Re: Spy

When is a spy different from a whistle blower? Or an investigative journalist for that matter. When we think of spies we think of deviousness, subterfuge, plotting and secrets to be discovered. There’s irony here: A spy is asked to uncover things whilst doing undercover work. A spy has to keep a secret in order to unearth one. The side that has the spy network is happy when results are obtained, the other side shows disgust that their privacy has been invaded. Spying rarely produces the win-win scenario much sought after in modern international politics.

The Cold War, begun in 1947 and not really over until the dissolution of the U.S.S.R., was originally about maintaining a balance of power between potentially warring nations. In order to achieve that, everyone had to be on an equal footing so espionage was an accepted practise. Some spies were imprisoned, if caught. Some disappeared. Many, like Sir Anthony Blunt, despite being considered a traitor by his countrymen, was not prosecuted due to the sensitivity of his proximity to the British Royal Family. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFl7NdzOOZg&list=PLkmRedTjok3Sfpkq9AhhCXHr675gI9RJd&index=52

As a young fellow I loved reading the short graphic tales in MAD Magazine called Spy vs Spy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onR7PD3Grc0. The cute characters, one white and one black, would basically chase after each other, laying traps, throwing cherry bombs while neither came out the clear winner. When I was older, my dad introduced me to Ian Fleming’s pulp fiction tales of James Bond. When the film franchise began I knew from the start I would be a life long fan. My mother relished being a sort of spy. She enjoyed ferreting out weaknesses in people and then holding the information, ‘over their heads’. She was once a personal assistant to a private investigator and went on stake-outs that my father frowned upon, until he was needed to pose as an ‘Englishman’; a role he played during a tense weekend in Hell’s Kitchen, a sketchy part of New York City.

We live in a time where security cameras are common. Privacy is hard to find, yet we expect transparency in government and business. Corporations might lose their new product’s edge if a design secret or release date becomes common knowledge. A brave few who work in industry, the military or in politics feel it is socially responsible to reveal insider information. Jeffrey Wigand may have singlehandedly changed the way North Americans thought of cigarettes. Journalists Woodward & Bernstein told Mark Felt’s Watergate story, which brought down a U.S. President. Daniel Ellsberg, Karen Silkwood, Juliann Assuage, Bradley(Chelsea)Manning, Edward Snowden are familiar names of people who have revealed truth to the public.

Whistleblowers, like spies, are frequently vilified yet they report they are acting according to their conscience. Even though the ‘top secrets’ exposed are shocking/dangerous/controversial, the informers feel they are acting in the public interest and fulfilling a personal directive that supersedes conventional authority. History may reveal the rightness of their tales, but at the very least we can be grateful for their courage.

Re: Phone

Change is exasperating. It’s never just one thing that changes. Dominoes will fall! Lately my three year old phone failed to do what was expected. Being a smartphone made it a smart aleck. The problem seemed to be that it refused to communicate with other digital devices in my home. I tried password changes, account changes and rebooting (an old fashioned term?) But it was all for naught. By using the word naught I guess I’ve firmly placed myself in the pre-computer era. And that, despite my best efforts to remain tech savvy, is the problem with my general attitude concerning The Phone. I rant. Yet really I stand bewitched by this technology.

My dad would send me off on adventures when I was barely in my double digits with these instructions: Do you have coins in your pocket? Have you got your handkerchief? Call home if you have trouble. Calling home in those days meant finding a phone booth, which I learned how to use quite early in my life. Any call from a booth could connect me with the home phone, and if I was out and about someone was always home. Safety assured.

Safety is the number one reason parents in the tech era buy phone plans for their children. Safety is also the top reason adults cite for switching from home phones to cell phones. The phone was a lifeline for me in the late fifties and is truly a must-have for Generation Alpha. Needing a phone for emergency use is one thing, but now it is clear phones are so much more. The term smart phone is apt; mini computers they are indeed. With storage capacity, links to other digital devices, connectivity with more than just your mom is assured. The camera capability of a smart phone has changed communication; we can send a text of our meal, or hold police to account for their actions. We can start a Movement.

