Re: Eight

I think the number 8 is great. It has awesome rhyming potential. I love its shape. There are no loose ends with eight, nothing sticks out. Just like the number 0 there is a beautiful continuity to its design; where you start is where you finish. I have a two digit number that I have called my lucky number since I was a kid but now that I am in my 80th decade I think I’m due for an update so I pick 8. It’s never too late to change your fate.

Apparently I’m not alone in liking this numeral. It is called the luckiest of numbers by the Chinese. This Canadian feels in good company since 1.4 billion souls can’t be wrong eh? I was born on the eighth so I don’t know why I didn’t choose it as my lucky number sooner, but I shall have no regrets. More significantly, when 8 is tipped over it assumes a horizontal position. The symbol for infinity, which in death I believe I am bound for: To the endlessness of time and space with infinite possibilities go I.

When I am lying on my back in my bed I find comfort in assuming a figure eight posture. I place my hands above my head and link my fingers. My knees come up, spreading my hips and I place the soles of my feet together. It’s the closest kind of yoga pose I can manage and it feels great to open my chest and pelvis at the same time. When I taught Brain Gym to my elementary school students one of the exercises was using chalk to make giant flowing infinity symbols on the chalkboard, smoothly arcing and connecting then arcing again, opening up cross cranial connectivity, joining left brain to right.

The reason we call Figure Skating what we do is because of the Figure 8, which was part of the compulsory program in competitive skating until 1990. I miss the almost scientific precision demonstrated by that practise, skate edges switching while curves were carved on the slippery ice surface. Nowadays you can create heat while learning to do a Figure Eight Workout to strengthen core muscles. Very watchable. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJgBYvGZeN4

Choosing the number eight as my next life stage talisman bodes well. According to Angel Numbers, 8 signifies a sign of things to come, which is awesome because I’ve always been future oriented. It is also a potent source of energy, which I could really use in my declining years. When it comes to Numerology I’m not an eight, but that’s ok since my name adds to number 1 which comes with a very accurate description of my personality type: pioneering, leading, independent, attaining and individualist. This is a terrific offset to my introverted nature, so I can remain humble whilst in a crowd. I took an Enneagram Personality test and it matches perfectly: I’m 5&8 dominant so being born May 8th is a match made in heaven.

I think they’re going to like me up there.

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.

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: Current

I’ve struggled against the current in my life. I’ve also gone with the flow. Several visits to water parks have provided metaphors for life: The exhilarating turbulent plunge from a great height down an almost vertical chute, The spinning disorienting journey through endless coloured pipes, The zen like perch on an inflated plastic donut floating down the lazy river. The flow of water continues to symbolize baptism, renewal as well as resignation. Currents can act as an instrument of fate or provide a jolt to the senses. I’m alive!

Surrendering to a current can be freeing. I remember feeling exalted when I got accepted into Teacher’s college. Previously, I’d been swimming away from my comfort zone in an attempt to realize a childhood dream. Changing direction gave me a different view. I got swept away by the promise of a year of purposeful study. I dove in to find this new course setting refreshing. I felt charged by the electrical current of fresh ideas. I put my compass in my pocket and trusted in the guidance of others to show me the way. I learned to value alternatives.

Changing one vowel in this theme word can create a whole other memory of nasty bits in cake. I hated currants whenever my mom added them to her Christmas fruit cake. The tiny black bits got between my teeth and didn’t marry well with the sweetness of the candied peel. They were bitter, gritty and totally spoiled the experience of this yuletide treat. Thankfully she would make two versions; a light and a dark. The light one was my favourite with plump raisins and an abundance of green and red cherries.

When I was an elementary school student, our teacher gave us daily current event assignments. We were to listen to a special news broadcast and answer questions about the items reported. This grade four experience inspired me and gave me my first feeling of success with school work. My current mother-in-law likes to stay up-to-date with her radio news. I like to debate with her 93 year old brain about the election coming up in her province. We talk about the candidates and the issues that are important to her. She generally likes to stay midstream whereas I sometimes argue that we need to totally change the course, speed and direction of the flow. Many times it becomes clear that we aren’t even in the same boat.

