Re: Power

When I think of the word Power I hope the word Responsibility is closely following. Power is linked to energy in my thoughts; energy needs to be channeled to be an effective source of power. Uncontrolled power is dangerous; think of yourself trapped in a vehicle with a hydro line dancing on the surfaces around you. Unregulated power is a threat to life and limb. Unchecked power can evaporate entire cultures.

Some thirst for power. I used to ask people at gatherings what they most desired. The words Fame and Fortune often came up. I remember one such discussion in a university seminar when a student concluded that any 3 wishes granted by a Genie would ultimately reveal a quest for Power. If this fellow was right, that life is always about acquiring power, I wonder if it matters more what we do with the power we have collected. Our energy and influence is required if we are to flourish. Planet Earth has suffered from our search for power through extracting energy from decayed matter. This has been a conquest with end-of-days consequences. Our choices regarding power can rectify and renew.

Everyone must have authority over their personhood. This is at the core of ideas of Freedom. Yet I am also a person through other people, so I must have responsibility towards them as I do for myself. I can’t say I have ever wished for authority over another. Power over others actually frightens me. I once had a meeting with a school principal concerning what he saw in me, a beginning teacher, about my leadership qualities. I was appalled when he suggested that he first learned to exercise power over others by controlling his wife, then he felt he could extend this to his dealings with other teachers, and so eventually became a head of a school. He delivered a power point that didn’t sell me.

One unique individual can inspire. We’ve read of religious prophets, noble knights, lone western gunslingers, and inspiring artists. We don’t need to sift through history to find examples of extraordinarily gifted individuals. They are in your neighbourhood, living right now, practising their skills. All members of a community have a responsibility to share their power. Sometimes we enable others to expand their influence. We may elect them to represent us on a larger stage. We must take care who we anoint with political power, then it is up to us to remind them of their vow of service. Abuse of trust often comes when a person in authority convinces themselves and us that the end will justify the means. Tragedy, of the individual and societal sort, often follows.

It’s never easy judging when to step aside, when to chime in, when to take charge or when to turn your back. My greatest rewards have been from empowering others to achieve their goals. Working with shared agency is an energizing experience. Being involved means hooking up to a people power grid. Tears of joy will come from proclaiming, “I/We did it!”.

Re: Robert

In the beginning my folks created Robert. They argued over the name: my mom liked William while my dad, lover of ancient epic tales of bravery in battle, wanted to call me Paris. Settling on Robert, they called me that until their separate inevitable deaths. I can hear my dad calling me with love in his voice, however when my mom called, there was generally more force to her enunciation, “Raw-Burt!”

Even though Robert is displayed on my birth certificate, throughout my school career I was called Bob. That name is written on many of my school report cards beside teacher comments. On some trophies Bob Thompson would be listed as the recipient. To my recollection my parents never made a point of correcting the engraving. They were both always proud, as parents must be, with whatever I could accomplish. My first wife and all her family called me Bob since the pattern seemed set by the time I graduated university.

I’ve often wondered if a person becomes the name they are given. Bob is a run of the mill sort of name and I think that’s what I am: pretty basic. Both my first and last names are quite common yet I’ve never felt insignificant. Some friends have given me nicknames like Tommygun, Artie and Berto; all having a certain flair about them that makes me feel momentarily proud. My auntie has always called me Rob, which makes me smile. Shakespeare spoke of a rose by any other name, suggesting that it is the spirit that matters more than any artificial appellation.

Some cultural traditions allow for formal naming ceremonies at various stages in life. My present wife was once given a tribal name and I’ve always envied her for that honour. It would be awesome, but a bureaucratic nightmare, if we could switch names when we felt moved by circumstance to state we had gone beyond our birth name. In my case, after a bout of depression brought on by a midlife crisis, I opted to announce a return to my original name. I told my work colleagues and friends that I preferred Robert over Bob. I wanted to take a bit of my past into my future, eliminating the tag of my middle years. Drawing that distinction still makes sense to me.