I’m in awe over how it has changed our culture, and I’m also intimidated. I’m trying. I’ve come to terms with the need to regularly update my device. I still talk English on my smartphone even though it has gone through several iterations of operating systems. My smartphone has regular conversations with my other digital devices so that things can continue to function. Somehow that doesn’t make me feel more secure. For old folks, being hacked has taken the place of falling down as the number one anxiety. Forgetting a password is tantamount to losing our wallets.

And yet we soldier on. I was one of the first on my block to buy a computer. I’ve had an early Star Trek phaser-like flip phone. I no longer have a land line. I know how to Facetime, Skype, Zoom and Tweet. I’ve just installed a new device that makes my television smarter so that I can stream new entertainment catalogues. My old phone will have to be replaced with an updated version. Like a little lost ET, I still need the comfort of knowing I’m able to call home. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xZif3WmG7I

Re: Pause

Thankfully I haven’t had to suffer physically from the COVID19 pandemic: Thus far, at least. Like many, I have found myself with lots of time to reflect. Looking back from some future time I may coin the quintessential phrase for this period of human time. Perhaps something descriptive like; Culture Paused.

Long before the remote control device was invented I was hitting my own personal Pause button. An Adam Sandler movie called Click explores this attempt at managing your life. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zZNC5emNyEQ . Time travel is suggested in the film yet for me, the Pause button was most creative. Going into Pause mode in my life is about zoning out. During moments of inner exploration I’ve come up with some astounding notions, however one button on a remote is boring, so I’ll add two others to better represent my experience: Yes, No and Pause.

Yes: Is full speed ahead and don’t turn back! Embrace life and fulfill your wishes. No: Is life as negative, a dull pit where even thinking is viewed suspiciously. Pause: Let’s digest, regurgitate, forecast while chewing on some serious cud! These three settings on my remote control are an internal function, not a response to others. Importantly, “No!” is an appropriate answer to an outside directive. I can say no readily even when I am in my Yes internal setting because I don’t want someone or something to stand in my way.

My Yes moments generally come when my partner can share my curiosities. These are mildly manic times when I felt supported to try new things, experiment with new opportunities. I have jumped into marriages, leapt into fatherhood, changed dreams to accommodate unexpected passions, embraced new places and methods. I was not thrill seeking yet I surfed on high levels of confidence that opened pathways to new adventures.

My No periods have been awful times when I denied my own personality. Time would march on for others while I made excuses to get out of stuff. I lied with a “Maybe” or “Let me get back to you.” I retreated to places that kept me from decisions. I preferred to reside in my hollow. The No button, on my device, represented guilt, failure and insignificance. I can recognize myself in stories of people who admit they have given up on life. They are in a No time. I too have once said No to life. I’m forever grateful to those who stood by me as I found my way back to Yes.

Young or old, there are times in our lives when hitting the Pause button is meaningful. Fascinated by my own hands and how they fit together palm to palm, I once confounded my grade six teacher when I asked (during the middle of an unrelated lesson) if I could exert enough pressure to expel all the air from my hands so that they would remain locked together. Perhaps forever glued, without adhesive! He asked me to continue my experiment while sitting in the hall.

I like to think that perhaps my question gave him pause.

Re: Work

Work is forever in a state of flux. In the past three hundred years we’ve gone from farming/market communities, through industrialization, to the technological revolution and now the gig economy with the challenges of AI on the horizon. In the past a boy might only follow in his father’s footsteps, career wise, or he might pursue a calling and enter a religious order. Girls were further restricted in occupational choice. For some a life’s work is one of service with little or no remuneration, other’s may pursue professions that provide financial rewards.

I viewed my work as a teacher as employment that enabled me to have job satisfaction, a wage that afforded me a comfortable living as well as time for my family. This workable arrangement allowed me what is now commonly referred to as Work/Life balance. I rarely thought of my work as a chore, more like a practice that I continually improved upon. I knew some colleagues and friends whom I would call workaholics. Any workplace can have those types who seem to be singularly focussed on pleasing the boss, getting it perfect, climbing the ladder, making money or retiring early. I was never wanting to sacrifice my home time in the name of professional ambition.

