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.

Re: Mean

“Everything happens for a reason” is easy to say, harder to believe. Just what do we mean by that phrase? Perhaps we are merely trying to find meaning in what might have just happened to us. We want to fathom the grand meaning of life, yet we don’t have the context to make a reasonable connection. To paraphrase a classic, “If a butterfly flaps its wings in my son’s backyard, I’ll be inclined to go ten pin bowling.”

Imagine a strange scenario: A baby born in the backcountry. Her parents die and she is raised by wolves. She survives, thrives, grows old and dies never having known another human. Did her life have meaning? Surely life can have no meaning without context or connection. We have meaning only when those we have touched remember us and respond to that memory. I think that is why funerals (or Celebrations of Life) are so important. During an end of life event, we get to pronounce what a person has meant to us. As a collective we confirm that the person did not die in vain; that a legacy remains despite the loss. We, by extension, are made significant for having known another and are encouraged to continue our journey.

Meanwhile, I’ve been meaning to write about the word Mean for a while. Sometimes with a word like this it’s hard to cover all the thoughts that bubble up. I mean it! I could go on a rant about how I wish people weren’t so mean to others. Or I could say how happy I was to discover that the mean price of a house like mine has risen in the last six months. Each time I pick apart a word my intention is to find out how it has affected me.

Perhaps intention is key to meaning. When we say we want a meaningful relationship with someone, we are intending to give as much as we get. Reciprocity can add to our understanding of life. It starts by ‘walking a mile’ in someone’s shoes. Yet sometimes after all we do to find commonality and mutuality with another, we must go our separate ways and define a new meaning for our personal path.

Graffiti, like other art forms, is rooted in an exclamation: I exist! All artists use creativity to find meaning. Regardless of an artist’s depth of training or natural skill, their work shows us what they have discovered so far. One of the first ubiquitous bathroom stall etchings was a drawing of a head with a large nose peeking over a horizontal line with the caption, ‘Kilroy was here’. A one-liner, a bumpersticker or a meme all do the same thing: They attempt to crystallize our thoughts on the meaning of life.

Sometimes I have felt that life has no meaning for me. On those occasions I’ve been grateful for the loving souls who have given me counsel to let some time pass. The urgent question, “Why am I here?”, is often solved by waiting patiently for meaning to present itself.

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: Lone

There is a difference between being alone and being lonely. I was taught early on, by circumstance and by design, to enjoy my own company so I rarely feel lonely as a result. As a young boy, I spent a lot of time going on imaginary adventures while roaming the neighbourhood creeks and woods. I’d be Robin Hood in the summer and in winter, when the plow made snow mountains in our parking lot, I would pretend to be George Mallory or Sir Edmund Hillary scaling those impossible peaks.

One of my early favourite comic books was about Lancelot. When I wasn’t head first into tales of the Knights of the Round Table, the television was a third parent. I was enamoured with the exploits of The Lone Ranger. He was my first TV hero. I loved running around the house yelling, “Hi Ho Silver! Away!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hxIuIxqo2So
I usually enjoyed serious stuff over comedy. I recall being drawn to an angst ridden film starring Tom Courtenay called ‘Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXMS5ZXKvYA .
‘Then Came Bronson’, a short lived series based on a man traveling around on a motorcycle all by himself, also captured my attention. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYsztoaU9Ls
Later I enjoyed novels and short stories that contained characters who defined the theme: one person facing challenges alone or, at the very least, on their own terms.

Having such a childhood pattern of being on my own naturally led to me being perceived as a loner in high school. I had a group of friends during those years but I was never a part of that IN crowd that many aspire to during adolescence. I hear my mom’s voice when I reflect on those days. “Don’t be a sheep.” she would say. My classmates never treated me with suspicion for my lone wolf status. One year I was valedictorian for my cohort and I often won public speaking contests, so I wouldn’t call myself shy.

Solitary figures in history cast their spell on me as I grew older. The imposter story of Archie Delaney, or Grey Owl as he wanted to be known, fascinated me as I was reaching into adolescence. The exploits of solo sailors Robin Knox-Johnson and Robin Lee Graham enthralled me. I wanted to have an occupation like Jane Goodall where I could be left alone in the jungle interpreting my own wonderings about the world around me.

Texas calls itself the Lone Star State, perhaps because collectively the settlers there wished to distinguish themselves from Mexico or even the rest of the United States. Likewise, I was never frightened by my inherent separateness. I have used my independence to define myself, while still valuing those I let close to me. After reading the book Quiet by Susan Cain it became clear to me that introverts have a role to play. ‘One’ doesn’t have to be the loneliest number after all. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5ab8BOu4LE

Re: Motive

Motive is a cool word that can grow with the addition of syllables. Motive, a noun, can blossom into Motivate, a verb, then growing again to Motivation to become Motivational. It’s fun to see how flexible a word can be with a prefix or suffix. Like LEGO but with letters! So many different permutations eh?

My mother used to work for a busy private detective in Toronto. She picked up on some of the undercover language at the time; “That sounds like their MO. Just give me the facts. I wonder what their motive is.” It was one of many reasons I felt fear and love for my mom. She would often use her training and natural instinct to find out a reason behind my sister’s or my misbehaviour. We resented it. “You don’t know me!” I can still hear my sister yell after being accused, analyzed and sentenced almost in a single breath by our mother in a rush of anger. I’ve long past given up trying to sleuth out someone’s motive for a particular behaviour.

If we work at it we can come to know ourselves. I’ve concluded my own prime motivators are Fear and Love. Burrowing down into those two headings I find I can relate all my motivation to either Waste, Cost or Loss. Fearful mode is not where I wish to spend a lot of my time, yet fear of losing things makes me put things away carefully and therefore like all OCD individuals I get joy, pleasure, even loving feelings when I have ordered my world.