Artists sometimes go by other names. Whether to protect, disguise or otherwise play around with their identity makes no matter to me. What a nom de plume conveys is an adventurous spirit; one who is willing to admit they are individuals with many facets. William Porter blossomed as O’Henry, Samuel Clemens had to find Mark Twain, Engelbert triumphed over Arnold, Calvin needed Snoop Dog, Lady Gaga outgrew Stephani.

Being AKA (not the rapper) has its benefits, sort of like dressing up for halloween. Having someone supportively comment that you look or act differently can be refreshing. I chose my Twitter handle @wh0n0z with that in mind: I can be the wise one who knows or, alternatively, the one to exclaim with a wink, “Who Knows?”

Re: Myth

Sometimes when I’m starting a blog idea I can’t decide which word I’ll use as a guide. This one started as Re: Wheel then it morphed to Re: Significance before finally settling on Re: Myth. Read with me while I try to spin these all together.

The Greeks, Romans, Norse had gods, goddesses and fringe idols. All aboriginal cultures have creation stories to aid in understanding how we got here on this solitary planet. We need to feel that gods/goddesses/saints and other mythical creatures in whatever pantheon have our backs in times of trouble. Ancient peoples used the language of their time to elicit a response from their mythological buddy and voila, prayers/wishes were answered. Advice was sometimes given by earthy middlemen. Modern books have suggested we have these archetypes within us, empowering us to define ourselves as creators of our own destiny. I like the notion that I can be sailing my own ship, using the wheel to steer clear of hazards, avoiding the trap that I am open to the whims of the gods. I don’t want to feel as though someone is spinning the wheel of fortune for me, especially if I come up short. Yet myths are sometimes like maps giving us direction signs, even on the straight or narrow highways.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kK62tfoCmuQ

Millions of television viewers wrapped themselves up in the mythology of The Game of Thrones, beautifully produced by D.B. Weiss and David Benioff. Inspired by fantasy writer George R.R. Martin and elements of British history, this enthralling series reinvented mythic characters. To paraphrase Daenerys, sometimes  the wheel of tradition has to be broken. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-rxmk6zPxA

Some generations grew up with Aesop fables or Grimm’s fairy tales, now with the  sagas of Harry Potter, Star Wars, Star Trek and Game of Thrones we have recycled legends of old and new. These imaginative mythological characters may very well be the stories we tell to bring significance to a future beyond anything we can currently believe possible. Watch how these young minds revel in the telling of legendary Luke Skywalker meeting his father.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NCBA1wii70o

Current ticket sales for Marvel or DC ‘comic book’ films are likely inversely proportional to the number of bodies sitting in church pews every Sunday. Intellectually I’m convinced that all religions are myths. Every individual and every society tells tales in order to make sense of the unknowns in life. We seek order to overcome our feelings of randomness. We want the intangible to feel tangible. Our religions help us to feel significant amidst the spinning wheels of space and time. And significance is what we are after. As the wheel of our life spins its way to the inevitable end. I am a central figure in my own play. I may not be the hero, and yet, I want to be able to conclude that my life story had substance, was not a myth of my own creation.

Re: Compromise

I can look at the word Compromise from a negative or a positive perspective. When I’m feeling personally compromised I can feel defensive. I’m backed into a corner. My values, principles, even my character is being tested. Someone, (maybe me) has drawn a line in the sand and won’t back down from their position. Chances are this will end badly, unless a middle ground can be found.

Compromise is sometimes making the best of a bad situation. But the work must continue: One must not be resigned to one’s fate. Plans can be made to rectify hurt feelings and reconcile past wrongs. This is true on a personal scale as well as in the public arena. Leanne B. Simpson writes in her book ‘As We Have Always Done’ that relationships (of any kind) are based on consent, reciprocity, respect, and empathy. To my way of thinking reciprocity contains opportunities for finding a non-compromising solution.

It seems quite clear that our planet has been dominated, harvested, polluted and abused to the point where compromising is futile. Leaders gather at multi country conferences like COP26, held in Glasgow, Scotland last year, to attempt a negotiated consensus. It is maddening that while the intent to address climate change seems honest, financial interests time and time  again trump the agenda. The health of all humanity seems beyond our collective will. There is no room for compromise if it means our planet will continue to die. There is no middle ground here, not when that very ground is drying up, flooding and burning. It is really a time for action, not words.