Life at home was not without its work component. My partner at the time revelled in being called a homemaker, a position without pay but one of considerable value. It was easy for me to contribute to the home-work since she had managed the job so well. Working from home means something different today, but my jobs back then were helping to raise three boys, being a home handyman, and chipping in on daily household chores. This may sound like Leave It To Beaver, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sgtiPOk83Ek . I would say all five of us had a very solid working relationship. As my lads got older, they found their way to contribute to the labour that is necessary within a family environment.

The COVID-19 pandemic is giving the world pause to rethink its cultures of work and play. I was amazed at my ignorance regarding a news bite from Northern Italy where people in a certain village were always without a regular paying job. The reporter referred to this arrangement as ‘informal work’. With the coronavirus lockdown they could no longer go about their town and scrounge for temporary tasks to provide cash, as was their custom. Would we all not feel safer as a society if governments could recognize the value of a guaranteed income? I feel lucky everyday for the pension my career has provided.

With my working life behind me I can play. I sometimes need a guide. My grandchildren wake each day knowing how to play naturally. They step from their beds and explore their world without inhibition. Their bodies move almost continuously. As they absorb their surroundings each touch and sniff brings them awareness and learning. Their young minds work intuitively at building relationships between their inner and outer environment. Work & Play in harmony.

Re: Harvest

Harvest is an old word that continues to gather new meaning. Harvest is the very act of gathering. For as long as there has been something to sow there has been something to reap. The word can be connected to autumn and the farmer’s harvest of crops. A hunter or fisher can return with sufficient catch for family or village. There is hope laced through the harvest. We wish that the abundance will be sustaining, bringing us emotional, spiritual and physical energy. We are all harvesters in that sense.

An urban worker can think that the weekly paycheque is a type of harvest for tasks completed. The feeling of reward that comes from harvesting the results of our efforts can bring much joy. It’s no wonder that history is filled with tales of harvest festivals and fairs. I used to go to the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto. Beginning in 1897, its origins were agricultural yet as time passed it became a celebration of industrial and technological harvest. Annually, we got to see, touch and hear all the newest products and services that were the result of research and development. Likewise World’s Fairs, such as the breathtaking spectacle in 1939 New York show us the results of harvesting the ingenuity of humanity. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIlhPFasI38

Harvest has a lot to do with assuring the future. A successful harvest ensures continued progress and healthy outcomes. There may be insurance for a failed agricultural crop but there is non for a dead planet. When it comes to our planet’s biological resources we have often failed in our harvesting. We have let greed guide the way rather than maintaining a sustainable resource. We’ve made a mistake thinking that the Earth will always provide. Numerous examples around the world show that we can’t continue taking without an eye to the future consequences. When I visited Newfoundland recently I was gobsmacked to learn just how significant the collapse, in 1992, of the cod fishery was to the inhabitants. Harvesting is more than an activity, it can be an entire culture. In this tragic, almost Biblical, scenario I saw meaning of the phrase ‘You reap what you sow.’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aG8bSNpEGoE

Harvesting in the absence of stewardship is irresponsible. Monetary gain has to be removed as a motivator for harvesting non renewable resources. Climate change realities have been apparent for decades. I remember my university environmental science professor telling us in 1974 that the world’s ice fields were melting at a dangerously fast rate. Climate activists are now warning that the rampant harvest of fossil fuels will continue this warming trend and result in the ocean’s rising and flooding of coastal communities.

A responsible harvester takes only what is needed and saves the rest for a proverbial rainy day. Gluttony is ill advised. These harvest values have been the bedrock of civilization. Just as the sun sets and the moon rises, the earth will likely survive with us or without us. I’d like to contribute to the bounty. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMjDc8MJotU

Re: Write

I am a writer. It took me a while to say that, to myself, before I could proclaim it to the world. I grew up with the notion you had to BE, before you could claim to be. There was something in my mother’s teaching that made me reluctant to attest to something about myself unless someone else, officially, had acknowledged it first. Even when I became an adult and wrote for my daily newspaper, my mother continued to think; ‘a Writer is someone who writes Books.’