Currently I am in an eddy of time, slowly drifting without control. I’m becalmed in a sea of routine. It’s a familiar place. I know how to patiently wait until my craft finds the benefits of a Gulf Stream to alter my course and send me to new ways of being. Keeping thoughts current is a challenge when you’d rather be somewhere else. News of the world these days can make anyone feel as though they are swimming against the times. I’ll remember to value the stillness and enjoy some cherry cake until something better comes along.

Re: Prophet

Early every New Year media sources look for seers who are willing to share their predictions. I didn’t see many prophecies this year. Maybe Covid19 trauma has dulled our sense of tomorrow. In many art forms, visions of the future still abound. For example, from an episode of the viral apocalypse TV series ‘Station Eleven’ a character in an airport makes a speech to calm the crowd “There is no future!” the soothsayer declares. With that, those assembled begin talking about what they can do with the frightening realities of the moment. Living in the present is hard. I prefer the hopefulness of the future, while other souls cling to the past for comfort. 

World religions have a bazillion prophets. Characteristically men dominate the list. I have a sweet spot for Sarah, a woman more legend than fact, who lived to be 107 years of age. There is that guy named Joseph Smith, the Mormon founder and follower Brigham Young whose visions led to the deaths of many. In principle and for my tastes, prophets must lead by example, must not profit, nor advocate for exclusivity, status or ethnic cleansing. I have inwardly gasped when I have caught the holiness within others whom I have met. The thought that God might walk amongst us intrigues me. 

Clairvoyants fascinate me. They’re often referred to as people ‘ahead of their time’. A list of my personal oracles can include folks from many walks of life: Jacques Cousteau, Isaac Asimov, Rachel Carson, H.G. Wells, Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King Jr., George Carlin, Peter Weir, Maude Barlow, Greta Thunberg are examples. From people like these I have felt subtly directed on a path to a full and responsible life.

I like a map to ease my wandering ways. I look for wake up signs everywhere I go: Indications of what might be in store for me. Sometimes these signals can be found in nature, other times I might be viewing a piece of art. Prophecy can be disguised in a time loop. I may not know if I am looking back from my older self or gazing through the bars of my crib. I’ll get a feeling that I’ve been here before. A familiar sense, a deja vu perhaps, comes over me telling me to pay attention. I’ve had some prophetic moments like this. I may not remember what I ate or wore that day but I’ll still recall the sense of being out of time. I’m learning to use this information.

When I began writing these entries I had several objectives, but I couldn’t have predicted that I would complete this one; my 200th personal essay. With humility I see myself following a wondering path similar to premier essayist and diviner Michel de Montaigne. Recording one’s passage is a bit like making a time capsule for the future. I won’t pretend to have a crystal ball. I can’t foresee what will become of me or others. I’m content being my own light.  I’ll continue to let it shine.

Re: Trouble

Trouble is one of those words that pops up frequently. We don’t go looking for it, but it has a way of finding us. “You’re in big trouble mister!” was a sentence I was afraid of hearing as a young boy. Luckily I didn’t hear it very often. I got caught swearing. I once told a kid with big ears that he had big ears. I stole a magnet. That’s about all the trouble I put my parents through. Troublesome, I was not. That was my little sister’s job.

There is a lot of trouble in the world. I don’t know for certain if present times are more troubling than times of yore, but it sure feels like it (make your own list of woes here). I wonder if much of it is our own making. We can look for others to blame or consider ourselves as victims of circumstance I suppose. We can be conned into a fearful state. Here, The Music Man quickly convinces the townsfolk that trouble was just around the corner, all because of a Pool Hall in River City. Well, I’ll be hornswoggled!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LI_Oe-jtgdI

Laughing through our times of trouble can be helpful when the fix is easy. Authors create characters who might conjure trouble over a bubbling pot or use television comedy to resolve the conflict on screen. Laugh tracks can help assure us that problems won’t last and, really, everything is all in good fun. Captain Kirk tried to be serious during his trouble with Tribbles but in the end even Spock feigned amusement. Song writers can use melody to bring us out of our funk or they may convince us with words that we need not worry, just be happy. One of the films of my childhood starred an actor named Norman Wisdom. ‘Trouble in Store’ was about a charming goof of a man who’s heart was always in the right place even when his brain wasn’t fully engaged.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JpMRnN5-Bpw