In my life I’ve had to let go of notions that no longer served a purpose. For example, when I was twenty I wanted to be a husband and father within a strong family dynamic. I also wanted to sail the seven seas with Jacques Cousteau. Surprisingly, that great ocean explorer managed both and had two separate, secret concurrent families. I can only imagine the concessions involved for Papa Jacques. My choice was a compromise in the best way possible; I had a successful career, teaching many elementary students the wonders of life, along with abundant time to fill my cup with warm, expansive family memories.

I’ve learned that sometimes it’s ok to let others lead, while I provide a response as a supporting partner. It’s also ok to test out newness, owning the change that comes, making it less about compromising your character and more about celebrating your evolution. My growth as an individual has not been perfect, yet I’ve tried to find something close to perfection in all that I have done. Even my mediocrity has had its moments of splendour. In short, I don’t believe you have to lower your standards to make the concessions that are necessary in life. Maybe you adjust your expectations a bit. Marvel at the way others have found success, rather than feeling gypped about your existence. It’s more about finding the best way forward, seeking the best possible answer to the present question.

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: Face

One of my very first memories was of me, chattering nonsense at the dinner table, then being told by my mother to “Shut your face!” I would come to face the truth that that was her way of joking. Growing into an adult I have had to face the facts about my parents, as all children must do, if any sort of relationship is to be maintained.

I have another memory of my mother when she was a municipal politician, where doing an about face was a match for her personality. Getting ready for a meeting, she would always get her face on. She rarely wore makeup but used cosmetics to make herself ‘public’ as she would put it. I’ve often wondered about the sincerity of the cosmetic industry for this reason. As a heterosexual male I have always been most attracted to women who eschew adorning themselves. Natural faces are so beautiful; freckles, blemishes, scars and all.

Let’s face it, many people create a facade for their true selves. Some can’t accept their reality as they face the mirror, so they invent someone who is more in line with who they wish to be. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytZsndEc830 .

It must be hard to use dating apps for that reason. As you scroll through the choices all you have to go on are the manufactured bios and carefully posed selfies. When it comes time for the risky face to face meeting, it is like the old notion of a blind date; cross your fingers and hope you haven’t made a mistake.

I’m that way with the celebrities I have chanced to meet. I usually get all flustered, heart racing in an OMG moment. I lose my sense of normality as I overthink what I must say or do when faced with the fact that they are right there in front of me. I’ll always regret a brief encounter with Neil Sedaka. He looked lost without an entourage at an airport in North Bay, Ontario and I didn’t offer to help, rudely acting like a VIP myself, off to catch my flight.

Other times in my life I have been able to put on a brave face. During sick leave for depression, several of my grade eight students sent me get well cards asking if I would attend their graduation ceremonies. I didn’t know whether I could face the music, so to speak, of returning to the environment that had been partially responsible for my nervous breakdown. Thankfully, with a friend to accompany me, I could face up to the hard therapy of getting on with life. Facing reality is damned hard work. That event was the first step of many I took to recover and rebuild my identity.

Using Facetime is a wonderful way to show your two dimensional self during COVID19. I live far from my grandkids, so I love to see their grinning, curious faces. While I long for a good old fashioned three dimensional hug, at least having screen time with them is better than any television show.

Re: Fond

I was gazing out of a floor to ceiling window at a university campus recently and I felt a touch of fondness as I watched students going about their business. I think I was feeling sentimental about my own experience on a campus. As I tried to unravel this fond emotion, I recalled the crunch of maple leaves in autumn, brick walkways that directed me to my morning labs, looking for that red haired girl in lecture hall 320, the bell that sounded the hour from the tower at Convocation Centre. Maybe that red haired girl was an illusion; someone I was destined to meet much later in my life. Fondness might be inexorably mixed with ennui; that restless yearning that comes with pangs of wanting. “When will it be my turn?” is an expression that belongs to similar cries heard in countless college quads around the western world. On my campus it was usually a male voice crying out longingly for “Sylvia!” Those were heady days of freedom for me, the first time I ever felt the pull of the future and its possibilities. Those early journeys of independent action are among the fondest memories I have retained.