I have mixed feelings about the drive to be a writer as my father spent almost every spare moment during my pre-teen years clacking on his Underwood. Having gone through my own mid-life crisis I can recognize now, what was going on with my dad. He was at a crossroads and he thought sending off manuscripts, with rejection slips inevitable, just might bring him the fame he was after. My mom kicked him out of the apartment for his ‘writing obsession’ and only let him back after he promised to write no more. These were very stressful days for me. The house was suddenly very quiet after he took his typewriter and left. To this day I will feel heartache whenever I see one of these antique word processing machines. The departure scene became forever connected to WRITING. To venture into the land of career writing became filled with the prospect of following in my father’s failed footsteps. Nothing pleasing to picture with that scenario; move along please.

What a negative space I occupied; Being unable to write because it didn’t feel right. Thankfully I recognized that this attitude was largely self-imposed. As my teaching career wound down I approached our local daily newspaper with an idea for a weekly column. It felt like a rite of passage when I got hired. The Daily Press even used me as a roving reporter covering the arts scene on the weekends. I tapped away on the keyboard of a new Bondi Blue iMac (much quieter than my dad’s machine). I discovered that the more I wrote the more I wanted to write. I had tapped into an artistic side of me that had been hungering for release. I wrote editorials. I wanted to be a righter of wrongs. I kept poetry diaries and trip journals. During my last few years of teaching everyone in my classroom wrote lots of stuff. We shared the results together with delight. We played with homonyms, synonyms and antonyms. We made up nonsense words and made them into cartoon characters. Sometimes it only takes one person to read your work to make you feel accomplished.

One year, to honour the passing into the new millennium, I wrote a full page of thoughts for each day of 2000 thinking it would be a curiosity for my grandkids someday. My wife was diagnosed with stage four cancer in January 2001. For the next 288 nights she asked for a bedtime story; either Winnie the Pooh or a page from my Millennial Journal.

Re: Disruption

Most people can handle being interrupted. Perhaps you’re a shift worker trying to sleep and a neighbour starts mowing the lawn. You’re on the freeway and your progress is interrupted by some construction. Disruption, however, is another matter. It means your world is turned upside down and will never be the same. We have been faced with this disorientation for several decades as the world of politics, communication, finance, transportation and commerce appear to be working to a different beat, perhaps even a different standard.

Trump was voted in because he promised to “drain the swamp”. As a disruptive force he has few peers. In my lifetime I have no one to compare to his total disrespect for convention. His campaign slogan ‘Make America Great Again’ can be ironic in this context. Comfort can be found in old ways of doing things, even when it’s not healthy. I don’t think of myself as an old fogey, prone to complaining about the way things used to be. I can embrace change and enjoy looking towards the future with hope not trepidation. I think most people can handle change well, especially if they are invited to be part of the change process.

Change makers were once referred to as innovators. Existing technology or infrastructure was modified, not razed. A societal advancement or some new product became brighter, faster, stronger, longer lasting but not foreign to our senses. Now change can be so dramatic it startles. No human cashiers at the 24hr store, what are you talking about? A phone that can take a picture, are you nuts? A transport truck without a driver, are you kidding me? Paying to sleep in someone’s house, you’re joking right? I text for transport to the airport and my neighbour arrives, for a fee, it’s Uber easy! Yet, when the motivation behind disruption appears to be all about the money, cynicism grows while the potential enthusiasm for something new diminishes.

Disruption is like exponential change, like having a baby, like a forest fire that clears acreage making way for fresh growth. Disruption can be beneficial. It can be revolutionary! Yet too much fire can seem apocalyptic, immobilizing and devastating. With manufactured change, those born before this new millennium knew another way, so some of us may feel out of touch.

Power comes from feeling part of the revolution. Hope is knowing in our hearts and minds that things will work out eventually. Humour allows us to all catch a breath from the stress of it all. Poetry has always been a people’s choice and voice when times get messy. I like to be silly with my poems so I’m going to be disruptive and suggest a whole new literary genre: Non-Fiction Poetry. In our present push to challenge existing structures, we must not lose sight of facts. So my poems will be purely factual; not opinions, neither musings nor reflections. Joe Friday used to say: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v4LPkmGO5Cc

Here’s my first, titled, “100%”.

A slice of pie
Is 100%
Pie.