Sometimes the difference between pain and suffering is a matter of time as much as perspective. The Troubles of Northern Ireland lasted decades before there was any sort of peaceful resolution. Children grew up in this God forsaken corner of the world knowing all measure of hostility. Religion as a cause would be any easy excuse while to me, watching from the outside, it seemed more about bitterness, intractable positions, poverty and blind stupidity.

Trouble Shooting sounds like an oxymoron yet it can be helpful to gather as a group to solve a problem or set a new direction. I normally like to keep to myself, yet put me in a room with some newsprint on a flip chart and I can lead a bunch of willing wanderers out of their confusion. “Remember folks, there are no wrong answers.” I’ll announce as I clutch my set of non toxic coloured markers. Word to the wise: I’ve learned to set up the ‘breakout’ groups before workshop participants consider a mutiny.

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: Idea

My blog postings start with one word. Sometimes I don’t have the foggiest idea what will happen next. Often the idea itself comes easily, putting it into a sensible composition with relatable context is the hard part. To me it is fun to play with ideas and that’s the point because even Einstein said that imagination is more important than knowledge. Ideally, this short essay may have some ideology that will be relevant to your life experience. But, you be the judge.

My parents used to challenge me with “What gave you that idea?” As a young adult, while going about my own business, someone once threatened, “Hey! What’s the big idea?” Of course ideas to be effective must be merged with reality. For example, a former girlfriend liked the idea of me but over time the reality got in her way. We can idealize, running the risk of making someone or something into a precious idol. No one individual can possibly be as perfect as the idea someone has made of them.

Ideology is really just a bunch of ideas that can lend themselves to greater understanding or a better way of living. Ideology has gotten a bad reputation because an ideological person is often prone to frantic rants telling us all how to live. Some ideas I can support, like those found in the song called Imagine. Here, Lennon & Ono work together to ideate a world where people live in peace. I can dig that. I tend to be an idealist, choosing any sunny bit of news to bolster my philosophy that the world is inherently good. I have a set of ideals that help keep me on a path. Which reminds me of a principal I once worked with who loved to have brainstorming sessions, “There are no wrong answers!” He would shout. He was after ideas, which made things seem democratic. Unfortunately he would go away on the weekend and comeback Monday morning with a whole bunch of ‘from now on’ pronouncements that didn’t resemble anything we had written down in our break-out groups. So much for collaboration!

An idea is a creation of thought. Maybe there is no such thing as an original idea. Ideas might come from dreams, be inspired by muses or spring from a collective consciousness. We profit from those who made the first leaps of imaginative thought. It’s not important to me where an idea comes from. One thing I believe; ideas are part of what it means to be human, so they mustn’t be ignored.

When we try to imagine a different world, that’s an ideation. I can form an attachment to an idea and adjust my behaviour accordingly. An idea leads from awareness to making a plan; like treating our environment as though it’s critical to our survival. From that singular notion we can build a set of ideals that we can put into practise to move us closer to a more healthy, sustainable planet. An ideology based on nurturing our planet I will support. In my opinion there is nothing more imperative.

Re: Move

A fellow my age moved into our complex last weekend. He had a small rental moving van, his daughter and another young fellow were helping. I introduced myself and welcomed him to the neighbourhood. He puffed, “ I’m getting too old for this moving business. Next time I’ll pay someone.” Like me, he had concluded that he was coming to the end of his moving on, moving in, moving out options. I figure my next move will be my last. I’m no longer as young as Billy Joel when he recorded this ode to movement; then again neither is he.