Being fond of someone might sound like puppy love; a crush. Yet a crush comes in a rush of emotion. When you think fondly of someone it requires some history to develop a context. I can think fondly of teachers who have left part of their soul with me. I recall a multitude of fond thoughts when it comes to the growth of my sons; how we played and worked together. “I remember fondly the time when…” can start interesting conversations about the joy of growing older together. Like most toddlers, my lads were fond of a special blanket. They each had their own; white manmade fibre mixed with some cotton or wool blend with a border of smooth satiny binding. To settle themselves to sleep they would take a smooth corner and fondle it between their chubby fingers, sometimes tracing it along the side of their cheek.

Some of my elders used to tease me if they found out I was fond of someone. “Do you fancy her then?” they would ask, as though the object of my affection was a mince tart I might crave for dessert. When I told my wife I was examining the word Fond for any meaning in my life she expressed surprise since she knows I’m not fond of food. I’m sure many ‘live to eat’ people could name dishes they have a fondness for or restaurants that keep drawing them back for the food and friendship they find there. Many have told me they are so fond of their pets that they have proclaimed them ‘Family’.

I can tear up easily when I see a young person performing their hearts out at a concert or play. A thread of music can do the same. My fondnesses are not concrete or absolute. They lie in those intangibles that border with thoughts of times gone past.

Re: Sort

Carl Linnaeus, considered the Father of Taxonomy, developed a system of sorting plants and animals in the mid-eighteenth century. In university, I enjoyed an Entomology course where 50% of the final mark was to sort hundreds of varieties of insect specimens found mounted and stored in dozens of drawers in the lab. Many features on each specimen needed examining before it could be assigned its proper Order, Family, Genus then Species names. I got my highest mark in this course, where order took precedence over randomness.

Not without coincidence perhaps, my favourite candy as a boy was Liquorice All Sorts. When we first came to Canada they were hard to find in stores. Sometimes my grandmother would send a package from England at Christmas. My sister and I had different favourites which luckily avoided conflict; she liked the black tubes filled with white sugar paste and I loved the coconut wheels with the liquorice centre. I still enjoy them as a treat, my wife loving the colourful beaded ones that look like buttons. No arguments here: Harmony reigns.

An English phrase I recall my parents using was, “Let’s get you sorted.” I’d have a problem with my bike, or something troubling happened at school or sibling rivalry reared its head and Mom or Dad would sit us down to get to the bottom of it. We were encouraged to sort through our problems in a structured way by examining ourselves first.

What sort are I? Like my fellow human, I am a person wanting to be able to express free will. The more you put me in a box with a singular definition the less I will feel free to be me. In the documentary film, ‘Ask Dr Ruth’, Ms. Westheimer rejected being classified by her daughter and granddaughter as a feminist. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qkZ8Kn3xVO8
I thought about this scene in the movie for days afterward since it seemed obvious to me that she represented in word and deed what a feminist would stand for. She later accepted the label saying she wasn’t ‘radical’. I wondered if her reluctance had anything to do with being sorted, as so many of her generation had been, in the methodical terrorist manner that was the Nazi Germany of her youth. Under Adolf Hitler, people were identified and classified. Once labelled, a person could be discriminated against, legislated against and potentially exterminated.

None of us want to be put in boxes. We are much more than one aspect of ourselves. We are many facetted. We are all a unique combination of our skin colour, our beliefs, our upbringing, our occupation, our thoughts, our daily activities. We are complicated. We are right to reject being classified. We must shout loudly if necessary, that we are a member of the human race. We can say this with certainty, objectivity and truthfulness in our hearts and minds. History tells us that this fact needs to be declared repeatedly so that we remember our common natural classification as Homo sapiens. No further discussion needed. What else needs sorting?

Re: Cast

The toys I remember having the most fun with as a child were die cast. I had trucks, cars, army guys, planes. I have kept one: A wheelbarrow. Go figure. When I was eight I broke some bones in my foot. Back then the affected parts were encased in a plaster cast to immobilize the area. Suddenly I was famous! My schoolmates had heroic sympathy for me. I was cast in a whole new light. Children who I thought hadn’t even noticed me before, were happy to write funny sayings or well wishes on my cast.

