuse, much less an apology. The current President of the United States, Donald Trump, is a daily example of inexcusable behaviour. He once infamously said, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters”. Many would say he is just speaking his mind. But that, in itself, is another excuse.

Dinnertime, when I was a young father, was pretty formal (for the mores of the 1980’s anyway). We observed as much as possible the 50’s Canadian tradition of all gathering around the table for a meal and conversation. Our excuse was that my wife and I wanted to hang on to customs that we thought were important for raising children. As my boys got older I remember giving permission for them to leave the table if they had finished and had an important place to go by saying, “You’re excused.” I wonder if anyone says that anymore. Reading this over makes me sound so nineteenth century!

Canadians are often dubbed as being over-the-top polite. We are branded as always saying such things as ‘excuse me’ in front of almost anything: Is that seat taken? Are you reading that? Would you pass the salt? I was here first! Often we ask, in our embarrassment, to be excused for sneezes, farts or burps. I haven’t met too many Canadians who wish to make excuses for poor behaviour. Generally we try to own up to our mistakes.

“Excuses, Excuses.” Would be an admonishment from one of my teachers for not following through on a project. If I failed to live up to my parents expectations I would be asked, “What’s your excuse?” My childhood explanations would rarely pass muster. In those cases, I was likely excused to go to my room.