Many of us can describe multiple moves within our lifetime; some comical, some hair-raising, some ill advised, some work related, some to upgraded digs and others for practical reasons only. We move because we can and we move when we have no choice. In our youth we can relish the feeling of being on the move; people to see, places to go. Couch surfing is a great descriptor of an adolescent’s freedom of movement. A backpack and a place to lay your head are all the requirements needed for adventure. When we get older our joints are less moveable, we’ve accumulated things and we’re settled into our routines. The movement that becomes most important is that of our bowels, preferably on a regular basis.

I’m emotionally moved more frequently these days. A song might move me to tears. A conversation might move me to action. I can be moved by a single line in a film. I find moving pictures, or movies, to be aptly named. Who doesn’t laugh at the movements of Charlie Chaplin, the physical humour of Dick Van Dyke or Melissa McCarthy. I found Earnest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast yawn inducing yet his poignantly perfect The Old Man and the Sea continues to feed my emotions and my thoughts.

“Move it!” would be something my mom would shout when she was exasperated with my sister and me as we lollygagged before a trip. Getting in the car usually meant a long uncomfortable drive in hot muggy weather to visit someone we didn’t like. We had several household moves during my childhood, always to find a dwelling my folks could afford to rent. My favourite move was to a falling apart farmhouse which had a chicken coop where my job was to collect the eggs every morning. Later we moved up, status-wise, to actually owning a small semidetached house in suburbia, which unfortunately took me away from all my high school friends. I’ve only cried harder twice more in my life. In my case it’s probably not coincidental that emotion contains the word motion, i.e. movement.

My latest move came after retirement, to a land of milder climate. I’m no longer moved by the sight of gently falling snow, nor angered by the need to shovel the driveway. I’ve removed all reference to winter. This home finds me moved by the plaintive call of the gull and the beauty of the seashore.

Re: Anniversary

This is my 100th blog posting. That’s a lot of words! As far as anniversaries go, anything marking one hundred is pretty big news. I remember the 100th anniversary of Canada’s formation as a nation. 1967 seems like forever ago, now that I think of it. When my country was 100 I was only 15. Our high school centennial project was a rock cairn memorial built with the very capable hands of our two year Diploma students. Those of us flowing through academic streams created art to be placed in a time capsule at the base of the monument. We were all caught up in the euphoria of Canada’s 100th birthday. We were young and hopeful.

A few years after this event, and far more important to my mom, was my parent’s 25th anniversary. They had a party where a gift table was loaded with a pirate’s treasure of silver. Plated silver trays, silver spoons, silver artwork, silver picture frames, and assorted silver goblets were displayed pridefully throughout our house for a while. After my folks moved, the items stayed in boxes in closets and attics until both my parents had died. My wife donated the trays to a local jeweller who then made some cool items for my sister and her daughter.
Alas, my sister is now dead.

I’m not person who dwells on the past. An idea will fascinate me more than a memory. I don’t choose to celebrate milestones in a grand way. Low key is me. Yet there is something almost magical about one hundred. The number 100 looks interesting to me in a digital way. 1,000 is not nearly as aesthetically pleasing. There is the comma.

Birthdays are really annual anniversaries. 0 and 100 are yippee moments in life. Marvellous bookends to our existence. So similar in many ways; the fresh outward wonder of a newborn, the inner wonder a centenarian must feel for having lasted. My eldest grandchild has had three personal anniversaries. She’s discovered holidays. Having enjoyed celebrating Valentine’s Day with her parents and younger brother this year, she asked with excitement, “When’s the next one?”.
I can learn from that joy.

Every time I see a bright full moon in the sky I think of my wedding day on a beach. A specific date, like a wedding anniversary, is often important. Forgetting it can be dangerous. My wife and I celebrate moon anniversaries. Technically this is a monthly thing but then it seems more enjoyable to be reminded of such a special event more often. Rather than wait a whole year until the next anniversary (and hypothetically overlooking it), we have the full moon to remind us of our enduring love. Thanks celestial orb.

When it comes down to it, celebrating an anniversary can be arbitrary. Sometimes the marking of time can conjure unhappy memories. I’ve often wondered why some famous people’s deaths are noted with more fanfare than their births. To me the beginning of a bright light is more significant. A new journey has begun.

Everyday I want to wake celebrating the now.