In my adolescence there was nothing I liked better to do than to go fishing. With little allowance, I considered the purchase of my equipment carefully. I had a Mitchell 300 spinning reel, not a baitcast nor a spincast variety. My friend and I would spend many a lazy summer on a river or creek casting into small pools and eddies, hoping for a strike. During those blissful moments of singular concentration all other thoughts of teenaged angst were cast aside.

My parents cast my sister’s baby shoes in bronze. This was my mom’s idea as she was trying, I’m casting about for a reason here, to shed her lower class English roots. WWII had cast a long dark shadow over her adolescent experience. She refused to believe her die was cast so , while my sister was yet to be born, she persuaded my dad to immigrate to Canada. People of the Downton Abbey set will appreciate how the British Empire spread this idea of your place in society. Consider the Caste system which still exists in India. It is as if Shakespeare’s pronouncement ‘All the world’s a stage…’ was taken so seriously by government that each citizen was given a clearly defined role to play. Peace, Order and Good Government eh what?

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to go to a casting call to audition for a part in a play or film. My favourite stage or television productions are always ones with a varied cast of characters. Due to the technological advance of green screen computer enhancement, you don’t get too many movies these days advertising a ‘cast of thousands’, but for my Sunday matinee viewing pleasure as a kid, there was nothing to compare to Ben Hur or Around the World in Eighty Days. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjiCO8k6Jhg

During Shakespeare’s time, ruling British monarchs waffled over rules regarding the casting of female roles. The underrated film ‘Stage Beauty’ examines this political dilemma. One of the best lines in the film is, “Who are you now?”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLlKmqH_5ak. This film alludes to the challenges of defining oneself. A current phrase used in self exploration is, “I identify as…”. Part of becoming mature is being able to be comfortable with your individual nature. Looking into that metaphorical mirror we must be able to see ourselves as the one who will play the most important role within that play of a lifetime.

Re: Service

Service can ‘be’ something and it can relate to ‘doing’ something. As a noun: Before I married my first wife it was de rigueur to register at a china shop so you had fancy plates and a proper tea service. A service starts a tennis rally. As a verb: My dad serviced aircraft while in the armed forces during WWII.

Recently I’ve been exposed to different levels of service from various workers who have been part of a renovation in my home. I was aggravated by a salesperson when purchasing a washer/dryer combo who wanted to push the sale of an extra service contract rather than attend to my need for a quality product. My wife and I chose a contractor for the job carefully. We wanted to forecast a high level of quality service to take away the anxiety that comes from a remodelling job. My opinion of tradespeople has always been high. Plumbing and electrical work takes knowledge, skill and care. Some workers at our reno provided service with a smile yet lacked attention to detail. Others have been so proud of their occupation that their service to their task and to their client has been exceptional.

I take my car in for regular servicing. I used to do oil changes and other upkeep stuff myself, but now I wouldn’t know how to do a good job with a modern vehicle. There is a maintenance schedule to follow and I stick to it in order to validate my warrantee. Before I bought the car I checked out their service department. I chose well. Every time I go in I feel like someone who owns Downton Abbey.

We live in a self-serve era yet we still depend on the service of others. Many service jobs are considered too menial. Some service jobs have been eliminated by computer robotics and others have shifted to higher tech. Where would most offices be these days without their IT department? Rarely do we see ‘full-service’ gas stations. As a kid I remember getting a free balloon every time I went with my dad to his favourite petrol pit stop.

Community service has always been important to me. We often hear the phrase, “I want to give back…” when someone feels grateful. I’m part of that club since I wish to pay it forward by volunteering or serving on committees. Many still have the weekly habit of attending a religious service. I used to spend a lot of time helping out at my community church. That was a case of serving at a service. I’m proud to say that sometimes others trusted me to such a degree that I conducted the entire service.

Some say that providing service to others is our highest calling. To be a servant need not suggest being below another. Perhaps the act of serving has more to do with taking the focus off ourselves and applying effort towards the greater whole. Even the powerful and mighty can learn this lesson. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gVjE99phqYk