Some motivational speakers are making money helping us reduce, or cope with loss. FOMO (fear of missing out) is an acronym I just recently learned. If you feel FOMO you may become motivated to be involved. You might be worried about your time being squandered. No one wants to lose time when there is only one lifetime to live. When I graduated from University I was strongly motivated to get a job. I had met a woman I wanted to start having kids with and that was going to cost money, lots of it. Once I got a job I enjoyed the paycheques. I loved earning money and supporting my growing family. In the early days of employment I was fearful that I would lose my job.

Lately it’s Waste that has become a motivating force in my life. I’m motivated out of love for the planet to use less, waste less and make my efforts more kind, more respectful. I make servers in restaurants smile when I ask for a doggy bag. I used to do that because of the money I had spent, now it’s more about the thought of food being thrown out that motivates my request. Cost doesn’t urge me to action like it once did; I feel confident I can get by. I’ve seen and felt the loss of loved ones and precious things so I am less motivated to worry about this inevitability.

Perhaps wasting less can become a more universal motive for saving our precious planet. We can always hope.

Re: Do

“What do you do for a living?” Is a question that can make me feel like running out of the room while screaming. You might as well talk to me about the weather if it makes you more comfortable. I don’t wish to be misconstrued, it’s not that I don’t mind describing my job. It’s just that my job doesn’t define me. If the rote questioner hears that I’m retired they will usually follow with, “What DID you do?” Oh brother! How about asking me about my hairdo?

What I do is actually not necessarily my job (or what it used to be). What I do is really the central reason for living. Doing things is the whole point to life. One of the best corporate slogans in the last century is Nike’s ‘Just Do It’. In three words the shoe company captured the essence of the Stoic philosophy. Many millennia ago western philosophy grew out of a Greek idea called Stoicism. This was a school of thought that proposed that the best indication of an individual’s philosophy was not what a person said, but how a person behaved. When considering the subject of Philosophy I find it mind blowing that so many ideas could percolate in what today we might call parallel worlds. I smile when I consider if there is significance to the founder of Stoicism being named ZENO and my interpretation of Eastern ZEN philosophy as being (doing) in the moment. Coincidence? I wonder eh?

I’d like to change the famous line in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, where the title character is examining his way forward, into “To DO, or not to DO, that is the question’. I believe that it is by doing that we become ourselves. Our doing shows us what works and what doesn’t. And it is perfectly all right to redo if the first try doesn’t meet your expectations. Life is certainly about picking yourself up after a fall. In the film City Slickers, Billy Crystal’s character tells a story about being a kid playing sandlot baseball and how in his rules you could have another try at bat if the ball went over the fence. He called it a ‘Do-Over’.

Musically, Cat Stevens is famous for his meaningful songs. A lesser known one is called ‘You Can Do, Whatever’. He sings of all the possibilities before us. A veritable smorgasbord of things to do. In our choices we become that which we have chosen to do. This wonderful poem, put to melody, is one I plan on singing/reciting to my grandchildren.

Part of my job as an elementary school teacher was to recite all the DOs and DON’T’s of the society my students were going to inherit. Unavoidable in a way, and necessary I suppose. Yet I feel my best lessons in class treated the DOs as WHAT IFs. When we start with who we want to be, even just for a day, then what we decide to do feels just right.

Re: Thought

Choosing a name for a newborn takes a lot of thought. You are considering family tradition, links to ancestors and meaning. You want the name to stand for something, maybe even be an influence on your child’s behaviour. I heard a story once that some North American indigenous tribes wait until their young ones have developed a personality before using that information to guide them to the best name.

I’ve often wondered if we grow into the name given us or does our name actually determine who we become. Chicken or egg? If I had a child now I think I would use Keagan (somewhat gender neutral). It is Irish for Thinker. If a name makes the person then I would like my son or daughter to be thoughtful. I would like them to aspire to grow up to be one of the world’s great thinkers: another Plato, Da Vinci, Galileo, Darwin, Einstein, Hawking. Philosophy, at its heart, is the science of thinking and I think the world is in need of more philosophers right now.

Ideology has been given a bad name. Ideologists are considered to be rigid and narrow minded. Ideology has merged with dogma or doctrine and in the minds of many the term suggests a political platform. Too bad really, because if philosophy is all about thinking then ideology is more rightfully described as the science of ideas. And what’s not to like about ideas?

My father loved ideas and one of the most fun things we would do together was play variations of “What if?”. Nothing was out of bounds in this game of suppose. My dad encouraged me to think for myself in an imaginative way. He loved reading to me excerpts from Plato’s Republic. Looking back, I imagine myself as Aristotle on my father’s Plato-like lap. He would often remind me by words and action of Socrates, the founder of Philosophy who suggested that; “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

Parallel to this thought based strategy of child rearing, my more practical mom would be forever watchful to see if I was using me noggin. One of the worst things I could do as a child, in my mom’s eyes, would be a result of a thoughtless action. “What were you thinking?” I can still hear her saying as she rained disappointment down on me. If she caught me in the process of carrying out something suspicious she might warn/advise/rebuke, “If that’s your plan, then you’ve got another think coming.” Building yet another layer of responsibility onto the skin of her son, my mom would insist that whatever I intended; “It must be the thought that counts.”

I maintain that erring on the side of sharing a thought is my best bet. Yet sometimes it is wise to keep a thought to myself at least until I’ve had those all important second thoughts. I believe thinking before an event creates well conceived plans. Sharing my thoughts with someone is the greatest gift I can give. Only listening ranks higher as an offering.